Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, September 25th, 2016

I have a question about the unobstructed sequence of Stayman followed by three of a minor over a two diamond response. My partner and I play this as showing a strong five-card minor with slam potential opposite the no-trump. An expert at our club has been taught that it should be weak and to play. What would you recommend the above sequence be used for?

Watcher in the Night, San Antonio, Texas

You are right, the expert wrong, in my opinion. With a weak hand and 4-5 pattern don’t use Stayman but pass one notrump. With a weak hand and 4-6 pattern, simply transfer to the minor. Remember, the perfect is the enemy of the good.

These days there seem to be unlimited versions of Blackwood. Could you comment on whether my partnership should learn any modifications such as Keycard, Exclusion… or even something else?

Enquiring Mind, Honolulu, Hawaii

Whether you play regular or Keycard Blackwood is up to you. I admit that as the world has moved toward Keycard, my objections to it have lessened somewhat. As to Exclusion: the idea is that an unusual jump when trumps have been set – normally to the five-level or at the four level above the partnership suit – asks for keycards. It shows a void in the jump-suit, hence responder ignores that ace in that suit. Be prepared for at least one disaster if you decide to play it.

Holding ♠ K-J-9-3, 7, A-J-8-7-5-2, ♣ J-3, would you open with a weak two bid, or at the one level? Or would you prefer to pass, and back in later?

Open Question, Riverside, Calif.

I’d never pass this hand; I like to open hands with good suits. However, I try to avoid a weak-two with a decent four-card major on the side if I can. I accept these two pieces of advice may occasionally conflict, as here. On balance, I’d open one diamond, except perhaps in second seat vulnerable, where my idea of a weaktwo closely resembles a hand of this sort. The playing strength of the hand equates to most opening bids.

Recently I saw a deal where you remarked that the odds of a suit splitting 3-3 were about one in three. Since there are six different lengths each opponent could have, why isn’t the chance closer to one in six?

Counting by Numbers, Naples, Fla.

Not all breaks are equally likely. The closest to a general rule I can give you is: an even number of cards will split evenly about one time in three, those odds going down as more cards are involved. (The most likely break when missing an even number is one away from even – be it 3-1, 4-2, or 5-3). When missing an odd number of cards, the odds are two in three that they split as close to evenly as possible. This percentage declines gradually as the total number of missing cards increases.

What is the cut-off point for the suit quality of an overcall? Holding ♠ Q-7-3, A-2, Q-10-9-6-4, ♣ A-10-3, would you overcall one diamond over one club – and how about a call of two diamonds over one heart?

Rumblefish, Bremerton, Wash.

A one-level overcall in a hand this strong is just fine. You should almost never overcall at the two-level on a suit that weak (give yourself the club queen as well and I might feel compelled to bid). But I’d like a six-card suit or a better five-card suit before I make a two-level overcall. Here I would double one heart rather than overcall, since this shape is close enough to the classic three-suiter short in hearts.

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Iain ClimieOctober 9th, 2016 at 9:27 am

Hi Bobby,

Can I bring Enquiring Mind’s attention to Byzantine Blackwood which I used to play in the late 1970s. It was quite complex but very effective. If you don’t mind the work involved, I would recommend it.



Michael BeyroutiOctober 9th, 2016 at 11:00 am

To Iain,
ever the tongue-in-cheek man,
excerpt from Bridge Guys at the end of the definition of Byzantine Blackwood:

“Mr. John C. H. Marx devised a most complex conventional method which has its advantages and disadvantages. The most single disadvantage is that memorization of the guidelines is essential and prior practice with an experienced partner is absolutely necessary.”

Iain ClimieOctober 9th, 2016 at 11:44 am

Hi Michael,

Says it all really but worth a look for the highly competitive. It wasn’t that common when I played it but seems to have vanished nowadays.


bobbywolffOctober 9th, 2016 at 3:33 pm

Hi Iain & Michael,

Through the years my experience about good players (or at least on their way to so becoming) have a great penchant for choosing to play both conventions and sometimes only treatments (less frequently occurring and could be described as merely add ons) which are very complex (the more complicated to them, obviously the more effective) which help perhaps 10% of the time, while severely costing about 50% (by either partner forgetting or perhaps only by the one who hasn’t, not sure that his partner has not).

However, little is lost when they both decide not to strive for perfection, let their innate talent rule instead, and for heaven’s sake let both our minds be free to concentrate on our main objective, playing the best we can, rather than a theoretical target (but in bridge never succeeding, at least for any significant length of time) of better than any other partnership ever has.

The above doesn’t preclude either from reading about something and then discussing the reasons with one’s OX (affectionate for regular partner) to just let each other know that both care about improving, keeping in mind what the other roosters (and hens) in the barnyard are doing.

Not unlike Dorothy and companions trying to avoid wicked witches and poisoned flowers on the Yellow Brick Road and on the way to their destination.

slarOctober 10th, 2016 at 1:34 am

OX? I thought it was CHO.

