Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, May 6th, 2018

Do you have any plans for a follow-up to “The Lone Wolff”? Would you ever do a book consisting of bridge hands as opposed to an autobiography?

Bookworm, Duluth, Minn.

My book is far more about my life and times than it is about bridge hands. Almost every deal in the book (of which there are very few) is there to advance the story or to make a point. Yes, if asked, I would consider trying to put together hands from the columns for a book. But nobody has been beating down my door with lucrative offers recently.

In a recent column, you have a player with 12 points and 4-4 in the minors opening the bidding with one club. However, in a bidding problem, you suggest opening one diamond. Which is your recommended strategy?

Desperate Dan, Virginia City, Nev.

Much inappropriate and misdirected thought has been wasted on this question; I’m sorry if I innocently added to the confusion. There is no technically superior answer to the question of which suit to bid, but there is a practical answer: I’d recommend always opening the better suit. The reason is that if the opponents end up declaring the hand, you’d rather your partner led your good suit, not your bad one. This also applies when a hand is too strong to open one no-trump.

Have you ever played a forcing pass method or a system that didn’t conform to a standard base? If so, did you enjoy the process?

Lumpfish, Trenton, N.J.

We were all young once, but ever since I grew up, I have tended to follow normal methods. However, that does remind me that 40 years ago it took a lot of persuading to convince one of the top American women that if her opponents played an opening pass as a strong hand, she could not double the pass to show a good hand herself!

At my local club, I picked up ♠ A-Q-3,  10-5-3-2,  A-Q-7-4, ♣ Q-3 and responded with a two-no-trump call to my partner’s opening bid of one heart, to show a forcing raise. When my partner bid three hearts, showing extras but no shortage, what should I have done?

Half Mast, Harrisburg, Pa.

In context, you have nothing to spare. You have bad trumps and at most a queen more than a dead minimum, so I would sign off now. If all your partner needs is two aces, he can use Blackwood to find out more. For the record, if your hearts were J-10-x-x, you might bid three no-trump, meaning it as having nothing to spare, and not being unsuitable for slam but without extras.

What scheme of responses to weak twos do you recommend? Does it depend on the degree of discipline your partnership imposes on pre-empts? If you ask for features, what holding outside the trump suit is needed for the weak-two opener to treat his hand as maximum?

Forward Progress, Portland, Ore.

Briefly, if playing Ogust (which assumes a pre-empt may be on only a moderate suit — or worse), what constitutes a good suit and a good hand may still depend a little on the vulnerability. A good suit should have decent play for one loser facing a doubleton (a minimum of six to the king-queen). The range is 6-10, no matter what style of responses you play; and if you have a maximum, show a feature with an ace, king or guarded queen.

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.
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ClarksburgMay 20th, 2018 at 1:46 pm

Good morning Bobby
North AJ63 void KQJ94 A1064
East Q97 AKQJ10 32 K52
South K105 987632 A87 9
West 842 54 1065 QJ873

East opened 1NT and the auction went:
1NT P P 2D* 2H 2S P 4S** ( * Diamonds and a Major; ** after much thought).

After opening 1NT, East’s subsequent 2H call ( a rare captaincy violation) probably helped N get to 4S. (tie for top; only two Pairs got there)

Was East’s 1NT opening OK?
Just how bad was East’s subsequent 2H call?

bobbywolffMay 20th, 2018 at 2:56 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

At least IMO, in order to answer your questions, both some psychology and subjectivity desperately needs to be injected.

Back in the day (perhaps up to 50 years ago) players such as South were called “fit finders” (FF) to establish two truths, looking for them and then invariably vehemently acting on that discovery.

Those types were always both very dangerous partners, but even more so, opponents. Their scorecards (at tournament bridge) were filled with tops and bottoms, probably and in the long run more good scores than bad, but almost never consistent winners, only exciting to either play with or against.

It is now no mystery that South was one of those FF. On this hand he caught almost a perfect dummy considering he was perhaps expecting a fifth spade but, of course, denied.

However, what he was allowed was not only an easy both source of tricks, but a crucial 10 of spades and for what he had also hoped, both a well breaking hand and a perfect layout of key cards.

