Hot and heavy bridge action in Sin City

LAS VEGAS – I knew from past experience that Las Vegas Bridge World on West Flamingo Road in Sin City is a tough place to play. They’re cardsharps in much more than poker over there and usually nothing but A players show up so that the stratification for the B and C classes lies incredibly high.

Last week everyone was in practice for a big Sectional tournament coming up at Bally’s on the Strip so they were in an even more serious mood. But I still had no idea just how tough the game was until I and my partner from last year, Philadelphia native Paul Beehler, sat down at one table to play against two ladies.

“They’re hot, we’re not,” one of them announced.

“You must be referring to our sexual prowess, since we’re not doing so well in our game today,” said my partner Paul, ever the jokester.

“In your dreams!” scoffed the lady. “I’m just announcing the vulnerability to my partner. She can’t see too well.”

And just in case there was any doubt about what a tough place it is, one of the club’s leaders said he has “Guido” on his speed dial if anyone ever tries to pass them a bum check – I had just complimented them on being so modern and accepting checks, since bridge events down East are still all-cash events.

They also call the Cappelletti defensive bidding convention against a 1 No-Trump opening “Hamilton” in ‘Vegas after one of their own members since they contend that Hamilton and Cappelletti invented it around the same time and they see no reason to give Eastcoasters the credit.

The game was so tough that we placed dead-last in the midday Thursday game when I played hooky from my employment law conference. Paul hasn’t played much bridge recently as he had to un-retire since the last time I played with him. He’s straightening out his Midas franchise businesses, so he was a little rusty. When he mistook his King of Hearts for the King of Diamonds and enthusiastically supported my Diamond bid on that basis, Paul said it was a fitting end to a woeful afternoon. Just to show you how much there is to do in ‘Vegas apart from the shows and the casinos, Paul seemed to be much more excited about getting tickets to the opening classical music concert of the coming season in a new concert hall than about coming out and playing bridge with me – and I don’t blame him.

Being a sucker for punishment I went to the Bridge World one more time on Saturday afternoon as I was passing the time before the departure of my red-eye flight back to the East Coast and got really lucky this time, drawing as my partner Virginia “Didi” Neal, the bride of tournament director Jeff Neal who will celebrate her 63rd wedding anniversary this year – one joker at the game even had to ask her if that was to her first husband.

Didi and I had a good game at 49.36% and placed 5th among the Bs, good enough to earn us 0.21 MasterPoints. If I hadn’t been such a coward and chickened out by staying in Small Slams instead of bidding two makeable Grand Slams, we would have scored much better. If I’d had to play them myself, I would have bid those Grand Slams, but I feared that for a first time together, Didi might nor appreciate me putting her there. In any event, Didi seemed to easily forgive me since she said she had a really good time and she would have gladly come back to Philadelphia with me – if it hadn’t been for the fact that she really hates red-eye flights.

One board on which we tied for tops was good enough for one of my columns. I made a 4 Hearts Game contract for which it took us a while to find the fit and it was tricky to play as well. Only a couple of other pairs in the strong field found the Heart fit and made the contract. I actually played the hand as East, but to make it easier to follow, I’ll turn the board around, become South and will assume the role of Smug Sam, the antagonist of my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo.

The hand

East dealer; North-South vulnerable

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

The bidding

East South West North
Pass 1 No-Trump Pass 2 *
Pass 2 Pass 2 No-Trump
Pass 4 All pass

*North’s Stayman convention 2 Clubs bid indicated a 4-card major

Opening lead: 2 of Diamonds

How Flustered Flo played it

After her North partner Loyal Larry’s Stayman 2 Clubs response to her 1 No-Trump opening looking for a four-card major, Flustered Flo wasn’t sure which of her majors to bid first, Hearts to go up the line or Spades because they were stronger.

In any event, at first she was glad to eventually have found the Heart fit. But after studying the dummy, she wished she’d stayed in No-Trump because she didn’t think she had enough trumps to ruff all her losers.

She took the opening Diamond lead with her Ace, drove out the trump Ace and when she got the lead back, drew the remaining trumps, but eventually had to lose a Diamond, the trump Ace and two Clubs for Down One.

“Sorry partner,” said Flo to Larry. “We might have been better off in 3 No. That should be easier to make. We have eight sure tricks. Besides three tricks in each of the majors and the two Aces in the minors, we should be able to pick up a 9th trick in either minor.”

“Yes, but the book says you should try for the fit in a major in a pairs game since 4 Hearts beats 3 No by 20 points,” Larry said. “So not to worry.”

Flo was considerably chagrined, if not altogether flustered, to discover that her Down One score was a bad board for them and that her nemesis, Smug Sam, had tied for tops by making the same 4 Hearts contract as South that Flo had not been able to bring home.

“How did you make that, Sam?” she asked. “I thought I was bound to go Down One.”

“I guess you drew trumps,” said Sam. And when Flo nodded to indicate she had indeed committed that cardinal sin, Sam continued:

“You should see right away that you don’t have enough trumps to draw them all out even with a favorable 3-2 split, and have enough left over to ruff two Diamonds losers and a Spade loser. So you can’t afford to draw trump.”

“Isn’t that too dangerous?” Flo asked. “Won’t they get in with a ruff at some point?”

“They can,” Sam admitted, “but it won’t hurt you. If they ruff with the Ace, let ’em. And with any other trump, you can always over-ruff, so you basically in the end force them to under-ruff.”

“Explain that to me,” Flo insisted.

“I took the opening lead with the Diamond Ace in dummy,” Sam obliged. “I took my top 3 Spades, sloughing a Club on the third one. Then I led my last Spade, sloughing another Club, a classic loser-on-loser play. East won and collected a top Diamond, but I ruffed the next Diamond lead, collected the Club Ace and cross-ruffed Clubs and Diamonds. East could cash in his trump Ace at any time, but that’s all he would get. The rest of their trumps just fell under mine.”

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