Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, May 29th, 2016

I note that there are auctions where both players only use cuebidding, some where they use Blackwood, and some where there is a mixed strategy. Could you give me some insight as to when one approach wins out over the others?

Merry Andrew, Dover, Del.

The simple answer is that Blackwood is about system, cuebidding about judgment, so the former is easier. You tend to cuebid only when you want partner to cooperate for slam with extras, or (far more commonly) when there is a danger suit, where the partnership can identify that a control in that specific suit is critical to the chances of making slam.

In fourth seat with both sides vulnerable you hold ♠ 10, K-Q, K-J-7-3-2, ♣ A-Q-9-5-3, and hear a two heart call on your right. Would you show the minors, (and if so how?) would you pass, or would you bid one of the minors? I assume double is out of the question?

Noisy Oyster, Dodge City, Kan.

I might well elect to bid one of the minors, rather than show both minors (the only way I could do that would be to bid four no-trump, since a call of two no-trump is strong and natural). There is certainly a case for bidding three clubs, but I’m not especially worried about running into a penalty double. I think bidding three diamonds caters better for further competition in the auction.

I enjoyed the deals you ran from Frank Stewart’s most recent book, but on one hand he overcalled one spade with a bid of two hearts, on a five-card suit and a minimum opener. Do you agree with the overcall? Holding five hearts would suggest a bid of two hearts, but would the possession of two doubleton minor suit queens and four spades to the queen-jack have made one no-trump a better call?

Mayday, Harrisburg, Pa.

I would never overcall one no-trump with a 4-5-2-2 shape, unless the hearts were so weak that I could pretend it was a four-card suit. Yes, passing an opening bid feels wrong here – so long as the hearts are really worth bidding. A one-level overcall needs far less, of course. The vulnerability and position do play a part, though, and a sixth trump would make a huge difference.

Members of our bridge club always seem keen to open two clubs with a strong hand but fewer than 20 HCP, when they have extra shape. The call may or may not be artificial. I have tried to persuade them to keep the forcing call for really good hands, but to no avail. How should I make my case?

Doc Holliday, Waterbury, Conn.

When holding a balanced hand of 18-19 points open your long suit and jump in notrumps. An opening bid of two no-trump shows 20-22. When unbalanced in the range 19-21, you normally bid your long suit, and should only open with a forcing call if you can visualize game facing a well-fitting hand of 0-4 points. You must have a long suit or possess a real two-suiter to make this call.

I had the following hand yesterday ♠ Q-9, K-7, A-K-8-4, ♣ A-J-10-8-2 and I did not know how whether to open a suit or one no-trump in fourth chair.

Mumbles, Boston, Mass.

With honor-doubletons in your short suits, it seems sensible to limit the hand at one go, and let partner know what you have at once by opening one notrump. You might miss a minor suit game, but otherwise this not only feels like the right evaluation, you also protect your doubleton honors from a lead through them.

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ClarksburgJune 12th, 2016 at 12:46 pm

Good morning Mr. Wolff.
Further to the last item, Mumbles’ question:
I recall your having mentioned here previously that five / four hand shapes will generally play better at a suit than at NT.
Is there any plausible case here for opening 1C planning a reverse into Diamonds?
If so, how would you rate that (relative merit) as compared to the 1NT opening?

bobby wolffJune 12th, 2016 at 1:02 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Actually, although the 2-2-4-5 distribution is not perfect, that is not the reason I agree with you.

This hand is just too strong for either a 15-17 NT or in particular a 14 1/2-17 opening 1NT. The AJ10 of clubs is routinely more valuable than that same holding without the ten, Add in the spade nine, and both the club and diamond eights and zoom my vote now goes to one club, intending to reverse into diamonds.

Granted by doing so, the whole complexion of the bidding will be markedly different. However chances are that the same contract will be reached and if so, the 1NT start will become more challenging than the more apt description of the suits first (simply by giving away less information to one’s opponents). However, only experience enters into those types of decisions, and if the partnership feels more comfortable in opening 1NT (which many do) go for it.

But for evaluation I like your proposed judgment.

slarJune 13th, 2016 at 1:25 am

I only like reverses on unbalanced hands. If the hand is too strong for a 5-playing-trick (14ish to 17ish) 1NT, then I would prefer to open the club and prepare a 2NT response. A reverse would steer partner towards a minor suit game (or possibly slam) which is unlikely to be a good spot. Given the way many people upgrade a good 19 to a 2NT opener, this should fit reasonably well. Yes, on occasion you will have to back up your aggressiveness with good card play. Isn’t that the point?

bobby wolffJune 13th, 2016 at 4:40 am

Hi Slar,

Slowly, but surely you are showing good bridge sense.

Using good bridge judgment is always a key factor in advancing up the bridge ladder and while several different bids or combination of bids should often be considered, adjusting to who your partner may be at the time, makes a consistent difference in the results.

At least to me, a bridge winner will always try and tackle the best, fail often, but keep improving until it will be you that others will try and compare themselves.

No doubt, the better one declares does mean that he is allowed to be more aggressive than one who doesn’t. However, time will take care of all ills in bridge, except giving up on oneself, or not being able to take criticism while one is learning, still mostly failing, but showing instead great determination to eventually, if not sooner, beard that bridge lion.

Bill CubleyJune 14th, 2016 at 3:46 pm

I have found that players who open strong 2 Club bids usually get poor scores. Saying you hold 9 tricks tends to confuse a preemptive hand with a strong hand.

e. g. S KQJT9xxxx H – D Ax C Qx is really a 1 spade bid, with a strong rebid. Partner is easily misled into overbidding expecting a lot more HCP. I am thankful for plus scores defending against such players. Some might open the hand 4 spades as a much better description.

bobby wolffJune 14th, 2016 at 9:53 pm

Hi Bill,

Next time I play against you, please remind me not to double you.

Yes, players who vary their tactics so as not to ever be stereotyped do well in bridge. The “poker” element in bridge had always been alive and well and not to involve oneself in it is, my guess, a losing proposition.