Most experienced duplicate players have from time to time run into other players who try to gain an advantage through intimidation – obviously a big part of competitive bridge is mental and playing mind games with your opponents is all part of the game. But when it crosses the line into intimidation, that’s a violation of the zero-tolerance policy.

My partner Christine and I have learned to recognize intimidation for what it is, and we don’t hesitate to raise our hands immediately and call for the director. Attempted intimidation can often occur by questioning an opponent’s bid, or by the way an opponent answers a question about a bid.

Last Thursday night (11-12-2015) we played in Melbourne at the Wickham Senior Center and one opponent not only asked Christine what my bid meant (the 2 Clubs Cappelletti interference over a 1 No-Trump opening), but also asked her what she was going to bid next. She was next going to bid 2 Diamonds to invite me to bid my suit, but we strongly suspected he was somehow trying to convey to his partner that he had a long Diamond suit. In any event, I immediately called for the Director to stop the questioning. “He is interrogating my partner to extract information he is not entitled to,” I said – and I was right.

(Experienced tournament directors later told us that Christine should have told him that she was going to bid Three Pumpkins next – the whole notion that she should reveal her next bid before it’s her turn to bid is patently ridiculous.)

Ironically, Christine kind of lost it on the next hand against the same opponents and had the director called on her for the no-tolerance policy, but the director urged everyone to calm down and maintain the spirit of the friendly game. And then one of our opponents led out of turn, resulting in three director’s calls in one round – that must have been some kind of a record not to be proud of. Actually, we did pretty well in that game, coming in second and winning about a point-and-a-half, while the would-be intimidators came away empty-handed.

This past weekend (11-14) we did even better at the Bernie Chazen Memorial Sectional tournament at the Mandel Jewish Community Center in Palm Beach Gardens even while we had to overcome further attempts at intimidation. We finished first among the East-West pairs with a 59% game in the morning, netting 3.76 Silver MasterPoints, and we added another 1.64 for coming in first among the C pairs in a very strong field in the afternoon session.

When Christine asked one opponent what his partner’s 4 Hearts bid meant, he replied gruffly: “It’s cue bid.”

“So what does that mean?” Christine insisted.

“It’s a cue bid,” he repeated in an unpleasant tone. “Don’t you know what a cue bid is?” he added, trying to make her feel stupid.

My hand went up immediately calling for the director, and the opponent then saw the error of his ways before the director could even arrive at our table.

“It shows first-round control in Hearts,” he elaborated meekly – and just in time before I had to chance to make him give a more specific answer.

Under the full disclosure policy, it’s not enough to give the name of a convention as an answer to a question about a bid. And even with cue bids, there are so many different types of cue bids, you’re entitled to know precisely what they mean. We have learned not to let our opponents browbeat us and call the director immediately.

One of our most successful hands, on which we got an 87% score, came during the morning session at Palm Beach Gardens when we aggressively interfered with our partner’s bidding march towards a makeable Game in 4 Hearts. They never got there. They let us have it for 3 Spades and didn’t even double us. That’s worth a Bridge Burglar blog entry.

We went Down Two as we should have to give up 100 points, but they should have 620 for their vulnerable Game – or 500 if we’d sacrificed in 4 Spades and gone Down Three doubled. In real life we sat East-West, but to make play easier to follow, I’ll turn the boards around and make our West opponent who had the best hand around the table play the role of Flustered Flo, my column’s anti-hero. With the North hand, Christine will be Flo’s nemesis, Smug Sam, while I’ll play the hand with the South card as Shy Shem, Sam’s partner.

South Dealer; East-West vulnerable

K J 10 7
J 8
A J 8 4
10 5 3
West East
8 9 6 3
A 10 7 6 3 2 K 9 5
Q 10 7 K 9 2
A K 2 J 9 7 6
A Q 5 4 2
Q 4
6 5 3
Q 8 4
South West North East
Pass 1 Double 2
All pass

Opening lead: Ace of Hearts

Double, bid or pass? That’s the question many duplicate bridge players face at some point during a competitive auction. Flustered Flo, who clearly had the best hand around the table, was unable to resolve that question profitably                 on the diagrammed deal at a recent Sectional tournament near her home town.

Flo assumed that her nemesis Smug Sam, who sat West, had a hand at least as good as her own because of his double, so she didn’t think her East partner, Loyal Larry, could have much support at all – the points simply weren’t there. She guessed the points on the hand split pretty close to 20-20, and under those circumstances, neither side was likely to get a Game, so she passed Sam’s 3 Spades bid, hoping to set him but not being confident enough to double.

Flo collected her Ace of Hearts on the opening trick and led another Heart to her partner’s King and her partner then returned a Club to her Ace. She also took her King of Clubs and led another Club to put Shy Shem, Smug Sam’s partner and the South Declarer, in the lead with his Club Queen. Shem drew three rounds of trumps ending up in his hand to give the Diamonds a try, but try as he might, he also had to lose two Diamond tricks for Down Two and a plus-100 score for Flo and Larry.

“Well done, partner,” said Sam, who didn’t seem upset about the result at all. He had reason to be pleased since that score turned out to give Sam and Shem an 87% score, while Flo and Larry got only 13%.

“At least we got a positive score on a 20-20 hand,” Flo moaned. “How can that be so bad?”

“It may be a 20-20 hand,” said Sam, smug as always, “but we have totally flat hands with no shape, while you have a beautiful shape to your hand with a long 6-card suit and a singleton in our suit. You should have given yourself 2 extra points for the singleton and one extra point for the 6-card suit – one for every spot card beyond 5 – and that would allow you to revalue your hand to 16 points. You’ve got to go to 4 Hearts.”

“Does 4 Hearts even make?” Flo asked weakly.

“Sure it does,” Sam replied. “You lose the Ace of Spades, the Ace of Diamonds and the Queen of Clubs. There’s no way you can lose another trick.”

“I had been thinking about doubling instead,” said Flo.”

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