A New Ruby

Well, I made it. I went over 1,500 MasterPoints at our home club, the Vero Beach Bridge Center, on Wednesday (8-8-2018) and officially became a Ruby Life Master.

I’ll get a letter from the (interim) CEO – the last one just got fired and no one seems to know why – of the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL), and at our home club I’ll get a nice plaque and will have my name announced at an upcoming game. My name will also be published in an upcoming issue of the monthly ACBL Bulletin, and hopefully several people will congratulate me, say they’re happy for me and proud of me and perhaps even mean it.

That’s nice, but what does it all mean? The “interim” ranks of Ruby Life Master at 1,500 points and Sapphire Life Master at 3,500 points were introduced by the ACBL fairly recently as marketing ploys to keep people interested in the game, and especially to boost sagging attendance at tournaments, which make money for the organization and award the colored points needed for climbing through the ranks.

The gaps between Silver at 1,000 points and Gold at 2,500 – and between Gold and the next rank of Diamond at 5,000 – used to be so great that many people just gave up and stopped playing competitive bridge once they got to 1,000 or 2,500. Some observers called that phenomenon “losing the middle.” The pros kept on playing at the top, and at the bottom, the beginners kept striving for points in events like the Gold Rush at Regionals, but in the middle, people seemed to lack motivation.

The ACBL noticed this and introduced the interim ranks as a way of keeping people engaged. Thus, having achieved ruby status is really a testimonial to the effectiveness of the ACBL’s marketing strategy. I’ve fallen for it, so maybe I’m the biggest sucker around.

Anyway, it’s working and as long as my partner Christine and I remain in reasonable health and still enjoy traveling to tournaments where we mix tourism and sightseeing with bridge (at the upcoming Fall Nationals in Hawaii we might even play some bridge) we’ll keep going. She’s about 200 points ahead of me and she’ll remain that way as long we almost exclusively play with each other.

We seem to be amassing between 200 and 300 points per year; at that rate she’ll get gold in three years and it’ll take me another year. On the one hand, at many tournaments we’ll now be As (at our home club we’re Bs until 2,500 points) so that might make points a little harder to come by. Then again, on the other hand, we hope we’re getting better so that might compensate for the larger handicap.

Going into Wednesday, I needed just over a point to reach 1,500 and we cleared the hurdle with plenty to spare. We placed second in the B stratification (third overall) with a 61% game that got us 2.46 MasterPoints, a generous award because it was an ACBL membership game. I was pretty confident we’d place high enough for me to get the points I’d need after the first two rounds, when we got tops against two of the best players at the club, but then we also got some bad boards so I was sweating it till the end. Some days a 61% game is good enough for first place, but curiously, on Wednesday two different pairs scored over 70%, which will rate them a mention in the Florida Sunshine Bridge News.

One of our top boards against the A players (one of whom had just taught a class) is worth a Bridge Burglar blog entry because it represents such a huge steal. I was allowed to make a 2 Spades doubled Game contract for a plus-470 score while they could have set me by two tricks for a minus-300 or they could have had two different Games of their own in 4 Hearts or 3 No-Trump for 420 or 400 respectively. The teacher will assume the role of my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, with the East hand, while I’ll be his nemesis as Smug Sam, the South Declarer. Christine is my North (dummy) partner as Shy Shem.

West Dealer; neither side vulnerable

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

The Bidding:

West North East South
(Dumb Dora) (Shy Shem) (Flustered Flo) (Smug Sam)
1 Pass 1 NT 2
Double All Pass

Opening lead: Ace of Hearts

Flustered Flo really missed her regular partner, Loyal Larry, who might not be a very good player but at least he never criticized her. Larry was still away visiting his family. In his absence, Flo had played with Dumb Dora once but that hadn’t turned out too well, especially against her nemesis, Smug Sam.

She had vowed never to play with Dora again, but there was some construction going on at her condo complex and she couldn’t stand the noise and the dust. She had to get out of the house and no one else was available, so she reluctantly agreed to play with Dumb Dora one more time.

Once again, it didn’t go well, and once again, it was Smug Sam who did them in. In the second round, Flustered Flo, who played East, responded One No-Trump to Dora’s One Club opening bid. Sam interfered from the South seat with a 2 Spades bid and when Dora reopened the auction with a double, Flo sensed that Dora had a big hand and that she and Dora had a rare opportunity to punish Sam for his bidding on fumes, which he was known for. Flo hoped they could set Sam by three or four tricks, perhaps taking him for a minus-500 or even 800. So Flo left the double in and passed.

Dora took her Ace of Hearts on the opening trick, but then saw after the dummy came down that Sam would probably try to ruff a Heart in dummy, so she did not continue Hearts – she didn’t want to help him out. She took her two top Clubs, and then led a trump, trying to cut down on dummy’s trumps and limit Sam’s ruffing chances. Sam ducked dummy’s Queen and captured Flo’s 10 with his Jack of Spades.

As Dora had feared, Sam next led another Heart. Dora took it with her King and led a Club to Flo’s Jack, which Sam ruffed. Sam then ruffed his last Heart loser in dummy and finessed out Flo’s King of the trump suit. Dora was hoping that Sam was running out of trump by now and she wanted to keep her good Hearts and Clubs to run them at the end, so on the trump trick she threw a Diamond.

Sam next led a small Diamond and Dora had to step up with her King. When Dora next led a Club, Sam ruffed, dropped Flo’s Queen of Diamonds under his Ace and took the last trick with dummy’s Jack of Diamonds. He’d gotten the required 8 tricks, all 5 trump tricks, a Heart ruff and 2 Diamonds, and he had made his doubled Game contract for a plus-470 score with just 14 combined high-card points to Flo’s and Dora’s 26.

“That was pretty pathetic defense, partner,” Flo said to Dora afterward. “First of all, he can get to the dummy only once with a Heart ruff so he’ll have a hard time finessing my King of Spades. But by you leading Spades, you gave him a free finesse. That cost us one trick. And you can’t pitch a Diamond. You have to keep it to protect your King. Then, when he under-leads his Ace, you duck and let the trick come around to my Queen and you later get your King. You cost us two tricks. We should have set him by two tricks for a plus-300. Instead, we let him make his doubled Game for a minus-470 for us.”

Dora may be a little dumb sometimes, but she decided she wasn’t going to be Flo’s doormat. She knew Flo would go back to her regular partner, Loyal Larry, as soon as he got back, so she really didn’t care much about preserving harmony in any partnership with Flo.

Dora didn’t respond directly to Flo’s critique of her defense. She simply went on the counter-attack.

“I don’t understand why you just didn’t respond to my reopening double,” Dora asked. “My double told you I had a big hand and I wanted you to bid again. We could have had an easy 3 No-Trump for 400 points or another cold Game in 4 Hearts for 420. Both of those are way better than the measly 300 you wanted for setting them by two tricks. Just answer my double.”

Flo was quite taken aback by getting so much flak from her partner. Loyal Larry never talked back to her like that.

“Don’t YOU have anything to say for yourself?” Flo asked Smug Sam, who sat there smiling like the cat who just swallowed the canary. “You always seem to have some comment to make.”

“Not this time, Flo,” said Sam, smug as always. “Dora said it all. I have nothing to add. I know you were trying to trap me in a bad contract, but it looks like you trapped yourself.”

As Flo shuffled away from the table, she pulled out her calendar. She wanted to check one more time when Loyal Larry would be back. Maybe Smug Sam would still beat her, but least she wouldn’t have to put up with a partner who disagreed with her – such nerve!

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