5 diamond sacrifice in Vero Beach

VERO BEACH, Fla – While on a weekend visit to Central Florida, my partner Christine Matus and I wanted to check out what is supposed to be one of the top five, eight or nine bridge clubs in the country, the Vero Beach Bridge Club. We were initially told that on Sunday, the day we had available to play, they only had a Swiss Team game and they had no partners for us “C” players who can barely boast a few hundred MasterPoints.

But when I called the partnership chairwoman back and reminded her that I had written bridge columns and favorable feature stories about the club in the local newspaper in the recent past, she called back within 10 minutes and had a couple of blind dates for us, two ladies named Sherry and Reyma who had never played together before but were willing to risk getting humiliated alongside us by those top-rated teams.

We did finish last in the very small game – it seems like even in a major bridge center like Vero, people only come out in droves for the weekday mid-day games and not even free dinners or any other enticements are capable of getting them out for night or weekend games. Maybe they should try free hearing aids. When the director asked one of our elderly opponents if he had leg cramps, he answered yes, that he’d very much like some ice cream (he never got any, though).

We had only one win and three losses, but that one win earned us .26 MasterPoints, and it was a very satisfying win, against the eventual winners, the team captained by Larry Griffey, who is apparently the local club’s guru on Swiss teams strategy and teaches classes on it. Well, we beat him by 2 International MatchPoints (IMPs) in the first match of the afternoon and he didn’t like it.

In the rematch later during the session, he started playing very fast and trying to hurry us up. As a result, Christine got discombobulated and forgot to draw out the last trump – and we proceeded to lose the rematch by a blitz. Larry didn’t waste an opportunity to rub it in: “there were 13 of those trumps, you know,” he reminded her.

Still, beating him in that one match was enough of a moral victory. Particularly satisfying was one hand on which we took a 4 Spades contract away from him with a sacrifice in 5 Diamonds, which wasn’t even doubled, so even though we went Down One to give them 50 points, our teammates did make the 4 Spades vulnerable Game at the other table to let us win the board by 11 IMPs.

That’s why the board is an excellent candidate for one of my “bridge burglar” columns.

We played East-West in the Game while the Swiss format guru Larry sat North, but to make play easier to follow, I’ll turn the hands around and make Larry East, and he will become my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, while I become Flo’s nemesis, Smug Sam, with the South hand. Flo’s West partner, the slightly deaf guy Dave in need of the hearing aid, will become Loyal Larry, while Christine will become my partner, Shy Shem, with the North cards.

The hand

North Dealer; East-West vulnerable

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

The bidding

North East South West
Pass 1 2 2
Pass 3 3 3
4 4 5 All pass

Opening lead: Ace

How Flustered Flo played it

Flustered Flo is so tired of her nemesis, Smug Sam, stealing contracts from her that she has started bidding very aggressively, hoping not to let Sam even into the auction.

On the diagrammed hand at a recent four-person Swiss teams competition at her local club, Flo sat East and Sam was immediately behind her in the South seat, so with a wary eye to Sam, Flo decided to open her 10-point hand with a singleton Ace in Hearts by bidding a Spade.

She sighed as Sam immediately pulled out the 2 Hearts card – shutting him up was apparently never going to work. However, Flo and her West partner, Loyal Larry, appeared to find a good Game contract in 4 Spades anyway. Sam, in the meantime, had somehow found a second biddable suit in Diamonds and that brought Sam’s partner, Shy Shem to life with a support bid in Diamonds. That was all Sam needed to sacrifice in 5 Diamonds, and Flo didn’t dare double because she suspected all kinds of weird distributions on the hand.

Larry took the first Spade trick and his second Spade lead with the Queen got trumped by Sam. Sam ruffed a Heart in dummy and when Flo dropped the Heart Ace, he could hardly believe it was her only one. Surely she had the King and perhaps the Queen as well – it’s hard to assume a 6-1 split in any suit. Not that Sam had any choice. He had to try and cross-ruff everything, so Sam came back to his hand with a Club ruff after collecting his Club Ace and ruffed another Heart low.

Flo over-ruffed with the 10, and led another Club that was ruffed by Sam, and then Sam proceeded to cross-ruff everything. In the end Sam took nine tricks with his 10 trumps (only one was over-ruffed), and the Club Ace for Down One.

“I knew he was sacrificing,” Flo said afterward to her partner Larry by way of apology, “but I didn’t dare double because I knew the distribution on the hand was going to be crazy.”

“If you were going to double,” said Sam, smug as always, “you’d better play the hand better.”

“How could we get another trick?” Flo asked. “I think we got all we could.”

“When you’re on lead with the trump 10,” Sam explained, “you have to lead your last trump to remove two of mine. You know I’m going to cross-ruff with that crazy distribution so you have to try and trip me up. If you had doubled me and you do that, at least you get 300 points instead of just 50 and that would be a much better result.”

“Should I have said 5 Spades instead?” Flo asked.

“That would be a very bad bid because it goes Down Two if we find the Club ruff and another ruff on a Heart plus the two minor suit Aces.”

“So you actually made a bad bid sacrificing in 5 Diamonds when you could have set us in 4 Spades and gotten a positive score?” Flo asked, astonished that Sam appeared to have made a mistake.

“It’s only a mistake if your teammates at the other table playing the same hands find that cross-ruffing defense,” said Sam. “If they don’t find it, our teammates do make the 4 Spades. We’ll see.”

As it turned out, Sam was right – Flo’s teammates did not find the right defense and let Sam’s teammates make the 4 Spades, and as a result, Sam’s team won the board by 11 International MatchPoints (IMPs).

“So even if you make a mistake, you still win?” Flo asked Sam, flustered once more.

“I wouldn’t call it a mistake,” said Sam. “It’s more like a calculated risk, that I wouldn’t get the best the defense from you, and that our teammates wouldn’t get the best defense from your teammates at the other table.”

“So you play your opponents instead of the cards?” Flo asked.

“Sometimes that’s your only shot,” Sam admitted.



  1. Michael says:

    They should define 3NT after passed once in overcall as superb support for partner’s bid suit with a void in the partner’s second bid suit+ fourth suit ace then its easy to choose how to play 4S in defence. 4D is too little a response to the second overcall- it should be reserved for hands with some general support so partner can play in 4H or 5H.

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