Crossing Borders

Crossing international borders for bridge events can result in some odd conversations with customs and immigration officials since they rarely play bridge and don’t know much about the game.

A case in point was my partner Christine’s and my recent attendance at the Penticton, British Columbia, Canada, Regional tournament, which we reached via rental car from Seattle in the Pacific Northwest.

On the way into Canada, the Canadian border guard asked us where we were going in Canada and why. So we told him we were headed for Canada’s biggest bridge tournament of the year in Penticton.

His next question seemed like a total non-sequitur. “Are you carrying any guns?” he asked. It’s what they always ask any Americans crossing the border, because gun-loving and -toting Americans are often unaware of Canada’s strict gun control laws.

“No, we’d better not,” I replied. “Taking guns to bridge tournaments would be violence of our zero-tolerance policy for bad behavior – and I might add that this policy was first proposed by Canada’s own bridge celebrity, Barbara Seagram.”

“I guess it’s not that kind of game,” the customs agent said as he waved us on, almost apologetically.

Actually, maybe he was on to something. At one South Florida club, when we were appalled at the rude treatment players gave to their opponents and especially to their partners, and we asked about their supposed adherence to the zero-tolerance policy, one member scoffed: “Hah! Zero Tolerance? All that means is no guns!”

When we crossed back into the U.S. and an American Customs and Border Protection agent asked why we’d been to Canada, I explained we’d been to a bridge tournament.

“Did you win?” he asked.

“Nah, our play mostly sucked,” I replied.

“Got more than 10,000?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “Not in our lifetime!” added Christine, her mind still in bridge.

About a minute after the agent had waved us through with a pitiful look on his face, Christine suddenly realized there’d been a rather major misunderstanding.

“I just got it,” she said. “He was only asking the routine question from the customs declaration form if we were carrying more than $10,000 in cash. He didn’t give one hoot about our MasterPoints – probably didn’t even know what they are.”

At the last session we played in Penticton, a fast pairs game where we did not do well overall, we had at least one good board with an 80% score when a Canadian opponent named John sacrificed to keep us out of Slam. Our plus-800 score for Down Four doubled not vulnerable showed him that was not a wise decision.

The board is worth a Bridge Burglar entry with John playing the role of my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, with the South Declarer hand, while I’m her nemesis, Smug Sam, the doubler with the West hand. Christine is East as my partner, Shy Shem, and John (Flo) is playing with his wife Norma (Flo’s partner Loyal Larry).

East Dealer; neither side vulnerable

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

The Bidding:

East South West North
(Shy Shem) (Flustered Flo) (Smug Sam) (Loyal Larry)
3 4 5 Pass
Pass 5 Double All Pass

Opening lead: Ace of Hearts

Going Down Four will rarely give you a good score, whether you’re vulnerable or not. Of course, minus-1,100 is almost always a disaster, but even minus-800 rarely gets you anywhere.

If the other side had a Slam, sure, they would have gotten 920 points or more, but the problem is that there are many cowards playing duplicate bridge, both at clubs and at tournaments, who on principle never bid any Slam. So if you give up 800, you’re only going to beat the few unlucky saps who had a Slam bid against them. You’re going to lose to all the people who get minus-480, -680, -420 or -620 for their opponents bidding Game and making 6.

Flustered Flo seemed to have forgotten that elementary principle of duplicate bridge when she pushed on to 5 Spades as South on the diagrammed hand at a recent Regional tournament. She may have had an eight-card Spade suit, but there was overwhelming evidence from the bidding that her East-West opponents had just about all the high-card points and her partner had nothing to help her.

Naturally, she got doubled and it didn’t go well. Smug Sam in the West seat collected his Ace-King of Hearts and then switched to a Club, which Flo ruffed, She led the Ace of the trump suit, dropping the Queen, but had to give up another trump trick to Sam’s King. She ruffed the return Club lead again and squeezed the opponents with a few more Spade leads before finally having to lead a low Diamond and giving up three tricks in Diamonds.

In the end, she had lost one trump trick and five more tricks – one for every card she held outside her Spade suit – for Down Four and a minus-800 score. But Flo was undaunted.

“That’s going to be good board for us for sure,” she predicted confidently. “And close to a bottom for you guys, I hate to say,” she added in the direction of Sam, her nemesis, “because you guys missed an easy Slam. Take your pick. You have lay-down Slams in both minors and in No-Trump as well because you have a Spade stopper. All you lose is the Ace of Spades. I can’t see anyone not bidding it. I’m surprised you didn’t bid it, Sam. You’re usually such an aggressive bidder.”

“We’ll see,” said Sam. “You should know, Flo, that a lot of people just won’t bid any Slams, so I don’t think our plus-800 is going to be such a bad score. You sound awfully cocky there. I hope you’re not disappointed.”

In the end, Sam was right and Flo was wrong – again – and had to eat her words. It turned out that fewer than a handful of East-West pairs had actually bid any Slam. Thus, the 800 score by Sam and Shem got them an 80% on the board – and Flo only 20%, despite her firm belief that she’d get close to a top on it.

“What’s wrong with all these cowards?” Flo asked Sam in a post-mortem at the end of the game. “I did my job, with what should have been a good sacrifice according to the hand records. But all the other East-West pairs didn’t do their part by refusing to bid easy Slams. I would say that’s a big NOF board – Not Our Fault.”

“Not so fast, Flo,” said Sam. “Let’s see what you did. You had a six-loser hand and had no indication your partner would be able to pick up any of your losers. That’s really sticking your neck out – going to the 5 level on that. Then how could you be so confident we’d find a Slam? With all that pre-empting in the auction, we have no bidding room to find out if we’re even close to a Slam. And even making any Slam depends on making two finesses on missing Queens in the minor suits. So it’s hardly a slam dunk – pun intended.”

“I’m surprised to hear you counsel for such conservative bidding,” said Flo. “You’re usually so aggressive in every auction.”

“I’ll aggressively pursue a good score,” said Sam, smug as always, “and I’ll take an 80% every time. I know very few people in the game will bid a Slam so I’m just trying to beat the majority of the people who won’t. And setting you by four tricks will do it every time. Doubling you was easy pickings.”

“Glad to oblige, I guess,” said Flo.




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