Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, July 3rd, 2016

You have said that third and fifth leads are easier to read than fourth best leads. Why? So many of us struggle with this!

Train Spotter, Memphis, Tenn.

When playing fourth highest leads, say your partner leads the two in a bid and supported suit. With the missing cards Q 7 4 at the end of the first trick, your partner could have led from Q-7-4-2, Q-7-2, Q-4-2, or 7-4-2 (unless you’d lead the seven here). Declarer may or may not have another card. But the lead of the two in third and fifth leads marks partner with only three cards, so declarer must have one more card. Third and fifth leads do not always solve the count problem, but they do so more often than not.

A hand in a recent column befuddled me. You have four highcard points with a six-card diamond suit, when partner opened a strong no-trump. My first thought was to pass, but then I decided to let my partner know about my diamond suit. Why did you bid two notrump not two diamonds to do that – I would think I would need seven or eight points for such an action?

Unsuitable, Columbia, S.C.

In the old days (before transfers) a call of two diamonds would have been fine. These days, with transfers in use, we need a way to escape into diamonds, but the call of two diamonds shows hearts. Methods vary here: some play two no-trump for diamonds, and two spades for clubs, which was what I was suggesting here. Another style is to use two no-trump as natural, with two spades for clubs, three clubs for diamonds. This is equally playable and keeps two no-trump natural.

Holding ♠ 9-7-3, Q-5-2, K-7-3, ♣ K-Q-8-3, what are you supposed to respond to a natural one club opener? Would it matter if you play inverted minor raises here?

First Footer, Billings, Mont.

Whether you play inverted minors or not, this hand does not look ideal for a raise to two clubs, despite your chunky support, since partner might have only three clubs. Respond one notrump, and do not worry excessively about the fact that your spades are weak. If the suit is a danger, you may yet hear from the opponents, or partner may bid again. The fact that you have a balanced hand trumps your honorless suit.

Like many pairs coming into duplicate pairs, I want to ask your advice about defending to one notrump. I find Landy doesn’t let me come in on two-suited hands; do you have any advice?

The Beer Hunter, Wichita Falls, Texas

Your best choices amongst the methods commonly in use in the US are Meckwell, Woolsey, and DONT. Details are available here, and you can choose for yourself. All allow you to get in two-suited hands conveniently while abandoning the penalty double.

Facing a passed partner, my RHO opened one spade. Holding ♠ K-Q-J-7, K, A-10-5-4, ♣ A-10-7-5, I elected to bid one notrump as the least lie. My partner had six clubs to the queen-jack and the diamond king. With the club finesse working, we could make five clubs, but, alas, sold out to three hearts. I would like your comments on how the auction should go.

Honest Abe, Eau Claire, Wis.

I think you made a very reasonable decision here, even if it didn’t work. I’d assume your partner should transfer to clubs or bid the suit in competition – after which you might well raise to at least the four-level and can maybe get to game.

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


Peter PengJuly 17th, 2016 at 6:44 pm

Dear Mr. Wolff:

Regarding the discussion on defending against NT openings,

I have been using Blooman against NT, to save the natural 2 bids to show 6+ suits.

I was told that the single suit hand occurs about 4,5 times more frequently than the 2 suited hand.

Is that argument correct – I never checked ….

But it has been working.

You lose the penalty double, but I think that that is more rare.

ClarksburgJuly 17th, 2016 at 8:47 pm

Very interesting point you have raised. Thanks.
I took a quick look at the the frequency tables in the Encyclopedia.
Yes the 6+ carder will occur 4 to 5 times more frequently than a 5-5 two-suiter.
However if the two-suiter is allowed to be 5-5 OR 5-4 (admittedly riskier, but played by many I believe) then the odds shift significantly.
It seems the “5-5 or 5-4” two-suiter will occur about 20% more frequently than 6+ single-suiter.
So it seems to come down to agreed level of aggressiveness / style.
Looking forward to Mr. Wolff’s suggestion / comments

bobbywolffJuly 17th, 2016 at 9:00 pm

Hi Peter,

Thanks for your post since it becomes fairly important how a partnership handles defense to a 1NT opening.

While not familiar with Blooman vs. NT I will guess that it has to do with saving double, 2 clubs and 2 diamonds to represent two suited overcalls, involving combinations including major suits.

1. There is not a significant disadvantage to give up double as penalty oriented and thus just pass when that hand is dealt to the player immediately over the 1NT bidder.

2. I doubt that a single suit hand (unless those “selling” your convention) determine that a mediocre 5 card suit is always worth announcing to one’s partner.

3. Thus having 3 shots at showing different suits in addition to the majors, minors and a combination, the players will probably choose, both majors, spades + another and hearts + another with the 2nd suit always a minor.

4. My opinion is that it is very close in effectiveness whichever “normal” method is chosen, depending on what distributions are dealt the most frequently.

