Goodbye & Hello

Goodbye, Columbus! That was the title of a popular Philip Roth collection of short stories of the late 1950s, with Goodbye, Columbus! being the lead novelette. The title of the book is derived from a song by the class of graduating seniors from Ohio State University as they leave the Ohio capital forever.

Except that this past weekend (10/5/2019), my partner Christine and I found ourselves shaving to sing the song without ever having made it to Columbus. But it was sooooo close …

Last Saturday we competed, as we have done for the past several years, in the District 9 Flight B playoffs for the North American Pairs (NAP), in which the top four teams would qualify for next spring’s North American Bridge Championships, which happen to be in Columbus. The top three pairs would get travel subsidies from the District, while the fourth-place pair would be entitled to get into the competition on their own dime. (Once, four years ago, we made it out of the state playoffs to the Nationals, which were then held in New Orleans.)

The playoffs at the Orlando Metropolitan Bridge Center (OMBC) were a two-session event that drew ambitious players from all over the state, South Florida, the Tampa Bay area, the Jacksonville area as well as Central Florida, and perhaps I jinxed our chances by wearing my T-shirt promoting the Columbus Nationals that our friends the Colemans had given us. That might have been a little presumptuous.

With one round to go in the afternoon session, we were at 52%, within striking distance, but a bad last round with a big fat zero when we inexplicably failed to run our Spades and let our opponents make a 3 No-Trump contract with an overtrick instead of setting them, knocked us back to 49%. That virtually killed any chance for us to make it into the top four spots, with so many pairs we’d have to climb over.

But we made it very close. We actually came in first overall in the evening session with a 65% game and wound up in 5th place overall, just one spot out of the qualifiers for the Nationals. So it looked like it was back to trying again next year, when we’ll be competing for a spot at the 2021 spring Nationals in St. Louis, MO.

As a consolation prize, we got 7.50 Gold MasterPoints for our efforts in Orlando, not bad for a day’s work. And then … we were notified that one of the pairs that finished ahead of us had dropped out, so we were invited to go after all. And we accepted. So it’ll be “Hello, Columbus, not Goodbye …”

We had been counting on getting invited to Columbus anyway if another pair ahead of us backed out, because that lot included two club directors in petty good physical condition, Daryl Drew from Orlando and Julie Jawor from St. Catherine’s in West Palm Beach.

Of the 26 boards we played Saturday night, we had 7 tops or ties for tops in a pretty solid game. I particularly like one board in which we managed to steal an overtrick in a 3 No-Trump Game contract because of a by-the-book (but very wrong) opening defensive lead by our opponents. There’s a good lesson in the hand, which is why we’ll turn it into another episode of the adventures of the Bridge Burglar.

Our West opponent who had to choose the opening lead and made the mistake will become my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, while my partner Christine, with the South Declarer hand, will become her perennial nemesis, Smug Sam. I’m Christine’s (Smug Sam’s) North partner, Shy Shem, who will become dummy, while Flo is playing with her usual East partner, Loyal Larry.

East Dealer; North-South vulnerable

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

The Bidding:

East South West North
(Loyal Larry) (Smug Sam) (Flustered Flo) (Shy Shem)
Pass 1 NT Pass 2 NT
Pass 3 NT All Pass

Opening lead: 4 of Spades

The opening lead against 3 No-Trump contracts often determines whether the contract will be made or set – or whether it will be made with an overtrick or not. That’s why opening leads are so important, and many books have been written about them.

With the West hand, Flustered Flo was on lead against a 3 No-Trump Game contract bid by her nemesis, Smug Sam, who sat South on this deal from the recent state playoffs to represent her district at the North American Pairs (NAPs) competition at an upcoming National championship.

Flo picked her lead “by the book,” meaning fourth-best from her longest and strongest suit, in other words the 4 of Spades. Sam played low from dummy, and won the trick with his King when Loyal Larry put up East’s Queen.

Sam immediately led a low Spade back. Flo took her Ace and switched — belatedly – to a Diamond, with Sam taking the trick in his hand with the King. He next crossed to dummy’s King of Clubs, and came back to his hand with a Heart when East ducked the Ace. He next took the Club Ace, dropping Flo’s Queen, ran three more Clubs, crossed to the dummy with the Ace of Diamonds, took the good Jack of Spades and came back with another Heart.

This time Larry took the Ace and ran his remaining Diamonds, but Sam had made his contract with an overtrick. He had amassed a total of 10 tricks – 2 Spades, a Heart, 2 Diamonds and 5 Clubs. It was a tie for a top board for Sam and Shem, and thus a tie for a bottom for Flo and Larry.

“I don’t understand,” said Flo during the post-mortem after the scores had been posted. “What did we do wrong?”

“Your opening lead gave me the overtrick,” said Sam, Smug as always.

“But I followed the rules,” Flo protested. “I led fourth-best from my longest and strongest suit. That’s what all the experts say about leads against No-Trump.”

“I think the best experts tell you not to slavishly follow any so-called rules,” replied Sam, “but instead to think for yourself a bit.”

“What do you mean?” asked Flo. “What’s there to think about? Either you follow the rule or you don’t, and then if you don’t, you’d better have a darned good reason why you didn’t.”

“Exactly,” said Sam. “And in this case you did have a very good reason.”

“What could that be?” asked Flo.

“Just consider your hand for a moment,” explained Sam. “You have one sure trick with the Ace of Spades. To get one more trick, you might be able to develop either your 10 or the 9 of Spades, or the Jack of Hearts.”

“I’m with you so far,” said Flo. “That’s why I led the low Spade, to develop my 10 or 9 as an extra trick.”

“You’re not thinking clearly, though,” said Sam. “For that middling Spade to become a trick, you’d better have a side entry, and you really don’t have one. It’ll probably take way too long to set up your Jack of Hearts as a side entry, if you ever could. On the other hand, if you start developing your Jack of Hearts as a potential extra trick, then you do have a side entry with the Ace of Spades. That’s why you have to lead the 2 of Hearts. Opening leads are not only about your longest and strongest suit, it’s also very much about whether you have a side entry to eventually reap the benefits from that length in the suit.”

“I guess I never got to the chapter about side entries,” admitted Flo. “Bridge books are so boring – they put me to sleep after a couple of chapters.”

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