Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, March 3rd, 2019

I have tried hard to explain to my bridge class how the Monty Hall problem works and how it applies to bridge in the form of the principle of restricted choice. I’m not sure I’ve convinced them yet. Do you have a patented method?

Razor’s Edge, Tupelo, Miss.

Imagine you are missing the queen, jack, five and four of trumps. You lead to the ace, and your left-hand opponent produces one of the honors. Should you finesse next or play for the drop? Well, a singleton honor is almost twice as likely as the queen-jack doubleton, even though any specific singleton is slightly less likely than a specific doubleton. With queen-jack doubleton, the player has a choice of cards to play; with a singleton honor, he has no choice.

In second seat vulnerable, you hold ♠ 2,  K-9-4,  A-K-10-4-3, ♣ K-J-5-4. After a four-spade bid on your right, I assume you would double to show a good hand. Partner now bids four no-trump. What does that call mean, and what should I do next?

Mumbles, Wausau, Wis.

Partner’s call suggests a two-suiter, to which you respond by bidding your better minor at the five-level — unless your hand is so strong that you want to drive to slam. Be aware, though, that your partner might have hearts and clubs, planning to correct five diamonds to five hearts. The wisest bid here is five clubs, to ensure finding a good fit, if not the best.

After opponents have opened one no-trump, does the meaning of their double of a transfer bid depend on the range of the no-trump, and on whether yours is a passed or unpassed hand? Should it promise a good suit, a good hand or both?

Coming Up for Air, Newport News, Va.

Yes, the range of the no-trump and whether yours is a passed hand are both critical here. Double by an unpassed hand after the opponents have opened anything but a strong no-trump shows a good hand but not necessarily a great holding in the suit doubled. Any other double should be lead-directing, showing a good suit but not necessarily guaranteeing a good hand.

Please recommend some books that might help me master the percentages in order to gain a basic knowledge of the essentials in bridge?

Captain Crunch, Albany, N.Y.

Kelsey and Glauert wrote informatively on this subject, but for the truly devoted expert, there are highly complex books by Borel and Roudinesco. The normal player, however, can get by with only a few basic rules. Learn the normal splits missing three, four, five or six cards, and you really don’t need much else. The ACBL’s most recent version of the Encyclopedia of Bridge certainly covers those basics.

Recently, I held ♠ Q-J-4-2,  10-7,  10-9-8-6, ♣ J-8-3, and my opponents bid unopposed one club – one no-trump – two no-trump three no-trump. What would you have led here? (The winning lead was a heart, since partner had five decent hearts and an entry.)

Right Said Fred, Harrisburg, Pa.

Dummy probably has a balanced 18 with some club length, while declarer has no major and is therefore 4-4 or so in the minors. Partner needs to have 10-11 points to give you a chance, but he didn’t bid. I would guess partner’s shape to be 3-4-3-3 (again, give or take a card), and I’d lead a diamond, hoping dummy has a doubleton queen or jack. I’d never expect my partner to refrain from bidding with values and five hearts.

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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Joe1March 17th, 2019 at 1:14 pm

Restricted choice can be a baffler. check out the comments in the archives of this column, March 7, 2018 and March 15 2010. The Wikipedia article was good, last time I checked. Kind of counterintuitive, but as Kahneman and Tversky thought us, in Thinking Fast and Slow, our intuition often leads us astray with regard to probabilistic reasoning. This is but one example.

bobbywolffMarch 17th, 2019 at 3:14 pm

Hi Joe1,

Yes and no doubt, The principle of Restricted Choice, when first introduced by Terence Reese many years ago, was a difficult one to just accept by what we had first thought was instead, purely logical mathematical choice

However, after years of encountering its presence, more often than one may expect because of its relative simplicity, you can bet the farm on its accuracy.

Simply explained (if that is possible), it is more likely that the holder (of at least one of the two honors) is more likley to not have a choice of honors played, than to have one, since with a choice he (she) may have played the other one.

The only light I can hope to share is that, through the years, I can verify beyond a doubt (unless I am delusional), the authenticity of that assumption.

Your description about counter intuitive and its complications leading us astray with probabilistic reasoning is an excellent way, if nothing else, to accept it.

Finally, at least my opinion of the small differences in skill between the best players of the world, at least how it now stands, is directly involved with the guessing of the placing of the opponent’s cards (and distributions) in crucial situations since the technical ability of all of them is about the same. allowing the very best practitioners to do the right thing, a bit more often.

IOW the best are better about people psychology, eg, reading their body language.

ClarksburgMarch 17th, 2019 at 4:34 pm

Good morning Bobby
Could you kindly offer some comment / advice on the relative merits of the various conventions such as Checkback, New Minor Forcing,etc. (after Opener’s 1NT rebid) and also “XYZ” after Opener’s rebid of either 1NT or one of a Major.
I realize a full answer to this broad question might have to be long and complex. Please don’t go to such lengths; just your overall views and some tips would be most appreciated.

bobbywolffMarch 17th, 2019 at 7:06 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Regarding Checkback Stayman, eg. after a 1NT rebid by the opener after an opening suit bid at the one level, and a response at the one level before the 1NT rebid:

In answer to describing further, old time style sometimes got confusing with individual partnerships then working out what bids were (virtual) sign-offs, (often suit preferences), invitational in that suit, meaning bidding one more than necessary or, of course whatever number of NT (1 and 2).

However either always over the opener’s 1NT rebid, 2 clubs being random Stayman not GF but then checking on both the responder having 5+ cards in his suit or 3+ card support (usually a major) for his partner’s yet non raised response.

Two way Stayman (2C=NFG, and 2D=GF) over the opener’s 1NT rebid is self-explanatory with of course, the only drawback giving up the previous 2C or 2D rebid by the responder as artificial and not natural.

FWIIW I prefer two-wqy Stayman for its simplicity and for its practicality. The big reason why is that after the GF rebid of 2D, then below game raises are forcing and alerts partner to trying to cooperate by providing extra information to him at a lower level than game by inference usually showing either slam interest or less likely, more evidence as to which game (major or 3NT and perhaps even a minor) to seek.

XYZ again features the original responder who if he then bids 2D with his second bid that bid is totally artificial but a GF and while the level is still fairly low, additional information can be exchanged while still being able to stop at game creating consistency in not having to go past a normal game in order to suggest a slam.

In addition (the real reason for this advantage) is that if the original responder then bids an artificial 2 clubs it demands partner to bid 2 diamonds setting forth a limit to no more than game, but possibly only a part score in the mix, when from then on (2D forward) bids are NGF but possible final destinations.

Again a few bids 2C and 2D do not show suits but merely set the table, but neither is that important to show much, therefore I like XYZ, but only for partnerships who take bridge seriously and want to improve their results.

I am certainly no expert on most of this theory, but no one really has to be, but only creates more convenient ways to find right contracts without misunderstandings as to GF or not.

If more is desired, let me know and I’ll find out, but my guess is that you and others can take it from here and run with it (that is if you are so inclined and/or have the time to do so).

ClarksburgMarch 17th, 2019 at 7:26 pm

Having just recently become aware of XYZ, and seeing what it can do, I was quite interested. Hope to be able to try it with one keen Partner.