Aggressive interference kept opponents out of game

KING OF PRUSSIA, PA – I couldn’t play as much as I had wanted at the annual Valley Forge Regional duplicate bridge tournament this year (2013) because of previously scheduled travel and a family visit, but I was on a team that did earn a couple of red MasterPoints for winning one match and getting to the semi-finals of a knockout competition.

With my partner Christine Matus, my colleague John Walston and our new friend Muthiah from Chennai, India, also known as “Ram,” we had a nice win on Tuesday night in the opening knockout round against a higher-ranked pickup team from Lansdale. We didn’t need to call on the handicap we had, and won the match outright by 6 International MatchPoints (IMPS) accumulated over 24 boards.

That put us in the semi-finals on Wednesday night with an eminently winnable match against a lower-ranked team captained by a man named Jones from Vero Beach, FL, who was playing with a couple of female snowbirds from the Washington, DC, area named Thayer and Shaye who also spend part of their winters in Vero. A win would have put us in a heady final against the superteam anchored by local bridge celebrity Kenny Cohen, but even losing against them in the final would have earned us about 7.5 Gold MasterPoints.

Perhaps that heady prospect went to our heads because we fell apart in the second half of Tuesday’s match against the Vero people, losing in the end by a whopping 35 IMPs against a supposedly inferior team — ouch! We declined the opportunity to play off for third and fourth place against the team of retired West Chester University Academic Development Program Director Peter Kyper, who was teaming with Ala Hamilton-Day and Francis “Mooch” Taylor, Jr.

Instead, John Walston and I played a single open pairs session Thursday morning and John also played with Ram in an open pairs game in the evening, figuring we had better chances for points there, while Christine continued to try and help Spencer Kiernan get Gold points for his Life Master ranking in Golden Opportunity Swiss teams with Caroline Hughes and Barbara Thayer. None of did well and there was no gold to be found for any of us.

John and I got off a terrible start Thursday morning (once he miscounted his Spades and gave me a transfer bed into Spades with only 4 tiny ones) and even though we had some good boards later, we could barely get over 43% mark and fell out of the points. Against the Deep Finesse hand records given out later we didn’t do that badly — 5 pars, 9 boards better than par and just 10 under par — but our minuses were mostly absolute zeroes, and that always hurts.

I stole a 3 No-Trump contract from one of the best Raffles club players, and, following my motto of “Never let them play 2 Hearts!” I also drove up another pair to 3 Hearts with a b.s. 3 Diamonds bid, taking advantage of favorable vulnerability. That 3 Hearts push-up bid turned out to be one level too high so we wound up with a positive score for setting them one.

Among the good boards we had was one especially suitable for a “bridge burglar” column when, with aggressive interference bidding, we kept our opponents, the tournament chairman and the hospitality chairwoman from the recent Winter Regional in Wilkes-Barre, out of a makeable 3 No-Trump Game. They stopped short in a 3 Diamonds partial contract, which they should have made, but we even put them Down One in that! So instead of getting a negative minus-400 on the board, which was par (a minus-140 would probably have been just about average), we got a plus-50 with only 17 high-card points between us.

John and I really sat North-South, but to make play easier to follow, I’ll turn the boards around and have the Wilkes-Barre hospitality lady play the hand as South in 3 Diamonds and she will become Loyal Larry, the partner of my column’s anti-hero Flustered Flo, who should have taken the auction to Game and not be scared off by our interference. I’ll be Flo’s nemesis Smug Sam with the East hand, and my partner John with the West hand will become Sam’s partner Shy Shem, although on this occasion he wasn’t shy about bidding his perfectly average 10-point hand.

The hand

North Dealer; East-West vulnerable

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

The bidding

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

Opening lead: J

How Flustered Flo played it

Out of a natural desire to make things simple, bridge players often back themselves into a corner thinking they have only two choices, while they may have a perfectly good third alternative open to them.

