Breaking out of a Slump

Like any competitive endeavor, bridge is in large measure a mental game – the attitude that you bring to the table will greatly influence your results.

If you let yourself be intimidated by the better players, you will get bad boards against them. But by the same token, if you underestimate lesser opponents, you will likely be punished for that hubris as well – some hands are so cold that even lesser opponents can’t screw them up. And you can’t get down on yourself for a couple of bad results – it happens; no one wins all the time. There are no Bobby Fischers in bridge.

My partner Christine and I were pretty down on ourselves after four consecutive outings with scores under 50% and no points. This past weekend when we had the choice of two Sectional tournaments, we even chose the one with the lower stratifications. We went to Winter Haven where anyone with more than 1,500 points was an A player instead of to Pompano, where the A strat began at 2,000, thinking that we would do better against lesser opponents.

Underestimating the people at Winter Haven (the home of the Legoland theme park) turned out to have been a mistake – we came away empty-handed from there. Christine said she had gotten into the habit of surveying the field every time we played and identifying the weaker players, lulling herself into a false sense of security that all we had to was show up against them and we’d get a good result.

We were tearing our hair out how to get out of our slump. Should we take a break and get away from bridge for a while to clear our heads? Was there anything we were doing consistently wrong? Should we pay for a lesson from a pro (we had never found in the past that we learned much from that)?

Finally we decided just to keep playing and play our game, focus on the cards of each hand, and not worry too much about our opponents whether they were supposed to be lesser or better players.

And lo and behold! – we broke out of our slump in style, coming in first twice in a row (2/7 and 2/8/2016) in tough club games at our home club, the Vero Beach Bridge Center. In a 10-table game on Sunday, our 68% first-place finish got us one full MasterPoint, and a 59% game on Monday in a big 44-table game got us another 1.50 MasterPoints. For good measure, we had another 60% game Tuesday evening (2/9) for 1. 35 MasterPoints, even though that was only good enough for third place.

One of the more satisfying results came in the Sunday game when I stole a bid with a 2-point hand. Our opponents, Chris Smith and his partner, Glen Coolter, could have had their choice of Games in No-Trump (with an overtrick) or either major for 430 or 420 points, but they chose to double me in my 3 Diamonds pre-empt and collected only 300 points from Down Two not vulnerable. We got an 87% score on the board for second place – the only pair playing our way that got a better score was someone who managed to push the East hand to 5 Spades, a contract that went down.

Chris Smith, who left the double in with the West hand while he should have bid, will become Flustered Flo in this latest Bridge Burglar blog entry, while I’ll be Flo’s nemesis, Smug Sam, one more time with the South Declarer hand. Christine is my North partner, Shy Shem.

North Dealer; neither side vulnerable

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

The Bidding:

North East South West
Pass 1 3 Pass
Pass Double All Pass

Opening lead: Jack of Spades

Every number as a rule attached to it in bridge. South Florida player and author Mel Colchamiro has a popular book out with Mel’s rules. He’s got a rule of 17, a rule of 10, a rule of 8 and a rule of 9 – take your pick.

Flustered Flo has diligently tried to memorize all the rules from Mel’s book and live by them. On the diagrammed deal at a recent club game, Flo sat West. Her East partner, Loyal Larry, opened a Spade, and her nemesis, Smug Sam, launched a pre-emptive 3 Diamonds bid from the South seat. Flo didn’t have much, so she passed, waiting to see what Larry would do. Presumably he’d show her just how strong his hand was.

Larry doubled, putting Flo on the spot for the next decision. Fortunately, she had memorized Mel’s rule of 9, which deals with when you should leave a double in if your partner doubles an opponent’s pre-emptive bid. The rule of 9 says to add up the number of your trumps in your opponents’ suit, plus the number of honors you have in that suit (the 10 counts as an honor), plus the level of the bid. Since she had three Diamonds, they were all honors and the bid was at the 3 level, she came to a total of 9. So she passed, leaving the double in.

Flo’s Spade Jack held on the opening trick but Sam ruffed her Spade return, got to the dummy with a Heart, dumped one of his Clubs on the second high Heart and led the 10 of Clubs. Larry covered with his Jack, Sam covered with his Queen and Flo took the trick with her King.

Flo returned a Heart, which Sam ruffed. Sam next forced out Larry’s Club Ace and ruffed a return Spade, with Flo over-ruffing. She came back with a Diamond, Sam ducked dummy’s King to force Larry to play his Ace, and Sam ruffed another Spade with Flo over-ruffing, but Sam had the last tricks with trump and a good Club. He had lost three trump tricks, two Clubs and a Spade to go Down Two doubled but not vulnerable to give up 300 points, which didn’t seem to make Sam all that unhappy.

“I left the double in, partner,” said Flo, by way of explanation, “because of Mel’s rule of 9. I had three trumps, there were all honors, and we are at the 3 level. Three plus three plus three makes nine and that’s when the rule says to leave the double in.”

“I think those rules are just suggestions, Flo,” said Sam, smug as always. “As with everything else in bridge, it’s all situational. On this hand, you’re much better off bidding. If you bid 3 Hearts, your partner will put you in 4 and that Game makes. If you go to 3 Spades, your partner will raise to 4 and that Game makes. And you can even bid 3 No-Trump because you do have a Diamond stopper, and you make 4 No-Trump as well. You have your choice of three different Games with 420 or 430 points – all a lot more than the 300 you can get from the double.”

“So Mel’s rule of 9 doesn’t work then?” said Flo, rather indignantly. “I’m going to ask for my money back for that book.”

“Save yourself the effort, Flo,” said Sam. “Even Mel says his rules are only suggestions – and good ones at that. Nothing works all the time in bridge.”

“Came to think of it,” said Flo, “how could you possibly have your 3 Diamonds bid? I think you had only 2 points.”

“Yes, but I also had two singletons and a 7-card Diamond suit,” countered Sam.

“A seven-card suit to the 9,” scoffed Flo. “Pure junk! How do you get away with a bid like that?”

“I guess I just did – stealing a bid and getting away with it is so much fun!”

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