Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, August 28th, 2016

I have always played that to respond to partner’s opening bid at the two level, in a new suit, requires at least 10 points or invitational values in high-cards. Last night we played against a very experienced and successful player, who claims you can respond at the two level with six or more points. Has there been a change in recent years on this rule?

Valued Client, Hartford, Conn.

You are right and your expert wrong. Of course 10 points is a moveable feast; some 10-counts are not worth the action, some nine-counts are worth an invitation. It just goes to show we should all use common-sense and not count beans! The fact remains that weaker hands without a fit and a biddable suit at the one level should typically bid one no-trump.

In response to a one no-trump call you recently showed a sequence in which responder bid two spades with only one spade and six clubs. Is this a convention of which I have never heard?

Pat-A-Cake, Cleveland, Ohio

I sometimes forget to alert transfer responses in the column. Two diamond and two heart responses to one no-trump are Jacoby Transfers showing the suit above. And one can similarly use two further calls to show diamonds and clubs. One sensible way is to use two spades for clubs, and three clubs for diamonds, while keeping two no-trump as natural. Responder’s continuations at his next turn are to show shortness, since all good hands with a four-card major and a minor plus forcing values start with Stayman.

At unfavorable vulnerability you hear RHO open a strong no-trump. You hold ♠ J-10-5-4, K-Q-9-6-4, Q-2, ♣ 6-2. Your partnership agreements provide for showing either the heart suit, or both majors. Does your hand have enough playing strength to justify acting? If not how much more would you need, and would you favor showing just the five-card heart suit, or showing both majors?

Fire when Ready, Sunbury, Pa.

I could imagine balancing over a no-trump if non-vulnerable, so long as I was a passed hand. As it is, though, I’d not bid at this vulnerability unless I had the spade ace instead of the four. And I would definitely act to show both majors when 5-4, no matter what the suit disparity.

Can you comment on the method of defensive signaling defined as ‘obvious shift’? Is it a good idea to use these methods or at least to have them in one’s quiver for possible use?

Asking for the Stars, Bristol, Va.

The idea is that discouraging the opening lead will likely see partner shift to dummy’s obvious weak suit, or the suit that the auction makes most logical. Equally, when you encourage the opening lead (assuming that continuing the attack on that suit won’t cost a trick) you can prevent partner from switching to a suit that you know will cost a trick. I like the approach in moderation – but not as a philosophy of life.

It occurred to me while watching the Masters Golf championship that bridge and golf are often sports that go in pairs. Are there any serious bridge players who are outstanding golfers, and any top golfers who play a decent game of bridge?

Double Duty, Kansas City, Mo.

Jesper Parnevik has some decent bridge skills, and Zia Mahmood is a keen if not proficient golfer. Jeff Meckstroth harbored thoughts of playing golf professionally while at college, though his back might prevent him these days. Norberto Bocchi is also a fine golfer.

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


ClarksburgSeptember 11th, 2016 at 10:32 am

Good morning Bobby
Pairs, favourable VUL
Dealer passes.
In second seat you hold:
J3 QJ 8 AQJ97432
Is this hand clearly (100%) worth a 1C opening?
Would a pre-empt (say 4C) have merit in third seat?

Bobby WolffSeptember 11th, 2016 at 12:27 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

At least to me, this hand is a poster child for opening 4 clubs in any seat (even 4th) since I like my chances for a plus score and do not fear passing opponents nor my partner raining on my parade. Note: against very conservative opponents and in 4th seat, perhaps 3 clubs is high enough to buy it.

No doubt, it is possible for 3NT to be the only making game for this side, but if so, methinks you should chalk that up as unlucky, since the greater good (in my judgment) is to inform partner what a four level minor preempt should look like and at the same time interrupt (by throwing a roadblock) to those worthy opponents communications, in spite of an original pass by RHO.

Opening one club and then hearing a vulnerable preempt by LHO followed by a double from partner becomes not only partner baiting (if you stand for it) but also (and worse) blind flying to say the least. Imagine doing just that, have partner lead the king of clubs with LHO ruffing it, and then having to look at his face after this happens, then enduring the rest of that session of bridge, has more down feelings than any considerate (and high-level) bridge player could imagine.

However, once opening 4 clubs (right or wrong) in the long run (and that is the proper measuring stick) your partner will be in a much better position to judge what to do since you and your partner will cement an agreement not to have to deal with those types of torture chambers.

Sure I guess I would rather have, x, xxxx, void, KQJxxxxx so that everything is perfectly accounted for, but if one needs such a hand before one trots out that 4 club bid, he will become much too easy an opponent, by using his time at bat IMO, to much less advantage.

When holding the hand you suggest instead, I would only open one club, if I was given a guarantee that the opponents wouldn’t get into the auction, and I doubt, even if that was legal, they would accommodate me.

Yes, of course, 2nd seat is the worst seat for preempting, but that, in fact, does not make it off limits to such an extent as not doing it on this hand. There are almost no “perfect martinis” in any level of bridge, so welcome to the club and deal with its fortunes with what I consider “mature” decisions, a euphemism for “been there, done that”.

