Down for the Count

In keeping with our tradition of trying to play bridge in foreign venues during our overseas travels, my partner Christine and I dropped in on the Eurobridge Club in Madrid, Spain on Monday evening (5-28-2018), and had a decent showing, coming in third overall — second among the East-West pairs — with a 61.3% game in a tough field.

Since the top two pairs received small monetary prizes, we finished just out of the money, literally, but we were happy with our game anyway.

Eurobridge apparently isn’t the biggest club in Madrid, but it is known as the toughest one. Its membership — and the Monday night attendees — includes several so-called “World Masters” who have represented Spain in World Bridge Olympiads and will be competing in the World Championships in Orlando in September. These world masters and professionals have also made the Eurobridge club famous because they give Spain’s best bridge lessons at the club.

Monday night’s eclectic field also included a count and a countess as well as a Korean woman and a retired Spanish diplomat who had been posted to the embassy in Washington when Gerald Ford was president — he played with his daughter.

To me, the club’s location in the mixed residential-commercial Eurobuilding was a nostalgia trip; it was where I lived for more than a month when I directed UPI’s Spanish-language coverage of the 1982 World Cup soccer tournament in Spain, some 36 years ago. It’s a 10-minute walk from the famous soccer club Real Madrid’s home field, the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, connected via walkway to the Convention Center, which functioned then as the press center for the event.

For Christine, playing bridge in Spain wasn’t as difficult as playing in Paris because at least they use American decks where Kings are Ks and Queens are Qs (in Paris they were Rs for “Rios” and Ds for “dames).

Still, she said it was “kind of disconcerting” to hear everyone around her babble on in Spanish without understanding a word of what was being said, although she hastened to add that all the local players were very nice and welcoming and let me translate all the alerts made at the table.

Little things are different, sometimes from club to club and certainly from country to country. In Madrid, the East-West pairs moved the boards after every round, not the North players, which seems to make some sense in tight quarters since East-West players have to get up anyway to move to the next table. For no apparent reason, the South players handled the Bridgemates, not North. Also, in Europe we were surprised to see that they still use the Stop card.

One of the main novelties was that at the bottom of each board there was a folded-up piece of paper with the hand record for that board so that you could see how you did compared to the par. Although only one of our opponents actually looked at it, we didn’t really like that feature because it has the potential of seriously slowing down the game with endless post-mortems.

We had to fill out convention cards in Spanish, where we had to check off the conventions we played. Some we’d never heard of so we left them blank. We never found out what the Águila (eagle) convention is, but we later learned that a Sputnik is an old name for a negative double.

The game director is not a director, but an “arbitro,” just like a Spanish soccer referee. On the night we played there he didn’t have too much work refereeing disputes, even though we left several couples passionately arguing among themselves as to who as more at fault for having given us a good score.

Christine and I bid aggressively all evening long and although we did get a couple of zeros, most of the time it paid off as we had tops or ties for tops on more than a quarter of the boards, many of them for sacrifices.

The most sensational one was a sacrifice in 4 Spades with weak hands that kept our opponents out of a Small Slam in Clubs. Christine went Down One (she should have gone Down Two) to give our opponents a measly plus-50 when they could have had 1370 for the Slam.

That feat is worth a Bridge Burglar blog entry, so our nameless Spanish opponent who failed to continue bidding his huge Club suit will assume the role of my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, with the West hand, while Christine will be her nemesis, Smug Sam, as the Declarer in 4 Spades with the South hand. I’ll be her North partner, Shy Shem, as I become dummy.

South Dealer; East-West vulnerable

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

The Bidding:

South West North East
(Smug Sm) (Flustered Flo) (Shy Shem) (Loyal Larry)
2 3 3 4
4 All Pass

Opening lead: Ace of Clubs

Whose bids do you trust more? Your partner’s or your opponents?

Many players make the mistake of putting more faith in their opponents’ bids than in their partners’. That’s what cost Flustered Flo, who had the dynamite Club suit on the diagrammed deal at a recent club game, a Small Slam.

All the more galling was the fact that it came against her nemesis, Smug Sam, who was allowed to play the hand in 4 Spades as a result, going down only one for a measly plus-50 score, while Flo and her East partner, Loyal Larry, might have had 1,370 from the Small Slam in Clubs.

Sam had opened the auction with a weak 2 Spades bid, and usually weak 2 openers don’t rebid their own suit, but in those case Sam did, going to 4 Spades after Flo’s partner Larry had bid his Diamonds.

That surprised Flo and left her not knowing what to do. She had a great Club suit, but six sure losers and she wasn’t sure how many her partner would be able to pick up. She was vulnerable, so she decided that discretion was the better part of valor and she just passed.

Sam ruffed Flo’s second Club lead, drew trump in two rounds and pushed out Larry’s Ace of Hearts. Larry then had nothing better to do than take his two high Diamonds and concede the rest of the tricks to Sam. The contract was Down One for a plus-50 score for Flo and Larry.

That turned out to be a very bad score – a tie for a bottom – for Flo and Larry. Most other East-West pairs had at least bid Game in 5 Clubs, making 11 or 12 tricks, and one pair bid and made the Slam. At another table, the Slam was bid, but North-South sacrificed in 6 Spades, getting doubled and going Down Four for a minus-800 score, which was actually the par on the board.

“I don’t understand how anyone can bid Slam on that hand,” Flo said at a post-mortem with Sam about the hand. “I have six losers and I stretched my hand to come up with a 3 Clubs overcall. Then my partner bid Diamonds, which obviously I didn’t like, so how can we go on bidding? And Slam sounds pretty ridiculous to me – we have only 24 points between us.”

“First of all, you left a trick on the table in defense,” said Sam. “You said your partner’s Diamond bid was useless to you? It wasn’t. If you lead your singleton Diamond, he gets two natural Diamonds tricks and gives you a ruff, so you get five tricks with the Ace of Clubs and you put me Down Two instead of just One.”

“Okay, I get that,” said Flo, “but our main downfall wasn’t a difference between plus-50 or plus-100. It was not bidding the Game or the Slam. How could we have done that?”

“It was a true points-schmoints hand,” explained Sam. “You knew I didn’t have opening count, and neither did my partner – otherwise he would have raised me straight to 4 Spades instead of just bidding 3 Spades to try and keep you out. It’s your hand. Your partner came in free at the 4 level, so he had to have a good hand – never mind that you didn’t like his Diamonds. If you ask him for Aces with a 4 No-Trump bid, and you hear he has two Aces, you can take a shot at 6 Clubs. You have a double fit in the minors between your Club and his Diamond suit, so you should be able to slough losers in the majors.”

“But both of you guys were bidding,” Flo objected. “I actually suspected the hand was close to a 20-20 hand.”

“Whose bids do you trust more?” Sam asked, “your partner’s or your opponents’? Your partner is on your side – we, on the other hand, were just trying to throw you off.”

“Looks like you succeeded again,” lamented Flo.

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