Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, January 5th, 2020

I recently opened a no-trump with a 4-3-3-3 16-count and was raised to a three no-trump game. Unfortunately, we each had three low spades, and the defense collected five spade tricks. What should we have done differently?

Straight off the Bat, Corpus Christi, Texas

You shouldn’t wait for a stopper in every suit to open one no-trump, so most pairs would duplicate your auction. Worry about stoppers when the opponents bid or when your side has used fourthsuit-forcing. Then you generally need a stopper in the fourth suit to bid no-trump. Still, with three small cards in each hand, what other game can you play?

I was unsure what to do on this hand from a duplicate. I was in second chair with ♠ K-9-8-5-3,  K-4,  K-J-9-3, ♣ A-Q. My righthand opponent opened one diamond. What call would you make now?

No Style, Winston-Salem, N.C.

I would overcall one spade. Doubling would make the rest of the auction too hard, as bidding spades later would overstate my strength. This shape is not ideal for one no-trump, even though I am in the correct high-card range. If the hand is a partscore deal, I almost certainly want to get spades into the game. I can act again later to show extra strength.

My partner has proposed that we play a “double negative” response of two hearts to a strong two-club opening, to show 0-3 points. Would you recommend this method?

Pessimistic Pam, White Plains, N.Y.

It sometimes works well to limit one’s hand early in the auction, but here, that is at the expense of more of opener’s precious space. I prefer to keep as much space as possible by responding two diamonds with a wide variety of hands. The principle is to sort out the pattern and strain by bidding suits first. Range can come later, with responder having a second negative at his next turn to speak.

I have agreed to play Exclusion Key-card Blackwood with my regular partner, and we have adopted the same 14-30 responses as we play for regular four no-trump bids. However, we recently had this auction: one heart – one spade – two spades – five hearts. I was the dealer and interpreted this bid as Exclusion Key-card. However, I had no relevant key-cards (can you believe it?) and thus, we had to play a slam missing two aces. Where did we go wrong?

Troubled Ted, Pottsville, Pa.

If forced to play Exclusion Blackwood, use 30-41 responses for this very reason. The “zero” response is too frequent to be the second step. Keep your four no-trump key-card responses as 14-30, though. For what it is worth, Exclusion Blackwood can be very dangerous in suits your side has bid (for more than one reason).

What would you open with this hand: ♠ 4,  A-K-10-9-7-2,  A-Q-J-9-3, ♣ 5? I was playing a teams game at love all, and we missed a slam when I opened one heart and the opponents competed in spades.

Tactical Tim, Dallas, Texas

I would also open one heart, intending to bid lots of diamonds later. Some would try a four-heart opening, aiming to keep the opponents from getting together in spades, but that could easily lead to a foolish contract. The hand is not powerful enough in terms of high cards to open a strong two clubs, and a two-suiter can be very awkward to describe if you have to start at the two-level, even without the opposition competing.

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Iain ClimieJanuary 19th, 2020 at 11:25 am

HI Bobby,

Many years ago Tactical Tim’s hand would have been an automatic strong 2H and well handled by the bid (5D after 4S if necessary) but such methods can’t really be justified on grounds of frequency compared to weak twos. For many years Benjaminised Acol was (and still is) popular where 2C is an old fashioned strong 2 in any suit or various baklanced hands, 2D replaces 2C and 2H / 2S are weak. The originator was Albert Benjamin, a Scots player and the late Michelle Brunner told a lovely story about how she’d approached him many years ago and had adopted the method. Back came the (heavily accented) reply “You dinnae wanna play that rubbish; play three weak twos instead!”



Bobby WolffJanuary 19th, 2020 at 1:09 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, you are taking us back to Acol and their strong opening two bids, but not necessarily as strong as the modern day 2 clubs (artificial, but beefed up in strength with either hcps, distribution or sometimes both).

In truth, and only my opinion, with these discussions I doubt anyone can say with any certainty which is better. It depends on first partner’s hand, then, whether the opponents are able to compete with distribution, knowing that his opponent has a very good hand (at least for finding a fit with his partner in his suit or suits) or needing either a key card, or a few trumps and the right shortness.

My take, though not more valuable than others,, is that by not immediately showing individual game going values, but bidding suits, like elephants are killed (one at a time), a player has a better chance to sneak up on even wary opponents, getting them, at crunch time, to hopefully do the wrong thing for their partnership.

It has always been a treat to me to be present when very intelligent players (more wary than technical) discuss strategy, when playing against peers, and relaying what really happens, not at all necessarily, what should.

With Tactical Tim’s hand, anything other than a one heart opening, intending to always bid diamonds later, unless being supported early in hearts, is pure poppycock.

However, and alas sometimes my overwhelming statements are rightfully countered by one who, for example, opened a strong two and by so doing, bluffed a timid opponent out of the pot on a hand which belonged to their side.

Never say never except when never sometimes rides into town, especially when he or she looks prosperous.

TedJanuary 19th, 2020 at 6:31 pm

Hi Bobby,

Playing MP in 4th seat NV I held

AQJ10 3 QJ9875 86

I decided to open 1D and bidding went

P P P 1D
P 1H P 1S
P 2S All Pass

Making exactly.

Was I fortunate, or would you open this? Until I did, I’d never considered opening a 10 HCP Kingless hand with a single Ace in this position.


Bobby WolffJanuary 19th, 2020 at 7:40 pm

Hi Ted,

My answer to your worthwhile question, is both, of course, and I wouldn’t consider opening it.

Strictly depends on who your opponents are and how your partner will react. If your LHO is conservative, he might not overcall, which, in turn may make it difficult for your RHO to bid over your partner’s response. In any event, it went as perfect as it could, so better not do something similar, especially if you believe, as I do, in the law of averages.

However, it only goes to show how important it is to winning by thinking you know the habits of your worthy (or not so) opponents.

It does help to have the master suit in tow, which is a plus factor in deciding in favor of bidding.

Do not breathe a word of what I will now suggest, which is to perhaps open 1 spade or perhaps a 3 diamond preempt, hoping for a happy landing, which is better for keeping those pesky opponents out of your sand pile.

Good luck, which you have already received.

TedJanuary 20th, 2020 at 4:09 am

Thanks, Bobby.

I got more than my share of luck that day. Made a slam that required two winning finesses, a 3-2 break and a 3-3 break — otherwise was cold! The Director commented that I better go to Confession when he saw that result.

Bobby WolffJanuary 20th, 2020 at 4:46 am

Hi Ted,

And earlier in my life I played against some International bridge stars when and if confessions would be brought up, it would be with the bridge police rather than at church.