Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, April 24th, 2016

In a recent Bid With The Aces, West dealt and bid one club. North overcalled one diamond, East passed, and South advanced with one spade. West passed and North bid two clubs, which was explained as a one round force. Does the two club bid not guarantee a fit for spades?

Puzzled in Virginia, Kansas City, Mo.

This cuebid does not guarantee a fit but is consistent with one (or else you could jump in your own suit, no-trump or the fourth suit). Still, you might have a good long diamond suit and be heading for three no-trump facing a club stopper, for example. You should respond to the cuebid by bidding no-trump, raising partner, introducing another suit, or finding any other descriptive action.

What do you consider to be the most sensible opener in third seat when holding: ♠ A-7-3-2, Q-10-7-2, J-2, ♣ A-J-9? I hated to bid a three-card suit in this position, so I tried a one heart opener, and we missed our 5-3 club fit. Do you concur in the notion that there may be tactical benefits to bidding a real suit here?

Stoney Broke, Orlando, Fla.

In third seat, it is often right to bid a lead-directing four-card major-suit, though you do not have to go out of your way to do so here. Your clubs are not terrible, your hearts not so great, and you have enough values to be able to hold your head up subsequently in the auction, So I’d make the textbook call here of one club.

Recently my opponent, as a defender, played two cards in the same suit simultaneously, and much to my surprise the director described this as a minor penalty card. This is a term I’d never come across before. What is the correct procedure when such an incident occurs?

Trapper John, Selma, Ala.

A minor penalty card stays on the table, but only has to be played at the offender’s discretion — except that you can’t play any other minor (non-honor) card in that suit instead of the penalty card. You do not have to discard it or lead it, as would be the case with a major penalty card.

Playing rubber bridge on the first deal of a Chicago, my hand was ♠ Q-4-2, Q-4-3-2, A-J-3-2, ♣ 9-6 I heard my partner open one diamond, and I responded one heart, which was doubled on my left. My partner raised to two hearts and I heard two spades on my right. What would you recommend now – I seem to be too good to pass?

Pushed Around, Perth Amboy, N.J.

Many people who use Support Doubles and Redoubles would play that your partner’s raise promises four trump – but not at rubber bridge, where opener could easily have only three trump. Competing for the partscore here is vital: but since you can’t risk hearts in the 4-3 fit, it feels right to bid three diamonds here, expecting this to be natural, not a game-try for hearts. A call of three clubs here would certainly be a game-try here.

Recently my partner opened two no-trump and I held: ♠ A-Q-10-7, A-6-4-2, J-7-3, ♣ 10-4. I believed that this was enough to give us good play for slam if we had a fit, so I used Stayman and my partner bid three hearts. This convinced me that the only thing necessary now was to check for aces. Is four no-trump asking for aces now? My partner said no.

Boreas, Roswell, N.M.

When you have enough high cards to put you in or close to the slam zone, then after Stayman unearths a major, a call of four notrump is quantitative, and game bids are to play. Bids in a minor are natural – four clubs is not Gerber! These bids show length in the bid minor, four cards in the other major, and slam interest. To make a slam try for partner’s major, cuebid the OTHER major as an artificial call, setting partner’s major as trump. Then four notrump is keycard from either player.

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog. Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2016. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


ClarksburgMay 8th, 2016 at 2:12 pm

Mr Wolff
Today’s question, anticipating an answer helpful also to those other Club-level Intermediates who drop in here.
A new Partner, in second seat and hearing One Heart by Opener, held A53 J107 AQ103 KQ5.
She Doubled and we missed a 3NT game bid by most Pairs.
In our post-mortem I pointed out that a 1NT overcall would have been a much better description (Strength and shape) and very helpful to her Partner.
Subsequently, a strong player and experienced long-time Teacher told her that the 1NT overcall definitely cannot be made lacking an adequate Heart stop (at least AJx). To me this seems an old-style rigid “rule” getting in the way of the best-description call of 1NT.
Your comments? Thanks.

slarMay 8th, 2016 at 2:49 pm

What did you have and what did you bid? If you had 9-10 points, you could have shown some extras by jumping in a suit. Partner can they bid 2NT to suggest 3NT with a partial stopper in hearts. If you had 8 or less, I don’t think you belong in game unless you had a source of tricks.
Partner also has enough to raise a 1NT response (hoping you don’t have the bust with 5 hearts and no reasonable bid).
My point is that it usually takes two players to find 3NT and there are reasonable paths to getting there whether you are strict or lenient about stoppers when you overcall 1NT.

ClarksburgMay 8th, 2016 at 4:53 pm

I held J107 A653 J864 A2. I judged this to be not worth more than a 1NT response.
Partner passed it out.
Had Partner initially made the 1NT overcall I had a raise to 3NT.
Had Partner raised my 1NT to 2NT I’d have carried on to 3NT.
But the point of my question was really just about what Partner should have bid over the One Heart…I really like the 1NT overcall.

slarMay 8th, 2016 at 6:00 pm

We’ll see what Bobby says but I suspect the experts are divided on this front. The 1NT is riskier (you could easily be down a lot if partner is broke) but it does make game easier to find. In my unprofessional opinion doubling is acceptable but then you have to be willing to raise the 1NT response.

bobby wolffMay 8th, 2016 at 8:41 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

I would rate the calls, Double=100%, 1NT=20%, Pass-0%.

