Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

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

How does a partnership decide whether to signal attitude or count? Can you clarify the order of priorities here?

Lucifer, Durham, N.C.

I suggest attitude is of prime importance and that especially at trick one you should only switch to count if it is clear that you don’t like the suit led. If you can’t beat the jack or lower in dummy, you don’t need to signal your attitude – it is defined already. Equally, if you lead the queen and see it hold the trick while dummy has K-10-2, you know partner has the ace, so third hand can signal count.

Holding ♠ Q-J-7-3, Q-9-5-2, K-4, ♣ J-10-3, I saw my RHO deal and bid one diamond. I passed, my LHO bid two clubs, my partner doubled, and my RHO passed. Which major do you bid, and why?

Slim Pickings, White Plains, N.Y.

I bid neither suit; I bid two diamonds — partner pick a major — planning to raise to three to invite game. Alternatively, if you think that call should be natural, you can bid three clubs, an unequivocal cue-bid to convey the same message, though this might force our side to game. If you forced me to pick a major I would bid three spades, planning to bid four hearts if the opponents compete to four of a minor.

Say your partner opens one spade and your RHO overcalls with two hearts, while you hold ♠ 9-4, A-J-9-6, A-4, ♣ K-9-7-6-2. What would you recommend now: three clubs, three no-trump, or something else?

In a Quandary, Allentown, Pa.

It would be clear to bid three clubs were your clubs better. On today’s hand you might miss three no-trump here if you bid three clubs and partner raises you – though you might be pleased to have done so, I suppose. At equal of favorable vulnerability you might well pass, hoping for a reopening double.

Ron Klinger and Eddie Kantar both say that a double of any notrump bid is for penalties and a double of a suit bid at less than game level is generally a takeout double. Some players in our bridge group at a local seniors center here maintain that any double of a bid below game level is a takeout double. Who is right?

Never in Doubt, Jackson, Miss.

Whenever a suit has been agreed by your opponents, doubles are cards, or take-out. But doubles of no-trump are generally for business, and as soon as you start to double whether for takeout or penalties, subsequent doubles are always penalties of course. And when the opponents wander into your auctions before you have found a fit it would be a shame not to be able to let them know that they have made a mistake. Equally if the opponents re-open a dead auction, your doubles should be for penalty.

In a recent column I saw you discuss responsive doubles. Could you give me a summary of the basics as to what constitute one of these doubles – and also what does NOT fall under that heading?

Lucky Luke, Perth Amboy, N.J.

A responsive double is made when the opponents bid and raise a suit, after your partner doubles the opening bid. It suggests both majors, if the opponents raise a minor, and may or may not have hearts if the opponents raise spades. If the opponents bid and raise hearts you normally don’t have spades (you’d bid them yourself). By agreement they may also apply after partner overcalls. If so, they show values plus all the unbid suits or tolerance for partner – also called Snapdragon.

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


ClarksburgAugust 7th, 2016 at 6:30 pm

Supplementary to Never in Doubt’s great topic about agreements on what Doubles mean in context:
Mr Wolff, your recommendation indicates that our second Double be unambiguous Penalty Double. Up to now, I have been playing that a second Double could still be cards / optional, but our third Double would be unambiguous Penalty Double; is that badly off base?
Perhaps of more importance and frequency-of-occurrence, and to keep it simple, I prefer that unless they have walked into our GF or “we-own-the-hand” auctions, Doubles below game are never unambiguous Penalty Doubles. In particular, I would consider a Penalty Double of their two-of-a Major as very risky except by very strong defenders.
As an example, yesterday I opened 1S in third seat. LHO Doubled and Partner bid 2 Clubs. RHO bid 2H. I Doubled. My intent was to let Partner know that my third-hand opening was sound. He left the Double in and their contract made for Game. Partner, a far stronger and more-experienced player than me, said that because I had “opened” and he had shown “10 points”, my Double was absolutely unambiguously for Penalty. Your comment?

bobbywolffAugust 7th, 2016 at 7:39 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

First, a little bridge history on this subject.

