Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, December 15th, 2019

My partner held ♠ Q-9-5, K-J-4-3, A-8-6, ♣ Q-7-6 and heard me open one no-trump. He used Stayman, the next hand doubled, and I bid two diamonds. What would you do now?

Wrench in the Works, Houston, Texas

Much depends on the inferences associated with your second call. I play it as natural, denying a club stop. I would therefore cue-bid again, to try to reach three no-trump facing a half-stopper in clubs. I can imagine stopping in three diamonds or three no-trump, but if my partner bids three hearts to show a good fragment in that suit, we might belong in four hearts.

Please tell me what I should open in fourth chair with ♠ J-10-3, Q-10-4-3, A-7-2, ♣ K-J-4. The hand is a decently put-together 11-count, so I decided to open one club and pass any response. This worked fine when my partner was 4-4 in the majors, but I realize things didn’t have to go that well.

Threw It In, Grand Forks, N.D.

One approach is to add your spades to your high-card points, and act only with 15 or more. The major-suit tens point to aggression, but without them I’d open the bidding if my opponents were not vulnerable and pass if they were vulnerable — when my left-hand opponent may have a better hand than I, and my right-hand opponent may have been more restrained in third seat.

Playing at a local club, the opponents bid and raised clubs. I doubled, and after my left-hand opponent passed, my partner also doubled! The director said my partner would have to pass because there was no comparable call. Later, I was told that the director had had to use his judgment as to the best solution when the law book did not cover the

specific infraction. That meant the ruling could not be protested. Is this correct?

Barred, Calistoga, Calif.

Per Law 36: The second double is canceled, another call (including pass) may be substituted, and the partner of the offender must pass throughout thereafter. There may also be lead penalties. The law seems perfectly clear — and easy to spot! You should (discreetly) refer your director to this column.

Are Blackwood and Gerber sufficient slam tools, or do we need more weapons in our armory?

Driving It Home, Kingston, Ontario

Cue-bidding is sometimes necessary to avoid bidding a slam off the ace and king in a side suit. And after your side opens with a two- or three-level pre-empt, four clubs (or four diamonds over three clubs) asks for key-cards. Responses are zero, one, one plus the trump queen, two, two plus the trump queen. This is known as Baby Blackwood or Pre-empt Keycard.

Say you hold ♠ Q-9-6-5, K-J-6, 10-4, ♣ A-Q-9-2 and hear partner bid three spades over a three-diamond pre-empt. How would you judge this hand?

Room To Maneuver, Miami, Fla.

You could argue for a call of four spades on the grounds that any other action would take you past your safety level. Some experts might say that a four-diamond cue-bid here should simply be a slam try in support of spades, not promising a control. A reasonable approach — but do make sure your partner agrees.

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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Steve ConradDecember 29th, 2019 at 11:27 am

I always th9ought Baby Blackwood was a 3NT bid, so I checked and here is what the Encyclopedia of Bridge says:

BABY BLACKWOOD. The use of a 3NT bid conventionally
to discover the number of aces held by partner. The convention
was originally used after a forcing double raise in a major suit
but can be used after a limit raise. For example:
South North
l♥ 3♥ (forcing)
South’s 3NT bid is a request for aces. North bids 4♣ with
no aces (or four aces), 4♦ with one ace and so on. Similarly,
an immediate jump to 3NT in response to a 1♥ or 1♠ opening
may be used as Baby Blackwood. Those using Bergen Raises
and similar methods which locate a fit below 3NT can use Baby
An alternative proposal is to use 2NT to uncover the
number of aces partner holds. Whenever either player bids
2NT, partner bids 3♣ with no aces, 3♦ with one ace, etc.
Subsequent bids of 3NT, 4NT and 5NT can then be used to
locate the number of kings, queens and jacks, respectively held
by partner. Related: Blackwood.