ClarksburgSeptember 11th, 2016 at 1:37 pm

Most helpful.
That hand was discussed in our pre-game seminar at our Club last week. The strong players were all for opening it at 1C, and some would not want to pre-empt past 3NT.
Mine was the only voice in the room claiming that 4C stood out as being most helpful to Partner; reasons given: better description of the hand, not overstating defensive values, good only for play at Clubs).
My position was essentially based upon what I have learned here, and now reenforced by your answer today.

Bobby WolffSeptember 11th, 2016 at 2:30 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Like many things in life, there is a time to learn, a time to perform, a time to assess, and a time to accept.

No one can quarrel or, for that matter, criticize others while they spend time being processed. Also probably like many other things in life we tend to put them all in one basket and learn and treat them, more or less, the same way.

Learning and then performing in bridge is, at least to me, a unique experience. First, learn the necessary techniques, then seek the best opposition, give to get by compromising with partners, try to understand what it takes to succeed by realizing that bridge is far away from being a game which can be perfected (or anywhere close), but merely appreciate the human side of any totally mind game and only attempt to stay one step ahead of your fiercest competition.

It isn’t the least surprising to me that almost everyone in your group considers one club the best action du jour, on your hand . That to me, is striving for the perfection which doesn’t exist and only time will convince them otherwise, and even then they will always think (in their heart of hearts) that missing a lay down 3NT (where 5 clubs doesn’t and, above all, our side is given the chance to declare 3NT, not as likely as they think, especially against aware and clever opponents).

All the above will come to the real prospects among your group for ultimate bridge success, but not without at least some consternation along the path, until they glean the experience necessary (and the respect which accompanies) allowing their task to have been worth the effort.

In any event we need more Clarksburgs to lead the way for others to improve and thus thoroughly enjoy our great game.

Thank you for all the time and responsibility you continue to offer others, and here is hoping, that you feel their appreciation.

I know I do!

TedSeptember 11th, 2016 at 4:57 pm

Hi Bobby,

Another bidding problem. This is from yesterday’s Swiss match.

Both NV, RHO deals and opens 2D (weak). You hold:

J87xx Ax AQJ5x K

I passed, as did LHO. If partner Dbls, what do you bid?

Partner actually passed, so I never had to make that decision. What would you lead?


Jeff SSeptember 12th, 2016 at 1:59 am

Interesting questions. Almost certainly it is because I have been reading this column so long, but 4C stood out to me too.

For Ted, I am very interested to see what Bobby has to say. I’d be tempted to lead A and another heart for the no-double scenario. If partner doubled, we may very well have game so I don’t think I’d consider leaving it in. How to show values though?

Would 3D be a valid response expecting 3H followed by 3S? Or bid spades right away and see what happens? It would be nice to be declarer with the happy knowledge that there is a good chance LHO will lead a diamond though his partner’s K. I really don’t expect my partner to have both missing diamonds (and I’d be shocked if E played a five-card preempt missing so many honors).

Peter PengSeptember 12th, 2016 at 1:34 pm

hi bobby

in the book Aces on Bridge, in which of course you figure, the author Ira describes a hand played by Arnold Palmer, a very hard contract, by the way

Bobby WolffSeptember 12th, 2016 at 3:53 pm

Hi Ted,

With your bidding problem, my experience has told me to bid right away. Of course, if I knew partner would double back in, while holding what I do in RHO’s WTB suit I would pass and expect to finish with a large number, in spite of the opponent’s not being vulnerable.

However, the chances of partner doubling back in and then to decide, not, will cut the likely spade game our side will have, as long as my partner had 3+ spades and a modicum of HCPs.

By bidding right away, it, in turn, will keep partner alert and on track to raising my poor trump suit, allowing me to score up a game I feel likely to make because of my very favorable position of once getting the normal diamond lead then being enabled to trump diamond losers in the short trump hand, very likely fulfilling a game contract. Sometimes, luck will allow my partner and me to even bid and make a slam, for the same reasons as above.

However, to just pass and wait and see, very often leaves you at the altar with no beautiful
girl to marry, not a pleasurable experience.

Bobby WolffSeptember 12th, 2016 at 4:26 pm

Hi Jeff S,

Glad to hear that you prefer 4 clubs as an opening bid rather than something else with that relatively weak hand, but an eight card suit.

Regarding Ted’s query, I strongly think that the choices are simply pass and hope for partner’s involvement (with likely a relatively mediocre hand, although short in diamonds) or a simple 2 spade overcall. To instead, bid 3 diamonds is not in the bridge ballpark since the direction that would send us, would be, no doubt, counterproductive.

Bobby WolffSeptember 12th, 2016 at 4:35 pm

Hi Peter,

During the days of the Aces, (between 40 and 50 years ago), we found that many celebrities played a lot of bridge and Ira Corn and his public relations group came up with a number of ways for the Aces to mix with them and receive a number of real life bridge encounters.

There must have been more than double digit exposures, since I, myself, was involved in a number of them, all very entertaining and mostly very amusing.

The other sure fact that was always apparent involved the celebrity wanting to also be known for being good at something else, besides being a movie, political or sports star and primarily because of that, it was never difficult for the Aces and him, her, or them to find a meeting place for a bridge game.