Judy Kay-Wolff


Thanks to those of you who responded to the bidding problem I posed yesterday as Part I.  Before I reveal Bobby’s unyielding reflection on what the right bid is, I want you to understand I have picked his brain clean and be assured the following are his thoughts, not mine!   So — consider this my disclaimer!   And, by the way, how does one argue with an eleven-time world champion?  The answer:  You don’t!  (Seriously, there is so much to be gleaned from what you are about to read).    If you need to review the auction, refer to Part I of this article posted on November 16th.                                                              

     1. East was not vulnerable and was emboldened by the comfort zone.

     2. It is a ‘given’ that East probably had 11 black cards          

     3. Therefore, you are forewarned the red suits are breaking badly and your broken heart holding leaves much to be desired.                                                                                             

     4. What does North’s hand look like?  WHO KNOWS?   (That is the point of this entire discussion!)

     5. How can you determine what is best for your partnership? (You can’t at this juncture.)

Very simple solution – muster up the strength and pull out that wimpy green card and PASS.  Considering the above facts, you are not qualified to make a unilateral decision. Partner in sellout seat can better judge.  There is even more to recommend the non-action:

     1. PASS is a forcing bid (as you have voluntarily bid a vulnerable game). Forcing pass situations can vary greatly, depending upon the previous auction!   In this case, you have nothing more to say as you have no idea what predicated your partner’s 4H call.   (He could even have been hard pressed to raise holding only a doubleton heart as no other bid was more appropriate).

     2. East is obviously sacrificing or looking for a miracle.

     3. It is no secret which side has the high card strength.

     4. Partner was forced to make his second bid in an accelerated auction at the four level and could be under pressure – having few tolerable options. Bear in mind in uncontested bidding sequences, partner can accurately describe his holding at a low level.   Your pass will give him the opportunity to reevaluate his cards.   Only North can make that call so the ball belongs in his court.

     5. Let partner exercise his good judgment as to what is best for your partnership. After the recommended Pass, West will either Pass or correct to 5C.  In the actual case, West would have passed 4S and partner would have been armed with additional information to make the intelligent decision not available to South.   He will be able to assess his values to best advantage (realizing he may have wasted cards on offense — that are better on defense).   If he has good hearts and long diamonds, he will always bid on, but if he has strength and relative length in their suits, he will make the slam-dunk decision to double.  In the hand below, partner will have no problem pulling out the RED CARD to punish the opponents.  In any event, it is HIS DECISION to make — NOT YOURS. 

Here is the entire hand:                                                            

                                                         AKXX     7XX      AQJX     XX

                                 J10XX   KJ109X  XXX  Q                    QXXX   —-   XX   KJ10XXXX

                                                           X      AQ8XX    K10XX    AXX

In 4S doubled, East-West would be defeated at least three (-500) (even with less than stellar defense). Instead, when I stupidly bid 5H (though I toyed with 5D as I liked my double fit) — Leftie, thinking Christmas had arrived early, jumped upon her chair holding KJ109X of trumps and screamed DOUBLE.  Five Diamonds (with delicate play) would succeed,  but it would be hard to stop there.

My final question: DID BOBBY DO ANYTHING WRONG BY BIDDING 4H?  In a bridge sense — ABSOLUTELY NOT!  However, his judgment was otherwise skewed as he chose a hand hog for a partner who stripped him of his initiative to make an educated determination.  Bridge is a Partnership Game – and partner must not be excluded from the equation. This type of analysis is what separates true experts from the high-level wannabes!!!!!!

P. S.  The early consensus (before I decided to post it here) was:  4NT was the most popular utterance – with 5C in second place — and 5D and 5H being the minority view.  BUT — before Post Time — NO ONE CONSIDERED PASSING (which was Bobby’s first, second and third choice)!


SammyNovember 19th, 2008 at 2:19 am

Wow! How easy Bobby makes bidding! What a great analysis of the hand! No wonder he is a Hall of Famer!

LindaNovember 19th, 2008 at 4:58 am

Ray gave me this problem and I have to confess that I also decided not to pass despite the fact that I did mention all of Bobby’s arguments: partner under pressure, suits not splitting. In retrospect I might pass at matchpoints and try for a plus. My first choice bid is and was 5D as long as it is clear (and it should be) that this is an offer to play not a cuebid. Partner might think you have more distribution for this than you do though. 5C is a consideration but it has two disadvantages, it probably overstates the hand and you lose the diamond suit.

Danny KleinmanNovember 19th, 2008 at 3:15 pm

Ah, Judy! Who can argue with an 11-time world champion? I can. You can. Anyone can. In the Master Solvers’ Club, which Bobby directed for many years, everybody argued with everybody else, and as director now I argue regularly with Bobby and other great players. That being said, however, in this instance I agree with you and Bobby. Although I sympathize with anyone who would bid 5D, as the diamond support has not been shown, I believe these points are overriding considerations:

(1) The good diamond support and the ace of clubs are not extras, they are part of the justification for bidding three hearts to force to game initially.