5. Yes, winners come into the bidding when given a legitimate choice, but it is a fine line, certainly depending on the blood thirsty nature of your particular opponents, to decide when, where and if.

6. I am happy that your results lately have been good. Please keep me posted on whether they continue to be, so, at the very least, I will learn something valuable.

ClarksburgJuly 17th, 2016 at 9:17 pm

Took a look at a 2006 article by the inventors.
It included the following statement:

“…The convention is based on the proven premise that a single-suited hand of six cards or longer will occur much more often than a two-suited hand of 5-5 of longer….”

So it seems that indeed the relative frequency of occurrence is based upon 6+ single-suiters versus the 5-5 suiters (5-4- not included).

slarJuly 18th, 2016 at 12:44 am

Regarding NT interference,
Blooman uses double to show a 5-5 hand, at least one of which is a major. The other calls are natural (presumably 6+ cards).

I feel sorry for the writer having the impression that he can’t come in with a 5-5 suit using Landy. I play Landy in one of my partnerships and come in with 5-5 hands all the time. Even 5-4-3-1 hands are pretty safe if you aren’t vulnerable. Even if they hit you, there is no guarantee that going to the three level would help the situation or that -300 is a good score. I’d rather conceal from the opponents my exact distribution. I find it way more important to get the opponents out of their normal 1NT system. A lot of good things can happen. Even simply wrong-siding the contract is enough of a benefit to be worth the risk.

bobbywolffJuly 18th, 2016 at 12:57 am

Hi Clarksburg & Peter,

While now being specifically aware of the frequency chart, I would opt to show the 5-4 type hands (in search of what is considered the holy grail of bidding, an 8 card fit) which then would disassociate me from endorsing the convention that Peter is considering,

Yes, it is definitely safer to only overcall on decent 6 card suits and also to be 5-5 when offering a 2 suiter. However, in order to get into the bidding I would loosen that restriction to include a very good 5 carder (AKJ9x or KQJ9x) as a single suit or a 2 suiter (5-4 with the 4 carder being KQxx or better).

Not close to either not dangerous nor always wise, but on the button (at least to me) when the risk is justified by what I think to be the percentage action.

No guarantees but instead a tougher opponent who would much rather play the hand than defend, with the added plus of sometime pushing those worthy opponents above their trick taking capacity.

bobbywolffJuly 18th, 2016 at 1:09 am

Hi Slar,

I admire your judgment and your strategy, although somewhat questioning your truisms.

Whether the opponents will be wrong siding the contract is purely up to lady luck which opening lead is chosen and where the weakness of the 26 cards vs, 26 cards happens to be.

However I heartily endorse your enthusiasm and confidence, which is always welcome, not to mention apparent and palpable to your opponents.

slarJuly 18th, 2016 at 3:29 am

That is kind of my point. There are no silver bullets in this arena (or everyone would have settled on a single approach like, let’s say, negative doubles). The one thing that is evident is that there is no future to being passive. Constructive bidding over an uncontested 1NT opening is too precise. At least make the opponents uncomfortable and roll the dice a little. Anything less is giving up.

The problem I have with the NT interference landscape today is the prevalence of extremely specific systems. That information seems to be more useful to the opponents than to my partner. Disrupt as much as possible, conceal as much as possible, and let the situation (opponents, vulnerability) guide your aggressiveness.

I suppose if I had to choose today, I’d go with Meckwell against strong NT, with a somewhat liberal interpretation of “natural” for the major overcalls. Since minor overcalls are not particularly disruptive, I would insist on a five-card minor. For now I think I’d rather stick with Landy against the (increasingly rare) weak notrumpers.

bobbywolffJuly 18th, 2016 at 4:36 am

Hi Slar,

Although when seeking disruption to the precisely bidding opponents, your partnership begins trading on dangerous ground, you’ve got to give to get.

Preempts (particularly NV ones) need to have a wide range with no such thing as actually being too weak (of course, some limits). For example to not open 3 clubs with: s. xx, h. xx
d. xxx, c. KQJxxx is not to be considered. Just bid it, hope for the best, be prepared for setbacks, one way or the other, but in fact, it is just TOO DANGEROUS not to bid it. Whether playing IMPs or matchpoints do not ever forget your partnership duty to be a tough opponent.

Always, along with your partner, be disciplined, once preempting or having your partner continue the preempt, do not bid later and let the fruits of your taking bidding room away work its evil art.

Otherwise the whole process will not work, regardless how one feels about possibly bidding again….just do not!! unless holding a freak, which is rarely on the table, and even when it is, you cannot be sure that the opponents didn’t fall into your partner’s trap and once you let him down, or he lets you down, your partnership will NEVER be the same.

Thanks for listening and remember to report interesting hands, but not so if the opposition is very poor, because advice given here only applies against reasonable opposition.