Such a failure to think “out of the box” cost Flustered Flo a Game on the diagrammed deal in a recent Regional duplicate bridge tournament in her home town. Flo was North, and the fact that she played the board against her perennial nemesis, Smug Sam, who sat behind her as East, didn’t help. Both Sam and his West partner, Shy Shem, interfered in the bidding, with Sam bidding Clubs and Shem offering Hearts as a possibility.

So when Flo’s partner, Loyal Larry, mentioned his second five-card suit by bidding 3 Diamonds, Flo thought her only choice was whether to leave her partner in 3 Diamonds or return him to his first suit, Spades. She had one more Diamond than she had Spades, but she did have the Spade Ace — and, of course, Spades was the higher suit and would be worth more points. After thinking for some time, she passed, leaving Larry to play 3 Diamonds.

Larry played dummy’s Club King on the opening lead to see Sam take it with his Ace and ruffed the Club return. He drew two rounds of trump to leave one trump in dummy to possibly ruff a Spade and tried to set up his Spade suit. He led from his hand to the Ace and was delighted to see the Queen fall. He considered it very unlikely that the Spades would split 5-1 and he thought it was much more likely that Shem was false-carding him and that he would have the Spade Jack as well, which would nicely set up his Spade suit.

So Larry led a Spade from dummy to his King, only to see Shem ruff the trick with his Jack. Shem led another Club, which Larry ruffed, and Larry next ruffed a Spade, but eventually he had to lead from the 10-5 Spades from his hand to Sam’s Jack-9, meaning he lost two Spade tricks. Coupled with the ruff, and one trick each in Hearts and Clubs, that meant the contract was Down One.

“Good try, partner,” said Flo, who has to remind herself sometimes to always be encouraging to her loyal partner.

“It wasn’t that good, actually,” said Smug Sam, forever expressing his opinion even when no one had asked him to do so. “You can make 3 Diamonds easily. You should draw all our trumps out to avoid the ruff and guard against a worst-case scenario in the Spades. Then, when the Queen of Spades falls on the first Spade trick, you can finesse through my Jack of Spades and all you lose is a Club, a Heart and two Spades — no more.”

“My partner probably thought that false-carding was something you taught to Shy Shem,” said Flo, coming to her partner’s defense. “That’s why he thought Shem had the Spade Jack, too.”

“False-carding is a cheap trick,” said Sam, “although I must admit I’ve done it some in my life. I admire you for defending your partner, Flo, but I’m afraid you must take most of the blame yourself for getting such a bad score on this board.”

“What did I do?” said Flo, flustered now by the accusation. “The only decision I had to make was whether to leave it in 3 Diamonds or put him back in his first suit of Spades, and Spades would have been a disaster with the split.”

“Not true. You had a third choice,” Sam explained. “You should have bid 3 No-Trump, a Game that easily makes. Your partner can’t bid it with his distribution, but only you know that we probably won’t be able to run either Hearts or Clubs, the suits that we bid, and your partner has two good five-card suits for which you have support. So you should suspect that you can run off 9 tricks with your two long suits.”

“Can we make 3 No even against a Heart lead?” Flo asked.

“Sure,” Sam replied. “You take the Heart Ace, collect five Diamond tricks, and when the Spade Queen falls on the first round of Spades, you can finesse my Jack to pick up three tricks in Spades. That makes nine.”

“So you kept us out of that Game contract with another one of your cheap tricks, bidding on fumes?” Flo asked, resentfully. “Neither of you had any business bidding Hearts or Clubs because you didn’t have any points. You only did it to scare us off from No-Trump, and it worked again.”

“I beg your pardon, Flo,” said Sam. “Both of our bids were very respectable. Three Clubs goes down only one and so does 2 Hearts, so you were very welcome to double us and take 200 points from us. We’d gladly give those to you, rather than the 400 for the Game in No-Trump.”

“The trouble with you, Sam,” said Flo, “is that I never know when you’re making a legit sac bid or when you’re totally bluffing.”

“And I have every intention of keeping it that way forever,” said Sam.

Speak Your Mind