Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, March 27th, 2016

In an unopposed auction I opened one diamond, my partner bid one heart, and I bid one spade. Now my partner jumped to two no-trump, and holding an 18-count I took this to be stronger than a jump to three no-trump. So I bid Blackwood and we ended up in a hopeless slam. Both my partner and the opponents, said the jump on the second round was a standard bid showing 10 or 11 points. Have I missed something all these years?

Over the Top, Denver, Colo.

In the good old days a jump to two no-trump did indeed show a better hand than a bid of three no-trump. Not any more; your partner hit the nail on the head when he described the hand as invitational to game and balanced. Incidentally, your four no-trump call over two notrump should be quantitative, and invitational to slam, not Blackwood, since no trump suit was agreed.

Why do you sanction leading second highest from three or four small cards at no-trump but dislike the same approach against a suit? And is it ever acceptable to lead high (not middle) from three or four?

Roman in the Gloaming, Little Rock, Ark.

From three small cards against a suit I believe one should lead top or bottom; I do not like playing the middle card, since I frequently fail to read the initial holding until it is too late. I lead high from a bad holding only when I have raised partner, so am unlikely to have two. Sometimes, though, the auction has made it clear that I must have length. I’m more likely to lead a higher spot when defending no-trump, since I hope my partner will infer I am not playing for a ruff…

As responder, I held ♠ A-Q-10-5-3, A, Q-J-10-9, ♣ K-7-3. My partner opened one heart and rebid two clubs. When I used the fourth suit he rebid two no-trump, suggesting 1-5-3-4 or 0-5-4-4 distribution. Would you look for higher things in diamonds now, or go low?

Felix the Cat, Holland, Mich.

After the rebid of two notrump it seems enough to me to bid three no-trump. You might miss a slam when both hands have a little extra, but I play that the call of two no-trump shows 12-14, so slam is a long way away. (I’d jump to three notrump with hands in the 15-17 range and 5-4 pattern, while I would raise to three diamonds with 0-5-4-4 pattern).

If I hear an overcall of four spades over my partner’s one diamond call, should my double be based on tricks, trumps, or general high-cards? I made the call with a 3-3-3-4 11-point hand. My partner left in the double, claiming it was wholly for penalties, and four spades made. Worse, we were cold for five diamonds – and I got the blame!

Cui Culpa, Saint John, New Brunswick

I won’t say you were entirely blameless here, since a lot depends on your precise agreements. I’d argue that one should use the double here as simply showing a good hand, with values that should work on offense as well as on defense, not a trump stack. Partner’s duty is to bid on with significant extra shape – which is what it sounds like he had. When you have a weak hand with trump tricks as responder, pass smoothly and await the re-opening double.

How strong do you play a balancing overcall of one no-trump? Is it closer to a strong no-trump or a weak no-trump — and what conventions should one play in response to it?

Seeking Protection, West Palm Beach, Fla.

I play this overcall to be 11-15, but more often at the lower end over a minor-suit opening bid. The reason for keeping the range less than in direct seat is that you can’t afford to let the opponents steal the contract, when you have a balanced opening bid. Equally, if you double with all good hands, partner will never know what shape you have. So use the no-trump overcall as a minimum balanced hand, double then bid no-trump with a real strong no-trump.

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Peter PengApril 10th, 2016 at 6:29 pm

hello Mr. Wolff

I am often face with the decision to play game in NT or in 4 of a major, having 3-5 in the majors, and enough HCP either way, 5-3-3-2 hand, and good cards in the 2 suiter.

MP scoring.

What are the chances of either game?



p.s. I often – or nearly always – pick up the 5-3 major game. Unless I am AK in the doubleton.

bobbywolffApril 11th, 2016 at 4:27 am

Hi Peter,

There are many variables in making the decision choosing either the 5-3 major suit fit or instead, the nine trick NT short cut.

1. More often than not the information needed like a convenient ruff in the short trump hand, cannot be determined in the bidding.

2. Over the long haul, the playing of a NT contract usually has fewer complications, although that is not necessarily an advantage.

3. By far the largest factor, at least IMO, is that opening leads vs. NT are much looser and more likely go give a “soft trick away” than would be normal leads vs. a suit contract.

4. While both contracts are subject to “trouble” from bad breaks, a close suit contract can be made impossible more likely than would 3NT, when the trump suit is the trouble spot. In NT, there might be a satisfactory number of tricks available in a surprising suit at NT, allowing that contract to make.

5. Any way one slices our great game, the constant fact is that matchpoints is the single most inconsistent factor causing a certain randomness which, at least to me, is a huge minus in assessing the relative pureness of the game itself. The pursuit of overtricks just has no business of complicating our game to the extent of taking away from its natural beauty.

In conclusion, I cannot help you much except to say that you, Peter, keep a keen eye out so that in 10 or 15 years you can be the one to give advice to others about what contract to choose.