Fun bridge, but tough sledding in Ohio

CANTON, Ohio – To go all the way into snowy Ohio in the middle of the winter for three bridge games in two days may seem like a long way to go for a small harvest of just .41 MasterPoints, but that’s exactly what my partner Christine Matus and I did this past weekend.

Well, it wasn’t quite that crazy. I had to visit two of my company’s satellite sales offices in Eastern Ohio on Friday and for some time we had wanted to see the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, a city that just happened to be hosting the McKinley Sectional tournament over the weekend. (For a President who held the office only for about a year before he got himself shot and made way for Teddy Roosevelt to have his face carved on Mount Rushmore, Eastern Ohio is awfully proud of that native son – everything’s named after McKinley, even bridge tournaments.)

On Friday afternoon, we played bridge at the Knights of Columbus (the Catholic Italian explorer, not the state capital) in Youngstown, and we didn’t do too well, finishing with a 44% game in a tough field. That game may be the best deal in the country with a $3 card fee and free coffee or tie with cookies and the people there couldn’t be nicer. But, as we found out later, the Youngstown game is so tough that some of the beginners and intermediate players have to go to nearby Sectionals to earn their points, because against the locals at the Youngstown club they have no chance. Youngstown also does a Pro-Am every week, again to give the non-experts a chance.

So naturally, at the McKinley Sectional at St, Michael’s Catholic church in Canton on Saturday, we ran into some of them again, not only the intermediate players trying to scrounge up some points, but some of the sharks as well. In the morning session we did well enough, scoring right around 50% to finish 4th in the C stratification for those .41 MasterPoints.

We couldn’t do as well Saturday afternoon, finishing out of the money and just over 45% on a series of bizarre boards when every hand seemed to feature a void, one or more seven-card suits, and bad trump splits galore. It seemed like they’d put the computerized dealing machine on the “extra difficult” setting — they didn’t let you make anything.

Despite our overall less-than-stellar showing (a Down Three doubled vulnerable for minus-800 really pulled us down), we did have some excellent boards in that afternoon session in true bridge burglar style.

One board in particular stands out because with just 3 high-card points, I had the gumption to launch an unusual 2 No-Trump interference bid on 5-5 holdings in the minors. And my partner Christine, as my partner in crime, had the nerve (I can’t say cojones because she doesn’t have any) to bid 5 Diamonds on just 8 high-card points, a bid that prevented our opponents from calmly reaching one of their two possible Slams, in Hearts or in No-Trump, by asking for Aces.

Our opponents, another couple of those sharks in sheep’s clothing from Youngstown, stopped the bidding at 5 Hearts, easily making 6. “You sure did us in with that 2 No-Trump bid,” the woman from Youngstown complimented me. “Without it, we’d be in 6 Hearts in a heartbeat.”

I’m going to have to turn that hand into a Bridge Burglar column. The woman from Youngstown will play the hand as South and she’ll become my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo. Her husband and North partner will become Loyal Larry. I’ll be Smug Sam, Flo’s nemesis, with the West hand, and Christine will be my partner Shy Shem as East – although once more she’ll be anything but shy about bidding her hand.


South Dealer; East-West vulnerable

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

The bidding:

South West North East
1 2 NT * 4 5
5 All pass

* The unusual 2 No-Trump bid indicated 5-5 holdings in the minors

Opening lead: 3 of Diamonds


To score a Slam against her nemesis Smug Sam is one of Flustered Flo’s burning ambitions, and with the South hand on the diagrammed deal at a recent Sectional duplicate tournament, she got awfully close.

After she had opened with a Heart, Smug Sam as West used the unusual 2 No-Trump overcall bid to tell his East partner, Shy Shem, that he had two five-card suits in the minors, asking him to pick one on his next bid.

Flustered Flo’s North partner, Loyal Larry, knew it was his duty as a loyal partner to make it as difficult as possible for Sam and Shem to steal the bid away, so he raised right away to Game in 4 Hearts. But apparently he hadn’t made it difficult enough. Shedding his usual shyness, Shem confidently bid 5 Diamonds.

“You so-and-so,” Flo thought to herself. “Now I can’t ask my partner for Aces to see if we have a Slam fit. Well, I’ll be darned if I’m going to let them steal this hand away from us. I’m going to get at least a Game out of it.” So she bid 5 Hearts, which was passed around. As soon as Flo saw the dummy come down with Ace-King in her opponents’ Diamond suit, she shot a look at Sam that would have done serious damage if looks could kill.

She took the top Diamonds, pitching a couple of Spades from her hand, drew two rounds of trumps finishing up in dummy, led a small Club through East’s Ace to her King and claimed 12 tricks.

“You dirty rotten scoundrel,” Flo hissed at Sam. “For once in my life I had a cold Slam against you, and there you go again, bidding on total fumes to interfere with me and keep me from reaching the Slam. How many points did you have anyway for that unusual Two No-Trump bid?”

“I had three points,” Sam admitted.

“Isn’t that illegal?” Flo asked, indignantly. “And then that partner of yours had the nerve to even raise you to 5 Diamonds on just as weak a hand. That bypassed all the asking-for-Aces conventions, so all I could do ways bid 5 Hearts. I couldn’t very well take a shot in the dark at 6 Hearts.”

“Well, Flo,” said Sam, smug as always, “that’s just the way it goes, but you actually had something much better than your Small Slam in Hearts.”

“I guess with my partner having the top two honors in your Diamond suit,” Flo replied, “we can make 6 No-Trump as well.”

“That’s true,” Sam said, “but even that’s only 990 points and you have something even better.”

“What’s that?” Flo asked, curious now.

“You should double me in 5 Diamonds,” Sam explained. “We can make only seven tricks, so we’re Down Four. Since we were vulnerable, that would be 1,100 points for you, and instead of a tie for bottom, you’d get a top.”

“But I can’t double being void in Diamonds,” Flo protested.

“It’s a partnership game, Flo,” Sam reminded her. “You should pass my partner’s 5 Diamonds bid. You have a partner. He’s not going to pass it. Let him decide whether it’s better to bid 5 or 6 Hearts or double our 5 Diamonds. Knowing that you have a huge hand and he has the two top honors in our suit, he should make the right decision and double.”

“I never thought about that,” Flo admitted.


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