(2) Do not let opposing preemption goad you into overbidding; rather, let it warn you of impending bad splits.

(3) Do not take partner’s forced bid (here, his 4H) as promising much. It is not as though he bid it voluntarily (e.g. after 3S, or a 4C raise, on his right.

(4) It is the partner who may have some length in the suit in which the opponents are saving that should make the decision whether to double or bid on, not the partner who is short, as only the partner with several cards in that suit knows whether he has wasted strength opposite the shortness. (A point first made in The Secrets of Winning Bridge by Jeff Rubens in 1969.)

Judy Kay-WolffNovember 19th, 2008 at 3:53 pm

Since Bobby made his view of the Forcing Pass so vehemently, I started polling some of the top experts. He further commented that if he gave this hand to the top ten world experts, he suspected the answer would be the same.

Those who have been following this blog may be interested in the remarks of Larry Cohen, esteemed writer, author, administrator, panelist, cruise lecturer and player whose contributions to the game are boundless.

“I must confess that I thought it is a clear PASS. My guess was that in The Bridge World Master Solvers Club that PASS would get 90% (if not 100%). I think Bobby’s prediction of 10 of the 10 top experts is probably right. Maybe ONE would be sleeping/distracted and vote otherwise.”

“As a problem editor, panelist and former MSC Director, I feel confident of my opinion. If I were to teach a class on forcing passes (which I wouldn’t — because the topic is too advanced for my students), this would be a perfect example hand to use.”

“Anyway, Bobby spelled out the reasons so clearly that I think my opinion is superfluous.”

Bobby WolffNovember 19th, 2008 at 5:38 pm

Responding to Dave’s comment — “I’m with Ray. There is no sense making control bids or forcing passes. I can tell from my hand that there’s a good chance partner can’t do anything to cooperate. I bid 6D and apologize if it doesn’t work.”

All well said — and sometimes applicable. What Dave does not seem to understand (at least from a top player standpoint) is that bridge judgment constantly changes, depending upon whom the players are and the relevancy of the auction up to that point. When the statistical bridge tables inform us of the various percentages of suit breaks, it is based on mathematics determined after millions of deals.

However, when the auction contains unusual elements (like East’s intervention on the subject hand), EVERYTHING CHANGES! Odds on suit breaks (on this hand) for the heart and diamond suits goes to 4-1 (in both suits, instead of approximately 22% — rises up to 60+%); and 5-0 (in both suits) instead of 10% rises to about 40%+. In addition, it is 100% sure that one of the two red suits will either be 4-1 or 5-0.

To not accept that anticipated situation is tantamount to totally closing one’s ears (mine are

already closed — only literally — not figuratively) to the clear and present danger. For what it is worth — the heart king has perhaps a 95% chance of being in West’s hand, since it is unlikely that East would be bidding 4S holding even a singleton.

Dave sounds like a very likeable guy. It is a pity that he is also close-minded and one thing is for certain — that he should draft his apology since the predictability of it being necessary is in the 99% range!

Another interesting sidelight for the record is that this hand (plus the reactions from the North) make a strong case for my assumptions in The Lone Wolff. I have always contended it is much easier learning expert bridge at a young age since in order to succeed, one must be subjected to overwhelming ego abuse — a condition not easy to accept as the years flit by.

Ray LeeNovember 19th, 2008 at 9:28 pm

I too do not have enough chutzpah to argue bidding judgment with a multiple world champion — I’m sure Bobby (and Larry too for that matter) are right. But I’m always ready to learn something., and what I’d like to understand is this: it seems to me that if you pass, partner is almost certain to double. After all, he doesn’t know you have a diamond fit and controls in both black suits — controls he’s unlikely to hold too. Yes, you have to have something to bid 3H, but it’s hard to imagine partner holding many hands if any where he is going to decide to bid on. It seemed to me that you might as well either double yourself or bid on, because passing is going to lead to defending the hand anyway. It was the two red tens that really pushed me over the edge (and Linda too, BTW) — even with things not breaking, they give us some extra chances. In retrospect (and we discussed this thing at great length, after coming to our separate conclusions without discussion) I have some sympathy for Linda’s view that it might well be right to pass at matchpoints and bid on at IMPs.

Jack MendelsohnNovember 19th, 2008 at 9:43 pm

Judy, What a great hand and logical explanation. I must admit that pass never entered my mind. I guess I will always be a wannabee.

Neil KimelmanNovember 19th, 2008 at 11:23 pm

Great hand from which to learn. I read both parts together, but was leaning towards bidding diamonds.

I think this type of example emphasizes the importance of keeping a flexible view of the hand, and visualizing the likely distribution of the other hands. The other valuable trait is putting yourself in partner’s shoes, and considering the issue(s) he or she might be facing in responding to a forcing bid in competition.