Of course, the 3-3-4-3 pattern as well as the 16 hcps are perfection personified for NT. However, particularly in these days of 5 card majors, we never want to be, nor should we have the problem of arriving in 3NT and not having at least one stopper in the opponents known 5 card suit.

However, if it is even close to be tempted to overcall 1NT, that emotion should be resisted, since with partner having a stop, especially the ace or the king, instead of the queen (or other) it is MUCH better for him to have the lead coming up to him, not through his major honor where the positioning will be all in favor of the defense.

Add that to the ease of having partner immediately or later showing that stopper in the form of bidding NT for the first time, and, at least to me, the pendulum, if it was ever in doubt, then cries out to adhere to what I am suggesting.

Memorization however is secondary to thinking it through for oneself, hopefully arriving at the conclusion above and then closing this discussion.

However bridge being the judgment game that it is, not near scientifically perfect, but only based on percentage efforts, if the subject hand is dealer it would then be unthinkable not to open 1NT, assuming 15-17 (or somesuch).

When any one bid drops from 100% to just 30% based on positioning, it is time to step up and understand just why, and by so doing, one will begin to understand just how judgment is constantly changing both in the direction of the final contract during the bidding and then the guessing of the card layout during both the play and the defense.

Challenging? YES! sometimes frustrating? most certainly, worth it? MY, YES!

bobby wolffMay 8th, 2016 at 8:47 pm

Hi Slar,

While I agree with your general discussion to Clarksburg, if partner only had: s. Qxx. hearts Qxxxx, d. xx, c. xxx and partner doubled 1 heart I would choose 1 spade as my response, since a suit bid although almost always at least 4 cards has no lower limit to the number of high cards (could be zero) while a 1NT response should have at least 6 ranging up to 10. True, that would leave the partnership with only 6 trump between them, but the opponents will not know that and either bid some more themselves or leave your partnership to do the best you can but at only the 7 trick level.

bobby wolffMay 8th, 2016 at 8:56 pm

Hi again Clarksburg,

I think your partner should have raised your 1NT (bid over the double by your partner) response to 2NT, and then have been happy when you carried on to game.

And please just imagine how important it would have been to receive a low heart lead, (very few opening leaders are clairvoyant enough to not lead a low heart from his longest suit, even if their opponents did show it stopped) rather than a lead through the Axxx, and think what a difference it would have made if you had only Axx or worse, Ax.

bobby wolffMay 8th, 2016 at 9:01 pm

Hi Slar,

I just cannot imagine any bridge expert bidding 1NT with the example hand over a 5 card+ heart suit on his right.

However I am not claiming any sensational knowledge of always being right or even close, but I would be surprised if a real high-level player would even consider such a choice, not because it would never work, since it would, but on percentage IMO, that bidder would get much the worst of it and for him or her not to realize that, is indeed somewhat shocking to me.

jim2May 8th, 2016 at 9:15 pm

Clarksburg —

I am no expert but I would not bid 1N in that auction w/o a heart stopper.

jim2May 8th, 2016 at 9:20 pm

On the last Q in the Sunday column, 4N would have been KC BLackwood with my partner.

I do not insist on many things, but one is that Gerber is off in a NT auction as soon as a suit is bid naturally and 4N becomes ace-asking.

Hence, because the heart bid showed a heart suit, Gerber was off. In this auction, the jump to 4N would thus confirm hearts as trump and ask for aces.

It may not be an optimum approach, but we do not have disasters and I save my few remaining gray cells for other bidding things.

ClarksburgMay 8th, 2016 at 9:52 pm

Hey, I’m glad I asked the question!! Now I know the 1NT overcall stinks, and why so.
So it seems the specific risk of wrong-siding an eventual 3NT contract is as important as the general risk of playing 3NT in the face of their bid (5-card) suit.
Part of my off-the-mark thinking was that although second-seat does not actually have a heart stop, the opponents may think we do and go astray.
For the record, and for some amusement, at our Table, the swashbuckling Dealer opened 1 Heart with 982 KQ984 K5 J96. Presumably at most Tables the Players in my Partner’s seat would have had the opportunity to open 1NT.
Thanks to all.

bobby wolffMay 8th, 2016 at 9:55 pm

Hi Jim2,

No doubt, you & your partner have a practical approach to understanding important auctions which involve either many IMPs or $’s.

However, if you would like something fairly simple a partnership, when in doubt as to the meaning of 4NT as a jump, play 4NT always quantitative and 5 clubs asking for aces. Little is lost and sometimes much is gained, but if that may also be forgotten please stay on course with your agreement. BTW, if playing 5 clubs for aces there will be no way to ask for kings.

slarMay 9th, 2016 at 2:44 am

Okay, so maybe I gave the 1NT overcall a bit too much credit!
FWIW, I was leaning towards double with that hand. 🙂

bobby wolffMay 9th, 2016 at 2:00 pm

Hi Slar,

Scandal!, Scandal!, I must not speak the truth since on a 14 to 2 descendency from an ace to a deuce the J109 add up to 30 (11,10,9) while the AQ2 only add up to 28 (14,12,2).

And that is what is meant by “numeracy” being the most important talent necessary in bridge.