No Reno

Last year around this time I was able to send out a triumphant message: “New Orleans, here we come!” when my partner Christine and I placed second in the Florida District playoffs of the North American Pairs competition, Division B, thus qualifying for the nationals this past spring in New Orleans.

This weekend (10-24-2015), the same playoffs were held in Palm Beach Gardens for next year’s Nationals in Reno, NV, and unfortunately, there will be no message, “Reno, here we come!” We will not expose ourselves to the dangers of being eaten by cannibals on the Donner Pass after getting socked in by an early-spring snowstorm, or drowning in depths of Lake Tahoe – those were the two tourist attractions we had been planning to visit there.

We barely managed an above-average score of 50.1%, not nearly good enough to get anywhere close to the top four spots who’d be entitled to go to Nationals, with or without financial subsidies.

What was different this year from last? Several things. First of all, the field was both larger and stronger than last year, especially at the other site in St. Petersburg on Florida’s West Coast where other pairs were playing the same boards simultaneously. Last year, only one of the top four spots in the District went to a St. Petersburg pair; this year the situation was reversed – only one Palm Beach Gardens pair made the top four.

We also noticed that a lot of Directors were playing in our B Division, from clubs we have visited ranging from Miami and Fort Lauderdale in the South to Boca Raton, Boynton Beach and Palm Beach and to Vero Beach, Sebastian, Melbourne and Satellite Beach in the North. These directors haven’t been able to amass many points because they’re always directing, not playing, but in most cases, they’re just as strong as many A players – they’re in the middle of a heck of a lot of bridge and they’ve seen it all.

But, perhaps most importantly, Christine said that she was nervous at the start of the competition because we had put too much pressure on ourselves to repeat the feat from last year and qualify again. We don’t play our best bridge under that kind of pressure. Halfway through the first session, Christine got her confidence back and she became the only player on both Florida coasts to bid and make a Grand Slam in 7 Spades, but by that time our early nervous mistakes had already cost us too much.

Well, there’s always next year, when we’ll try again to qualify for the 2017 Nationals in Kansas City – although that still doesn’t sound as glamorous as New Orleans.

Apart from the Slam, we did have several other good boards, including another absolute top when Christine opened a No-Trump on a minimum 15-point hand and got doubled for penalties by an opponent who had as good a hand as she did. I wasn’t much help with my 3 points, but Christine made it for a plus-180 score. The hand records revealed later that our opponents could have set us by two tricks for a minus-500 score, or bid and made 4 Spades for minus-620 since both sides were vulnerable.

That kind of a steal is worth a Bridge Burglar blog entry, so on the diagrammed deal, the East hand that doubled and didn’t bid or play very well and got a bottom from us will become my column’s anti-hero Flustered Flo, while Christine will be Flo’s nemesis, Smug Sam. With the North dummy hand, I’ll be Sam’s partner, Shy Shem.

South Dealer; both sides vulnerable

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

The bidding:

South West North East
1 NT Pass Pass Double*
All Pass

*alerted as penalty double

Opening lead: 2 of Diamonds

It’s not easy to play the wrong card on every one of the 13 tricks, but on the diagrammed deal at a recent North American Pairs District playoff, Flustered Flo came close to doing just that with the East hand.

What made it worse was that all those mistakes came against Flo’s nemesis, Smug Sam, who was playing South and was allowed to steal a doubled 1 No-Trump contract for a plus-180 score.

Flo had agreed with her West partner, Loyal Larry, to play the Cappelletti defensive system against 1 No-Trump openings, with a double means that you have at least as good a hand as the opener and you think you can beat the contract.

Sam took the opening Diamond lead (of course it should have been a Spade – always lead your best major against No-Trump if neither partner has bid a major) with his Ace and continued with the King and a small Diamond, putting Larry back in the lead with the 10.

Larry then shifted to a Heart in an effort to find where Flo’s strength was supposed to be. Flo took the Ace (another mistake – she was just setting up Sam’s tricks) and returned a Heart, hoping Larry had the King. Alas, Sam came up with the King and drove out Larry’s last high Diamond. In desperation, Larry now tried a Club, hoping that’s finally where Flo’s real strength was. Flo took the Ace and compounded all previous mistakes by leading a Club back. Sam shrewdly ducked that Club (making Flo believe she didn’t have the King and Larry had it).

The trick worked as Flo next led her Jack of Clubs and this time, Sam pounced on it with his King, collected his last Diamond, went to the dummy with the Queen of Hearts and took his seventh trick and claimed the contract with a last Club (on the earlier Diamond leads he had pitched a Cub and a Spade) – he had taken 3 Diamond tricks, 2 Hearts and 2 Clubs.

“So this lousy Cappelletti defensive system against No-Trump openings doesn’t work?” Flo asked despondently after approving the plus-180 score for Sam and his partner, Shy Shem – a score that proved to be an absolute top for Sam and Shem and a bottom for Flo and Larry.

“Sure it works,” said Sam, smug as always. “You had two bids available to you – apart from a double, you could have said 2 Diamonds for both majors. Then your partner would respond 2 Spades and you’d raise him to 4 Spades – you make that Game for 620 points. That would be an 800-point swing your way.”

“But I wasn’t 5-5 in the majors,” Flo protested.

“Everybody cheats a little in bridge,” shrugged Sam, “but if you want to be stickler, double was a pretty good bid, too. You should never have let me make it.”

“What did we do wrong?” Flo asked.

“Just about everything,” said Sam. “You worked very hard to set up my tricks in Diamonds, Clubs and Hearts. And you never found your Spade lead to take five tricks right off the bat. You should take 5 Spades, 2 Clubs and a Heart and put me Down Two for a plus-500 for you. That would be almost as good as the 620 for the 4 Spades, which not everyone will find.”

“When my partner didn’t lead Spades, I didn’t want to under-lead my King,” said Flo. “I never thought you’d open a No-Trump without a Spade stopper.”

“Many people have bitten the dust thinking, ‘Sam would never do this, would he?’ said Sam.

“I’ll remember that,” said Flo.


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