Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

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

I’m confused about the nature of a positive response to an opening two club bid. In one of your recent columns, the responder had 12 points and a five-card spade suit. Why did he not bid two spades? Did he need a better suit?

Field of Dreams, Houston, Texas

I’ll tell you where I stand – but not everyone agrees. A two heart response never preempts partner from his intended call. So I often bid that with positive values and a moderate suit – not necessarily two top honors. A two spade response needs a decent suit, since we may have stopped partner from rebidding hearts at a convenient level. I suggest you use minor-suit responses for unbalanced hands with good suits, and the meaning for two no-trumps…is up to you.

My wife and I read your column to try to improve our bridge. A few weeks ago we saw a hand where one player heard his partner open one spade and the next hand doubled. North had 10 points and four spades; what is the full message intended by his two no-trump response? (My response would have been three spades, by the way!).

Muddy Waters, Portland, Maine

After a double of partner’s major suit, it is sensible to try to keep the opponents out by jump raising his major with a weak hand. In turn, that requires you to be able to use a different call for the limit raise, since the jump raise is no longer available. With redouble showing a strong balanced hand, two no-trump is not needed as natural. Hence you re-direct that call to be at least a limit raise in spades. This convention may be referred to as Jordan or Truscott.

We play a penalty double of the opponents’ one no-trump opener, whether it is weak or strong. Given that you can pass in response to that double with values, with a weak hand should you play a conventional scheme of response or just play natural? And what if the opponents run from one no-trump?

Wellington Boot, Casper, Wyo.

I suggest you play Stayman and transfers in response to partner’s double of either a strong or a weak no-trump for penalty. Even with a good, shapely hand you may prefer to describe your hand, and not just to sit for the double. I don’t always play a penalty double of a strong no-trump, but if I did I might play transfers and Stayman there too. When they run, treat your first double as you would the intervention over your no-trump opener.

Recently one of my opponents played through an entire hand before discovering that they had started with only 12 cards, and a diamond was under the previous table. The director said there was no penalty. Is that correct?

Number Cruncher, Woodland Hills, Calif.

When you fail to notice a missing card your revoke, if any, should be punished by the laws in normal fashion. The penalty may be one or two tricks – depending in part on whether the offender personally won the revoke trick – and on how many tricks were won after the revoke.

A couple of weeks ago you answered a question of mine – now I’m giving you the matching hand to that problem. With both sides vulnerable, you hold ♠ A-5, J-5-4, Q-8-5-2, ♣ Q-J-7-5. Assuming you pass, what would you bid if partner doubled a one diamond opener, and what would you bid if a one diamond opener was passed round to you?

Elevator, Wausau, Wis.

In balancing seat you cannot double, so the choice is to bid one no-trump or pass. I’d bid if the opponents were non-vulnerable, pass if they were vulnerable. Over my partner’s double, a call of one no-trump looks unexceptionable.

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


ClarksburgJanuary 8th, 2017 at 3:07 pm

Hello Mr Wolff
South Dealer: 10 K9762 AQ42 K52
North: A53 QJ KJ10865 A9
As can be seen, 6D is cold. But in a recent Club game of B and C-level Players, no Pair bid it to slam, no doubt because they lacked any methods / agreements for showing second-round controls such as South’s HK and small singleton Spade.

What general agreements for control showing would you recommend?

And, on this specific hand, presuming the auction starts 1H> 2D how would the sequence go?

jim2January 8th, 2017 at 4:46 pm

I am not Our Host, but (assuming 2/1 is GF) here is one possibility:

1H ———————- 2D (GF)
3D (confirming Ds) — 3S (Cue)
3N (1-5-4-K?x) ——- 4N (ace check)
5D (one A) ———— 6D

Here is another:

1H ——————— 2D (GF)
3S (splinter) ——— and so on

bobby wolffJanuary 8th, 2017 at 6:41 pm

Hi Clarksburg and Jim2,

While I agree in principle about both of Jim2’s probable sequences, let me offer only a small, but I think important distinction.

Assuming no 3 spade shortness response, on the basis of only a minimum holding, so then making the obvious diamond raise to 3, but implying, at least until further notice, not much extra.

Then over the obvious 3 spade cue bid, which, of course, could be made with the intention of partner only needing clubs stopped for nine tricks in NT I would, because of my great potential while playing this hand in diamonds, will expect the ace of spades from partner and thus pass up 3NT in order to cue bid the king of clubs for slam. Somehow the opener’s hand looks slammish to me and not just because I can see all 26 cards. Then it is very easy for the responder to check on key cards and wind up in the laydown contract.

Two factors remain in mind. At least to me, while other players think differently, an immediate 3 spade shortness bid, should have perhaps the ace of hearts instead of the king, but once declining that first aggressive rebid, then I think the opener cannot ignore how good his hand has become with the three spade cue bid (even though it could only be the king, not the ace, the difference, especially with slam in mind, being night and day).