Witness this auction from yesterday:
2=5+ hearts
4=4NT is quantitative and I have a max
5=wait, I thought it was Blackwood

Figuring out what 4NT means is a constant hassle. By agreement it is supposed to be quantitative here and that a 4D transfer is needed to bid Blackwood without explicit suit agreement. It is all good – we prevailed despite this misadventure.

I think if I were to add more to Blackwood (exclusion and/or something to make minor inquiries safer), I would need a source of at least 100 practice hands to drill various combinations. I really really dislike partnership misunderstandings.

bobbywolffOctober 10th, 2016 at 4:58 am

Hi Slar,

1. You are right to “really dislike” partnership misunderstandings since eventually, if not sooner, they will materially effect how well every partnership is developing and, of course, the disharmony will likely cause a split.

2. There could not be a hand where 4NT (assuming it was meant as quantatative) could overrule partner’s mere acceptance and volunteer a grand slam.

3. Normally, if the partnership identifies 4NT as quantatative, then a raise to 5NT is forcing and asks partner to bid 4 card suits up the line protecting against missing an unknown 4-4 fit which more often than not an easier way to bid a making slam.
4. Of course that would mean that the responder had a side 4 card minor to go with his length in hearts and would pass partner at the small slam level if the NTer would confirm the same minor suit.

5. That convention is very old, back to the early days of contract bridge, and is sometimes known as Flimt (English) in origin.

Good luck and likely you need a regular partner who takes bridge as seriously as you do, but that may be easier said than done.

Computer simulation wherein you program a certain number of combined high card points (probably about 28-32) between the hands will help a budding partnership develop post haste, again sometimes easier said than done.

BobliptonOctober 10th, 2016 at 12:07 pm

My “favorite” partnership misunderstanding was about twenty years ago with a pick-up partner. We agree to play “Gerber when obvious”. The bidding went….

Me Lefty CHO Righty
1C 1H 1NT P
2C 1H 2NT P
3C 3H X P
4C ….

After we settle in 6CX down 3, partner explained that 4C was obviously Gerber.


bobbywolffOctober 10th, 2016 at 2:43 pm

Hi Bob,

Even though you focused on this hand through jest, it could indeed be an important hand to determine latent bridge talent or just the ability to put on a bridge raincoat if it indeed starts raining.

Anyone who would have the slightest doubt as to what the meaning of that 4 club bid might be, should sadly never partake of bridge as even a pastime.

And believe me, to fail this test is NOT a certain indicative of low intelligence, but only a lack of “feel” of what bridge and its bidding is all about.

No doubt, the mental application of bridge revolves itself around “game” logic with an accent on numerate subjects.

Mind you, not particularly arithmetic subjects (being able to add, subtract, multiply and divide) but rather the consistent application of numeric subjects to ordinary issues in life, and finding the right solution, because of it.

No doubt, an aptitude test can be constructed, and has, which will be instrumental in often determining whether the student is capable of thinking that way. Would be bridge champions would do well to seek out such things if they aspire to become really good, for without it, only the joy of playing and the society which goes with, should be the objective,

slarOctober 10th, 2016 at 6:00 pm

In the hand described above, 7H was a retreat to hearts because the heart hand was void in spades and had AT 7th in hearts (all the more reason to use Texas). It turns out 6NT and 7H both had equal chances of making, requiring picking up the heart suit off QJxx. Good point about 5NT as the 1NT opener was 4=2-4-3. However, while in an uncontested auction, bidding 3 of a minor is a game force, I thought it was invitational and natural in competition. I would think that 3S (cue bid) is the only game force/slam try available. If 3m is forcing then there would be no need for 5NT pick-a-slam.

bobbywolffOctober 10th, 2016 at 7:23 pm

Hi Slar,

Many bids at the three level over partner’s NT opening (either one or two) are forcing, but most, if not all of them show 5+ cards.

Therefore 5NT, without it being a continuation of ace asking, only asks about 4 card suits up the line, where both partners bid their 4 card suits until one matches (and if no match, 6NT becomes the final contract).

But please do not confuse that 5NT is a jump to 5NT after a certain trump suit has become established, which asks partner to bid 7 if he holds 2 of the top honors in that suit.

Example: South: s. KJxxx, h. AKQJx, d. Axx, c. void and it goes: 1 spade by South, Pass, 2NT 4+ card trump fit GF. Then 5NT by South as a reasonable gamble if partner has both the AQ in spades. Of course with Axxxx in spades North could also gamble 7 out, but that is another subject left up to that particular partnership since he could hold QJxxxx in trump and gambling on not catching 10xxx.

Yes, one could jump to 5 of the trump suit if he held: s. QJxxxx, h. AKQJx, d. Ax, but to me, that is just too conservative.

BTW, if one is in to bridge books, most authors will never discuss such hands for fear of failure in the reader possibly of getting to a no play slam, but rather than to discuss a conservative approach, prefer to not broach that subject.