Bobby Wolff


Perhaps I have been remiss in driving my point home about the recommended “Forcing Pass” hand and hopefully the following will clarify my reasoning:

The subject bidding hand under discussion was: At matchpoints and with only NS vulnerable:

North  (dealer)    AKxx   7xx     AQJx     xx

South  (partner)   x      AQ8xx  K10xx   Axx

In an unobstructed auction the bidding (IMO) should have gone:

North South
1 1
1 2*
2 3
3** 4

 *4th suit and game forcing

**confirming 3 hearts, but a minimum

Although North’s hand has certain positive characteristics, e.g., togetherness of honors (recognized by Culbertson in his honor trick methods, but not by Goren in his high card point count evaluation) and, of course, three of partner’s primary suit, the absence of a fifth diamond and/or a singleton outside should dampen the enthusiasm.  While South has a powerfully fitting hand, and key controls, Wendy’s meaty thought provoking quotation comes to mind, “Where’s the beef?”  Especially at matchpoints and for game, it is losing tactics to consider playing 5  and the overall values do not appear to be there to justify a slam. If they were, diamonds (not hearts) would certainly be the chosen strain. 

Please note that if North would have held Kxx in hearts, but only Axxx in spades, he should jump to 4  over partner’s 3  continuation, therefore causing partner to think in terms of 6. I think that would exhibit expert-like bidding judgment by both partners. 

Now I ask the reader (while still thinking about the subject hand) to switch his evaluation to the way the auction actually went (dealt with in both Part II and I above) and realize, from a practical consideration just how different North-South’s judgment should be.  Even with North holding the K instead of the K, both partners, especially South, should be acutely aware of the certain bad red suit breaks, and so consequently should rule out getting to even the possibly endangered five level, much less consider slam. 

Since I am such an admirer of William Shakespeare, apropos the above, the words of 2d Citizen come to mind in the epic Julius Caesar immediately following Mark Antony’s Friends, Romans, Countrymen speech after Caesar’s murder: “Methinks there is much reason in what he says.”

I hope that will be the reaction from at least some of the bridge blogging readers!

If this argument is not cogent enough – let me share with you the Aces Critique Discussion Session which was mandatory for each player to attend. EVERY HAND PLAYED BY THE DALLAS ACES (whether in actual play or in a practice match against good opponents) was subject to scrutiny, serious analysis and then stark evaluation categorized by the following charges:

WHITE: Wrong – but, at least at that time and place, was relatively blameless

GREY:  Avoidable — but difficult to assess objective blame

BLACK: Guilty as charged!

Implementing the above criteria, even reaching the five level in the obstructed auction given, merits a BLACK charge, while in an uncontested auction not reaching 6  (assuming North has K and not the K) will also result in a BLACK charge. What more can I say?


LuiseNovember 28th, 2008 at 6:44 pm

Hi Bobby — I read your posts with interest, as I always do… I’m not sure that I understood any of it, mind you, it’s very advanced for someone just starting out with the game. But I read them anyway in the hopes that some of the greatness of an 11-time world champion will rub off on me. You never know — perhaps some day I will fully comprehend all of the blogs that you have shared. Thank you for taking the time to post your wonderful wealth of knowledge! I look forward to reading (and comprehending) more of your posts 🙂

Ray LeeNovember 30th, 2008 at 12:24 am

I’m not disagreeing with any of this — I understand the arguments, especially regarding likely bad breaks in the red suits. But here’s my question in a slightly different form. If you pass, and partner has ♠ Qxxx ♥ KJx ♦ AQJxx ♣ x, is he really going to go on over 4♠? Seems to me that a ‘forcing’ pass in this auction, given your black-suit controls and concealed diamond fit, is overwhelmingly likely to produce a double from partner almost whatever his hand. What’s the flaw in my reasoning here?

[…] From Another Vantage Point […]

Bobby WolffNovember 30th, 2008 at 7:42 pm

Responding to Ray:

There is no flaw in your reasoning — only a flaw in your indoctrination. For lack of more descriptive terminology: very high-level bridge.  In a normal auction, your judgment is probably borderline expert.  However, when the unusual auction which occurred when East, (non vulnerable) first preempted in clubs and then bid another suit at the 4 level, the storm clouds were gathering momentum!  Just what does that mean? Answer: We (partner and I) are no longer operating in Standard Mode. Our bidding must now ascend to a higher plane with more exacting standards. The specific holdings (useful and wasted) are what makes the difference.  The South hand, holding AQ8XX of hearts, should immediately sound the alarm by passing.  Since both expert partners MUST be totally tuned to the whole auction as it actually transpires, the sound of the barking vs. non-barking dog (silence or action of the opponents) has great relevancy. In the subject case, the loud roar transcends the bark and reveals an extremely black-suited holding by East.

