Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, June 26th, 2016

I played last month with an occasional partner, whom I play with only two or three times a year. I had ♠ 10-7-3, A-J-6-5-3, Q-8, ♣ K-Q-4 and opened one heart. My left opponent overcalled one spade and my partner bid two diamonds, over which the next opponent passed. Should I have passed? If not what would be my call?

Wicked Witch, Jersey City, N.J.

New suits by responder as an unpassed hand are forcing, but not by a passed hand of course. So you cannot pass here even if you want to. Your choice is to raise diamonds, rebid hearts, bid no-trump or bid three clubs, all of which are seriously flawed. I’d opt for rebidding the hearts, but with jack-third of spades that might be the least lie, I suppose. There is nothing good here, but try to make your choice as smoothly as you can. The cheaper the call the less committal it rates to be.

Can you comment on how to use Gerber after a suit opening bid? When should the call of four clubs be ace-asking and when a cuebid?

Lip Syncher, Anchorage, Alaska

I think four clubs Gerber is a fine bid in its place – but its place is not in the middle of suit auctions. These days I do play a form of ace asking after a Stayman response to one no-trump finds a major-suit fit. By and large, though, I normally just use the call over openings or rebids of one no-trump. The reason is that cuebidding is too important to lose, and four notrump is rarely too expensive an enquiry – if used with discretion.

Is there any circumstance under which the opening hand could open with a suit which has only two of the suit bid? One of our bridge four said yes. I emphatically disagree.

Flora and Fauna, Panama City, Fla.

The question really relates to a one club opener in a 4-4-3-2 pattern with three diamonds. Partnership agreement varies here. I say one diamond is the Standard American opener, but I can see both sides of this coin. If you believe one diamond always delivers four you have to lie one way or the other; and does it matter in the long run? Probably not. A hand in the 1214/18-19 range with this pattern is sufficiently rare you can pretend it never happens!

I dealt myself the following hand ♠ 4, K-9-7-6-5-3-2, 8-5, ♣ A-10-8. Vulnerable I elected to open the bidding with two hearts because my suit was so weak. When my left hand opponent overcalled two spades, my partner doubled. What should I have done?

Covering the Spread, Mitchell, S.D.

You defined your hand precisely by your opening bid, so your partner’s double should be out-and-out penalties. You have an ace and a king, and nothing to be ashamed of, so you should pass happily enough. You may not beat the contract, but that really will not be your fault.

I play bridge with an expert who insists that a two over one response should always show five. She will bid a forcing no-trump even with extras over and above a minimum two over one. I think she’s wrong but I wanted to know what you think.

Overloaded, El Paso, Texas

In Standard American the forcing no-trump does cover a multitude of sins, and I can even understand making the call with a hand in the 13-14 range with no long suit to bid. But in my view the two-level responses do not guarantee five cards in the bid suit. And when you have a good hand don’t fool partner by making him think you are limited. Bid as naturally as you can, and if necessary lie with a two club response when all else fails.

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


Iain ClimieJuly 10th, 2016 at 11:35 am

Hi Bobby,

Regarding Wicked Witch’s query, there is a growing tendency in the UK (where there is an addition to 12-14 NT at club and moderate tournament level) to treat almost all 5-3-3-2 hands in range as 1NT unless the suit is very good. So, on today’s hand, 1NT would be trotted out and, if followed by 2S, then 3D (or 3D via 2N) would be forcing / competitive as agreed using Lebensohl. Exceptions would be a hand like Sxxx HAKJ9x DA10x CJxx where clearly bidding the hearts twice is OK.

Any thoughts on the merits (or otherwise) of such an approach? Obviously it is relevant to other NT ranges as well but do the merits of getting the hand type across quickly compensate for the cases where partner doesn’t check for 5-3 heart or spade fits with game values and a weakness outside?


Iain Climie

Iain ClimieJuly 10th, 2016 at 11:47 am

PS There is even a growing tendency to open 1N with singleton honours or even nost 4-4-4-1 hands in range. Any thoughts here too? I can’t help feeling that traditional authorities would be horrified, so do such changes represent progress, outrageous decadence or a bit of each according to exact circumstances?


bobbywolffJuly 10th, 2016 at 3:22 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, throughout much of the reasonably higher level bridge world clearly including the supreme level, choosing the opening of a strong NT (usually 14+-17) to include 5 card majors and good ones, (AKJxx) not only (AJ9xx).

However, not so for the still minority number of very good partnerships who play weak NT (12-14, either all the time or when not vulnerable). IOW, with weak NT the 5 card major is generally preferred as the opener..

Reason being that with weak NT the hand would not be good enough in a competitive auction to independently rebid the suit without support from partner (not enough to bid the first time), For example with the good major and while holding values for a strong NT, after opening 1NT and having either opponent overcall at the two level, but passed around to the opener, if able, the opener can then segue to two of that powerful major without too much risk, in order to still try and find a fit, therefore allowing (sort of) two shots instead of just one to tell his or her story.

The positive reason for this mostly positional effect is the change in thinking that opening with 1NT, showing specific values actually works more consistently than opening the suit, having three direct positives:

1. shows specific values instead of wide range.
2. more preemptive effect on opponents.
3. is harder to defend, since the longer major is not immediately known to the defense and even that suit sometimes becoming the opening lead by an unlucky opening leader.

The disadvantage is that if the partner of the opening bidder has good support for that major, but not a good hand, equalizing the opposing point counts, sometimes that key suit becomes lost in the shuffle. It is then, of course, thought that it is still worth it under the heading of having to give, in order to get.