FF do throw caution to the wind and triumphantly jump to where they want to wind up, in game or sometimes, even slam.

Finally, my opinion of their overall success, is in addition to continual highs and lows, their partners often begin to think of themselves as pawns and basically at their mercy of having to have to share their luck. However the good news is, “there is never a dull moment” since my guess is that during the course of one normal session of bridge there are perhaps 5-10% of the hands to which they will be active in their pursuit.

To now answer your specific questions, East was a 1NT believer to want to open (I share his opinion, but his hand is an extreme example, not necessarily right or wrong). I also agree, 2 hearts was the right slide the 2nd time around, if only to get a heart lead, in case partner’s RHO became declarer. However, with our great game being what it is, when playing with FF and their like, any bid or even non-bid can serve as a vehicle to the final result, but whether it is good or bad often remains up in the air, depending on the entire layout of cards, almost always totally unpredictable.

Hopefully my explanation didn’t give you a negative nor positive view of that type of player, but only to describe the psychology of our varied game and some of its players.

Iain ClimieMay 21st, 2018 at 8:50 am

Hi Clarksburg, Bobby,

2H doubled can be taken for a fair number as the cards lie – perhaps an easier way to get a decent score. If the defence starts off with 3 rounds of diamonds, declarer will probably ruff, cash one top trump, wince, and play a club. Best then is a spade through, for the oppo to cash their 3 spade tricks (North taking the third) then a club ruff and a trump exit. I think declarer just gets his 5 top trumps. If declarer dumps a spade at T2 instead, the defence can again play three rounds of spades with similar effects.


bobbywolffMay 21st, 2018 at 1:49 pm

Hi Iain & Clarksburg,

No doubt, with South, instead of chirping 2 spades (a very aggressive call, especially with partner not promising five, instead, doubling with his 6 small, West may attempt (should?) an escape to 3 clubs which might fare several tricks better (depends on the defense) than only the 5 he will surely take with his 150 honors.

However there is no vulnerability given, so it is just guesswork to determine just how bad it really is for the 1NTer to slide with 2 hearts. Yes, it is sort of a captaincy violation, but it would indeed be rare to get doubled, including this time, when possessing such a robust holding. As you two no doubt know, it is difficult to predict exactly (or sometimes even come close) what, how random opponents, will act, especially and in this case, North (with his 4-0-5-4 distribution) possibly not standing for the double and if West does not run to 3 clubs he might then instead of standing for 2 hearts doubled, chance 3 hearts in order to get his other suit in the game, which in spite of his previous call is still a very powerful offensive hand in 3 different suits.

IOW, I try and give (not always succeed) a somewhat rounded view of what may be prompting each thought to be, by a decent player, as he weaves his way through a specific auction, but seldom do I cover all the paths any complicated and thoughtful bidding which will apply on a minority of hands. Then of course, the type of scoring (matchpoints, IMPs, rubber bridge, or B-A-M) may also be an important factor to consider as well as to just who the 4 participants represent at the table in order to guess at what might happen.

All of the above is only a summary of discussing normalcy at the table, which, depending on the hand, not to mention each player’s possible view, may cause, at the very least, some ifs, ands, and buts.

In no way am I denying the desire and even need to discuss what may happen, only what I think the thought process should be as the bidding unfolds. For example, although it may seem clear cut to double two hearts with six little, from his standpoint with honors in both of partner’s suits and a key singleton outside for ruffs in the short hand in the fourth suit sometimes makes for a powerful offensive hand (including this one opposite only 4, when likely 5 were expected).

Finally and only for making more sense in the future, I strongly prefer to discuss concepts rather than specific hands given (often only to settle arguments) which to my way of thinking is not a worthwhile cause, unless that concept hits a nerve, which in turn, triggers thoughts helpful to overall and sophisticated bridge judgment.

And thanks to both you two especially and many others I can only hope that, 1. I am giving useful information, 2. It can readily be applied practically, and 3. The ones to benefit are, at the least, basically understanding the sometimes varied thinking going into the overall concept. 4. If I am attempting to do too much, (it surely happens and again I hope not that often), just perhaps many, more than some, may understand my point while others may sometimes get the drift with other subjects rather than the current one, but the final total may result in eventual better bridge for all taking part.