A rowdy weekend of director’s calls

BALA CYNWYD, PA – My partner Christine Matus and I had an up-and-down weekend at this year’s second winter Sectional at the Bala Golf Club (Feb. 8-10, 2013), but we ended on an up note on Sunday winning six head-to-head matches in the four-person Swiss tournament finale with our friends and teammates Alan Gross and Estelle Bogart and losing just one.

We lost only the first match by a narrow margin of 6 International MatchPoints (IMPs) to the team that eventually edged us out of first place in our bracket by just one victory point (VP). Our second-place finish was worth 3.82 Silver MasterPoints for all the members of our team, but we had wanted that first place (which would have been worth more than 5 points).

During the first round, Christine unwisely doubled a Small Slam in Clubs by our opponents, who proceeded to make the contract and get a few extra IMPs because of the double. “Okay, if we lose by a point, you can blame me,” said Christine – who had no idea at the time that’s exactly what would happen, that we would lose the whole competition by just that one point.

The Sunday Swiss team session was the second event in which we scored points over the weekend. We also played well in the Saturday morning open pairs game, grabbing one full Silver MasterPoint with a 53.76% game.

We didn’t do so well in late pairs games Friday and Saturday, finishing out of the money both times in a strong field that had attracted virtually all the top players from the Philadelphia area – they all showed up and the threat of bad weather fizzled.

On Saturday afternoon, Christine totally forgot about the “Voidwood” Slam convention (exclusion Blackwood in which you bid your void suit) and as a result, she passed and wound up playing a contract in 4 Hearts when she had only 3 total Hearts and the opponents had 10! (The hand should have made a Grand Slam in Diamonds.)

Directors working overtime

Christine may have been a little distracted by a commotion at another table right behind her involving four players taking the game perhaps a little too seriously. One of the players said to his partner: “Nice unblock!” and one of the opponents apparently thought that was a little too much gloating. “You can’t say that,” said the opponent. The discussion escalated from there, with one player yelling: “Ah, shut up,” and another shooting back: “Eat sh..!”

The loud discussion continued even when the Director arrived at the table. “In my culture, when someone insults you, you are allowed to insult them back,” said one player, as the Director pointedly remind all players that they were supposed to be silent when he was talking and not interrupt him. He could have assessed a one-point penalty against all four players for a clear violation of American Contract Bridge League’s zero-tolerance policy for rudeness, but instead he let them all off with a warning, saying they could hate each other away from the table but were obligated to behave during play.

On the first day of competition in the late Friday open pairs game, we finished in the lower rungs of the standings and had no such excuse. We had our problems defending against a weak 1 No-Trump opening, and we let our opponents make overtricks several times with wrong leads.

Also, for some reason it seemed like the Director was living at our table, although I’ll hasten to add that it wasn’t because of any rudeness. In the first six two-board rounds, we had director’s calls every other round because of rules violations. Once I led out of turn, which didn’t hurt us, and another time Christine claimed the rest of the tricks when she shouldn’t have, which did cost us a trick, and on the third occasion our opponents called the Director on me for my bidding. But that protest was dismissed, and I wound up making a very difficult Game – with an overtrick that I shouldn’t have been able to make to boot!

They doubted my weakness

Despite our overall poor showing on Friday, that hand is worth a bridge burglar column, because of all the extracurricular activities surrounding it – and because of our opponents’ poor defense, which contains a lesson for us all.

My partner Christine opened a Club – our opponents never bid anything – and I jump-shifted to 2 Hearts. Christine duly alerted it as a weak bid (which she is supposed to do when the opponents are not competing in the auction). She was void in Hearts, so she was less than enthused by my Hearts and she bid her other five-card minor suit at 3 Diamonds. I then bid 3 Spades since apart from six Hearts, I also had four Spades. With three Spades, Christine then raised me to Game in 4 Spades, which triggered our opponents’ protests.

“That original jump-shift bid in Hearts cannot have been weak if you guys have enough to go on and bid Game in the other major,” said Diane, my left-hand opponent. “I’m calling the Director.”

