Nice guys finish last

My partner Christine and I keep brushing up against the periphery of the world at the top of the game of bridge where the professionals rule, and frankly, the more we see and hear about it, the less we like it.

This past Saturday, we ventured out to the Jacksonville Remlinger Sectional tournament named after a long-departed lady from another era who used to host jolly games at her house where she served booze and made the game a lot of fun – not at all like what it is at the top today. At Jacksonville’s School of Bridge that hosted the Sectional, we of course ran into John Brady, champion of Sectionals nationwide, because it’s his home town. He always wins and has amassed more than 10,000 MasterPoints.

But Brady is still very approachable, so here’s how our conversation went:

Me: “We see you at every Sectional, John, but never at bigger Regionals where all the other big guys go and where there are more points at stake in the knockout team competitions, all gold points. Why?”

Brady: “There are enough Sectionals close by for extended weekend road trips. But for Regionals and Nationals you have to go farther and it costs more money to do that circuit. And to tell you the truth, I don’t enjoy Regionals that much anymore. I really don’t like the people there. At my level, I would come up against nothing but the professionals who make their living at this, and they’re not very nice people. You barely get a hello as you sit down at the table across the screen from them. I think chess is the only game in which the top players are even weirder than the bridge people.”

Me: “Surely, with notable exceptions. That young kid Kevin Dwyer from Melbourne who always wears his baseball cap is still a nice guy even though he already has over 25,000 points.”

Brady: “You’re right, but he’s still young, in his 20s. Give him a few years and let’s see if he’s still so nice. It’s not a very nice life. You’re on the road all the time and live out of hotel or motel rooms. You play two, sometimes three sessions a day, every day. I don’t know whether the top players are just not nice by nature or whether the life of a professional makes them not nice. We’ll see with young Kevin.”

Me: “Do you have any perspective on the latest cheating scandal, in which very credible accusations of cheating against the winning team in this summer’s Nationals in Chicago resulted in the withdrawal of three teams from the Bermuda Cup in India?”

Brady: “I was not surprised. First of all, they’re not nice people. Then there is tremendous pressure to win. The sponsors or the sugar daddies – or mommies – who pay them offer bonuses for winning. So people have to do just about anything to win. The people they come up against are just as good and just as vicious as they are.”

Our own performance against Brady last Saturday showed our inconsistency, which means (fortunately, I guess) that we’re not ready for the big time yet. In two boards against Brady and his partner, Adrian Dovell from Gainesville, we had a top board when Dovelll tried to take advantage of us and pushed to a Slam that wasn’t there, but then Brady turned the tables and induced us to play terrible defense and made a 4 Hearts contract that we should have been able to set by two tricks.

That inconsistency led us to do well in the morning session, finishing first in the Bs with a 54% game that earned us 2.46 Silver MasterPoints, but we fell just below 50% and got nothing in a the tough afternoon session when half the pairs were A teams with over 2,500 points (neither one of us is at 1,000 yet).

Our most satisfying board was bidding and making a Small Slam no one else found on just 26 high-card points with no extra distribution points for voids or singletons. Such a steal is worth a Bridge Burglar entry, in which the West player who unwisely opened his mouth to start the auction will become my anti-hero Flustered Flo, while I’ll become her nemesis, Smug Sam, who takes advantage of Flo’s misstep with the North hand. Christine will become Sam’s South partner, Shy Shem, who almost had a heart attack when Sam put in her in Slam, but was in the end rightfully very proud of herself for making it.

East Deals; North-South vulnerable

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

Opening lead: 5 of Hearts

Flustered Flo has been urged to be more aggressive in her bidding, so on the diagrammed hand at a recent Sectional duplicate tournament in her home state, she decided to open her 9-point West hand in third seat to get the first blow in. She charitably gave herself two extra points for her two doubletons, which increased her count to 11, and she liked her five-card Club suit.

That decision turned out to be a fateful error as her nemesis, Smug Sam, who sat North, immediately launched a take-out double. When his South partner, Shy Shem, timidly responded a Spade, Sam put him in 6 Spades, almost giving Shem a Heart attack.

Shem played the Jack of Hearts from the dummy on the opening trick, Flo’s East partner, Loyal Larry, covered with the Queen and Shem took the trick with his King. He next took the successful finesse on the King of trumps with the Queen and dropped the two remaining trumps under his Ace. He then led the Ace of Hearts and came back to his hand ruffing a Heart to lead through Flo’s Ace of Clubs to dummy’s King, and claimed the rest of the tricks with good Diamonds and trumps.

“What got into you jumping to Slam after your partner said a Spade?” Flo asked Sam. “He could have had nothing.”

“I could have asked for Aces and Kings,” said Sam, “but you opened, so you were sure to have the Ace of Clubs and the King of Spades. My partner was going to say zero, and I was going to go to 6 anyway, so I might as well bid it right away.”

“But you didn’t have the points,” Flo protested. “If I counted correctly, you had only 26 high-card points between you, and no singletons or voids to help with distribution.”

“You are correct on that,” said Sam, smug as always. “But you may not have been correct in opening your mouth to bid.”

“It was admittedly a light opening,” said Flo, “but you’ve told me yourself to try and be more aggressive in my bidding.”

“This was the wrong time to be aggressive,” said Sam. “My partner and I may not have had the points you normally need for a Slam, but we had something more valuable.”

“What might that have been?” Flo asked.

“All the information I needed from your opening bid,” said Sam. “I knew you were sitting in front of me with your King of Spades and your Ace of Clubs.”

“So if I had kept my mouth shut, and you’d have to guess where the missing cards are, you might not have bid the Slam?” Flo asked.

“For sure,” said Sam.

“So when I’m not aggressive enough, I lose,” said Flo, “and when I try to be aggressive, I lose, too. I just can’t win. This is a stupid game, but I guess I’ll be back tomorrow.”

Speak Your Mind