Misfits: Bidding a powerhouse hand into a loser

WILMINGTON, DE – My partner Christine Matus and I did not fare that well at the Wilmington Sectional duplicate bridge tournament this past weekend (May 31-June 2, 2013) as we showed up for a scheduled Saturday night pairs game only to find it canceled for lack of interest (we were coming in from out-of-town and could not play in the earlier sessions). And then we fell below our own expectations in the Sunday Swiss teams competition.

At our invitation, we were trying a new team combination with Judge Bob Shenkin and his sometime partner Ella Zimmerman, who recently moved into the area from Harrisburg. After three matches, we had two big victories under our belt against good teams by sizable scores of 27 and 21 International Match Points (IMPs) and we were competing for the top spots in the middle B/C/D brackets as a “C” team.

But then after a couple of slices of tepid pizza during the mid-day break, we failed to win another match, although some of them were close, losing by 8 and 5 IMPs respectively. We actually won a half-match in the final round when we were in an unusual three-way match playing two different teams in one round. Our total haul for the day stayed at .52 Silver MatchPoints (.26 for each of the two matches won).

In a tough draw, we came up in the opening round against the team led by the father-and-son Amir team and lost 0-18 in IMPs, even though we played them very close on all boards except one – a maddening deal with a total misfit for me and Christine when I had both red suits and she had both black suits. It was one of those typical computer-dealt hands – except that this time, we weren’t playing duplicated boards and we had shuffled and dealt ourselves, which proves again that human-dealt hands are often crazier than those coming out of the computer.

What made matters worse was that we both had good hands, so we kept bidding up and up without finding a fit. Eventually I gave up and passed Christine in 5 Clubs, and thanks to a friendly lead, she managed to keep the damage to Down One – against the best defense and a different lead, she should have been Down Two. But the Amirs playing the same hands against our teammates Bob and Ella cut their losses and stopped at 3 No-Trump, making two overtricks. That differential of 11 IMPs sealed our fate in that round.

The hand is so interesting that I feel compelled to write a bridge burglar column about it, even though I’ll have to turn myself into my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, since I would not leave my partner Christine, who becomes Loyal Larry, in her makeable 3 No-Trump bid. So instead of being a bridge burglar, I got burglarized this time by the Amirs, who will become Flo’s nemesis, Smug Sam, and his partner, Shy Shem. The lesson from the hand is clear: When you have found a horrible misfit with your partner, get out as cheaply as possible.

In real life I sat East and Christine was West, but to make play easier to follow, I’ll turn the hands around and make Christine (Loyal Larry) South; as Flustered Flo, I’ll become North.

The hand

West Dealer; neither side vulnerable

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

The bidding

West North East South
Pass 1 Pass 2
Pass 2 Pass 2
Pass 3 Pass 3 No-Trump
Pass 4 Pass 5
All pass

Opening lead: 2

How Flustered Flo played it

Duplicate tournament bridge players often complain about those computer-dealt hands that throw unusual challenges at you with bad breaks and every other kind of imaginable misfortune. But, as Flustered Flo found out on the diagrammed deal in a recent Swiss four-person team competition at her home club where the boards were shuffled and dealt by the players themselves, humans are also quite capable of dealing hands that seem designed by the devil himself.

As North, Flo loved her hand with the two strong red suits and the singleton honors in the black suits, but, as she might have expected, her South partner, Loyal Larry, failed to support either of her suits, bidding his two black suits instead.

When Larry wanted to sign off in 3 No-Trump, Flo didn’t like that idea much because she anticipated – with some reason – tremendous transportation difficulties.  She really wanted Larry to know that both her red suits had extra length so she tried again to get him to support one of them, bidding 4 Diamonds. When Larry bid 5 Clubs instead, Flo gave up and passed.

A Diamond lead would I in all likelihood have set the contract by two tricks, but Larry got a friendly lead with the 2 of Hearts, which enabled her to take the trick in her hand with the 10 when she ducked in dummy.  Larry knew he’d have to make the most of his finessing possibilities so he decided to take the Diamond finesse next, with dummy’s 9 losing to East’s King.

Without giving up a free finesse in a minor suit, East got out with a Spade to dummy’s Queen and Larry next collected the trump King, and came to his hand ruffing a small Heart (East correctly realized he’d just be over-ruffed anyway if he tried to jump in). Larry drew two rounds of trump and collected his top two Spades and then led his last Diamond, taking the trick with the Queen when West put up the Jack.

Larry next led the Diamond Ace , which East ruffed high with his Jack – if he didn’t, Larry was just going to keep leading Diamonds. East collected the Jack of Spades before giving up the last trick to Larry’s higher trump for Down One and a minus-50 score.

Flo was curious what the score at the other table would be, where her nemesis, Smug Sam, was playing her North hand – and she was crushed to find out when the teams compared scores that Sam had passed his partner Shy Shem’s 3 No-Trump bid, allowing him to make two overtricks for 460 points. That meant her team lost the board by 11 International Match Points (IMPs), which was the decisive factor in the victory for Sam’s team in the whole round.

“I have two questions for you, Sam,” said Flo after signing the scoresheet giving Sam’s team the victory. “How did you dare leave the bid in 3 No-Trump when you knew you’d have huge transportation problems? And then, how did you guys make it? It must have been difficult.”

“Let’s take the last question first,” said Sam, smug as always. “Yes, the transportation was difficult and my partner did a very good job overtaking when he needed to and planning his finesses. He got a Spade lead on the first trick and he realized he’d need all the finessing opportunities from his hand he could create so he overtrook dummy’s Queen with the King from his hand to lose the deep finesse to the Diamond King right away after playing dummy’s 9.”

“East must have led another Spade to try and set up his Spades then,” said Flo. “Didn’t that make you scared?”

“My partner knew he had to keep East out of the lead then,” Sam explained. “So he took the Spade Ace, and next played the Diamond 8 to force West to play his Jack, which he overtook with dummy’s Queen. He then overtook dummy’s Club King with his Ace, collected the Club Queen, and next led the Heart 10, covering West’s Jack with his Queen. The next three Diamond tricks from dummy were all his, as was the Heart Ace, and he gave up the last trick to West’s Heart King, losing only the two red Kings. That let us make two overtricks in our 3 No contract.”

“It took nerves of steel to do all that overtaking and deep finessing,” Flo said admiringly. “But tell me: You both had good hands. Didn’t you feel tempted to bid on? And didn’t you feel nervous about passing 3 No-Trump with such a misfit hand, knowing your partner would have those transportation problems?”

“One word of advice for you, Flo,” said Sam, “which will come in especially handy when you both have good hands. When you have a misfit, get out as cheap as you can.”

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