Ray LeeNovember 20th, 2008 at 1:22 pm

Commercial break: Master Point Press recently published Neil’s first book ‘Improve your bidding judgment’.

Bobby WolffNovember 20th, 2008 at 4:23 pm


Responding to Ray’s reference to ‘multiple world champions,’ let me assure you from personal experience, even these heralded winners (present company included) are not exempt from doing the wrong thing, both in the bidding and play. Thus, I don’t view it as “chutzpah” to challenge my message. It is only wrong to not explore the reasoning behind the action, especially if delving into it could afford one greater insight, flexibility in thinking and consistently better results.

I am not a professional psychologist. Far from it! Sometimes it is difficult for me to understand what makes people tick. I did enroll in a college course on the subject, but I was too preoccupied playing bridge to attend class. One must honor his priorities — and I certainly did! Many decades of interaction with the wonderful cast of bridge characters who inhabit our hobby arms me with the following caveats on our subject blog:

1. Not all partners are disciplined or talented enough to respond to the real problem in Forcing Pass situations, considering the multitude of factors and possible solutions.

2. Undeniably, bridge is a partnershp game, requiring both partners to zero in on the specific issues present in various Forcing Pass circumstances.

3. Since every top player worth naming (at least in my book) practices Active Etics, it becomes mandatory for each call to be made in proper tempo and without spin.

4. For partnerships who employ extremely loose opening bids, their evaluation systems are modified to accommodate their light openers and therefore, at-the-table experiences by them cannot be imitated by others who play conventional bridge and lean toward standard openings.

With the above in mind, let us examine how it applies to the current North hand, presuming that South has adopted the action of Larry, me and others — passing over East’s 4S call:

North must acknowledge that East probably holds an average of eleven black cards — and almost surely is not marked with a defensive holding such as the heart king. East is more apt to hold two cards in one of the red suits and be void in the other since that holding is more effective on the offense. Also to be considered … my forced raise (with three small hearts) exposes partner’s vulnerable holding to a heart stack by West. While I am ashamed of niether my opening bid nor my raise to 4H, I am now contemplating what to do when 4S is passed around to me. It is likely that partner’s distribution (because of West’s pass of 4S) contains a singleton spade — leaving room for clubs in partner’s hand.

(You are ill-advised when you state, “It seemed to me that you might as well either double yourself or bid on, because passing is going to lead to defending the hand anyway. It was the two red tens that pushed me over the edge ….”) At this point, we are addressing the CRUX OF THE PROBLEM: the determination whether to DECLARE OR DEFEND rests strictly with your expert partner and WHERE HIS VALUES LIE AND THE SHAPE OF HIS HAND (the rationale behind a Forcing Pass). To clarify further: 1) There were not two red tens as the heart ten belonged to West); and 2) The venue was a weekly duplicate, so matchpoints (not IMPS) were the order of the day.

If I held something like AXXX, KJX AJXXX X, I would now bid 5C, planning to pass a return to 5H by partner, but accepting a diamond slam over a 5D call by partner. The two red jacks (particularly the HJ) greatly influence my decision as it is 100% (not 99%) that the red suits are not going to be kind. On the other hand, if I am dealt AXX KXX AQXXX XX, I would bid a simple 5D which says that I prefer bidding out rather than doubling, but I am ‘minimum-ish’ so don’t expect great values (as I am only counting my ‘working’ cards). Of course, it makes the actual hand (AKXX 7XX AQJX XX) ideal for a double since three little hearts will blow my contract down faster than the Big Bad Wolf’s performance at the house of the Three Little Pigs –blowing it to smitherines.

Summing up — under normal circumstances and with routine breaks (in the absence of East’s black hand barking), a slam try might be appropriate, but the combination of North’s puny heart support (mindful of East’s aggressive calls) should set off hurricane warnings to run for cover and take your plus score.

Can all these thought processes be accomplished ethically (with neither North nor South taking advantage)? YOU BET THEY CAN — but will be executed only by players like yourself who love our game and want it to be played by the highest standards. What does it take to effect this?

1. Hand evaluation and, especially in this case, auction appraisal.

2. Desire to do the right thing by both North and South, each contributing as much as they can to the process — thereby allowing North to evaluate South’s pass in conjunction with his own holding.

3. Realistic shrewdness in expectations and not irrational exuberance manifested by unilateral decisions.

4. Each partner trusting the other to do what is best, based on all the information to date.

FORCING PASS SITUATIONS among top players are always crucial. South’s action at the four level asks North to redefine his values. The choice of a double backs his expert judgment, proclaiming: LET’S DEFEND! Isn’t that what our unique game is all about?

JUDY KAY-WOLFFNovember 27th, 2008 at 6:42 pm

PLEASE READ BOBBY’S BLOG OF TODAY ‘FROM ANOTHER VANTAGE POINT…’ which can be found on his own site (http://bobbywolff.bridgeblogging.com)

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