bobbywolffDecember 29th, 2019 at 1:48 pm

Hi Steve,

You probably will not be surprised to hear that I am not knowledgeable about Baby Blackwood. Furthermore, even if I were, in no way would I give up either 2NT or 3NT (except possibly in rare sequences) as either a natural NT bid (with partner able to pass), even if it is made after a limit raise and if a partner would not want to discount its advantage and press on, he would have to convince me that black is white in order to get to even first base. The above answer to a letter concerning ace asking could apply after a preempt, which in turn is only used to keep the bidding low enough to sign off (n case of insufficient key cards) in cases wherein, such as after a preempt by partner, our hand tells us that we are bidding slam (possibly a grand) if, in fact partner has enough key cards: How about, s. x, h. x, d. AKxxxxxx, c. AQx and hearing partner open 3 clubs?

Then the science of our game is likely to work, plus the added advantage of scaring off the opponents outbidding us in their obvious longest suit with relatively few outside losers (of course, somewhat depending on the vulnerability around the table).

It never hurts (in order to be a winner) to direct both the overall system selected, plus a few gimmicks available, for winning strategies.

Certainly and categorically to give up either 2 or 3 NT as a mere ask asking device makes no sense at all to me, since besides natural, it also can be used as a non-serious slam try (instead of no try at all) while using other ace asking versions such as Redwood or Gerber in specific bidding sequences or other more useful devices tailored specifically to rare occurrences.

BTW, learning to play high-level bridge usually requires more time learning why not to do certain things than when to do them and furthermore that applies across the board, all forms of bidding especially when slams are in the air and making decisions on what type of overall legal signals as well as iron partnership disciplines, never to be violated.

From a practical consideration, any specific ace asking convention MUST carry with it, the necessity (at that point in the auction) to be a full commitment to slam, if and when there is only one key card or fewer missing, without which we (IMO) would be better off with absolutely no key card or ace asking convention at all in our quiver.

Strong opinion to follow!

Steve ConradDecember 29th, 2019 at 1:56 pm

Not only do I agree 100% with your viewpoint, but when I teach bridge on cruise ships, I always use prepared deals, and I tell the cruise guests that I will do the bidding, that it is not the only correct way to bid, but it is the “standard expert” way to bid — AND ANYWAY, the point of the lesson is not the bidding or the lead (which I have them do, after which we discuss leads), but it is the play or the defense or both. I tell them that somehow, by hook or by crook, people tend to reach games no matter how they bid, but if they can defend properly, they will improve their game so much more than by (mis)learning a new convention. I cannot be sure they understand, but I do know that tell me they had never had a defense lesson before, and they loved learning about defense.

I also tell them to read your column. Of course, that is a recommendation I cannot be sure they follow. But I try 🙂

ClarksburgDecember 29th, 2019 at 5:47 pm

@Steve Conrad
About the focus on card play. I tried a few Club Games which I called “Card Play Pairs”. Pre-dealt hands; I provided the auction, including notes on alertable calls etc. on a traveller. The four players reviewed that material and then played the hands.
So the results / ranking/ masterpoints of that Pairs game was based totally on card play.
Some loved it; others would never take part again.

bobbywolffDecember 29th, 2019 at 10:48 pm

Hi Steve & Clarksburg,

Between the two of you, it pretty much explains the teaching of the game problems, together with the bidding and play (both declarer and defense) to which a relatively small percentage of players proceed on to much greater performance which, if done, will virtually last a lifetime.

Methinks the above occurs simply because the logic of the game together with the forever numeracy necessary to even come close to mastering it (and no one, even the best players ever, can really play it to the degree of not sometimes making actual percentage errors in so many different parts of playing the game.

However, the above should become the allure of at least trying, and in most cases, a determination to get better will succeed, if only thought to be accomplished, with fewer actual misplays and misbids as well, of course, with logical opening leads, and developing a very consistent approach which one’s partner is sure to appreciate, especially if he or she is providing the same for you.

In any event I appreciate how both of you are vitally connected to the game with the right attitude to make it the best it can be for all who surround you.

Good luck and never stop keeping in touch with others who are contributing in the same style.