Breaking the Rules

The Melbourne, Florida, bridge club that plays at the Wickham Park Senior Center has become the second club away from home for my partner Christine and me. In the days when at least one of us was still working and we were limited to night and weekend games, we often made the 50-minute drive up to Melbourne from our home in Vero Beach for their Thursday night game and made many friends there.

The Melbourne Sectional, traditionally held over the Labor Day weekend, was the first Sectional we attended after our move to Florida three years ago. In those days we were still “C” players and we won a bottle of wine there for placing first among the C’s in one session.

So when we heard Melbourne wasn’t going to have its Sectional this year because of declining attendance and the same people getting tired of having to do all the work all the time, we were a little sad. But a new team stepped in and rescued the Sectional and did a great job, increasing attendance and even netting $2,10 for the Wickham Club. Next year it’ll be moved to a different date later in September away from the holiday weekend that’s tough to get people to attend.

This year’s event of the Labor Day Sectional drew players from as far north as Jacksonville and St. Augustine, as far south as the Palm Beaches, and as far west as Orlando, which sent some of its strongest players – but they didn’t do that well.

On one hand East-West had a combined 36 high-card points including all the Aces and all the Kings, but a player from Orlando with tens of thousands of MasterPoints bid only 6 No-Trump, making 7. He arrogantly defended his decision to stop at 6, saying “6 is enough in this field.” He was so wrong – he tied for bottom on the hand. I’m happy to report that Christine and I did bid the 7NT and made it, tying for top on the hand.

Christine and I wanted to be loyal to our “second home club” and played every session, although we didn’t do that great. We eked out .46 Silver MasterPoints Saturday afternoon for a 52% game, were stuck on 52% without any points Sunday morning, and got another .74 for a 53% game Sunday afternoon, before finishing up with a 3-3 record in the Monday Swiss teams competition with our Melbourne friends Casey and Sharon, earning another .90 for the three wins.

One of our most satisfying results was from the Sunday afternoon session when we got a tie for a top score when one of our opponents made the wrong lead against Christine’s 2 No-Trump contract and let her make two overtricks. That board holds an important lesson about defensive leads against No-Trump contracts, and as such deserves a Bridge Burglar blog entry.

The West player making the wrong lead, who shall remain anonymous, will assume the role of my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, while Christine will play the role of her nemesis, Smug Sam. I’ll be Christine’s North partner, Shy Shem, as I limited myself to simply telling her all I could about my hand.

West Dealer; neither side vulnerable

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

The bidding:

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

Opening lead: 5 of Diamonds

Flustered Flo has started to realize that defense often wins games, in bridge as well as in other competitive sports and games, and she’s really trying to concentrate on defense.

She wound up on defense as West on the diagrammed hand at a recent Sectional tournament near her home town and wanted to be sure to make the right lead against the partial 2 No-Trump contract of her nemesis, Smug Sam, who sat South.

“Fourth best from longest and strongest,” she remembered from her defense classes, so she confidently pulled out the 5 of Diamonds. There was no doubt in her mind that Diamonds was her longest – and certainly her strongest – suit. After all, that’s where she had an honor.

Sam played low from dummy, Flo’s East partner, Loyal Larry, came up with the Jack and Sam took the trick with his King. Sam next led the Jack of Spades and let it ride to Loyal Larry’s Queen. Being such a loyal partner, Larry led back a Diamond to Flo’s Ace and Flo’s next Diamond lead put Sam on the board with the Queen.

Sam then executed a successful finesse on the King of Clubs and took all four Club tricks before he pushed out Larry’s Ace of Spades. He won the Heart return, taking the last four tricks with high Hearts and Spades. Sam had made his contract with two overtricks – 4 Diamonds and 2 tricks in each of the other suits gave him a total of 10 for a plus-180 score.

“That should be a good result for us, partner,” Flo ventured. “They didn’t bid their Game.”

“I hope so,” Larry cautiously agreed.

“I don’t think so,” Sam butted in, although no one had asked him his opinion. “My partner did the right thing inviting me to Game with only 9 points, and I declined the invitation because I had only the minimum 15 points for my One No-Trump overcall. We didn’t have the required 25-26 points for Game and we had no long suit to run anyway.”

Sam was correct and Flo was far off in her prediction of a good board – as a matter of fact, it was a tie for a bottom for her and Larry, which gave Sam and Shem another tie for a top score.

“Where did I go wrong,” Flo asked after her dismal score had been confirmed. “I played it by the book, leading fourth best from my longest and strongest suit, which was Diamonds. At least I didn’t lead Clubs, the suit my partner had bid, because I realized that was probably a convenient minor and Sam bid No-Trump right over his Club opener.”

“Fair enough about the Club lead,” said Sam, “although you might as well have led a Club because I can finesse the King out anyway. But when you had to choose between leading from your two four-card red suits, you made the wrong choice. You should have your top Heart.”

“But there was no doubt Diamonds was my stronger suit,” Flo protested.

“That’s the trouble with bridge,” said Sam, smug as always. “There are no absolute laws. Everything is situational. I’ll give you a different way to think about your leads against No-Trump. You may want to lead the weaker of your two four-card suits, or rather, the one where you’re the least likely to damage your own or your partner’s holdings. You can’t do any damage by leading your 10 of Hearts – but you certainly can give away free tricks by leading a small Diamond.”

“Does it make any difference if I lead that Heart?” Flo asked.

“Big time,” explained Sam. “A Heart lead allows your partner to duck his Queen when dummy ducks the Jack, and you force out my first high Heart. Then when I lead the first Spade to your partner’s Queen to try and set up my Spades or get to the board for my Club finesse, you drive out my last high Heart. You get back in with the Ace of Spades and then you have two Heart tricks which you never took. That makes the difference and you hold me to 8 tricks, barely letting me make my 2 No-Trump contract – no overtricks at all.”

“So should I just throw out that supposed rule about fourth-best from longest and strongest?” Flo asked.

“I’ll give you a new rule,” said Sam. “Think about every move and don’t be a slave to any rule.”

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