North of the Border

There are two major impressions my partner Christine and I took away from spending almost a week at the 2017 summer North American Bridge Championships in Toronto, Canada. On one hand, it was great to see so many friends from Florida, Canada, as well as from our former haunts in the Philadelphia-Delaware area, and even newfound friends from places like Texas where we’ve gone for other tournaments. Bridge players may sometimes be a bit strange, but they are a real community.

On the other, it was distressing to see that at major tournaments, perhaps due to increased competitive pressures, not enough has been done to enforce the zero-tolerance policy to guarantee everyone a pleasant experience. We did notice several incidents of bullying, intimidation or just plain bad behavior.

One player accused Christine of being “very unethical” because she bid 3 Diamonds after I had thought for a few extra seconds about my bid before passing. He inferred that she made her bid only because of unauthorized information gained from my alleged hesitation. The man backed off when Christine invited him to call the director. She’d already decided to bid 3 Diamonds if I passed, and pass if I bid it. I had bid both red suits (I was 5-5 in them), while Christine was void in Hearts with a five-card Diamond suit, so her bid was totally legit. Anyone would have made it, with or without an alleged hesitation.

Christine was still upset about the “unethical” accusation the whole next round, and when we had a moment later, we consulted a director about it. He confirmed the accusation had been a violation of the zero-tolerance policy, but we were a bit late in raising it several rounds after the fact.

On another occasion, a player threw his cards down as Declarer, saying “Down One – you get your high trump.” When Christine asked him to explain how he would take the rest of the tricks but one, he gruffly said he didn’t have to explain anything. A different director was called and eventually upheld the claim, but she also said the Declarer did have a duty to explain his intended line of play. Lesson learned: When you’re not sure about a claim, never ask the Declarer to “play it out.” Simply call a director, and if there is any way the claim could have failed, the Director will award an extra trick to the non-claiming part.

Christine and I started off terribly in Toronto. For the first three days, playing in two-session pairs events in strong fields, we could never even crack the 50% barrier. The trouble with those events is that if you don’t do well during the first session, you don’t have much of an incentive to keep playing your best.

Our confidence was shaken when Vero Beach snowbirds Ibby El-Raheb and Diane Marus, hungry for gold, asked us to play Swiss teams with them. Needing a change of format, we agreed and placed third in our bracket, earning 4.02 Gold MasterPoints, to Diane’s delight. We’d been in first place after five of the seven rounds, but an unfortunate passive lead in the last round let our opponents make a Game contract with overtricks and set us back just a bit – the contract was set at the other table.

From that point on, Christine and I just played in three consecutive side games and did well in all. We scored 52% the first two times earning small amounts of points and then wound up with our best show, coming in first over-all with a 63% score, two full points ahead of anyone else. Overall, we left Toronto with more than 10 MasterPoints, the vast majority of them gold, so we were satisfied.

One of the most satisfying boards was from the side game we won; with the points were split 20-20, I managed to make a 4 Spades Game contract which I should not have made, while the opponents had their choice of Games and even a Slam that they didn’t find – because of very favorable distribution, they could have had 5 No-Trump, 5 Clubs and even 6 Hearts. We got a 68% score on the board.

The West opponent who failed to see the true value of her hand will assume the role of Flustered Flo in this episode of the Bridge Burglar’s adventures, while I’m her nemesis, Smug Sam, as South. Christine is Sam’s North partner, Shy Shem, while Flo is playing, as usual, with her East partner, Loyal Larry.

West Dealer; neither side vulnerable

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

The Bidding:

West North East South
2 Double 4 4
All Pass

Opening lead: 10 of Hearts

On some hands, distribution is everything and you don’t pay too much attention to what you’re supposed to need in the way of high-card points to make a certain bid. Those are often called points-schmoints hands.

Flustered Flo was unable to see the true value of her West hand on the diagrammed deal played at the 2017 summer Nationals in Toronto, and as a result, got a 32% score on the board while giving her opponents, who happened to be her old nemesis from back home, Smug Sam, and his partner Shy Shem, a 68% game that propelled them to first place in the side game.

Against Sam’s 4 Spades contract, Flo led her top Heart; dummy covered with the Jack, Flo’s partner Loyal Larry produced the Queen and Sam ruffed the trick. Sam then lost the finesse on the trump King, and Larry cashed in his Club Ace before returning a Diamond lead to Flo’s Ace. But those were the only three tricks Flo and Larry took, as Sam easily won the rest to make his 4 Spades contract.

“That was a bit daring of you, to go to Game in 4 Spades on just 3 high-card points, wasn’t it?” Flo asked Sam afterward.

“My bid was mostly a sacrifice,” Sam admitted, “meaning that you had to bid on or double.”

“But what could I have bid?” Flo asked. “After opening with a pre-empt, you’re not supposed to bid again, and I had only 6 points.”

“There you go again with your so-called ‘rules’,” said Sam, smug as always. “This was a true points-schmoints hand. The value of your hand just shot up when I bid Spades. The void in our suit was huge. Now you know you have close to opening points yourself and you know your partner has openers-plus because of his jump raise to Game. So you can go to 5 Hearts, or even ask for Aces with 4 No-Trump and go to 6 when he gives you two. You know that my partner has a big hand since he doubled and with him sitting in front of your partner’s big hand should give you favorable finesses. You also have 5 No-Trump or 5 Clubs, by the way.”

“I didn’t look at it that way,” Flo admitted. “You said I had to bid or double, but surely I can’t double your 4 Spades because you made it.”

“Actually, you could have set me and taken four tricks,” said Sam, “but admittedly it was tricky. You have to lead a Club to your partner’s Ace on the first trick. Then he returns the 7 of Diamonds, high-low from his doubleton. You have to let the first Diamond go and wait till I start drawing trump. When he gets in with his King of the trump suit, he returns his last Diamond to your Ace, and you return a Diamond to give him a ruff for your fourth trick and Down One.”

“So we gave you 420 points and we could have had 980 for our Slam?” Flo asked. “That’s pathetic.”

“Not quite,” said Sam. “You can bid the 6 Hearts, but I’ll sac in 6 Spades. That goes Down 3 doubled for a minus-500, so the swing isn’t quite as big.”

“If you’re trying to make me feel a little better,” said Flo, rather despondently, “it isn’t working.”

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