No fit, no points, but we still stole bid

ARLINGTON, VA – While playing reporter at a Payroll conference in Washington, DC, my head was spinning from the W-2s, W-4s, FICA, FUTA and all the other alphabet soup that goes with that territory, so I took a break to look for a bridge game Monday night (3-11-2013) and I found a very congenial one at the Knights of Columbus and Beltway Duplicate Bridge Club in Arlington, VA, just across the Potomac River.

It happened to be the club’s annual championship game in two sections, an open game and a 499er game, and Bernie, the director, hooked me up with Mary Jane DeCorps, who was available because her normal partner was in Peru for a month and her husband, a retired career military officer, was practicing for a singing concert.

The club attracts a pretty much upscale clientele. There were quite a few foreign accents, and a lot of talk about the opera and about ambitious foreign travel plans. I even recognized some players from last year’s National Capital Regional in Bethesda, MD, around the 4th of July, a memory feat that impressed them no end.

My “blind date” with Mary Jane, who wanted to play in the 499er game (I still qualify for that if I want to although I mostly play in open games these days) turned out just fine as we came in first among the East-West pairs with a 56.58% game that earned us 0.78 MasterPoints. We had at least two tops by wide margins. On one hand, I made a redoubled vulnerable 3 Spades contract, which I should not have made, while our opponents could have had a Game in 3 No-Trump, a swing of more then 1,500 points. I can’t really use that board for a column because my opponents made a pretty bad mistake on defense by giving me an extra trick in a side suit, in this case Hearts.

The second big coup we scored is more suitable for a “bridge burglar” column. We had a minority of the points (19 to 21) and we had big trouble finding a suit. Mary Jane had a singleton in my long Diamond suit and I had a singleton in her long Heart suit, so we had a total misfit. In near desperation, I offered a compromise bid at 2 Spades, which Mary Jane passed with her three-card Spade suit.

The hand records later revealed, not surprisingly, that it was our opponents’ hand. The best anyone could make on the board was 3 Clubs by them. I should not have been able to make even One Spade. I should have gone down by no fewer than three tricks in my desperation 2 Spades contract. But I made it with an overtrick, so the bottom line was that I stole no fewer than four (!) tricks. That’s got to be a case for the bridge burglar. The fact that it came against the pair that took first among the North-South pairs made it even sweeter.

I really sat West playing the board, but to make play easier to follow, I’ll turn the hands around and become South as I assume the role of Smug Sam. Mary Jane with the North cards becomes Sam’s partner Shy Shem – although she showed herself at times to be a pretty aggressive bidder. My unfortunate East opponent who missed both the right bid and the right defense will become my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo. Flo apparently needed to re-learn a previous lesson Sam had already taught her once – when to lead trump on defense. I managed to use every single one of my seven total trumps in a cross-ruff. Apart from those 7 tricks, I had a side Ace in Clubs and managed to set up a Heart trick for my nine tricks. (Flo’s partner Loyal Larry plays West.)

The hand

West Dealer; neither side vulnerable

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

The bidding

West North East South
1 1 2 2
Pass 2 Pass 2
All pass

Opening lead: 2

How Flustered Flo played it

Flustered Flo always hates it when her nemesis Smug Sam takes the bid away from her, as he did on the diagrammed deal at her club’s recent championship game. Flo sat East and when her partner Loyal Larry opened with the West hand, she knew she and Larry had the majority of the points – at least 21. But she didn’t dare go the 3 level in their Club fit, so she let Sam, who sat South, have the contract in 2 Spades, hoping he’d go down.

Larry led a Club and when Sam ducked dummy’s Ace, Flo took the first trick with her King, and returned another Club to dummy’s Ace. Sam next ruffed a Club in his hand and led the Diamond deuce, which Larry captured with his 8. Larry then led a low Heart to let Flo captured dummy’s Queen with her Ace, but Sam ruffed the return Heart lead.

Sam then started his cross-ruff, ruffing a Diamond in dummy (over-ruffing Larry who wanted to force Sam to ruff high in dummy) and getting back to his hand with a Heart ruff, over-ruffing Flo this time. Another Diamond was ruffed in dummy and the return Heart lead was ruffed and over-ruffed in his hand again, dropping Larry’s King. Another Diamond was ruffed and over-ruffed and then Sam led his good Jack of Hearts. Flo didn’t want to throw away another one of her trumps, so she let it ride as Sam pitched a Diamond.

In the end, Sam made 9 tricks for an overtrick – he scored all of his seven trumps, each one taking a trick, plus the Club Ace and the Heart trick that Flo let ride.

“How can you let me play 2 Spades when it’s clearly your hand?” Sam asked incredulously. “You guys had more points than we did and you have a Club fit.”

“I didn’t dare go to the 3 level,” Flo admitted. “Can we even make 3?”

“Of course you can,” said Sam. “We get only two Spades and the trump Ace, and maybe a Diamond ruff if we’re lucky and defend well. But apart from the fact that it’s your hand, you should never have let me make my contract. I should be Down Three instead of making an overtrick. If you’d doubled me, you could have gotten a plus-500 score.”

“Did we really defend that badly?” asked Flo.

“I’m afraid so,” said Sam, smug as always. “You saw me score each one of my seven trumps. You can’t let me do that. You’ve got to lead trump right from the start to get my trumps out. Then all I get is four trump tricks and the Ace of Clubs. I can’t take any other trick, so I’m Down Three.”

“How do I know to lead trump?” asked Flo, getting flustered again by Sam’s smugness.

“I think I explained this to you once before, Flo,” Sam said in the patronizing tone Flo hates so much. “When your opponents have trouble finding a fit like we did on that hand – with my partner bidding Hearts and me bidding Diamonds and neither one of us being able to support the other’s suit – and they settle on a suit that’s second best for both of them, they’re not likely to have very many trumps. But since they apparently have long and short suits, they’ll try to use whatever trump they have for ruffing, so you’ve got to take their trumps out.”

“I’ll try to remember that lesson this time, Sam,” Flo promised. “You stealing four tricks from us was too painful – it’ll leave a pretty good scar.”

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