Bridge and Bacalhau

My partner Christine and I like to check out historical and cultural oddities as we travel around the country (and a bit of the world) to attend either bridge tournaments or sporting events.

When we were in Boise, Idaho, for a Davis Cup tennis match a few years ago, we discovered that Boise was home to the largest Basque community in the U.S. – and of course we had dinner at Gernika, the Basque spelling of Guernica, the town from the Spanish Civil War made immortal by Pablo Picasso’s painting. The Basques flocked to Idaho around the turn of the last century because they were excellent shepherds and could withstand the loneliness of weeks on end living on the desolate Western ranges.

This past weekend (8/18-8/19/2017) while attending a Sectional duplicate bridge tournament in Palm Coast, between Daytona and St. Augustine on Florida’s East Coast, we discovered that Palm Coast proportionally has the largest Portuguese population anywhere in the U.S. outside of southern Massachusetts. No one seems to know why the Portuguese like Palm Coast so much, although it’s a lovely Florida community, but in any event the only Portuguese consulate in Florida moved from Orlando to Palm Coast a couple of years ago.

Naturally, we had to check out a Portuguese restaurant for dinner, and found an excellent one in the Portugal Wine Bar and Grill, where waitress Daniela Teixeira, who is, of course of Portuguese extraction, walked us through the food and drink choices in a mixture of three languages, Portuguese, Spanish and English. I had a typical Portuguese bacalhau (salted codfish) dish, and Christine tried a Portuguese version of seafood paella – both were excellent. I was also happy with my Sagres imported Portuguese beer, Christine gave thumbs up to her first-ever glass of vinho verde (“green” wine) and we both enjoyed a Portuguese coffee afterwards with Portuguese liqueur that’s much better than Irish coffee.

Christine and I will return to Palm Coast at the end of October for the District 9 Florida finals of the North American Pairs (NAP) competition, and we have already determined we will return to the same place to try some other mouth-watering dishes from the menu.

At last weekend’s Sectional, we played mostly below par, but we had one good outing Friday afternoon when we came in first in our section with a 59% score that earned us 3.67 Silver MasterPoints. Particularly satisfying was the fact we beat the national champion of all Sectionals, Jacksonville’s John Brady and his partner, Patricia Dovell from Gainesville, by more than 10 percentage points.

One feature of that victory is how we profited from making the right choice between a 3 No-Trump or a 4 Spades contract, while on another board, our opponents chose wrong and went for 3 No-Trump when they should have gone for 4 Spades. Both boards gave us tops, one for offense and one on defense. Actually, 4 Spades should have been the right contract in both cases, but when I played 3 No-Trump, I managed to steal an overtrick, so 430 was better than 420.

That steal is worth a Bridge Burglar blog entry, so my unfortunate West opponent who gave me the extra trick will play the role of my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, while I’ll be her nemesis, Smug Sam, with the South Declarer hand. My North partner Christine will be Sam’s partner, Shy Shem, and Flo’s East partner, as usual, will be Loyal Larry.

South Dealer; North-South vulnerable

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

The Bidding:

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

Opening lead: King of Hearts

In team events, whether you play a contract in 3 No-Trump or in 4 of a major suit, Hearts or Spades, makes little or no difference. If you make an overtrick in 3 No-Trump, the 10-point difference between 430 and 420 for a major Game results in a push, and even if you eke out an advantage of one International Match Point (IMP) because of a 420 to 400 spread, that won’t kill your team for the round.

But in pairs match play, those differences of 10 or 20 points can and often do make the difference between a top and a bottom, as Flustered Flo found out with the West hand on the diagrammed deal from a recent Sectional tournament in her home state.

Flo had a pretty good opening hand, but after her perennial nemesis, Smug Sam, started the auction with a One No-Trump opener, Flo unfortunately had no bid. After Sam’s North partner, Shy Shem, invited to Game with a 2 No-Trump bid, indicating 8 or 9 High-card points with no four-card major, Sam raised to 3 No-Trump.

Flo’s next problem was that she was on lead and she didn’t have a good lead. Every lead she’s make had the potential of giving Sam an extra trick by giving him a free finesse or by setting up a long minor suit for him – since his partner had denied a four-card major, Flo suspected the presence of long minor suits. She decided that Hearts was probably her best chance of doing some damage, but she didn’t want to give a Sam a free deep finesse, so she led the King.

Sam took the trick with the Ace, and tried to set up his Diamonds by leading the King and then the 8 to the Queen when Flo held up her Ace twice. Sam next took the losing finesse on Flo’s missing Spade King and let Flo collect her Queen of Hearts. Sam won the next Heart lead in dummy with the 10, and took four Spade tricks and two Clubs to make his contract with an overtrick. Sam had won 10 tricks, 4 Spades, 2 Hearts, 2 Diamonds and 2 Clubs.

Only one other North-South pair did the same thing. All other pairs played the hand in Spades, making 4 but sometimes not bidding it, or in No-Trump, but making only 2 or 3. Sam and Shem’s score of plus-430 gave them a tie for tops and thus resulted in a tie for a bottom for Flo and Larry.

When she saw the hand records as to what everyone should have made on the hand (4 Spades or just 3 No-Trump for East-West), a distraught Flo sought out Sam and asked him why he hadn’t played the contract in Spades as the hand records showed he should have.

“Two reasons,” explained Sam, smug as always. “First of all, my partner and I open No-Trump on points even when we have a five-card major. We think it’s more important to give your partner points on the first bid. And secondly, we find it easier to steal an overtrick in No-Trump, depending on the opposition, of course.”

“I’ll ignore the insult,” said Flo. “How did I give you the overtrick? I didn’t have an obvious opening lead.”

“You may be right about that,” said Sam, “but giving me one of your high Hearts was the worst lead you could have made. From the bidding you knew your partner could not have anything. We had 25 points to bid our Game and you had 14 yourself so the most he could have had was a Jack someplace. You were on your own.”

“So what should I have led?” Flo asked.

“Probably a small Spade,” said Sam. “It seems counter-intuitive to under-lead that King, but you have protection for it and you’re going to get it anyway. In any event, you have to let me come to you with the Hearts. If you make a passive lead like the small Spade, all I can get is 9 tricks – 4 Spades, 1 Heart, 2 Diamonds if you hold up your Ace like you did and 2 Clubs.”

“Tell me something,” asked Flo. “Do you steal tricks from everyone else, too, or just from me?”

“It’s more fun against you, Flo.”

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