Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, February 11th, 2018

I picked up ♠ Q-6-4-2,  Q-9-2,  K-5, ♣ A-10-8-3 and elected to pass in third seat. When my LHO opened one club and my RHO responded one heart, should I have stuck with my initially pessimistic judgment and passed, or would you double here to show a maximum pass?

Silent Stephen, Durango, Colo.

Passing in third seat when you don’t really have an opening bid or a suit that you want partner to lead does make sense, I suppose. Opening one club is fine by me, though. But having passed and heard partner fail to overcall, you shouldn’t back in unless you have a reason. With only two diamonds, you do not have a good reason to bid nor any guarantee of a fit. You made your bed; now lie in it.

I have just started learning Keycard Blackwood. When my partner answered my inquiry to show zero or three aces. I had one keycard, so I signed off. My partner then passed with three, thinking I should already know he could not hold zero key-cards because he had opened the bidding. Does this make sense?

Slamma Jamma, Houston, Texas

Your partner should never assume you know he has three key-cards — unless he has either shown extras or initiated or co-operated in slam ventures earlier in the auction. Normal practice here would be to bid on with three by answering whether he has the trump queen. He can raise the trump suit to deny the queen, or cue-bid a king if he has the queen.

I picked up ♠ Q-9-8,  K-4,  A-Q-J-8-5-4, ♣ K-7, and in third seat decided that for tactical reasons this hand looked like a strong no-trump. When my partner transferred into hearts with a call of two diamonds, I was tempted to pass. This would have worked well, but I didn’t think I should risk my partner having a heart attack. What are your thoughts?

Swinging from the Rafters, Macon, Ga.

The no-trump opening bid is a perfectly sensible strategy in third chair (and there are plenty who might extend that strategy to other seats, too). Since the call is hardly a psych, I would respond to it as if I had a regular opening bid. Passing in mid-auction is no way to encourage partnership trust.

I may be out of touch with modern expert thinking in many areas, but one that particularly confuses me is the use of doubles and redoubles these days. Where would you advise me to look to read up on these subjects?

Red Card Ralph, Woodland Hills, Calif.

I would advocate the general rule about doubling that, facing a passing partner or when the opponents have explicitly or implicitly agreed a suit, almost all low-level doubles are primarily for take-out. I recommend Mike Lawrence’s Complete Book on Takeout Doubles as a good place to start your reading. For beginners, is a simple online resource as well.

Vulnerable and facing a fairly sound bidder, my LHO opened one spade, and my partner overcalled two clubs. When the next bidder pre-empted to three spades. I was looking at a somewhat unusual hand: ♠ —,  A-K-2,  A-J-9-4, ♣ A-K-10-4-3-2. What is the most sensible tactical or strategic approach here?

Grist to the Mill, New Brunswick, Canada

If the opponents promised to stay silent, I would bid four spades and then, over the likely five-club response, a case can be made for bidding five no-trump. Since you would cue-bid an ace in a red suit if you had one but not the other, this call must focus on the secondary controls. I would not be amazed if we were close to a grand slam but the opponents had a cheap save. Playing six clubs might be our best possible result.

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ClarksburgFebruary 25th, 2018 at 12:19 pm

Good morning Bobby.
A comment and supplementary question re Grist to the Mill’s question and your reply.

First of all, your compellingly logical “if you had one but not the other” is a gem for me; have never seen that in any typical mass-market books!

Do you recommend that the 4S cuebid in this auction always guarantees first-round control of Spades (even for a Pair playing initially showing first- or- second-round controls in an unobstructed GF auction) ?
If so, how would you approach bidding this hand if, say, the D4 were to become a singleton S4 ?


Iain ClimieFebruary 25th, 2018 at 1:17 pm

Hi Bobby, Clarksburg,

I don’t suppose Grist to the Mill gave the full hand as well and the various results which ensued, did he / she? Clearly our RHO has shape and maybe a high spade but, at the table, I might just bash 6C intending to bid 7C over 6S. I’m tempted to bid 7C straight off but I wonder if partner has a little wasted something in spade eg. Q10x. There again, the oppo may well take the push.



bobbywolffFebruary 25th, 2018 at 1:56 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Yes, when first I saw this letter, there was little choice for me to just assume it was genuine and did happen, although sometimes unknown shenanigans by some players or another (either the sender or his bridge friends) are more than just possible.

Trying to concoct a 52 card hand with me looking at this collection as 4th seat is indeed difficult, but perhaps we are both void in spades with the opponents both to be void in clubs.

However, back to decide what to do. There is little doubt that we should be able to make at least 12 tricks in clubs and with partner being sound, likely 13, but there is absolutely no way to find out which, since partner could never begin to visualize my 13 cards, regardless of what approach I may take or even perhaps if we are playing with transparent ones.

IOW he will deny, deny, deny and who can blame him? Therefore the scoring system in bridge, especially considering the opponents when not vulnerable (implied, but not specifically), means that if we, indeed can make 13 tricks in clubs, they will have an excellent sacrifice outbidding us to 7 spades, with down only 3 or 4 is likely (because of cross ruffs, depending on their exact combined holdings which likely should produce approximately 9 or 10 tricks) which is only 500 or 800 compared to 2140 for 7 clubs or even 1390 for 6 clubs making an overtrick.

Therefore to coin a like phrase to the popular comedian line, “I went to a heavyweight prize fight and a hockey game broke out” how about “I was playing bridge and suddenly it turned to poker”.

