Atlanta turkey: No master points, but a gutsy ‘steal’

ATLANTA – Over the Thanksgiving Day weekend while visiting my grandchildren, I dropped in on the tough Atlanta Duplicate Bridge Center for the second time in my lifetime and once again came away without any points, although I got some points for niceness.

“You are very pleasant to play with,” said the partner I was paired up with, Teresa Young, a native of Hong Kong who was recently widowed from her late husband, a physics professor. Teresa left Hong Kong in 1949, the year Chairman Mao took power in China, and still remembers she was seasick the entire voyage across the Pacific.

She turned out to be an extremely aggressive bidder (kind of like me) and once bid and made a 7 No-Trump Grand Slam, that got us only a tie for second place on the board since some other misguided opponents had doubled it.

Even though I might have done better with a partner who would be more of a balance for my own super-aggressive bidding style, Teresa said to please call her early any time I’m visiting Atlanta again – she liked our partnership.

We wound up under 50%, although we did better against the Deep Finesse computer analysis contained in the hand records: 10 pluses, four pars and 10 hands played under par. We had two absolute tops and six other ties for tops (including three doubled Games, two of which we made with an overtrick!), but to balance the ledger we also had seven bottoms or ties for bottom including a Down Four doubled (ouch!)

Atlanta has a very active bridge center. For the Saturday game I played in, there were more than 15 tables for our strong open game, and almost as many for a Non-Life Master game despite the fact that the big interstate rivalry college football game, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech was on TV at the same time. As is the case in most bridge clubs, most people were welcoming to visitors – one player even greeted me in Dutch learned from listening to shortwave radio classes from Holland – and very nice, although the club also has its quota of “arrogants” who do nothing but argue with their partners and insult their opponents.

I always get the most satisfaction from stealing contracts and sure enough, I did have a “bridge burglar” board that I can turn into a column. I stole a 3 Spades contract with a pre-emptive overcall with only four high-card points that went down just one for a minus-50 score than gave us a 6.5 out of a possible 8, showing that almost no one else had the guts to make that bid, and that few if any opponents had the guts to punish my brazenness with a double (the maximum East-West could get was plus-100 by doubling me).

I really played the hand as North, but to make play easier to follow, I’ll turn the board around and make myself South and I’ll become Smug Sam, the antagonist and perennial nemesis of my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo. Flo and Sam will both play the South hand on the diagrammed deal, with vastly different results. My partner Teresa will become Sam’s partner, Shy Shem, who will play the same hand as Flo’s partner, Loyal Larry. Neither one had much to do with the bidding.

The hand

East Dealer; East-West vulnerable

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

 The bidding

East South West North
1 3 All pass

Opening lead:    Jack of Hearts

How Flustered Flo played it

What’s the minimum point strength you have to have to make an opening or overcall pre-emptive bid? While almost everyone will agree that you need a seven-card suit to do it, there is less universal agreement on minimum point strength.

Flustered Flo and her nemesis, Smug Sam, both wound up playing the South hand in a recent duplicate club game. Flustered Flo thought that her four-point hand was just too weak to do anything, so she passed East’s opening One Heart bid, and East-West eventually wound up in 3 Hearts.

They gave up the Spade Ace and a ruff and one trick in each of the minor suits to make their contract for a 140 score.

The bidding went very differently at Sam’s table. Sam didn’t hesitate one second before slapping down the 3 Spades card as South after East’s opening bid.  Both East and West might have been called for a hesitation, since both though for a long time, but eventually they both passed. They decided – correctly – that 4 Hearts was too risky. And Sam’s North partner, Shy Shem, normally pretty shy, boasted after play was over that he would surely have doubled any attempt to go to Game in 4 Hearts.

West led the Jack of Hearts and Sam let it ride, ducking the Queen in dummy. Then he ruffed the second Heart lead. He drew one round of trumps and led another trump to West’s Queen. Sam got the lead back by ruffing another Heart lead and led a small Diamond. West stepped up with the Ace and led a Club, dummy’s King forcing out the Ace.

East eventually collected his top trump for Down One. The defense got five tricks, three side Aces and two trump tricks for a minus-50 score that gave Sam a tie for tops, and relegated Flo, with her minus-140 score, somewhere towards the bottom.

“I understand you overcalled 3 Spades on the board with the seven Spades and just four points,” Flo said to Sam at the end of the game after she had digested the scores. “I thought you weren’t supposed to do that with just four points. Isn’t there a minimum point count you need to do that? What’s your minimum?”

“I’m not sure I have a minimum, Flo,” Sam admitted, smug as always. “I pre-empt whenever I can to make it as difficult as I can for my opponents. Besides, once my right-hand opponent opened with a Heart, the value of my hand rose with my singleton in their suit. Now I could legitimately count it for two points so I had at least six high-card points. And of course I also looked at the vulnerability in my favor. We weren’t vulnerable – they were. ”

“Still, wasn’t it too dangerous?” Flo insisted. “You partner could have had nothing. East-West could have had 36 points and they’d crush you.”

“In that case, I would have been very happy to keep them out of Slam and to have gotten away with making a valuable lead-directing bid that could give us a setting ruff against a Slam,” Sam sais, completely unrepentant over his daylight robbery. “In this case, the worst that could have happened to me was a double – then they’d get 100 points instead of 50 – and I would still have beaten you on the board.”

“You don’t have to rub it in,” said Flo, but somehow she knew that Sam would do so again at the next opportunity.

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