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Wolff Signoff

The Wolff Signoff is a nifty trick to enable a weak hand to sign-off at the 3-level after partner jump-rebids 2NT

The Wolff Signoff is an artificial 3 bid used after a 2NT jump-rebid showing 18-19 HCP. This forces a 3‘puppet’ response, after which responder can sign-off at the 3-level.

The Wolff Signoff solves a very common bidding problem. In a sequence such as 1 – 1 – 2NT (18-19 points balanced), it is impossible to sign-off at the 3-level. This is because normally if responder rebids their suit, e.g. 1 – 1 – 2NT – 3, it is forcing.

Using the Wolff Signoff, a reply of 3 enables responder to take charge of the auction. The 3 bid shows a weak hand with 5 cards in the suit bid or a 5-card diamond suit, and forces a 3 “puppet” bid from partner. This can either be passed or corrected back to responder’s original suit.

N.B. often the Wolff signoff is only used in the sequence 1m – 1M – 2NT

Here’s an example hand:

It is not hard to think of hands opposite 2NT that provide little in a NT contract and don’t provide enough value for game in a suit contract. The Wolff Signoff is a good way to find the best contract by stopping at a lower level.

In the version in the example above, North is required to bid the 3 puppet bid once they hear 3. However, another option is to have them bid the 3 puppet if they have 2-card support and support partner at the 3-level (breaking the relay) if they have 3-card support. In the hand example above, North would have bid 3 over the 3 bid. Partner then would have passed.

Responses After Wolff Signoff

After the 3 bid, responder can rebid their suit as a signoff or bid 3NT to make a slam try in opener’s suit. If responder originally bid spades, they can rebid hearts to show 5-4, after which partner passes or corrects to 3.

The responses after an initial reply of 1 are:

After 3♦ Meaning
Pass To play
3 To play
3NT Slam try in opener's suit (10-12 points)
And the responses after an initial reply of 1 are:
After 3♦ Meaning
Pass To play
3 5-4 (or longer), asks partner to pass or correct
3 To play
3NT Slam try in opener's suit (10-12 points)

Other 3-Level Responses After 2NT

If responder chooses not to use the Wolff Signoff, they have a variety of game-forcing bids to choose from. Typically, the 3♦ is “checkback” the 4-level bid in their suit is a sign-off, and the 3-level rebid shows some interest in slam.

The responses after an initial reply of 1 are:

After 2NT Meaning
3 Wolff Signoff (see above)
3 Checkback, game-forcing
3 5+ hearts, extra values, game-forcing
4 6+ hearts, no extra values
And the responses after an initial reply of 1 are:
After 2NT Meaning
3 Wolff Signoff (see above)
3 Checkback, game-forcing
3 5-5 in majors, game-forcing
3 5+ spades, extra values, game-forcing
4 6+ spades, no extra values

You’ll notice that after an initial reply of 1 there is no 3 bid to show 5-5. This is because responder should always bid 1 with 5-5 in the majors.

Responses to 3 Checkback

The 3 checkback bid is used to try to find a fit in the majors. Partner has three responses they can make, which are (in order of preference):

  • 1. Bid the other major, showing four cards in the unbid suit
  • 2. Show 3 card support in partner's suit
  • 3. Bid 3NT (denies both four cards in unbid suit and 3 card support in partner's suit)
Following the sequence 1m – 1 – 2NT – 3, the responses are:
Response to 3♦ Meaning
3 Denies four-card spade suit, shows three hearts
3 Four spades
3NT Neither four spades nor three hearts
And following the sequence 1m – 1 – 2NT – 3, the responses are:
Response to 3♦ Meaning
3 Four hearts
3 Denies four-card heart suit, shows three spades
3NT Neither four hearts nor three spades

Priority is given to showing the unbid four-card major for two reasons:

  • 1. If game is reached in the as-yet unbid major, the strong hand will be declarer.
  • 2. It is easy to show 3-card support later in the auction.

If the opener shows four cards in the unbid major and responder returns to 3NT, it shows the 3 checkback was for the purpose of finding a 5-3 fit in the bid major. Opener can then bid game in their suit if that fit exists, or pass and leave the contract at 3NT if it does not.

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