It then follows, that instead of the best possible result +2140 in a grand slam making (discounting being doubled) I will then accept +1390 as instead the best result possible. However, when the opponents do bid 6 spades, I will bite the bullet and bid 7 clubs and hope my earlier uncertainty will keep those wily opponents from taking what they may each think individually, be a phantom save.

No one who hasn’t looked at the combined 52 cards will be able to predict the final result. Yes, bridge is deprived the science an unlucky expert expects on all hands, but finds to his dismay, the wildly exciting nature of our game is not always so accommodating.

Again, because of too much to find out and too little room for even the “best” players to find out everything necessary, we have no choice but to use our best strategy (discussed above, 6 clubs then 7 if given the chance).

Finally, if you (or our correspondent) give this hand to any of the greatest players you know, the first emotion you will get would be likely nothing but either a wide incredulous smile or perhaps even some noisy laughter, signifying nothing more than what has already now been said. Does partner have s. x, h. xxxxx, d. void c. QJxxxxx or s. void, h. QJ10xx, d. K, c. QJxxxxx, neither of which is a 2 club overcall, but sometimes even sound bidders do not want to let that distribution go without being heard?

Please note that the opponents in spades will take a significant number of tricks against either layout, especially with a club lead from partner.

Now wake-up from the nightmare of that letter and do not let it upset anyone taking it seriously, not that the correspondent meant to cause the least bit of havoc.

bobbywolffFebruary 25th, 2018 at 2:00 pm

Hi again Clarksburg,

I failed to answer your last question. If holding a singleton low spade I might then bid 5 clubs and then 6 over 5 spades using the same strategy as above, but expecting to lose a trick to the ace of spades and only hoping to avoid losing another.

bobbywolffFebruary 25th, 2018 at 2:14 pm

Hi Iain,

By now, at least I can suspect (especially with the time differences) for you to have given an intelligent answer. and it to having crossed in the mail. BTW “intelligent” always infers agreeing with what you said. Therefore if I “forget” to follow up to you, it may, of course, be perhaps a teeny weeny different view.

In any case, that event has yet to happen.

Iain ClimieFebruary 25th, 2018 at 4:46 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for the discussion especially the reminder about best possible result vs best result possible. I wonder if this hand starting with a double might work, at least provided partner doesn’t pass. Failing that, how about 5N, passing 6C but then bidding 7C if oppo save?



bobbywolffFebruary 25th, 2018 at 6:04 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, your example starting with double might work, but only if I didn’t succumb to a heart attack when partner began studying, possibly considering a pass.

Also, your second ruse of initially jumping to 5NT and then if further being competed against after partner bid 6C, chancing 7, might seem too staged to at least one opponent especially one who loves the science in bridge and has too much respect for your judgment.

The real answer should always be, please choose the bid which will work, which also includes matching your choice to what you can make assuming your opponents now allow your side to declare trump.

However 5NT may work, when your partner bids a higher ranking red suit at the 6 level, now to severely frown and go back to clubs.

Only kidding since the frown is unethical, however winning the thought, but likely grist for, I think, Stephen Potter., the writer.

BobliptonFebruary 25th, 2018 at 10:28 pm

Grist to the Mill’s hand is a riddle wrapped in an enigma, since the more spade honors he has, the lower I want to be…. but I always want to be in 6 clubs. So I think Blackwood answers at least one of the questions; if he’s sitting on the Spade Ace, there’s 7 points accounted for (CQJ). Lay off a heart on the spade, ruff out the majors, hope for the DT to be some place useful.


bobbywolffFebruary 25th, 2018 at 11:01 pm

Hi Bob,

No doubt you have a plan, and no matter the foundation, in this case inquiring about the ace of spades, may help (partner not having to hold the queen of hearts).

However methinks this specific hand is tied to hoping the opponents do the wrong thing, e.g. allowing 6 clubs to be played, but if sacrificed against, then hoping 7 clubs makes, since it seems (at least to me) dollars to doughnuts it should be bid rather than collect the much smaller amount while defending 6 spades doubled. Of course the enigma involved is how to have any idea whether 13 tricks in clubs come home

The task to undertake (at least to my taste) is, like Iain suggested, finding a way to play 6 clubs and hope that if the opponents bid a making club grand slam, your teammates at IMPs, or the partnerships sitting the opposite direction at matchpoints, see fit to bid 7 spades.

Reminds me of a grave marker in Tombstone, Arizona which reads, “Here lies Les Moore, 4 shots from a 44, No less, no more”.

Peter PengFebruary 26th, 2018 at 12:38 am

hi Bobby

I like opening NT with hands like the player from Macon revealed, for two reasons:

1. Protect against leads since the doubleton kings and the diamond tenace would be good.
2. It does not tell LHO about what to lead.
3. In third seat it has blocking value.


1D has an easy rebid

but what do I know….

Peter PengFebruary 26th, 2018 at 12:38 am

cannot even count to three…

bobbywolffFebruary 26th, 2018 at 2:10 am

Hi Peter,

Yes, I, too, like to open 1NT every chance I get, since it immediately tells partner my values plus a more or less balanced hand.

It is true that long suits can be a liability for defending, but as you suggest, the wily opponents do not necessarily know where my long suit, if any, is and sometimes it helps to steal the hand because of the danger to them of coming into the auction.

And don’t be so modest. It’s unbecoming a good bridge player and I bet you are.