Difficult hand comes down to basic math: 3 is better than 1

My partner Christine Matus and I won points for the fifth time in six outings Sunday (9-29-2013) by winning two and losing two head-to-head matches in an “eight-is-enough” Swiss team competition at the Vero Beach Bridge Center.

We got .52 MasterPoints, .26 for each of the matches we won with teammates Jan Rusu and Debbie Brower, quite an achievement since we were probably the lowest-ranked team in the competition.

The “8 is enough” format prevents all the top players from forming teams together and ganging up on everyone else. An A player (more than 2,500 points) counts for 3 points, a B player (1,000-2,500 points) counts for 2 and C players count for 1. We had only 5 points on our team with our three Cs and a B, so we were under the 8 limit. Other teams like the one with Candace Griffey and Ron Andrews, were right at 8 with two As and two Cs.

We had some notable snafus, such as when my partner failed to recognize my Voidwood (Blackwood exclusion) bid of 4 Hearts, asking for Aces excluding the Ace of Hearts since I was void in Hearts. She passed me in 4 Hearts when I was void in the suit, and we were lucky to go Down only 3 not doubled, not vulnerable.

But on the very next board, Christine more than made up for the snafu by bidding a Small Slam in Clubs that I made, and the 13 International MatchPoints (IMPs) won on that board won us he round.

Since the boards were shuffled and dealt, we did not come away with an interesting hand to dramatize, but we have another hand from the previous day’s pairs game in Jupiter, where we had a good 57.3% percent game, that has a really interesting twist to it.

Christine actually was happy to make a Game in 4 Spades on the hand (she really sat West, but to make play easier to follow, I’ve turned the hands around and made her be South) which was an above-average board for us, but we were shocked to see in the hand records that she should have been able to make an overtrick. The puzzle kept us intrigued all night and into the next morning, when the solution finally came to us. It’s very counter-intuitive, and we don’t know if the one pair that actually bid 4 Spades and made 5 at the table actually found it or whether they were the beneficiary of very soft defense (we suspect the latter).

The hand is too good to pass up for a “bridge burglar” blog entry. This is the kind of hand where my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, goes Down One in 4 Spades, while her nemesis, Smug Sam, playing the same hand, also bids 4 but steals a high score by making 6!

I will be Christine’s (and Flustered Flo’s) partner, Loyal Larry, with the North hand and our opponents shall remain nameless.

The hand

North Dealer; vulnerable

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

The bidding

North East South West
2 Pass 2 Pass
3 Pass 4 Pass

Opening lead:  6 of Diamonds

How Flustered Flo played it

In life as in bridge, sometimes you’re fixated on trying to solve the wrong problem. You don’t realize that your real problem is something else – and you totally overlook an easy solution to it.

On the diagrammed deal at a recent duplicate club game near her home, Flustered Flo landed in an aggressive, but apparently makeable, 4 Spades Game contract by imposing her own six-card Spade suit over the six-card Diamond suit on which her partner, Loyal Larry, had opened with a weak 2 bid.

Flo was relieved to get a Diamond lead and not a Club, since she was afraid of losing three or maybe even four Club tricks right off the bat. She captured East’s Queen with her King, unblocked her King of Hearts and began to set up Club ruffs in dummy by leading a low Club.

East took the Queen and immediately returned a Diamond to give his partner a ruff. West led another Club to his partner and when East led another Diamond, Flo was forced to ruff high to prevent West from over-ruffing. Flo did not want to risk any more ruffs, so she just drew trumps and in the end had to give up another Club to East for Down One.

“Sorry, partner,” said Larry. “Maybe I shouldn’t have encouraged you to go to Game.”

“No, your bid was fine,” said Flo. “I got some bad splits and ruffs and I had transportation problems. I think you can make 4 on that hand, but I don’t know how. I hope we have a lot of company and it won’t be too bad a board for us.”

Flo was astounded to see at the end of the evening that her nemesis, Smug Sam, who has also played South, got an absolute top on the board by bidding 4 Spades and making 6 for two overtricks.

“Did you get lots of gifts on defense to make 6 on that board?”  Flo asked Sam when she found him in the crowd looking at the posted results.

“One, on the opening lead,” Sam admitted. “If they’d led Clubs, they take two Club tricks right off the top and hold me to 5, but they led their singleton Diamond and that let me make 6.”

“I got a Diamond lead, too, and I went Down One.,” said Flo. “So I made three fewer tricks than you did – how is that possible?”

“I bet the first thing you did when you got the lead was to lead your King of Hearts to unblock it, right?” Sam asked.

“Of course I did,” Flo admitted.

“You should have known that’s totally the wrong play,” said Sam, rather unkindly. “You were trying to get one slough on your dummy’s Ace of Hearts. One slough is nothing. You need three sloughs and the only way you can get them is by setting up your Diamonds. You need to keep your Heart King as any Heart, just for transportation to get to the board and collect your Diamonds.”

“So how did you make 6 then?” Flo asked.

“After taking the opening Diamond trick in my hand with the King,” Sam explained. “I drew two rounds of trumps to make sure West wouldn’t be able to ruff Diamonds anymore, winding up in dummy with the Queen and then I cashed the Ace of Diamonds.

“Then I led the 10 of Diamonds,” Sam continued. “If South covered, I would have ruffed, drawn out the last trump, gotten to the board by overtaking my King of Hearts with the Ace and the rest of the Diamonds to give up one Club trick in the end. My East opponent did not cover my Diamond lead off the dummy, but it ended up the same way. Eventually he had to cover and let me take control with the remaining Diamonds.”

“Who would ever think of overtaking his own King with an Ace?” Flo asked, rather astonished, and … well, flustered.

“The King of Hearts would have given you one trick,” said Sam. “Setting up the Diamonds gives you three. It’s simple math – three is better than  one.”


  1. Even Flustered Flo should have at least made the contract, beats me why she lead a club (for a ruff) when the she is relieved to not get a club lead in the first place- inconsistent. She surely play the K of hearts, spades to end in dummy and cash the A of hearts for a club discard, ruff a heart, cash the remaining spades and then diamonds and lose three clubs.

    • jansteytt says:

      Sam’s line of play is necessary only if East ducks the first diamond. If he splits, declarer can can draw three rounds of trumps , then play the 9D to the Ace and continue with any diamond to force East’s Queen.
      Later, he crosses to dummy with the AH, and cashes the diamonds, making six spades, five diamonds and a heart.
      Note that West’s highly optimistic lead of the singleton in dummy’s long, strong suit is the ONLY way for South’s trick count to rise to 12.
      Moreover, the lead is of little value. If East stops the diamonds, he will still stop them later. The lead of the shorter of West’s long suits, clubs, seems rational.

      And the lead yields 13 tricks if N/S hold

      ♠ Q 3
      ♥ A 5 4
      ♦ A J 10 8 5 3
      ♣ 6 4
      ♠ A K J 8 6 4
      ♥ K
      ♦ K 9 2
      ♣ J 9 5


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