God bless America – and the odd Dutchman, too

BETHESDA, MD – Before leaving on a brief vacation to Holland for a family reunion, my partner Christine Matus the math professor convinced me to have one more try at getting some of the gold MasterPoints we both need to get our Life Master designation. That meant going to the National Capital Regional duplicate bridge tournament in Bethesda, MD, on the Fourth of July, the day before my departure.

Many players came decked out in patriotic colors and American flags and it’s a tradition at this tournament that play is halted in the middle of the morning round so everyone can sing “God Bless America.” Even many of the foreign players from places like Britain, France, India, Japan, Turkey and others, joined in the chorus.

Christine and I had to provide our own fireworks to nab those gold points, but that we did!

In the morning session of the Golden Opportunity double round, we had a couple of defensive lapses, letting our opponents make overtricks they shouldn’t have gotten, but we still finished in 5th place with a 53.22% game good enough for .31 Red MasterPoints pending results from the afternoon round – we could only go up since those .31 were in the bag already. We were in striking distance only a couple of percentage points behind the pairs that had finished ahead of us.

And in the second session we had an outstanding 64.39% game for a solid  first place that lifted us into first overall, earning both of us 3.50 Gold MasterPoints – not quite enough to achieve our Life Master rankings yet, but getting us ever so close.

We started out like a house on fire in the afternoon, getting two consecutive Slams at one table that led our opponents to ask if we ever played anything but Slams. We were also the beneficiaries of one set of opponents blowing an easy Grand Slam in No-Trump by screwing up their transportation and giving me the last two tricks for the only positive score on that board for our side – all gifts were accepted.

By the time late in the afternoon that Christine decided to take a siesta and sleepwalk through a couple of boards with bad defense, we were already so far ahead that no one could catch us.

We did have a couple of boards in my best “bridge burglar” tradition when I managed to steal a contract I shouldn’t have made with an inferior hand and kept our opponents out of a Game. One of these is too good to pass up for a column: I made a partial score in 3 Hearts when I should have been Down Two – and to boot, our opponents had Game in 3 No-Trump. Naturally, naturally, that was one of our tops.

I actually played the diagrammed deal as East, but to make play easier to follow, I’ll turn the board around and make myself South and I’ll assume the role of Smug Sam who always bests my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo. Christine was North and will become Shy Shem (nothing like what she is in real life), and she dutifully opened the bidding with 11 points in third seat. Our hapless East opponent who missed putting me Down – and bidding his own Game – will play the role of Flo.

The hand

South Dealer; neither side vulnerable


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

 The bidding

South West North East
Pass Pass 1 Double
1 1 No-Trump 2 Pass
3 Pass 3 All pass

Opening lead: 9

 How Flustered Flo played it

Flustered Flo is used to her nemesis, Smug Sam, bidding on fumes, but Sam’s partner Shy Shem is more conservative. So when Shem as North squeezed two bids out of his hand, Flo, who sat East, was convinced that he must have had a real opening.

Sam, who played South, had also made two bids in support of his partner, and she hadn’t heard much in the way of support from the West hand played by her own partner, Loyal Larry. So when Sam and Shem reached a 3 Hearts contract, Flo just bowed out of the auction and passed.

Larry naturally led high-low from his doubleton in Clubs. Flo took the first trick with her Queen to cover dummy’s Jack, but Sam ruffed Flo’s return lead of the Club Ace. Sam went to dummy with a high Spade when Larry ducked the Ace, and subsequently lost the deep trump finesse to Larry’s King.

Larry then led a Diamond to Flo’s Ace and Flo returned a Diamond to Sam’s King. When Sam led another small Spade, Larry this time took the Ace and returned a trump, seeking to remove dummy’s last trump before Sam could ruff a suspected Diamond loser from his hand in dummy. But that move led Flo’s trump Queen to slaughter and allowed Sam to draw out Flo’s and Larry’s last trumps.

Sam then went to the dummy to collect his two remaining good Spades and the Club King, pitching his two Diamond losers, and claimed his contract.

“I don’t think we played our best defense,” Flo said as she approved the plus-140 score for Sam, adding, to no one in particular: “But how could we have made more tricks?”

Smug Sam, as always, was only too glad to point out where she had gone wrong and that she could have put him Down Two.

“For one thing,” he pointed out, rather too smugly for Flo’s taste,” you should never have led you Ace of Clubs on the second trick. You knew either I or your partner was out of Clubs, so someone was going to be able to ruff, and you can’t take the risk making my King good in the dummy. That gave me one trick.”

“And the second one?”

“After getting the lead on the opening trick, you need to lead your Diamond Ace and a low one to tell your partner you want a Diamond lead to get a ruff,” Sam explained. “When your partner gets in with the Spade Ace, he gives you that ruff.”

“I think I see it now,” Flo said. “Sorry partner,” she added to Larry, who waved away her apology.

“But that’s not the worst of it for you,” Sam added, always willing to add insult to injury.

“What else did we do wrong?” asked Flo, always ready for more abuse from Sam.

“You guys had the majority of the points and you should have had the bid. You can even make a Game in 3 No-Trump on that hand.”

“I don’t believe it,” said Flo. “How?”

“If your partner holds up his Spade Ace for two rounds to cut off our communication, as he should, then all we can make is two Spade tricks, the Ace of Hearts and the King of Diamonds. You guys get one trick in each of the majors with the Ace of Spades and the King of Hearts, four Diamond tricks and three Clubs with all the finesses working.”

“But who’s going to bid that?” Flo asked.

“I would have,” said Sam, “especially against a notorious bluffer like me.”

Speak Your Mind