Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, April 15th, 2018

In these days of aggressive pre-empts, when is it right to go low, and when to try for game? Specifically, facing a non-vulnerable three-club call in first seat, what would you do with ♠ K-10-2,  K-Q-7-6,  A-Q-7-4, ♣ J-4? When my partner, opened three clubs at favorable vulnerability, what action would you advise?

Playing Safe, Saint John, New Brunswick

This is more about style than anything else. It is not clear that you will make game facing any seven-card club suit without the ace, and even if your partner has that card and clubs run for one loser, either spades or hearts might prove vulnerable. At this vulnerability, I would pass facing any but the soundest of pre-empters.

Where does the ACBL currently stand in terms of international bridge? When was the last time we won a major world title, and who are the up-and-coming stars?

Jingle Bells, Worcester, Mass.

The open team won the last world championship, and the juniors have a very strong crop, but our women’s team seems to be at a slight ebb. That said, Sylvia Shi has just moved from the juniors to the women’s team, and I expect great things of her. In the junior game, two strong pairs I know are Ben Kristensen and Kevin Rosenberg, and Adam and Zach Grossack.

Recently you ran a deal showing a hand on which you advocated using “Crawling Stayman.” How would you handle a similar situation holding the same distribution of 4-5 in the majors, but with approximately invitational values — say about an 8-count?

Majority Rules, Columbia, S.C.

For completeness, let me first address hands with game-going values and 5-4 in the majors. Stayman, then jumping (over a two-diamond response) in the four-card major gets you to the 5-3 fit — if there is one — transferred to the stronger hand. This approach is known as Smolen. If you wish to invite game, start with Stayman, but then you might follow up with two no-trump. Transferring to hearts, then bidding spades is played as invitational by some.

What is the rule about overcalling one no-trump over a short club or Precision one diamond, which might be only two cards? Specifically, what is the critical factor in terms of stoppers in their suit, or even concealing a five-card major of your own?

Winning Ugly, Carmel, Calif.

I draw the line at concealing a good five-card major in a no-trump overcall, especially if my stopper in the suit they have named is weak. But sometimes (especially over a two-card minor), I might overcall one no-trump with a balanced hand and three small in their suit. Let them work out what to lead, the price of their ambiguous opening call.

After the death of Omar Sharif, who are the highest-profile bridge players from worlds other than the professional circuit?

Publicity Hound, Raleigh, N.C.

The answer must surely be Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. If we can’t make them into headliners (and sometimes I wonder what the ACBL promotion team is doing), then we might as well give up and go home.

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 2018. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


ClarksburgApril 29th, 2018 at 12:14 pm

Good morning Bobby
This is an update about my “card-play Pairs” experiment (see blog of Sunday Apr 8).
SAYC didn’t seem to adequately capture the methods used by most, so in the first try, I provided “my own” auctions, on paper. Some of the players really liked the learning opportunity provided. But some of the players found it difficult to mentally commit to playing a “pre-set” contract they hadn’t bid to themselves.
Next time I will encourage the Players to call me (non-playing Director) to explain the auctions more fully where necessary.
Turned out that Declarers slipped up on roughly one Board in six whilst Defenders missed a trick or two on roughly one Board in three.
The link below will take you game result on Club webpage; then click on “Travellers” to see all hands, opening leads and results.
As examples of the “card-play” concept working nicely: on Board 2 only two Declarers found a line to make four Spades; and on Board 5, only one defending Pair held Declarer to ten tricks.
Please keep in mind that our Players are just a mix of typical local-club players !!
My “learning game” is a work in progress. Comments / suggestions from you and others are most welcome.

bobbywolffApril 29th, 2018 at 5:16 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Thanks for the followup to what could be an excellent learning experience for all involved.

I’ve already analyzed the first six hands and will eventually get back to you when I complete the project, although I’m going downtown Las Vegas for their April Sectional tonight which will last through next Friday.

However Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your cross section of younger players (by today’s standards) immediately show improvement. However I am confident, at least for those who take the time to get somewhat seriously involved, an upward learning curb which hopefully will be much more effective than just reading about it or getting glassy eyed listening to someone preach bridge to them.

Obviously it is more than just a casual experiment, but all your work and sheer effort will get results, if they just give it a chance and, very important in reality, want to improve, by understanding both correct bridge philosophy and most importantly, the logical reasons behind it.

Good luck for now and you’ll be hearing from me, but not before a week or so.

ClarksburgApril 29th, 2018 at 5:45 pm

Thanks Bobby
It is completely over-the-top for you to be even considering “completing the project” around our Club game! I (we) will be delighted to receive your comments on just a few at most.
For background info, although I think about 17 of my 22 pre-set contracts were reasonably OK, on another day I might well have reached different contracts on the others. Also, you may see a few errors in the entering of contracts and leads by the Players.
I currently plan to alternate between this “card-play” game and IMP Pairs, with the secret hope that a majority of my players will come to love and prefer “card play”

Iain ClimieApril 29th, 2018 at 8:26 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Some years ago I got asked to do a “Hand of the Week” at Hitchin BC, trying to pick out one which seemed particularly instructive. There was a terrible temptation to fall into the self-laudatory so I tried to put in a few where I fouled up too, although these were all after the event. You could try providing a write up of 1 or 2 specific and instructive hands at the end of the session, although this would obviously need to be done up front.

If you want any example, please drop me a line on The club is
still cheerfully recycling them (although work has moved away from there) and taking any new ones I provide.



bobbywolffApril 29th, 2018 at 8:59 pm

Hi Clarksburg & Iain,

Thanks for your concern and always remember the three of us share a common love for all the positives that contract bridge brings to those who are intelligent and shrewd enough to know its value.

I’ll merely restrict my contributions to factors which enhance the desire to not only play it often but become role models (to which I am proud to share that image with both of you).

Playing bridge is slightly more difficult to learn the basics to barely compete with other endeavors, but quickly moving up the ladder to being special does require much more time and effort, not to mention the born talent for numeracy if great heights are in the cards.

However, the logic of the game itself, without ever playing a card, is, at least to me, a necessary goal to achieve for almost any other success except perhaps a physical sport which requires agility, strength, speed and coordination of mind and body, but less mental sophistication to strike it big and, of course, in this day and age, very wealthy.

IOW, we all do what we do to promote the game, not necessarily the same motive others
have, to decide to get very involved.

While others change their minds about many things, it is likely that the three of us will never get too far away from what has first attracted us to first learn, then play and thus basically commit for a lifetime.

Finally, I suspect that many of our regular pals on this web site will echo, if given a chance, something very similar.

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