Bidding on fumes keeps opponents out of game

My partner Christine Matus and I had an extremely successful first Sectional duplicate bridge tournament in our new home town of Vero Beach, FL over the weekend (Oct. 4-6, 2013), racking up points in all four events we played including several first-place finishes for a total of almost 12 Silver MasterPoints.

We came roaring out of the gate Friday morning (10-4-2013) in the opening session, finishing second overall – as well as first among the B’s and Cs – in two sections of the open game with a 61% performance. We got a full 5 Silver MasterPoints for our effort in just one session and finished ahead of some of the best players in the club.

Maybe it was the outstanding hospitality that gave us our extra energy – we basically had a full breakfast and lunch at the club around just one session – since Vero Beach rightfully bills itself as the place with the best hospitality among all tournament host cities along Florida’s East Coast.

Or maybe it was because I had a lot of pent-up energy left from the night before, when I had been invited to be one of the panelists questioning five candidates for two city council seats in the November elections. I was the last of six on the panel, and when the candidates exceeded the TV allotted to them with their long-winded answers and rebuttals, the event ended without me being able to ask my question.

The debate featured a group of three challengers all ganging up on the incumbent Vice Mayor who is running for re-election.  She’s in trouble because she flouted the city’s own ordinance against short-term rentals by renting out a house she owns for weekends and parties, which upset her neighbors.

They like their peace and quiet in Vero Beach, but Christine and I upset the established order in the bridge pecking order when, as C players well below the 750-point limit (Christine has less than 600 and I have fewer than 400), we bested all the B teams going up to 2,000 MasterPoints and all but one of the A teams with more than 2,000 points, a stratospheric amount we won’t see for years even if we keep playing.

On Saturday, we continued racking up the points, getting another 1.65 Silver points for a first-place finish in the C stratification on a 51.2% game in the morning, and adding another 3.09 points in the afternoon for a first-place overall among the East-Wests with a 63% game. We won so many first-place prizes (bookmarks with the Spades, Hearts, Diamonds and Clubs suits on them) that they just emptied the prize bin on us.

On Sunday, we paired up with Richard, a local beer distributor (good guy to get to know!) and Anne, excellent players, in the four-person Swiss teams finale, and we went 3-3, finishing fourth in the B stratification and getting another 2.05 MasterPoints. In the last round we came up against one of the best teams in Florida, formed by local celebrities Larry and Candy Griffey and the former CEO of the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) who just retired to Vero Beach, and suffered a narrow loss by only 6 International MatchPoints (IMPs). Holding them to few victory points contributed to keeping the Griffey team out of the top spot in the competition, which went to an all-female team including two women with tie-dye shirts.

Our best performance in pairs was still that first Friday morning. We had several great boards and scored 14-6-7 against the “par” of the hand records, meaning we played 6 of the boards at par, but 14 better than par and only 7 below par, which should have put us even higher in the 60s than the 61% we got.

One board I particularly liked was a hand on which I bid twice on a 7-point hand (but with two five-card suits) and thus scared our opponents off from their ideal fit in a 3 No-Trump Game contract, settling for 4 Clubs instead. Their plus-130 score was well below the 400 they could have had with their 3 NT Game and gave us a very good board, one of many.

Our South opponent who shall remain nameless, but who thinks she’s been getting good advice from some of the best players in the club who agree to play pro-ams with her, will become my column’s anti-hero Flustered Flo. She gets scared by my bidding on fumes and winds up in the inferior contract of 4 Clubs. As West I will become Flo’s nemesis, Smug Sam, while my East partner Christine plays the role of Sam’s partner Shy Shem very well – she never opened her mouth to bid anything.

The hand

South Dealer; neither side vulnerable

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

The bidding

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

Opening lead: 9 of Hearts

How Flustered Flo played it

When you hear nothing from your partner and both your opponents are bidding, can you say anything with only seven high-card points?

Most bridge experts would say you can’t bid even once on such a hand, let alone twice. Flustered Flo, who was playing South on the diagrammed deal at a recent Sectional duplicate tournament in her home town, didn’t believe Smug Sam, her perennial nemesis, could be that weak.

So Flo settled for a partial score in 4 Clubs when Sam with the West cards bid Spades and Diamonds, glad to get the contract and not having to cede it to Sam’s interference bidding.

Flo took the first Heart trick in her hand, drew three rounds of trump. She collected the top two Diamonds and ruffed a Diamond, took the other top Heart and gave up a Heart trick. She then let Sam and his partner take their two top Spades and claimed her contract, having lost just one Heart and two Spades.

“I had a big hand, partner,” Flo said afterward to her cohort, Loyal Larry, “and we had the required 25 points between us, but I didn’t dare bid the 3 No-Trump Game because Mr. Buttinsky over here (nodding to Sam) bid his Spades and his Diamonds, and I had only one stopper in each.”

“I know it was risky,” said Larry, who’s always very loyal to Flo and will never criticize her.

Smug Sam, however, has no such compunction.

“Of course you could say Three No, Flo,” Sam scoffed. “You had 18 points yourself and you got a support bid from your partner, so he must have had at least 6 or 7 points. So you were around 25 points and you knew you had your long Club suit to run. You should say Three No all day long with your hand.”

“Does it even make?” Flo asked incredulously.

“Of course it does,” Sam replied. “You will get the lead either on Trick One or Trick Three, depending on whether we led Spades or Diamonds first, the two suits that I bid. And when you get the lead, you run off nine tricks with your five Clubs and the top two cards in each of the red suits. That makes nine – nothing to it.”

“I thought from the way you bid that you were probably 5-5 in your two suits,” Flo said to Sam, “and I have to admit that scored me a bit.”

“That’s what I was tried to do,” Sam nodded. “Glad to hear it worked.”

“Of course I should have known you had nothing and I should have doubled your 3 Diamonds,” Flo lamented.

“I can make one Diamond, and when I get a defensive mistake from you, which I usually do, I go Down only one, so I’d be delighted to give you 100 points – as long you miss your 400 for the Game.” Sam shrugged.

“So you count on always being to take an extra trick off me?” Flo asked.

“Most of the time, yes,” Sam admitted. “I do play the player, and not the hand.”

“So that’s why you knew you had a chance of scaring me off from Three No?” Flo asked.

“The result speaks for itself, Flo,” said Sam, smug as always.

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