1. In the past (one may say the beginning of contract bridge which give or take a few years began in the 1930’s, doubles, except for the original TO dbls at the lower levels and when first for that person to bid, were otherwise almost all penalty).

2. Then throughout that period and well into the 1950’s it stayed the same except for a few conventions such as Fishbein (an original double, invented by Harry Fishbein from NY, of a 3-level preemptive opening for penalties to combat some terribly weak preempt bids which emerged during that period for the very reason that the person sitting over them could not then double for penalties). BTW, the next suit over that preempt was played for TO until that changed to the lowest unbid minor instead for TO.

3. The Fishbein penalty double lasted a few years until, in defense their opponents stopped those very weak preempts and at that same time many English bridge authors playing Acol advocated making penalty doubles on hands such as: s. x, h. KJx, d. Axxxx, c. Jxxx (S.J. Simon the most prolific), if partner opened one spade and RHO overcalled two clubs, not a bad idea and, in truth that concept carried over it being: If a hand appears to be a misfit for one partnership it likely is for both.

Then came what has turned out to be a cornerstone of a new bidding era featuring the Negative Double, TO and generally having support for the unbid major(s) but being for TO which was invented by Al Roth I believe in the late 1950’s and appropriately (at least at the time period) called Sputnik in honor of the first Russian space ship or shuttle.

Now skipping over a somewhat confused time period where many good players were seeking the best way of dealing with a very complicated subject, which still has gaps, but very slowly, starting to fall into place.

Doubles early in the auction, after their opponents have found a fit (bid and raised) are always for TO with different gradations according to level. In essence the answer revolves around DSI (do something intelligent) in response. For a specific example let’s assume that the opener has been dealt:
s. xx, h. AQJ9x, d. Ax, c. KJ9x and after opening 1H having it go 1S, 2D, 2S decide to double having support for whatever partner decides to do, rebid his diamonds, bid the unbid suit clubs and of course show heart support or of course, NT.

If instead the opener had s. x, AQJ9x, Ax, KJ9xx he would eschew the double and bid 3 clubs or with, x. AQJ9x, Axx, c. KJ9x immediately raise to 3 diamonds. With an extra heart he would rebid 3 hearts or make any other natural bid he felt showed his hand, but the double would help better define the offensive nature of what he held. Of course, then by bridge logic, a simple pass would be minimum without any specific feature thought worth mentioning.

Result is that more information (sometimes by silence) is transmitted to your partner’s bridge brain.

Trying to sum up, doubles are TO when the opponents have found a fit, catering to the LOTT (law of total tricks) that when they have a fit unless the defensive trumps are bunched behind the original bidder usually there are more tricks available on that hand for both sides because of the advantage of having enough trumps between each partnership.

Since these thoughts have now been processed through the minds of the resident bridge scientists and basically approved, most of the world’s top partnerships have added this logic and now use the double as an offensive (rather than defensive) to their hopeful advantage.

Still a way to go, especially with the learning curve of the relative newbie (likely enough talent but lacking in experience) who sadly listens to many people, anxious to help, but only representing hearsay evidence without the credentials or overall knowledge to so do.

Like the old saying “Curiosity killed the cat”, many a worthy on the upside bridge player slows down his progress when surrounded by others who like to vocalize what is right or wrong, not unlike our horrible political systems now so evident, for all of us to judge, but running huge chances of eventual failure.

Much more can be said about bridge theory, but the above may be enough to occupy your thoughts for a while, but I’ll be happy to answer any likely puzzling questions you may still have.

Iain ClimieAugust 7th, 2016 at 8:07 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

This probably won’t be any consolation but some experienced players (not Bodddy, of course) can have certain fixed ideas or even blind spots depite being strong elsewhere. After my 25 year break form the game I took an awful lot of persuading that 1S (P) 2C (2H) X shouldn’t be for blood (got there in the end, petulantly) and I still don’t like support doubles at all. What was partner’s heart holding, though? If xx or similar then he might reasonably have assumed you had KJ9x or similar, but if he had longer hearts, and your LHO didn’t pass without wriggling, shouldn’t he read the position a bit better and think twice before passing?

