10-card trump suit: Stolen slam that should not have made

One of my regular partners, Christine Matus, and I wound up on different teams for last week’s mid-week  Swiss Sectional duplicate bridge tournament at the Bridge Studio of Delaware Thursday night and since neither one of us is very competitive (haha!) we were happy that each one of us walked away with some bragging rights.

My team captained by John Walston and also including Ed Maser and Eileen Bickel-Thomas, beat Christine’s team, captained by Mary Lou Farnum and also including Pat Loeffelholz and Spencer Kiernan, in one of the opening head-to-head matches by a maximum margin of 28 International Match Points (IMPs), in other words a blitz, giving me some serious bragging rights.

But Christine and her teammates may have had the last laugh, because after that stupendous victory, we couldn’t do a thing right while Christine’s team got on a roll, winning their three remaining matches and ending up first overall win 1.74 Red MasterPoints, while we got only a paltry 0.18 points for our tie for last place.

But Christine and Pat are fond of saying that they don’t care about where they place overall – all they care about is beating me and whoever I am playing with, so I’ll still revel in the head-to-head victory over their team, especially over the way it was inflicted, with me “stealing” a doubled Small Slam I should not have been able to make, while they could have bid a bigger Slam and made it. That hand alone represented a swing of 2,180 points, which translates to 19 IMPs – you often don’t get such a margin on 20 or more boards.

It was such an unusual hand – I can’t remember ever having been dealt a 10-card suit – that I can’t resist turning it into a column, in which Christine will have to assume the role of my column’s anti-hero Flustered Flo because she made three mistakes: 1. She doubled unwisely because I could have made my contract even against the best defense. 2. When I made a mistake, she failed to take advantage of it to put me down, and 3. Instead of letting me play it and doubling, she should have bid 6 Spades over my 6 Hearts – and made it.

As Flustered Flo, Christine will be West on the diagrammed deal although she actually played the hand as South. I’ll be Smug Sam with the incredible 10-Heart South hand. Spencer’s East hand will be played by Flo’s partner Loyal Larry and John will become Shy Shem as my North partner (he never had an opportunity to say anything).

The hand

East Dealer; neither side vulnerable

Q 7 5 3
A Q 7 5 3
7 5 3

West                                            East
K J 10 8 6                             A 9 4 2
—                                          9 6
J 10 6                                    K 2
A J 9 8 6                               K Q 10 4 2


A K Q 10 8 7 5 4 3 2
9 8 4

The bidding

East                 South               West                North
1                   4                   4                   Pass

Pass                 5                   Pass                 Pass

5                   6                   Double            All pass

Opening lead: ♠ Jack

How Flustered Flo played it

Flustered Flo is quite used to her nemesis Smug Sam stealing contracts away from her. He’ll jump quickly to the three level in a minor suit before Flo and her partner have a chance to explore if they perhaps have a Game in a major, or he’ll sacrifice to keep her from making a Game.

As a result, instead of getting 420 points on a board, she and her partner get only 50 or 100 – or even let Sam score 110 or thereabouts. Those swings in the 300-500 point range hurt and regularly allow Sam to walk away with one of the top places, while Flo then finds her name towards the bottom of the rankings.

But even Sam had never had a swing of more than 2,000 points on a single board – until Flo, with the West cards, came up against Sam playing South on the diagrammed deal from a recent Sectional tournament at her club. She let Sam get 1,210 points while she could have had 980.

When Sam jump-overcalled to 4 Hearts after her partner Loyal Larry’s opening bid, Flo had no trouble going to 4 Spades. She expected Sam to have an eight-card Heart suit and at least three losers, so she fully expected Sam to shift into sacrificing mode to 5 Hearts, but then she was very encouraged to hear that Larry had Spade support when he raised the bid to 5 Spades.

She had not expected Sam to go as high as 6 Hearts, but when he did, she thought she had to double.

Her opening lead of the Spade Jack was ducked in dummy and by East and ruffed by Sam.  Sam went to the dummy with the trump Jack, ruffed another Spade and drew East’s last trump. Then he played out seven more trumps from his hand, making Flo choose which four cards she would keep. She decided she had to keep the Club Ace and the Spade King, so she parted with one Diamond, thinking that her Jack in third position couldn’t possibly make the difference.

She was wrong. With four cards left, Sam took the finesse on the Diamond King and lost it, but he got the lead back with a ruff and collected the last two Diamond tricks to make his doubled contract for a score of 1,210 points, leaving Flo shaking her head, and well … flustered beyond belief.

“So I should have pitched by King of Spades and kept the Diamond,” Flo said. “Then you go Down.”

“Yes,” admitted Sam. “I could have made it anyway, but I made a mistake and I gave you the opening to beat me. I shouldn’t have taken the finesse on the King f Diamonds, which had less than a 50% chance of success since East had opened and was more likely to have the majority of the points. I should have taken the Diamond Ace and led a small Diamond, counting on the Diamond King sitting in second position with a 3-2 split – that at least had a 50% chance. I make mistakes, too.”

“What a revelation!” Flo scoffed. “But the fact that you could have made it anyway doesn’t make me feel better. The fact is that you gave me a chance to set you and I blew it.”

“Well, Flo, in a way I hate to pile on,” Sam replied, “but even though this isn’t going to make you feel better, either, I do feel compelled to point out that doubling me or misplaying your defense isn’t the biggest mistake you made on the hand.”

“I’ll bite,” Flo said. “What else could be worse?”

“You should have bid 6 Spades,” Sam said. “It makes easy because all you lose is the Ace of Diamonds.”

“And how am I supposed to know that Slam makes?” asked. “ With your furious interference bidding we couldn’t ask for Aces.”

“Do it with the losing trick count method,” Sam explained. “You have a solid opening hand with 7 losers. Your partner has more than a minimum opening because of his rebid in Spades at the 5 level, so has between 5 or 6 losers. With 12 losers you have 12 tricks, and with 13 you would have 11, so you’re good at 5 Spades with a good chance at 6. Six Spades is either a good bid or a good sacrifice – at least better than a very risky double.”

“As if it’s not tough enough to beat you when we have more or less normal hands, now I have to beat you when you have a 10-card suit?” Flo lamented.

“And even with such a rich hand, you could have easily beaten me,” said Sam.

“Like I said before,” said Flo, “you’re not making me feel any better.”

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