Life is Beautiful

In the week leading up to the Oscars there was a lot of talk about movies and dramatic performances. Unfortunately, my partner Christine and I were unable to turn in any kind of Titanic performance in two outings at our home club, the Vero Beach Bridge Center.

We couldn’t crack 50% either time we played, and we got no points, so we were definitely more like Les Miserables than like Rocky.

What makes movies great are often dramatic displays of emotion but those don’t go well with duplicate bridge anyway. I remember getting called out for too many histrionics by one of our opponents when I involuntarily made faces because I didn’t like my partner’s bids. You’re better off biting your tongue and your lips, showing True Grit, and not letting any feelings show.

The trouble with showing any kind of reaction is that you may either be communicating unauthorized information to your partner, or you may be guilty of a zero-tolerance violation for berating your partner. Any kind of retribution or sanction for making a scene may be Up In The Air, but either way, you’re going to have a Dog Day Afternoon.

There are A Thousand Clowns in bridge and I do remember playing against an old quarreling couple once up North when he was making faces at the way his wife was playing a hand, and she shot back at him: “Quit making faces at me – your face is ugly enough as it is!” (She was right, by the way.)

Last Friday (2/7/2020), Christine and I also seriously had our concentration disrupted by a loud argument at the next table, which became prolonged when the director couldn’t get there right away. One player who pretty much thinks of herself as The Queen of the club bristled at a suggestion by her opponent that she had indicated she had wanted to play the deuce of Spades from dummy. “Frankly, I’m insulted that you would think I would want to make such a totally illogical stupid play,” she said.

She was lucky she didn’t get called for a zero-tolerance violation. There’s not supposed to be any drama in bridge and no one should even try to be Sarah Bernhardt and win an Oscar. It’s supposed to be about a bunch of Ordinary People trying to find The Right Stuff in the cards – that’s As Good As It Gets.

That Friday afternoon, Christine and I had some bad luck and scored only 47%, although we did much better in The Common Game against hundreds of players at other clubs playing the same hands (51%) and we had a very positive score against what was supposed the par on the hands, 12 boards played at better than par against 8 pars and only 7 below.

We did get one absolute top that we’re pretty proud of. We bid and made a difficult 6 No-Trump Slam that no one else found. I put Christine in the thin 30-point Slam because I have an often Fatal Attraction to Slams, but she played it like a true Gladiator, getting her 12th trick by executing intricate squeeze plays on both our opponents.

Stealing that top score was a real Bonnie and Clyde feat on both our parts and as such it’s worth an episode in the adventures of the Bridge Burglar. Our hapless West opponent who was the last to get squeezed will become my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, while Christine will be her perennial nemesis, Smug Sam, with the big South hand that became the Declarer.

I’ll be Christine’s North partner, Shy Shem, while Flo is playing with her usual East partner, Loyal Larry, who soon saw that his chances of taking a setting trick were Gone With The Wind. Finding that second trick turned out to be as difficult for them as Finding Neverland.

West Dealer; North-South vulnerable

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

The Bidding

West North East South
(Flustered Flo) (Loyal Larry) (Loyal Larry) (Smug Sam)
Pass Pass Pass 1
Pass 1 Pass 2 NT
Pass 4 NT Pass 5 *
Pass 6 NT All Pass

* showing 3 Aces in the straight Blackwood Ace-asking Slam try convention

Opening lead: 3 of Clubs

When you find yourself in a Small Slam contract where you need to take 12 tricks and you see only 8 sure tricks right off the bat, you need to find some Hidden Figures to finagle your way to the four extra ones you need.

Flustered Flo was on lead from the West hand after her nemesis Smug Sam had reached a razor-thin 6 No-Trump contract, and she decided to lead a small Club on the opening trick. If she had led a small Diamond from her other four-card suit, she was too afraid of giving Sam a free finesse on her Queen, which she feared could made the board The Crying Game for her and her partner. The Club wasn’t such a bad lead, because even though her East partner Loyal Larry had to play his Queen, that honor would have fallen anyway under Sam’s top two cards in the suit, so at least no harm was done.

Now the squeeze was on and Sam put The Sting on Flo and Larry. He collected the Jack-10 of Clubs from his hand, plus the Ace-King-Queen of Spades before going to dummy with the Ace of Diamonds to cash the 10 of Spades and the King of Clubs.

Flo had to come up with two safe discards from her West hand as Sam ran his Spades, and she chose a Diamond and a Heart. But The Help she needed to set the contract in the form of a mistake from Sam didn’t come.

Her partner Larry had a worse problem finding two safe pitches from the East hand. He was being stripped of every potentially useful card he had and started feeling like a character in The Full Monty. If he chose a Diamond, Sam could get back to his hand with the Ace of Hearts and lead the Jack of Diamonds from his hand. That would pin Larry’s 10 of Diamonds, forcing Flo to play her Queen and making dummy’s 9 of Diamonds good for the 12th trick.

If, on the other hand, Larry chose two Hearts, Sam could take the Ace of Hearts, and then end-play Flo by putting her on lead with the King of Hearts, letting Larry’s Queen Crash under it. Flo would be forced to give Sam a free finesse on her Queen of Diamonds on the last two tricks.

Either way, with his nifty play showing A Beautiful Mind, Sam had set up his 12th trick for a Small Slam that no one else bid or made and a top score.

“I can’t figure out whether you were a true Braveheart, going for that miraculous Slam, or whether you were just a Parasite, feasting on our errors,” said Flo.

Life Is Beautiful!” exclaimed Sam, smug as always. “This time you did nothing wrong, and I’m proud to say that we got a good result through our own brilliance, rather than from the miscues of the people on a Ship Of Fools. I’ll admit that this thing was Going My Way just the way I wanted it, but for once I had a hand that I could play like a Field of Dreams.”

“You’re such a Joker,” said Flo. “You seem Moonstruck by the whole thing, as if you just realized that A Star Is Born, and it’s you. Truth be told, even if this club is supposed to be No Country for Old Men, you and your partner Shem have been beating our brains out with hands like these for years.”

“You’re a Funny Girl,” said Sam. “You may call me and my partner a couple of old men, buy I’ll still compliment you and call you a girl.”

“You forced me to give you a free finesse,” said Flo. “I didn’t enjoy being put in a box. I could hardly call it Friendly Persuasion.”

“To me, it was like A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” said Sam, still pleased with his feat.

“I just want some Deliverance from you and your partner,” said Flo. “I wish you two would stop beating up on me and poor Larry.”

“Now you’re really in LaLaLand,” said Sam. “That’s not going to happen.”


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