The second factor only magnifies my dislike for matchpoint duplicate. Having it my way (above) my feeling is obviously that by bidding 4 clubs we can still stop in 5 diamonds without enough controls (my queen of diamonds suggests that) but and no doubt, duplicate bridge calls for sheer guesses and at the table I might, depending on my partner and the specific event, “chicken out” and only bid 3 NT.

However Jim2 would carry it further, but on the next hand that may become a mistake.

Finally, my conclusion is that, while playing duplicate bridge it is just as important a decision to go past the 3NT level as it is to “settle” for playing that popular contract with all the possible overtricks it may bring, but the crux of the matter is that the game itself suffers while others are winning the duplicates, still the game itself cries out to not miss good slams and that is where rubber bridge and Imps have it all over the game everyone loves to play.

IOW’s matchpoints while being a very competitive worthwhile challenge does miss the very essence of what IMPs and rubber bridge before it, catered to, set one’s sails toward slams, but having the safety net of only game as an alternative, but not so when matchpoints are at stake.

Do not expect that the above conundrum will be solved in anyone’s lifetime, but the knowledge of its existence may be helpful in deciding what priorities should be.

Perhaps, and in the near future, all aspiring players will play that the opener will jump to show a singleton with only a minimum opener, allowing different judgments based on that premise. Whether one is better than the other is for that particular partnership to decide, but my only warning is that by solving one dilemma another one will be waiting in the wings.

ClarksburgJanuary 8th, 2017 at 7:07 pm

Thanks Jim2
I just dropped in again intending to add a supplementary footnote re “assuming 2/1 GF”, in which case, as you point out, South’s 3S is clearly a Splinter for Diamonds. I like the “slam’s possible” Splinter since it conveys not only the shortage but implies that Opener’s hand has increased in value after hearing 2D.
About your first auction, couldn’t Responder’s 3S, at that point, be taken as just exploring for 3NT game and could have a Spade stop but still have two quick spade losers. In that case might Opener not bid 3NT with a length stop in Hearts, but off the A and K?
Is there any merit in:
1H 2D 3D 4C, where the 4C fibs about lacking a Spade control and is intended to coax Opener to show a heart control?
It seemed to me there might be some nuanced options here; that’s why I decided to ask the question.

ClarksburgJanuary 8th, 2017 at 7:14 pm

Obviously my second post above crossed Bobby’s in the mail.
Glad I asked…learned a lot.

bobby wolffJanuary 8th, 2017 at 7:26 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Although your post was directed to Jim2, please allow me to stick in my two cents.

Do not EVER begin to think that bridge bidding is even close to perfect. True, some sequences such as your hand in question lends itself to some rather pleasing information passed back and forth among the partners allowing a diamond slam to be bid. However, our game being what it is, merely becomes one where mature judgment, based on the understanding of the game, and more importantly (IMO) the experience gleaned by playing it at reasonably high levels, for so many years, will tend to make a player he or she, the best either can become.

It is nothing like an air traffic controller’s task, one substantial mistake and many lives may be lost, but happily and at any one duplicate game of 26 hands the best player in the room will average perhaps 20 different mistakes for the afternoon.

It is very dangerous to the ego to not accept the above fact, before sticking one’s toe in the bridge water. However, the good news is that everyone from the best player ever has had to play with the same conditions, making it a game of trying to limit one’s mistakes to fewer than others around, which in turn and with important help from partner and choice of system played, will result in consistently high finishes.

No More, No Less!

jim2January 8th, 2017 at 8:44 pm

Calrksburg –

Our Host and moi are in violent agreement here.

For instance, I did not espouse the splinter, but offered it instead as one possible auction.

On your follow-up to me, I do not disagree that the 3S call could have been a simple 3N exploration looking for club stopper. That is why the opener bid 3N to show it. At that point — with 3N the existing contract — that Responder has to make a decision.

At MPs (or Board-a-Match), the decision could well be either to Pass or to simply bid 6D. At teams or rubber bridge, one can ace-ask knowing 5D is a safety net.

Bill CubleyJanuary 9th, 2017 at 3:11 pm


I aggressively bid 5 card majors over 2 Clubs. It is not as vital for the strong hand to be declarer as is opening1NT or 2NT. Makes it easier to show minimum. 2C-2H, 3H-4H or 2C-2H, 2S -3NT.

My longest ever partner expressed displeasure when I bid hearts. He held AKQX in hearts. Can’t please everyone, but I was complimented by a lady partner for always laying down a good dummy.

bobby wolffJanuary 12th, 2017 at 2:47 am

Hi Bill,

Like the right porridge temperature for the three bears, it is always preferred for partner to enjoy one’s dummy, especially for a lady partner.

With that in mind, it is still usually better for the stronger hand to declare the hand since the opening lead will be up to where the honors are, instead of through them.

However, sometimes that advantage needs to be compromised and you have seemed to find the right times to do just that.

Keep your formula secret, and you figure to win every battle for a lovely Dame Fortune.