No-Trump Country

As is our custom during our travels, my partner Christine and I mixed bridge and sightseeing at the New England Monster Mountain Regional bridge tournament in Nashua, NH, in late June, but this time we encountered some glitches in both our bridge and in the touristy things we like to do.

For starters, the famous replica of the Mayflower ship wasn’t at its usual mooring place next to Plymouth Rock in neighboring Massachusetts with its crew of historical interpreters who transport you into the past. It was hauled away to the Mystic Shipyard in Connecticut for repairs more than two years ago and may be there for at least another year before it is supposed to return all spiffed up in 2020 for the 400th anniversary of the landing of the pilgrims.

“This is taking too long – they could have built a whole new ship in that time,” grumbled local merchants who are losing business. They also have to field complaints from the tourists, as the Mayflower website has never owned up to the fact that the ship isn’t actually there now.

We had to console ourselves with a visit to the Plimoth Plantation, where we did get a chance to travel 400 years back into history in a time machine and engage Governor Bradford, as well as some of the Wampanoag Native Americans he met in 1620, in spirited conversation about their lives and beliefs.

On a side trip to Manchester, the largest city in New Hampshire, we learned that the iconic Merrimack Diner, which for decades had seen every presidential aspirant traipse through in advance of the state’s first-in-the-nation primary, had been closed for several years and was no longer serving “bacon and eggs with a side of politics.” There we had to console ourselves with an excellent dinner at a downtown restaurant (“Hooked”) and free Ben & Jerry’s ice cream across the street afterward.

But we did walk Boston’s Freedom Trail, enjoyed dinner at the Cantina Italiana in Boston’s Little Italy in the North End topped off by cannolis at Mike’s Pastries down the street. We also had a scrumptious lobster dinner in Kittery, Maine, for my birthday (6-24) so all in all it was a good trip anyway.

After the Labor Day tournament in Warwick, RI, the Nashua Regional is the second biggest of New England’s five annual Regionals (the one in the fall in Danbury, CT, actually falls under the auspices of the Upstate New York District). Although bridge fees are a tad on the high side at $14, hospitality is outstanding with free breakfasts, subsidized lunches and substantial snacks afternoons and evenings. The people were also very nice – we didn’t run into a single Trump supporter as they don’t like him much there. Caveat: Although the tournament is nice, the hotel has seen better days.

Our bridge results were so-so. We scored right around 50% in our first two events but were shut out because the stratifications were lower; we had to compete as As since our MasterPoint average is now over 1,500. Then we hit our stride and got decent points in every event we entered and wound up with over 11 points for the tournament, almost half of them Gold and the rest Red.

Our best outing was 5th overall in mid-flight pairs on Friday (6-22) which earned us 5.34 Gold. We had a spectacular tie for a top with our patented snapdragon double. It so discombobulated our foes that they missed a 7 NT Grand Slam. They let us play 3 Diamonds Down 3 for a minus-150 score, but they could have had 2220 for their Slam. Even if they ‘d just bid the 3NT game like most other East-West pairs, they gave us a swing of 450 points. Ironically, we tied for first place on the board with another North-South pair whose opponents didn’t even bid Game, either. They got stuck in 4 Clubs making 5, which resulted in an identical minus-150 score. Our East opponent who should have bid on will be my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, while Christine is her nemesis, Smug Sam, as the North bidder who became dummy.

East Dealer; East-West vulnerable

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

The bidding:

East South West South
(Flustered Flo) (Shy Shem) (Loyal Larry) (Smug Sm)
1 1 1 Double*
2 2 3 Pass
Pass 3 All pass

*alerted as Snapdragon Double, showing at least 5 cards in unbid suit, tolerance for partner’s suit

Opening lead: Jack of Clubs

Often the main value of an exotic bid like a snapdragon double is that it’s totally distributional and has no specific point count attached to it. That keeps the opponents in the dark as to the real strength of such hands.

Especially if they’ve never heard of the bid, they tend to be a little intimidated by it, and when you add the uncertainty factor over how strong the doublers are, they may stop bidding way too soon and miss a good contract for their side as a result.

That’s what happened to Flustered Flo, who sat East on the diagrammed deal at a recent Regional tournament. When Smug Sam doubled in the North seat and Shy Shem alerted it, Flo asked what it meant.

“It’s a snapdragon double,” Shem replied. “Would you like a further explanation?”

Flo said she didn’t, since she’d heard it from Sam before, but when it was her partner Loyal Larry’s turn, he said, “I’ll bite – what was it?” He was duly provided with the standard explanation that Sam had at least five pieces in the unbid suit, Diamonds in this case, and tolerance for the suit Shem had bid, Hearts.

“Does it have any point count attached to it?” Larry asked.

“No, it’s mostly a distributional bid,” Shem replied.

Thus, after Shem had reached 3 Diamonds in the auction, both Flo and Larry passed, not quite sure how and if to proceed in the auction since they were vulnerable.

Flo took the opening lead with the Ace of Clubs and returned her partner’s suit with the 10 of Spades. When Shem ducked the Queen from his hand, Larry overtook his partner’s 10 with his Jack and took two more Spade tricks. Larry then played another Club to make Shem ruff on the long side.

The first time Shem drew trumps, starting from the dummy, the Ace came out immediately, which told Shem it was a singleton, so he knew he’d have to lose another trick to the Diamond Queen as well as to the Ace of Hearts for Down Three and a minus-150 score. Shem lost seven tricks, 3 Spades, 2 trump tricks, a Heart and a Club, and there was nothing he could have done to prevent it.

“Sorry partner,” Shem said afterwards, rather shyly. “Down Three is almost never a good score.”

“It will be in this case,” said Sam, “so not to worry. They had at least a vulnerable Game.” (Sam turned out to be right – the minus-150 was a tie for tops with another North-South pair whose opponents had stopped bidding at 4 Clubs, making 5.)

“Did we have 3 No-Trump by any chance?” Larry asked Flo, rather uncharacteristically, since he’s always very deferential and loyal to Flo.

“I don’t know,” Flo shrugged. “I didn’t think I could bid it, since I had only one stopper in each of their red suits.”

“As a matter of fact,” said Sam, butting in since no one had asked for his opinion, “you didn’t just have a Game in No-Trump, you had a Grand Slam in No-Trump, as well as in Spade and in Clubs.”

“I don’t believe it,” said Flo. “We had only 25 points between the two of us.”

“Believe it,” said Sam. “You have all six tricks in Clubs, all five tricks in Spades and the two red Aces in our suits – that makes all 13 tricks, and there’s nothing we can do to stop you.”

“That darned snapdragon double of yours threw us off again,” lamented Flo.

“It shouldn’t have, though,” said Sam. “You can actually use it to your advantage. If we have a double fit in Hearts and Diamonds, you should know that you guys have a double fit in the black suits as well – and you hold all the cards since you have our two red Aces. You can’t pass our 3 Diamonds, Flo.”

“We could have had 2,220 points and we got only 150,” said Flo, shaking her head. “We gave you a swing of more than 2,000 points! I hate this game. I’m giving it up.”

“No, you won’t,” said Sam. “See you tomorrow, Flo.”

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