My partner Christine and I had a successful weekend (10/9-10/11-2015) at the Sectional bridge tournament at our home club, the Vero Beach Bridge Center, earning Silver MasterPoints at every one of the four sessions we played and winding up with a total haul of 13 points. That was good enough for fifth place in tournament totals, just behind Jacksonville professional John Brady, the national Sectionals champion; local A player Jamie Portell; Jay Baum, the former president of the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) who retired in Vero, and semi-pro John Moschella, the treasurer of the District.

And we don’t cheat. When Maureen Loeb from Orlando and her daughter Kat, who’s about to compete for a spot in the world youth championships in Italy next year, both thought they’d gone Down One in 3 Hearts, we both said, “No, you had a card wrong, and you made it.” “Thank you for your honesty,” Maureen said, and that made us feel even better about our performance.

Unexpectedly, at the end of the tournament, we gained more first-hand knowledge about the cheating scandal that has rocked the bridge world and forced three countries – Israel, Monaco which was fielding an all-Italian team, and Germany – to withdraw from the recent Bermuda Bowl in Chennai, India. Unbeknownst to us, the director at the prestigious Spingold Cup at this past summer’s North American Bridge Championships (NABC) in Chicago, which caused the flap, was our very own Harry Falk from Stuart, the senior tournament director in Florida, who also directed this weekend’s Vero Sectional.

Chatting with Harry at the end, he said it was his ruling that caused the s__t to hit the fan in the days after Chicago. In the final Spingold match, the losing team anchored by Norwegian pro Boye Brogeland protested to Harry that a 5 Hearts bid by Israel’s Ron Schwartz, later revealed to be a cheater, over a 4 Spades bid by Brogeland’s team, should be disallowed because Schwartz’s partner had “broken tempo” behind the screen – in other words hesitated – before passing. That hesitation, possibly indicating that Schwartz’s partner had considered bidding himself, allegedly was the so-called “unauthorized information” that would have induced Schwartz to go to 5 Hearts.

Harry had no idea Schwartz was cheating – bridge directors aren’t like soccer referees constantly patrolling the field for fouls. Players are expected to observe the highest ethics standards and directors only step in when a player calls them to rule on irregularities. Harry consulted 10 top bridge players in Chicago, and 9 out of 10 said they would have bid 5 Hearts on Schwartz’s hand, even without a partner’s hesitation. So Harry let the bid stand. Schwartz’s opponents went to 5 Spades and went Down One doubled, which gave the Schwartz team a final victory by the slimmest of margins, 1 International Match Point (IMP). If our friend Harry had allowed the protest, the Brogeland team would have won by 2 IMPs.

“If Brogeland had won, he probably wouldn’t have pursued anything and that would have been the end of it,” Harry told us. But since he lost and he was convinced his opponents had cheated, Brogeland spent hundreds of hours reviewing videos of the match and finally detected a pattern. Schwartz and his partner illegally communicated information about their hands to their partners by tilting the cards a certain way on the trays as they were pushed back and forth through the opening in the screen.

Harry says Schwartz has appeared at several Florida tournaments and we’ve probably seen him, although I can’t recall facing him – of course, against us, he wouldn’t even have to cheat to win.

Playing honestly, Christine and I placed first in the B stratification and second overall in our section Friday morning with a 60.24% game good enough for 5.54 points, and we added another 2.12 points for second in the B overall with a 55.29% game Saturday morning, and 3.13 points for first among the Bs Saturday afternoon with a 57% game, topping it off with 2.20 points on Sunday in the Swiss teams game where we tied for second place in the Bs. Teaming up with our friends Dick and Ann Bottelli (she was our able captain) we had a lot of fun as we compiled a record of 4 wins and 2 losses.

