Of Slams and Captains

In all the time we’ve been playing bridge, my partner Christine and I can’t recall ever having had a stretch of games like this. At a club pairs game on Tuesday of this past week, we bid and made no fewer than five Slams on pre-dealt boards, more than anyone else in the field across three sections – the next closest competitors bid and made only four Slams and most pairs had only one.

Then on Saturday in an 8-is-enough team game with our friends Gary B. Smith and Nancy Faigen, with hands we shuffled and dealt ourselves, we bid and made another five Slams, while our opponents playing the same hands at the other table found only one of them.

Actually, at The Common Game on Tuesday (10-30-2018), there were a total of eight Slams to be had for East-West, but one of them was on a board that we didn’t play. So out of the 7 possible Slams for us, we bid and made 5. On the sixth, we bid it but went Down One because we wound up playing it out of the wrong West hand – it would have made with East as the Declarer.

And on the 7th and final possible Slam, we actually got a top score anyway, playing the contract in 3 No-Trump and making 6, while we missed a Slam in 6 Diamonds that obviously no one else found, either.

Incidentally, there were also three Slams to be had for the North-South pairs, but no one found any of those against us.

So all in all, it was a truly charmed day for Slam fiends like us at the bridge table. We did finish first overall at our club with a 63% game, and since it was a special club championship game – talk about a charmed day! – we earned a full 6 MasterPoints. (On Saturday in the team game, our Slams propelled us to three victories against one loss, which tied us with three other teams, but on victory points we had to settle for fourth place (2nd in the B stratification) for 1.34 MasterPoints, half red and half black because it was a qualifying game for the Grand National Teams competition.)

Ironically, for the match-point pairs game that we won, when we compared our scores against the pars on the hand records, it appeared that we hadn’t had that good a day. We played 12 boards better than par, three at par, and another 12 at below the par score for a supposedly mediocre day, which shows how meaningless the statistic of pluses and minuses really is. Many of our minuses were because we did not bid the possible Grand Slams. Nobody found them anyway and they weren’t really biddable.

A plus or a minus against the par score means nothing – the only thing that matters is how you compare against the rest of the field, and on a day when we found Slams that others didn’t, that’s all that counted.

We did not think that most of the Slams we bid were all that difficult and we didn’t get there with any special gadgets. We just gave each other the best possible descriptions of our hands and as a result, made a correct assessment of combined hand strength with points and distribution.

Ironically, the most difficult Slam to bid, which no one else at our club reached, and on which we got a 98.6% score in The Common Game (meaning only one or two other pairs across the whole country found it), was one on which we were missing two Aces and I actually started the auction with a snafu. I was 5-5 in the minors and I should have opened with a Diamond instead of a Club, but two Diamonds were stuck together in my hand and I thought I had only four Diamonds, so I opened a Club instead.

We still managed to get to the 6 Clubs Slam on 26 combined high-card points, and that achievement is worth a Bridge Burglar blog entry. As noted, we played East-West, but to make play easier to follow, I’ll turn the board around and make myself the South Declarer. My West opponent who had been quite confident she could set me with an Ace and a King (her East partner also had an Ace and a King) will become my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo. I’ll be her nemesis, Smug Sam, as the South Declarer who made the unlikely contract.

I’m playing with my usual North partner, Shy Shem (Christine), while Flo is paired up with her normal cohort at the bridge table, Loyal Larry.

East Dealer; neither side vulnerable

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

The bidding

East South West North
(Loyal Larry) (Smug Sam) (Flustered Flo) (Shy Shem)
Pass 1 Pass 2 *
Pass 2 Pass 4 NT **
Pass 5 *** Pass 5 ****
Pass 6 All pass

*inverted minors, showing at least an opening hand with at least 5 Clubs
**Blackwood convention asking for Aces
***showing one Ace
****asking partner to sign off in 5 No-Trump

Opening lead: Ace of Hearts

In every auction there is usually a captain, who places the contract at the right level and in the right suit or strain, and a private who just follows the captain’s orders.

Usually the captain is the responder to the opener and often he or she doesn’t have the stronger of the two hands. But the captain knows more about his/her partner’s hand and therefore is in the best position to place the contract in the right spot.

It’s part of traditional bridge wisdom that the private should not override the captain and try to become a general – that’s often a recipe for disaster. But, as with everything else in bridge, there are no iron-clad mandates and there are exceptions to every so-called “rule.” The top bridge players know how to recognize the special situations that call for breaking the rules.

Flustered Flo ran into one such situation with the West hand on the diagrammed deal at a club game against her nemesis, Smug Sam, who sat South. She had an Ace and a King and even though she didn’t think she could double, she was pretty confident of beating the 6 Clubs Slam that Sam and his North partner, Shy Shem, seemed to have stumbled into.

She led her Heart Ace on the opening trick and was disappointed to see it gobbled up by Sam with a ruff, but she still had her King of Spades and her partner was sure to have something, too. Sam went to the dummy with the King of Diamonds and ruffed another Heart in his hand, and then led a low trump to dummy’s King and Larry’s Ace from the East hand.

Now the defense already had one trick and all they’d need to beat the contract was one more and Flo’s hopes rose. Larry led the King of Hearts to make Sam ruff again in his hand and Sam then led the Queen of Spades. Flo didn’t have much under her King so she ducked it, and Sam let the Queen ride. He then led the Jack of trumps to pull Larry’s last Club, and led a top Diamond to dump a Spade loser from dummy, claiming the rest of the tricks with dummy’s trumps and the Ace of Spades.

Sam had made his 6 Clubs Small Slam for a plus-920 score on a combined 26 high-card points, a Slam that was unbeatable although no one else at her club had bid and made it, making it an absolute top for Sam and Shem, and yet another bottom board for Flo and Larry.

“How did you stumble into that Slam?” Flo angrily asked Sam. “You seemed to be 5-5 in the minors, so how come you opened a Club instead of a Diamond?”

“To tell you the honest-to-God truth, Flo,” said Sam, smug as always, “two of my Diamonds were stuck together and I thought I had only four Diamonds. Hey, those things happen. I tried to recover from my gaffe during the auction by bidding the Diamonds later. I probably confused my partner and I’m sorry about that.”

“Not sorry enough for us,” said Flo. “Didn’t your partner ask you to sign off in 5 No-Trump because you were missing two Aces and he knew you couldn’t make Slam? Aren’t you supposed to let him be the captain and do what he says?”

“Normally, yes,” said Sam. “But there’s an exception to every rule. Because of my distribution, I knew something that my partner didn’t. I didn’t really have a full opening with high-card points. I only opened because I had a six-loser hand with my void and that was good enough to open. But we had no way of even making 5 No-Trump – we’d go Down Three. And I knew something else that my partner had no idea about – I had a void in Hearts which was likely very valuable and could be as good as an Ace. That’s why I had to go over my captain’s head this time.”

“No one else will bid that Slam,” Flo lamented. “But there’s nothing we could have done to stop you. Just our bad luck to get to play that hand against you and get a zero. Can’t you show a little sympathy for us at least?”

“You know where you can find sympathy, Flo?” quipped Sam. “In the dictionary, between shit and syphilis.”



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