Down for the Count

My partner Christine and I don’t mind getting a bad score once in a while as long as we come away with a lesson – something that will help us avoid similar disasters in the future.

Such was the case at the Palm Beach Gardens Regional tournament when we came away with a mediocre 1.09 Red MasterPoints from the tough A/X/Y pairs double session event (8-21-2018) that was littered with some of the country’s top pros.

We got a low board (a score of only 1.5 out of a possible 23) on one board when we failed to get a ruff that seemingly everyone else got, allowing our opponents to make an overtrick. The problem was that I didn’t have an accurate count on my partner’s holding in my suit, not knowing whether she had two or three cards in it.

So when we got home, we studied books on defensive leads and we came up with a solution. Up to now, we had always led the high card of partner’s suit, but as a result of the Palm Beach debacle, we changed that. Now, if we haven’t supported the suit, we’ll still lead high-low from a doubleton, and we’ll still lead an honor if we have one. But if we have three or four little ones, we’ll lead the low card in the suit. That will avoid confusion on count in case of high-low leads.

We had read this advice in books before, but the books rarely explain the why of all these rules – it seems like the authors just want you to memorize a bunch of stuff by the rote method. At this Regional, we ran into the textbook case why the rule makes sense – so we have adopted it into our defensive repertoire.

In the morning of the two-session in event, we more than held our own with a 52% game that earned us third place in the lowest Y stratification, netting us the 1.09 points, and we were in a great position to score well with a good show in the afternoon but we laid an egg with a 44% game. We had some bad luck and not all the bad scores were our fault as we played 12 of the 24 boards better than par against four pars and just 8 boards below par.

But missing the ruff because of the wrong defensive lead, and giving our opponents the overtrick as a result, really hurt us.

We returned to the Regional, which is just over an hour away from our base in Vero Beach, later in the week twice for team games, once with our erstwhile opponents from South Florida, Sandy Weinger and Michael Siegendorf, for a bracketed Swiss event on Thursday, and once more on Saturday for the same event, this time with our Vero Beach friends Gary B. Smith and Nancy Faigen.

We did fabulous on Thursday with our newfound South Florida friends, winning Bracket III for 10.24 Gold points, while we managed to win 3 out of the 7 matches with Gary and Nancy for 0.60 Red points.

For us, one of the highlights of the tournament was the lesson on defensive leads, which is worth a Bridge Burglar blog entry. My partner Christine has given me permission to turn her into the goat of this episode, Flustered Flo, for making the wrong opening lead from the West hand, while I’ll be her East partner, Loyal Larry.

Our unnamed South opponent who became the beneficiary of our miscue will become Flo’s nemesis, Smug Sam. As usual, Sam was playing with his North partner, Shy Shem.

South Dealer; neither side vulnerabl

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


The Bidding:

South West North East
(Smug Sm) (Flustered Flo) (Shy Shem) (Loyal Larry)
Pass Pass 1 1
1 All Pass


Opening lead: 9 of Heart

Even when they wind up not getting the contract, Flustered Flo always loves it when her partner, Loyal Larry, has made some kind of bid during the auction. Then she at least knows what to lead, since opening leads are so hard without such information.

Flo wound up with the opening lead on defense with the West hand against a 1 Spade contract by her nemesis, Smug Sam, the Declarer in the South seat, on the diagrammed hand played at a recent Regional tournament in her home state, and she was happy that her partner had overcalled a Heart.

That gave her an automatic lead, the 9 of Hearts, the highest card in her partner’s suit. But that lead didn’t work out too well this time.

Her East partner Larry took the opening lead with his Queen of Hearts and continued with the Ace, Flo following suit with the 5. Since Flo had played high-low, Larry was hoping that signified a doubleton, so he continued with a Heart, confident that he’d be giving Flo a ruff. But to his great disappointment, everyone followed on the third round of Hearts, won in dummy with the King.

Sam lost the finesse on the trump King, putting Flo on lead again. She didn’t feel like leading her Ace of Clubs since she had no reason to believe her partner might have a singleton, and she was loath to set up Club winners for her opponents without catching something under her Ace. So she made a passive defensive lead of a Diamond to dummy’s Ace, Sam sloughing a Club.

Sam led his second high Diamond, sloughing another Club, before drawing out the remaining trumps in two rounds, ending up in his hand. He next led a small Club out of his hand, and since Flo had already seen him get rid of two Clubs, she was afraid he wouldn’t have too many more left and she took her Ace. That gave Sam the rest of the tricks for a total of 9, meaning he had made his contract with two overtricks for a plus-140 score. That turned out to give Sam and Shem more than 90% on the board, and Flo and Larry under 10%, their lowest score of the day in an otherwise miserable session.

“I don’t understand what we did so very badly on that hand,” she asked Sam later. “I saw on the hand records that it was supposed to be our hand in 3 Diamonds and then you guys should sacrifice in 3 Spades, get doubled and go Down One to give us 100 points. But that’s a ridiculous bid after your partner opens the auction with a Diamond. No one’s going to get there, and apparently no one did.”

“You’re right about that,” said Sam. “No one can reach 3 Diamonds as North-South the way the cards lie and after we open a Diamond. The problem is in the way you defended against our Spade contract. You should be able to hold us to 8 tricks and not give us a 9th.”

“So what did I do wrong then?” Flo asked.

“Everything,” said Sam, smug as always. “You didn’t play your Ace of Clubs when you should have, to give your partner a ruff while he still had trump, and then you played it when you should not have. You still get two Club tricks in the end if you hold up your Ace.”

“But you had already sloughed two Clubs on your high Diamonds,” Flo protested. “I was afraid you might be down to a singleton by then and I didn’t want to eat my Ace.”

“That’s understandable,” Sam conceded, “Actually, your biggest mistake was the opening lead.”

“What could be wrong with that?” Flo asked indignantly. “I led the highest card in my partner’s suit.”

“That’s your problem,” explained Sam. “On the second Heart you then had to play a lower card, making your partner believe you had a doubleton. So he led the suit again but didn’t get the hoped-for ruff. If you haven’t supported partner’s suit, against suit contracts you lead your lowest if you have three or four small ones. Then, when he sees what you play on the second round, your partner has a count. If you’d led the 5 of Hearts followed by the 8, your partner would have known you had at least three. He wouldn’t have continued the suit, and he’d have led his singleton Club to your Ace, asking you to come back with a Club and give him a ruff. That’s a sure-fire way to hold our contract to 2 Spades – no more.”

“I think I heard about leading low in my partner’s suit,” said Flo. “I never knew why. Now, on this hand, I see it. It gives my partner count so he knows whether to continue the suit or switch to something else.”

“You’re welcome, Flo,” said Sam. “I won’t even charge you for the lesson.”

“Actually,” said Flo, “the hand sort of explained it all by itself. I didn’t even need your lecture.”

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