Length before strength would have foiled Burglar

The victory that the Kathy Bear team inflicted on the Browns and the Chaleks in the Delaware Bridge Studio’s Thursday night (7-18-2013) Swiss team competition was so lopsided (by 65 International MatchPoints or IMPs) that no one could recall ever having seen a more humiliating defeat.

It happened during the first round of play when the first eight boards were really crazy. At least three different Slams were possible, offering the possibility for wild swings in the scores – unfortunately for the Browns and the Chaleks, solid players all of them, all those swings went against them.

The losers were not pleased with the result. They threatened dire consequences against their opponents if they dared gloat about the feat.

And for me, Joe Brown had a different threat:

“If you write about this,” he growled, “I’ll sue you for libel.”

“But honey,” his wife Jean cautioned him, “I don’t believe you can sue anyone for libel if they simply tell the truth.”

“No matter,” Joe replied, “I’ll sue him anyway, just to haul his ass back up here from his retirement home in Florida to answer the charges. That’ll be satisfaction enough for me.”

Joe Brown shouldn’t worry about being written up by the “bridge burglar” for the 0-65 IMP defeat at the hands of the Kathy Bear team. He provided plenty of fodder on the other boards as well.

In the head-to-head match against our team (also comprising Ed Maser as my partner, along with our North-South teammates Eileen Bickel-Thomas and Captain John Walston), Joe and Jean Brown allowed me to make a 3 No-Trump Game contract that I should not have been able to make – while they missed a Game of their own in 4 Hearts.

That board, which is ideal for a bridge burglar column in which I steal another contract, gave us 7 IMPS, which was exactly our margin of victory in the match, and helped propel us to a first-place victory in the B flight with a 2-1 record, earning all of us another 1.22 MasterPoints. The team of Colin Mackay, Spencer Kiernan, John Strange and Caroline Hughes was second and the Bear team, despite the lopsided victory over the Browns and the Chaleks, had to be content with third place after we beat them by 25 IMPs in the last round. (The team of Grand Life Master Rick Rowland won the A flight).

On the bridge burglar board, in real life I sat East, but to make play easier to follow, I’ll turn the hands around and make myself South as I become Shy Shem, the partner of Smug Sam. Sam will be played this time by my partner Ed Maser, who had the gall to raise me to 3 No-Trump anyway even when he knew that between us we could not possibly have the 25 high-card points that are supposed to be required for such a contract.

With the West cards, Jean Brown will this time have to be my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, because she both mis-bid and mis-played the hand, and her husband Joe becomes Flo’s partner Loyal Larry with the East hand.

The hand

North Dealer; East-West vulnerable

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

The bidding

North East South West
1 1 2 NT Pass
3 Nt All pass

Opening lead: Ace

How Flustered Flo played the hand

Flustered Flo hates having a six-card suit with no honors. It’s like a luxury car sitting in the garage with no engine; there’s nothing you can do with it – or at least so she thought.

As West on the diagrammed deal at a recent club game, Flo didn’t think she had anything to bid after her opponent Shy Shem’s jump raise to 2 No-Trump in the South seat, indicating a balanced hand with 10-12 points and a stopper in the opponents’ Spade suit.

Flo’s nemesis, Smug Sam, raised to the 3 NT Game as North without much hesitation, putting Flo on lead. Once again, she didn’t think much of her own six-card Heart suit. Shem had been the first to bid No-Trump, so if she led one of her small Hearts, she felt sure she would only finesse her own East partner, Loyal Larry. Instead, she decided to get what she could where her real strength lay, in the Clubs.

Flo collected her Ace-King of Clubs and led another Club to Larry’s Queen, but Larry did not have a good exit, so he had to lead a Diamond, which allowed Shem to run off his six Diamond tricks, cash in the Club Jack, and take the two Heart tricks with the finesse on East’s King to score his nine tricks and make his contract.

“How many points did you have for your fraise to Three No?” Flo asked Sam afterward. “I counted only 12 high-card points in your dummy. You knew your partner could have no more than 12 himself, so you didn’t have the 25 points you’re supposed to need for Three No – how come you bid it anyway?”

“A long suit is a No-Trump player’s best friend,” replied Sam, smug as always. “My Diamond suit was pretty solid. It was worth at least five and possibly six tricks. I knew that would get us a long way toward home. Another way to count your hand is to give yourself one extra point for every card over five in a long suit, so that potentially got us to 25.”

“But your partner had only 10 points, not 12,” Flo objected.

“Yes, that meant the contract was very thin,” Sam admitted. “And we shouldn’t have made it if you had defended better.”

“What else can I do?” asked Flo, defensively. “I never had a Spade to lead the suit my partner had bid.”

“I can’t believe you didn’t lead your long Heart suit,” said Sam. “If you lead Hearts, I go Down One, because all I have is the two Heart tricks with the finesse on the King and my six Diamond tricks for eight. I can never get a ninth. It’ll take me forever try to set up another trick with the Jack of Clubs and before I do, you get in with your Hearts and you kill me. By leading your Clubs, you just helped me set up my ninth trick with the Club Jack.”

“But my Heart suit was so weak,” Flo object, “and I was afraid of finessing my partner.”

“You must have heard about length before strength on offense about what suit you bid first,” said Sam. “The same goes for what you lead on defense – length before strength.

“As a matter fact,” Sam continued, “talking about offense, you should have bid your long Heart suit after my partner said 2 No-Trump. If you say 3 Hearts, your partner will put you in 4 Hearts immediately.”

“Can we even make that?” Flo asked, incredulously.

“Sure,” explained Sam. “all you lose is two trump tricks and the Ace of Diamonds.”

“So not only did we let you make 400 points on a Game you shouldn’t have been able to make, we also missed a vulnerable Game of our own that would have been worth 620?” asked Flo.

Sam just nodded as he walked away, leaving Flo fuming again – and well, flustered all over again.

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