Any thoughts Bobby, especially if I’m fooling myself?



bobbywolffAugust 7th, 2016 at 9:22 pm

Hi Iain,

No doubt, your double behind the 2 heart bidder is certainly for penalties (assuming it is not a support double, which neither of us like). As of the first round of bidding is in process there is thus far no evidence of a fit with either of our partnerships as only different suits have been mentioned, so no doubt as to what your double should mean.

Also, what you are suggesting about the more hearts partner may have the less likely your double is for penalties just is too difficult to play and, at least IMO not even a percentage guide, besides of course the grief which goes with accompanied by the games Dame Fortune can play in the process.

Of course, attempting to play such a thing would (should) gladden the heart of Jim2 since we all would then be suffering what he has sadly become accustomed to.

ClarksburgAugust 8th, 2016 at 1:34 am

Thanks to both for the added dialogue.
I still need a bit of clarification (and hope there may be some keen Intermediate Lurkers looking in, who may benefit!).

First, Mr. Wolff’s initial response presented three examples. They all had a bit extra, i.e.15HCP. To me these could be summed up as “if you have something extra and a suitable descriptive call, make that call; if you have the extra but no descriptive call, then Double”. My question:when Partner “does something intelligent” could that include leaving the Double in to defend? (as I have been playing it to date).

For Iain’s example auction 1S (P) 2C (2H) X, Mr Wolff said the X was clearly Penalty. I think I get that, since we are either in a GF auction (if playing 2/1) or at least “own the hand” (opening bid across from 10+).

But the auction in my initial posting was P (P) 1S (X) 2C (2H) X. My opening was third hand, and haven’t the opponents in effect found a fit (a TO X and a free call of 2H) ? There was no clear “hand ownership” at that point, and my Double was not intended as Penalty. How should my Double there be interpreted by Partner?
Thanks again.

bobbywolffAugust 8th, 2016 at 10:24 am

Hi Clarksburg,

Yes and No. Theoretically they have found a fit, but in practice they well could be in a 4-3 split with the doubler’s hand: s. AKxxx, h. QJ108, d. Axx, c. x and partner having something similar to s. xx, h. xx, d. QJx, c. AJ9xxx. The doubler holding s. xx, h. Axx, d. K10xx, c. KQ10x and his partner coming in with 2 hearts on: s. QJ10x, h. Kxxx, d. xxx, c. xx. (both pushing, and thanks to you, not allowing them to get away with it).

No exact science here, just percentage actions, but the one necessary constant MUST be, that the double is definitely for penalties.

To judge otherwise tends to make partnership actions just too difficult to be consistent. In truth and perhaps the deciding factor is that partner’s 2 clubs (after passing) is never temporizing but rather length in clubs, severely limited in strength, but because of all four hands bidding likely to be pushy in order to get his suit in at the lowest level possible.

However the opener’s penalty double, although not foolproof to set them, if running into very unusual distribution but still necessary to take that small chance, otherwise fear is playing just too strong a role with the opening bidder’s mind.

Yes, supposing the opener held: s. AKJxx, h. xx
d. K10xx, c. KQ he would prefer to be playing that double to be TO, but bridge just doesn’t lend itself to such luxury, since it is far from a perfect science, meaning good judgment needs to always be in the mix. With that above hand I would simply raise to 3 clubs (knowing partner figures, almost surely, to have length) and await developments.

And dear Clarksburg, you are getting schooled in bridge at it really is, rather than the walk in the park that others prefer, but almost always suffer disappointment when they realize that experience, almost as important as talent and numeracy, determines just how quickly, if ever, the student advances in a straight line to becoming a possible breakout to unusual success.