The best PASS I ever made

Various clubs in Florida, which probably has more bridge tournaments than any other part of the country, are experimenting with different formats to combat declining tournament attendance.

To be sure, total tournament attendance is still up because there are more tournaments, and Regionals at Sea on cruise ships are growing by leaps and bounds (from 3 a couple of years ago to 9 or 10 next year). But some of the existing tournaments are struggling.

Vero Beach earlier this year went to two days, Saturday and Sunday only, so as not to cannibalize its own popular Friday club games and classes. The Jacksonville Regional was moved to the World Village of Golf closer to St. Augustine, which seemed to have been a good move because attendance increased.

In the fall, Melbourne will try a new format in which players compete both as pairs and as teams to earn MasterPoints in either or both at the same time. The Melbourne tournament is also two days because the Senior Center venue is not available on Fridays, when it hosts an extremely popular bingo game.

And the recent Orlando Summer Sectional (July 20-22, 2018) at the Orlando Metropolitan Bridge Center went to three days of pairs, because the previous team event on Sunday had drawn only five teams. For the third day of pairs, the event drew about 6 or 7 tables in both the Open and the Non-Life Master games, so at least attendance was about triple what the last team competition had drawn.

My partner Christine and I played two out of the three days at Orlando and were happy to score on average above 50%, ranging from a low of 48% to a high over 52%, in a tough field including all the usual suspects, strong A players from Central, Southern and Northern Florida like John Brady, John Moschella, Patricia Dovell, Bob Dennard, the Loeb family, Lee Bukstel, Tom Allan, Julia Bomalaski and others.

Christine and I got points in half our sessions (we were only just out of the money in the others), totaling about 3 Silver MasterPoints, not bad considering the level competition we faced.

Our most satisfying board was a tie for a top against Patricia Dovell playing with Charles Miner when we scored a plus-300 on Miner’s One Spade contract that went Down Three vulnerable. It was the best hand I’ve ever passed, but pass was the right bid to stick Miner in his ill-fated One Spade overcall – I happened to have six Spades to the Ace-King and my partner had opened. He had a legitimate overcall with 12 points and five-card Spade Suit headed by Queen-Jack-10-9, but he ran into a buzz saw.

I had a full opener opposite my partner’s opener and I had been itching to bid. Most other East-West players with my hand did bid and tried to find a Game but there was no Game to be had and they either got a small partial score or went Down, so our plus-300 was a tie for a top. I thought about it long and hard, but since both sides were vulnerable, I correctly concluded that we stood more to gain by me passing and collecting significant down points than by trying to get the contract.

It really hurt me to pass, but pass was the right bid. (If I had doubled, Christine would have bid and the opportunity for big down points would have been lost.)

Charles Miner, who stepped into this pile of doo-doo with his overcall bid, will assume the role of my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, in this episode of the continuing adventures of the Bridge Burglar, while I’ll be his nemesis, Smug Sam, with the West hand. Christine is Sam’s (my) East partner, Shy Shem, while Flo plays with her usual partner, Loyal Larry (Patricia Dovell) who became dummy as North and could not rescue his partner.

East Dealer; both sides vulnerable

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

The Bidding:

East South West North
(Shy Shem) (Flustered Flo) (Smug Sam) (Loyal Larry)
1 1 All Pass

Opening lead: King of Clubs

There’s a well-known saying in bridge that a hand with 12 points composed mostly of Aces is much stronger than a hand with the same number of high-card points if they are composed mostly of Queens and Jacks. Those Queens and Jacks are often derisively called “Quacks” and they’re really not worth as much as their nominal point count.

Flustered Flo, who played the South hand at a recent Sectional tournament in her home state, might have done well to remember that saying before she overcalled a Spade after East’s One Diamond opening. Flo’s South holding was the prototype of a “quacks” hand with all her Queens and Jacks, and she might have devalued its worth before she overcalled a Spade, a decision she came to regret dearly.

The subsequent play of the hand showed why Aces and Kings are so much more powerful that Queens and Jacks. Once the Aces and Kings cleared out the debris – and there was no way to stop them – they also created great opportunities for cross-ruffs.

Everyone around the table was at least mildly surprised when Flo’s simple One Spade overcall got passed around.

Sam led his singleton King of Clubs and when it held, he switched to the King of Diamonds, the suit his partner Shy Shem had opened with. That held, too, so he led back a low Diamond to his partner’s Ace. Shem then collected his Ace of Clubs, Sam dumping a Diamond on it. Shem next gave Sam a ruff on a Club before Sam got back to Shem with the Ace of Hearts, and got another ruff on a Diamond lead.

In this nightmare experience for Flo, Sam and Shem had already taken the first seven tricks – Ace-King in both Diamonds and Clubs, the Ace of Hearts and two ruffs – and Sam of course would also eventually take his Ace-King of the trump suit for a total of 9 tricks. Flo was Down Three vulnerable for a minus-300 that turned out to be a tie for a bottom score.

“I don’t understand how this could go so wrong,” said Flo. “I had a full opener and a good five-card suit.”

“I will agree with you, Flo,” said Sam, “that you were a little unlucky.”

“Thanks for that, I guess, but I still think there was something a little fishy about the bidding,” said Flo. “Your partner opened, and you had opening count strength yourself. As a matter of fact, I think you had the best hand around the table. How could you pass that hand? It’s not like you to pass with an opening hand after your partner has already opened. You normally bid on fumes, so what made you pass this time?”

“You don’t know how much restraint I had to use on myself not to bid,” admitted Sam. “It’s the best hand I ever passed.”

“But with openers opposite openers, I still don’t understand why you didn’t go for Game,” said Flo.

“If you noticed, I did think about it for some time. But I decided, in the end,” said Sam, smug as always, “that it was unlikely we had a Game anywhere. Certainly not in Spades after your bid, and I wasn’t too enthusiastic about No-Trump. And 5 of a minor was a non-starter, too.”

Sam turned out to be right. The hand records later showed that the best contract East-West could make was 3 Spades, 2 No-Trump or 2 Diamonds. Most East-West pairs did indeed keep bidding after the One Spade overcall and went down in 4 Spades or 3 No-Trump or settled for a small part-score. Sam and Shem’s plus-300 was the best anyone could do – only one other pair in the event did the same.

“So why didn’t you bid, like all the others?” Flo asked. “You love to bid.”

“More than anything else, I love to get a top score,” said Sam. “If it takes a pass to do that, I’ll pass. It’s like the French Huguenot who agreed to convert to Catholicism in order to become King of France. He said getting to Paris was worth a mass. Well, in this case a pass was worth a top.”

“Was there anything I could have done to avoid this disaster?” Flo asked.

“Not really, Flo,” said Sam, rather charitably. “You could have played the hand against another pair more anxious to bid rather than pass and trap you in a bad contract.”

“Well, I do think I’ll be a little more careful bidding any quack hands in the future,” said Flo.

Speak Your Mind