However, while holding the weaker NT opening it is still considered too dangerous to bid again while choosing 1NT in what is considered the balancing position, making the major suit the bid of choice to begin with.

Finally in answer to your PS query, that is also done for the same practical reason. Perhaps the so-called traditional authorities are horrified, but when the highest level groups decide on what they think is progress (bridge still being thought of as a somewhat recent game), the earned respect of that group becomes the guiding force for their disciples to follow in line and to at least experiment, before condemning, seems to rule the day.

And speaking of that phenomena, the beauty and excitement of being able to follow high-level bridge while it is being played and all over the world on BBO has enabled more of the upcoming and enthusiastic bridge lovers to see for themselves what is going on and therefore, of course, then be in a much better position to judge its effect.

Iain, thanks for posing this question (or these questions), since by doing so, you are spotlighting what is currently being discussed and experimented with, which, in fact, should be an advantage for all who use to live on the perimeter of bridge with not much access to what our best bridge minds are thinking and, above all, why.

Just maybe the above process would also work for otherwise not terribly violent people to be able to discuss different lifestyles (with different everyday rules for living) which, of course, causes different responsibilities in life with other inferences and emphasis, rather than what has become such violent responses from all corners of this smaller world.

No doubt, dreaming, but what about, if not?


ClarksburgJuly 10th, 2016 at 4:56 pm

A supplementary question about opening 1NT with a singleton:
From previous blog exchanges you expressed the view that, certainly at high levels, a player may open 1NT with a singleton at any time based simply upon judgement (provided of course there is no undisclosed agreement / understanding with Partner).
Meanwhile, ACBL appears to apply some limits based upon whether no suitable rebid is available over a one-of-suit opening, and also how frequently the 1NT-with-a-singleton may be done .i.e. no more than 1% of the time. To me, these restrictions seem vague and difficult to interpret and enforce. I’d prefer allowing it at any time, even in Club games, perhaps with a pre-alert re “occasional” use.
Do you have any comment about this?

Iain ClimieJuly 10th, 2016 at 5:11 pm

Hi Bobby,

Many thanks for the instructive reply and I’ll be interested in your reply to Clarksburg too. Many years ago, one partner opened a weak NT, RHO bid 2H, I competed to 2S with an 8 count and S109xxx,3H on my left and a prompt dbl from a partner with 14 pts and single SK. Opponents were initially upset but I was able to highlight what could have happened to 2S \- there was clearly no possible agreement that pard could do this!



bobbywolffJuly 10th, 2016 at 5:46 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

At least to me, opening 1NT while holding a singleton has absolutely no restrictions. If any player thinks opening 1NT is the correct opening bid (and for any legal reason he may deem) he is not only entitled to do so, but in some respects by not doing, he may be violating what some may think is the obligation to play at his best to win, rather than to choose another bid (or sometimes play) he thinks inferior.

While the immediate above is not realistic, it really bugs me that any rules can possibly be formulated which prevent players from bidding what he thinks (at the time) his correct bid.

However, there is sometimes a very thin line between unusual actions and an actively cheating partnership. That definition is totally entwined with illicit (usually physical) signalling to partner about features in his hand, obviously with his partner having no right to know, therefore constituting dirty, filthy cheating which should almost always require a lifetime banishment from the game we all love, but, because of that cheating, makes the game unplayable for all others involved in that tournament.

At least to me, much worse that the use of steroids in sports, but similar to bribes (other players in the event or referees) involved in order to insure winning.

IOW, as long as the partner of the NT opener has no reason to suspect him or her to have a singleton (on that particular hand) there is no reason to suggest any penalty for that player who, at least IMO, has done absolutely nothing wrong. The same applies to many things in bridge like opening very weak NT (10-12) unless and until someone opens 1NT with s. xxx, h, xx, d. KQJxx, c. xxx while doing so and a pattern develops within that partnership that the partner of the NTer by what they would call a coincidence, always does the right thing, e.g. underbids, or does not double the intervening opponents with good defensive hands, seemingly catering to that unusual holding.

If you want a more complete explanation I will be happy to continue, but unless I affirmatively hear from you that you do, I will leave it at that., but no doubt, you get the drift, which so many others either do not, or even if they do, do not protest such thinking out of existence.

CAUTION: To take the above thoughts and discuss them with others in your locality seems like the thing to do, but to instead just to implicitly follow my lead, may cause some bridge officials at your home to disagree, but if so they are only agents of incorrect teachers who have never understood bridge right from bridge wrong.

slarJuly 11th, 2016 at 2:26 am

I fail to see how the 1NT-with-singleton is that big an issue. The rules are pretty clear – there can be no partnership agreement that allows for a singleton. Experienced partnerships have specific ways of dealing with long suits and they are pretty much set in stone. People who bid with 1NT with singletons should periodically get caught in 5-1 or 6-1 fits. If people are acting against their system, for example:
* failing to insist on a six-card-major without a 4-4 fit in the other major
* failing to transfer to a five-card-major with a bust
then something is wrong. Are these things really happening? If not then there must be more important issues out there.

bobbywolffJuly 11th, 2016 at 4:24 am

Hi Slar,

Well described. The subject has now been covered as accurately and as completely as possible. Only if several untoward hands appear will there be the slightest hint of impropriety.

Sometimes so-called innocent parties, who become conspicuous by their lack of understanding make cases against, which have no truth in fact.

Case closed, as are other similar circumstances. Yes, through the years, there have been major cheating cases the world over, with North America not immune, but nowhere will there ever be a player, cheater or otherwise, who cares what happens with the opening of NT with singletons.

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