Forced to bid with only 3 points! Aaaarrrggghhh

BALA CYNWYD, PA – The Philadelphia Contract Bridge Association (PCBA) showed off its new site for all area Sectional tournaments this past weekend with a well-attended Sectional at the Bala Golf Club in Bala Cynwyd, PA off City Line Avenue, and despite a couple of glitches, people generally liked the new location.

It even has valet parking and while you’re pondering your next bid or play, you can look out over a beautiful green golf course – or snow-covered white golf course during the winter months. The event drew more people than expected, so organizers had to find an additional room for the 299er beginner games, and because so many people showed up they didn’t have enough duplicated boards available.

Also, one of the duplicating machines made an error, so that some teams in the final Swiss event on Sunday didn’t play the right boards. That was a major challenge to sort out for the tournament staff, consisting of Chairman Meyer Kotkin, Director Marc Labowitz and Assistant Director Tom Purl.

But despite those glitches, most people liked the new location – bridge players tend to be very critical and it’s hard to get them to say they like anything – so the previous area locations like the Fire Hall at Conshohocken and Knights of Columbus at Glenside are now history.

I had planned to play Saturday and Sunday but this chest cold and stubborn cough I’ve been battling for some time limited my play to Sunday, when we tried a new Swiss team for the new location – a team with a distinct international flavor, with English-born Canadian Spencer Keirnan as our captain, playing with  Glasgow, Scotland native Colin MacKay as the East-West pair, while I (the Dutchman) played South with my North partner Christine Matus (nee Arakelian) as the only American on the team – we let her in because of her Armenian roots.

I wasn’t the only one battling a chest cold as half the players seemed to be hacking up half a lung – it’s that time of the year – and cough drops were a hot commodity at many tables.

In Sunday’s Swiss event, our new team did well enough for a first time out of the gate, winning three head-to-head matches and losing another three, but tying for third place in the C category, which earned us 2.18 Silver MasterPoints.

Even though we narrowly lost the last round by 3 International MatchPoints (IMPs), we got enough victory points from that effort to nail down our tie for third place, and one board that really helped was one on which Christine found an excellent solution to the problem that she didn’t have another bid after the opponents reached 3 Clubs – she decided to make her partner (me) bid even if I was making ugly faces at her for trying – I had only 3 high-card points on a totally flat hand.

But bid I had to, so I said 3 Spades, which was passed around, and with the worst hand around the table, I had to play the contract. I shouldn’t have made that 3 Spades contract – 2 was the max I should have been able to make – and making it was all that much sweeter because the hand records showed later that our opponents could have had a vulnerable Game in 3 No-Trump on the board.

All those factors make the board a worthy addition to the “bridge burglar” series in which my partner and I manage to steal a contract we shouldn’t have made, while keeping our opponents out of something much better. Christine will be Smug Sam this time, while I will be her partner Shy Shem. The hapless West opponent who failed to offer 3 NT as a possibility will become my column’s anti-hero Flustered Flo, and her partner Loyal Larry will be East.

The hand

South Dealer; East-West vulnerable

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

The bidding

South West North East
Pass Pass 1 2
Pass 3 Double Pass
3 All pass

Opening lead: 7 of Clubs

How Flustered Flo played it

Can you sometimes make a Game even when you know that you and your partner don’t have the normally required high-card point total? Of course you can! Games in majors have been made with fewer than 20 points – but with a very favorable distribution – and 3 No-Trump Games have been made with as few as 21 or 22 points.

How do you know when you’re in one of those situations that lets you take a shot? Flustered Flo failed to recognize such an opportunity in a recent Sectional tournament in her District when she played the West hand on the diagrammed deal, against her nemesis Smug Sam, who sat North.

Flo was very happy to hear her East partner Loyal Larry’s 2 Clubs overcall after Sam’s 1 Diamond opening, since she had Clubs herself so she raised to 3 Clubs, expecting to get the contract there. But Sam wasn’t through yet. He doubled to make his South partner Shy Shem bid something – anything – even though Shem is naturally very shy about bidding and he was especially shy in this case with only 3 high-card points. But Shem knew he had to bid so he said 3 Spades, which was passed around, and suddenly he was playing the contract with the worst hand around the table.

Flo led a small Club to her partner’s Ace, and Larry didn’t know what else to lead except another Club, so Shem ruffed it in dummy and tried to set up another precious entry into his hand by leading the Heart King. Flo went up with the Ace, and decided to follow her partner’s example and led another Club, which Shem ruffed in dummy again. Having ruffed all his losing Clubs in dummy, it was now safe for Shem to lead his King of trumps to Flo’s Ace.

Flo next tried a Diamond to dummy’s King and East’s Ace, and Larry returned a trump, not knowing what else to lead. Shem finished drawing trumps and ran his Hearts, pitching a losing Diamond from his hand and claiming his contract, losing only one trick in each suit.

“I have to thank you for helping out my partner,” Sam said sarcastically. “I knew he didn’t want to bid with only three points, but you helped him out a lot.”

“How can we stop you from making that contract?” Flo asked.

“You did his job for him,” Sam explained, smug as always. “The only way he can make it is by ruffing both his Club losers in dummy, but he doesn’t have enough entries into his weak hand to do that. So you helped him out by doing it for him. He is much appreciative. Without that help, he had only 8 tricks, three Hearts, three trumps, one ruff and one Diamond. But you did something even worse.”

“What’s that?” said Flo, her curiosity aroused now.

“You missed your own Game in 3 No-Trump.”

“But we have only 23 points between us,” Flo protested.

“This is one of those rare cases when you can make 3 No on less than 25 points,” Sam explained. “You have the two necessary ingredients in your favor – you have a long suit that you can run, and because of the bidding, with Shem saying nothing, you know where all the points are so you can finesse through me to your heart’s content. You have your five Club tricks and your three side Aces for 8 tricks, and because you can finesse though me twice in the Diamonds, you pick up your 9th trick there.”

“How would you even bid it?” Flo asked.

“You’ve got to let your partner know about your Aces in the majors, Flo,” Sam said. “So you might try 2 No-Trump after your partner’s 2 Clubs overcall. He’ll probably raise to 3 because he’s got the Diamonds stopped.  But actually for East’s first bid I would prefer a take-out double – then you can answer 2 No-Trump and he’ll raise to 3.”

“I’m glad to hear that I don’t get 100% of the blame,” Flo said – but she still didn’t sound very happy about it.

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