One of our best results on an individual hand came Friday morning, when we scored 73% against Arnie Summers and partner Mimi Klug with the so-called snapdragon double, which always amazes people when we alert the bid and explain it on request. The tactic enabled us to find a good sacrifice in 5 Clubs over their 4 Hearts even when vulnerable. We went Down only two tricks, giving them 500 points, but their vulnerable Game would have given them 620. As a matter of fact, hand records showed Arnie could have made 5 Hearts for 650, so that’s good enough for a Bridge Burglar blog entry. Arnie will play Flustered Flo with the East hand, while I’ll be the South Declarer and assume the role of Flo’s nemesis, Smug Sam. Christine’s my North partner Shy Shem who got the ball rolling with the “snapdragon” bid. -o-

East Dealer; both sides vulnerable

 10 6 4
J 7 4
K J 10 9 7 3
West East
J 2 A Q 9 7
Q 10 9 8 4 2 K 6 5 3
A 8 6 Q 10 9 3
A6 2
K 8 5 3
A 7
K 5 2
Q 8 5 4
North East South West
1 2 Double*
4 5 Pass Pass
Double Pass Pass Pass

* Alerted as Snapdragon Double; at least 5 in unbid suit, plus tolerance for partner’s suit Opening lead: 2 of Hearts


Nobody knows where the term came from, but Flustered Flo had never heard of a “snapdragon double” when her nemesis, Smug Sam, used it against her to get a good result on the diagrammed deal at a recent Sectional duplicate tournament at her home club.

Flo opened a Diamond with the East hand, Sam’s South hand overcalled a Spade and Flo’s West partner, Loyal Larry, bid 2 Hearts. When Sam’s North partner, Shy Shem, doubled, Sam immediately announced “Alert!”

“Yessss?” asked Flo.

“That’s a snapdragon double,” Sam explained. “He has at least 5 cards in the unbid suit, and tolerance for my suit.”

“Cute name, cute bid,” said Flo, “but I’ll just do my thing,” she added as she put down the 4 Hearts card. When Sam went to 5 Clubs, Flo doubled, muttering something like, “That dragon needs to be slain.”

Flo covered dummy’s Jack with her King as Sam took the opening Heart lead with his Ace. Larry took his Club Ace when Sam led a low trump from his hand and continued with the Queen of Hearts, forcing Sam to ruff on the long side in dummy. He then drew out Larry’s last trump with a high trump off the dummy and continued with a low Spade. Flo put up her Ace and continued with a small Spade to Sam’s King.

Sam next put Flo back in the lead with a Spade, and after taking the trick with her Queen, she led another Heart, thinking her partner had bid Hearts on a five-card suit and that Sam had another Heart. That rough-and-slough allowed Sam to get rid of a Diamond in the dummy, and when he next led a low Diamond from his hand. Larry thought he’d better up the Ace right away, allowing Sam to take the rest.

So Sam had limited the damage to Down Two: All he lost was four tricks: the two minor-suit Aces and two Spade tricks, giving Flo and Larry 500 points.

“Well, we slew that dragon,” said Flo, “but its tail still snapped back to bite us. Our vulnerable Game in 4 Hearts would have been 620 points. Most East-Wests aren’t going to face a snapdragon double and will be able to get to the 4 Hearts undisturbed, so that probably won’t be a good board.”

“As a matter of fact,” said Sam, smug as always, “you can make 5 Hearts. All you lose is the Ace in the trump suit and a Diamond trick to the Jack. After losing a trick to the Jack of Diamonds, you can finesse out my King and set up a free Diamond to dump your Spade loser.”

“I might have found that line of play,” Flo said proudly.

“Well, your defense wasn’t that great,” said Sam. “You could have had a top board by setting me another trick for a plus-800 instead of just 500. Your ruff-and-slough Heart lead let me dump a Diamond. Instead of leading that Heart at the end, you’ve got a lead a Diamond the same way as if you were going for the overtrick on offense. Then you get another Diamond trick for Down Three.”

“I guess the dragon scared me,” said Flo. “I was all discombobulated after you gave me the explanation of that bid. You would come up with something exotic just to throw me off.”



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