As I see it, Forcing Passes should be employed more frequently than normal and particularly in this case where North was placed in a decision making position at the four level. Since his first rebid was over your 3H competition, his choices were limited.  I do not profess to be a scientist. Besides, bridge is not a science; it is a game of judgment which is developed by playing and bidding hand after hand for years and years.

Holding : KXX KX AQXXX XXX — What rational alternative would he have other than to bid 4H? 

On the other hand, after hearing partner raise your suit, if you are justifiably leery of an eventual heart contract (because of the vulnerability of your own suit), you may turn your attention to diamonds. Is it not possible that partner held: AKJx, KJx, Jxxx, xx or some such unwelcome array of pasteboards?  As stated, I am not a scientist nor am I ashamed to go set by trying for bigger bonuses. But, bear in mind sometimes when one falls prey to irrational exuberance, the result is predictable. Remember the cards do not know where they are being dealt, nor do the opponents know any more about this hand than you — but the evidence is as clear as you will allow it to be. 

PARTNER KNOWS THAT IN THIS KIND OF AUCTION, HE MUST HAVE A VERY GOOD HAND TO SUGGEST (by the FORCING PASS) THAT YOU BID ON BECAUSE BOTH HE AND YOU HAVE HEARD THE SAME NOISES.  IN OTHER WORDS — PARTNER IS SAYING, I KNOW WE ARE GETTING TERRIBLE BREAKS, BUT IF YOU ARE WILLING TO BID ON — SO AM I — BUT PLEASE  BE CAREFUL.  As South, by not passing (but rather bidding on in the face of the storm warnings) suggests to me that you view bridge life like Dorothy of The Wizard of Oz fame and want to be lifted Over the Rainbow.

In the high-level world bridge competition the very essence of the game is the matchup of the finest competitors.  The result of that competition is probably determined by about one-third TALENT, one-third LUCK and one third GOOD, EXPERIENCED JUDGMENT.  Very often ‘good players’ believe that ‘top players’ have MUCH GREATER TALENT. NOT TRUE! Their calling card is 1) Better judgment in what to expect from their opponents (both in the bidding and play); 2) Judging from the auction where the cards lie as well as the suggested distribution; and 3) Judging how to bid in a superior manner to allow both partners to share in the decision.  Bidding at the table constantly changes each time the four players bid or pass. They are weaving a yarn. Listen. That is the essence of the game.

In reference to the hand you cited (QXXX KJX AQJXX X), I would bid 5H and, of course, expect to make it.  As South (having heard partner make that call), you might well chance a call of 6D.  However, if partner instead of bidding, settles for a double — you must trust his judgment to defend not declare.

Methinks, it would be sage to quote the words of a literary giant penned hundreds of years ago.

You (and probably Linda if she really cares as much) could take a quantum leap forward in your bridge effectiveness if you both seriously considered what is being said — not overly caring about the specific principle discussed, but rather the unique responsibilities required of all who seek top drawer status as a bridge partnership. The road to achieving major success in high-level bridge is not fun and games, but rather total dedication to the required disciplines.

There is a tide in the affairs of men

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

On such a full sea are we now afloat,

And we must take the current when it serves,

Or lose our ventures.

W. S.


On a lighter note (and less famous quote) Mark Lair, my countrified dear friend who has enormous natural bridge talent, once told me when someone drilled him on the slam potential of a certain hand, he spontaneously responded …….. “Slam?? Sheat!!!!!!!!!” (phonetically spelled as spoken in his wondrous Southern drawl).

ColinDecember 2nd, 2008 at 1:13 pm

One thing I truly believe is that the differences between an *expert* and a world-class player (usually hard to perceive to the expert player) are as big, or bigger, than the differences between a novice and an expert player.

One of things I very much enjoy about reading your blog is the insight into the world class mindset – in a very straight forward manner.

Thanks Bobby – I look forward to the next entry

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