Her partner Vilas also jumped on the bandwagon, demanding to see my hand after play was over to see for himself how “weak” my hand really was.

The Director came, but quickly dismissed their protests. There was no way that my bid, even if it might have been unconventional, in any way damaged her bidding – she was never going to bid anything anyway. Our convention cards also state that we play weak jump-shifts and my hand really had only eight useful high-card points, not counting a couple of garbage Jacks. So the Director ruled our opponents really had no beef – Diane was just miffed that we found a Game no one else found, and that she let me make an overtrick to boot.

I really played the hand as North, but to make play easier to follow, I’ll turn the hands around and make myself South. I’ll become Smug Sam again in my column. My protesting opponent Diana with the West hand will assume the role of Flustered Flo, my column’s anti-hero. Her partner, Vilas from Mumbai, will become Flo’s partner Loyal Larry, and Christine becomes Sam’s partner Shy Shem (not very shy this time) with the North hand.

The hand

North Dealer; both sides vulnerable

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

The bidding

North East South West
1 Pass 2 * Pass
3 Pass 3 *s Pass
4 All pass

*The 2 Hearts jump-shift with no competition from the opponents was alerted as weak

Opening lead: 5 of Clubs

How Flustered Flo played the hand

When your opponents have obvious troubles finding a fit between their hands and they finally settle on a fourth suit as a compromise barely acceptable to both partners, how do you defend against such a contract?

The answer should be obvious: You attack that trump suit and prevent them from using any trumps for ruffing. But it wasn’t that obvious to Flustered Flo on the diagrammed deal in a recent Sectional duplicate tournament organized by her home club.

As West, Flo let her nemesis, Smug Sam, who had played South, make an overtrick in a 4 Spades Game contract that had been hard to find for Sam and his partner, Shy Shem. Sam had rejected both of Shem’s minor suits, and Shem had naturally rejected Sam’s long Hearts – he was void in them. So they finally settled on Spades, their fourth-best suit with barely a seven-card fit.

On the opening lead, Flo led from the top of her doubleton Club and when Sam finessed by playing low from dummy, Flo’s partner Loyal Larry won the first trick with his Queen from the East hand. Larry returned a Club to Sam’s 10 and Sam next ruffed one low Heart in dummy. He then started drawing trumps, leading dummy’s Queen to Flo’s Ace.

Flo next led a Heart to Sam’s Ace, allowing him to pitch a Diamond from dummy. Sam then finished drawing trump, went to dummy with a top Diamond, and collected all his good Clubs and the second top Diamond to make 11 tricks – one more than the contract called for.

“Of all your low-life tricks I’ve ever seen, Sam,” Flo said indignantly, “this one takes the cake. “You supposedly bid a weak long Heart suit and you wind up playing a Game in the other major – making an overtrick, no less. I’m calling the Director. I don’t believe you had a weak hand at all.”

Sam just sat there, looking smug, until the Director had rejected Flo’s protest as being without merit – Flo had not been damaged in her bidding at all, and Sam and Shem’s convention cards clearly spelled out they played jump-shifts as weak. Besides, the bid had been alerted as such.

Then Sam could keep quiet no longer. “Perhaps instead of calling the Director and protesting my bidding,” he said to Flo, “you might try to play better defense. There’s no way you should have let me make an overtrick.”

“How could I have prevented it?” Flo asked.

“You should know that if we settle on a fourth suit like Spades after bidding everything else,” Sam explained, “it can’t be a very good suit. We’re long and short in all the other suits, so we’re obviously going to try to use some trumps for ruffing. You’ve got to lead your trump Ace right away on the opening trick and follow up with another small trump.

“Then I’ll have a problem getting back to my hand twice to ruff a losing Heart and take the Club finesse to set up that suit – and I’m lucky if I can make my contract in four.” Sam continued.

“I still think it’s very suspicious that you wind up making a Game in a second suit after you give a weak jump in your first suit,” said Flo.

“If you want to keep focusing on your suspicions instead of your defense,” said Sam, rather unpleasantly (he doesn’t like to have the Director called on him), “you go right ahead.”

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