Bring it on, Jeff

Our palms were getting sweaty, the knees felt a little weak and the butterflies in the stomach were going crazy. Jeff Meckstroth was approaching our table with his wife Sally, and he brought a whole fan club of kibitzers with him following him from table to table.

This was the highest-ranked bridge player in the world, with over 85,000 MasterPoints to his credit, multiple time national world champion. My partner Christine and I had seen him many times at tournaments. Often, we got to the final round of a lower-bracket knockout competition and he’d be playing at the next table.

But we’d never faced him directly and played against him at the same table – until last Thursday night (1-5-2017) at the Orlando Winter Regional when our teammates for a knockout backed out and the only thing Christine and I were left with to play was the tough A/X/Y pairs, which for good measure also included Eric Rodwell and his wife, another former national champion, Bernice DeYoung, as well as just about the entire board of the Florida district and the Orlando unit. It was the toughest field Christine and I ever played in, and the toughest challenge of all was Meckstroth himself, who had just received the Sportsmanship of the Year award and was wearing a nice blazer for the occasion instead of his usual scruffy T-shirt.

“I’d been following his progression through the tables and by the time he got to ours, I was a nervous wreck,” said Christine. As for myself, I tried to not even look at him, act as if I had blinders on and focus only on the cards of the hands we were dealt.

Nothing worked. Of the two boards we played against him, we got one zero (stay tune for the Bridge Burglar hand of the week), and a 33 percent, when we failed to reach a makeable Slam on just 24 combined high-card points. Four other pairs playing in the same direction did find that Slam.

All in all, the Meckstroths scored in the high 50s and we were in the mid-40s, out of the points.

But that’s not quite where the story ends. We were pretty discouraged and down after our poor showing and were beginning to wonder if we even belonged at a tournament like this, but we’d already paid for another night’s hotel, so we decided to give the Daylight Pairs a try the following day. Maybe a different time of the day would help us.

Our heart sank when we saw the Meckstroths entered in the same event, even though he was in a different section. The competition evidently would be almost as tough since the scores from both sections would be added to determine the overall winners.

But lo and behold, after the morning session, Christine and I were in first position overall with a 70.07 percent game and a fantastic ratio of 19 boards played better than par, 2 pars and only 6 boards less than par! The Meckstroths were first in the other section, but trailed far behind us with only a 61 percent game.

We couldn’t quite keep up that pace in the afternoon’s second session, but still eked out a score right around 50 percent. Between the two sessions, we came in third overall (2nd in the Bs) for 7.88 Gold MasterPoints. And the Meckstroths were several spots behind us, getting a couple of fewer MasterPoints.

So bring it on, Jeff! Next time, we’ll be ready for you without sweaty palms.

(We played the same event the next day after Meckstroth had returned home, and did okay, getting a 51% in the morning band a 58% (good enough for 3rd place in the session) in the afternoon, putting us among the tightly bunched top 10 pairs out of the 34 entries, and netting us another 2.39 Gold.)

But the hand that deserves to be highlighted by the Bridge Burglar is the one on which Meckstroth gave us a zero. This time I’ll play the role of the column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, myself for mis-bidding and mis-playing the hand from the West seat, while Meckstroth will become Flo’s nemesis, Smug Sam, from the North seat, for his brilliant bid that kept us out of the auction. But let me hasten to add that in keeping with his sportsmanship award, in real life Jeff was the perfect gentleman and did not gloat over his good result or engage in any gratuitous lectures.

East Dealer; both sides vulnerable

A 5 2
K 9 6 4 3
Q 9 5 2
West East
K Q 9 8 10 7 3
K Q   J 10 6 A 8 7 5 2
J 10 7 A 8 5
3 8 7
J 6 4
9 3
Q 2
A K J 10 6 4

The bidding:

East South West North
Pass 1 1 2
2 Pass Pass 4
All pass

Opening lead:  King of Hearts

Signaling is essential to playing good defense, but it’s not a perfect science, as Flustered Flo found out with the East hand on the diagrammed hand at a recent Regional duplicate tournament played in her home state.

Flo and her West partner, Loyal Larry, play so-called “upside down attitude” defensive signals, meaning that a low card indicates the partner likes the suit and wants it continued, while a high card would be discouraging. But they also play suit preference, and by that standard, a low card might also mean lead the lower of the two other suits.

So inherently, defensive signals may be subject to different interpretations, and if you can help your partner out by removing all doubt, you should do so – which Flo failed to do. As a result, she got an absolute bottom on the board, which hurt that much more because it gave her nemesis, Smug Sam, who sat North, a top. Instead of setting him by a trick in a 4 Clubs contract, she let him make an overtrick.

Here’s what happened:

Larry led the King of Hearts of the first trick, and Flo dropped the 2. Flo meant it as a signal to her partner that it was okay to continue the Heart suit and make Sam’s South partner, Shy Shem, ruff in dummy, but Larry took it as a suit-preference signal, meaning he understood that she wanted a Diamond lead rather than a Spade.

When Larry next led the 7 of Diamonds, Shem played the 9 from dummy and Flo had to play her Ace. Flo and Larry did not take another trick, as Shem ruffed the next Heart, drew trumps, cashed the Queen of Diamonds, went to dummy with the Ace of Spades and dumped his two Spade losers on good Diamonds.

“I’m sorry partner,” said Flo afterwards to Larry. “I didn’t mean for you to lead a Diamond on the second trick. I wanted you to continued Hearts and let him ruff.”

“Then it’s me who should be sorry,” said Larry, who’s always very loyal to Flo.

But Smug Sam wasn’t going to let Flo off the hook so easily. “You could have easily avoided confusing your partner.”

“How?” asked Flo.

“You should know that you don’t want either a Diamond or a Spade lead,” said Sam. “It’s one of those situations that whoever breaks the suit loses a trick in it. That’s why you should take the decision out of your partner’s hand and overtake his King of Hearts with your Ace. It’s a safe play because you know he has the Queen also and we don’t have many of them. Then you can lead back another Heart or a trump and exit with a safe lead, saving your partner the embarrassment.”

“I didn’t think of it at the time,” said Flo, “but you’re right. That’s a big mistake I made.”

“Actually, Flo,” said Sam, “I hate to pile on, but it’s not your biggest mistake on this hand.”

“Oh?” asked Flo. “What’s that then?”

“You should never let us have the bid,” said Sam. “You have an easy 4 Hearts contract. You should know that my partner opened light because he bowed out of the auction right away. And I’m just trying to keep you out by jumping to 4 Clubs.”

“But it was a 20/20 hand,” protested Flo. “How could I know we have Game?”

“Remember that old saying, ‘If the other side has a fit, so do you’,” said Sam. “You have a wonderful Heart fit and two bullets. That’s worth going to 4. Of course I would sacrifice in 5 Clubs but if you double and play the correct defense, we should be Down Two to give you 500 points.”

“Instead, we gave you 150,” said Flo, despondently. “I guess we richly deserve that zero. I’ve got to hand it to you, though. That 4 Clubs was a brilliant bid. It kept us out.”

“Thank you, Flo,” said Sam.


  1. “You should never let them have the bid. ” so right. You should immediately bid 4hearts. Opponents would think twice before bidding 5 clubs. If they do you have a good double.

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