On the road: Doing the Charleston

CHARLESTON, SC – My partner Christine Matus and I “did the Charleston” in the week between Christmas and New Year’s, combining lots of bridge at the Mid-Atlantic Winter Regional duplicate tournament  (an ACBL-sanctioned event) in the cavernous Charleston Convention Center with some interesting sightseeing – and even some dancing after midnight on New Year’s Eve followed by a “low-country” breakfast.

In the end we danced away with my new Life Master ranking, and Christine’s new Bronze Life Master ranking as I went over the 300 MasterPoints and she passed the 500-mark.

The suspense went to the last minute because going into the last day of the old year and our last day at the tournament, I was at 299.91 points — .09 of a point away from that Life Master goal. Buy we nailed it the last day by placing fourth in a gold rush competition that got us 1.34 Red points. Both of us had all the special colored points we needed for our next rank, but Christine said gold rush was still a good place to earn points of any color – and she was right.

But we also placed first in the C category in an open pairs game, which earned us a free entry into the next event, and won points all four days we played in whatever event for a total of 8.68 points, so it was a successful trip in all aspects

Learning about the “Gullah” culture of the African slaves during a tour of the Boone House Plantation – so named because many of the slaves brought to coastal South Carolina came from the West African nation of Angola – was one of the highlights of our visit, as was the nightly banjo entertainment provided spontaneously by some of the bridge players before the evening sessions. (A power outage at the convention center that plunged hundreds of tables of bridge players into a sudden total darkness was another strange sidelight.)

It was a strange tournament where we didn’t too well when we thought we had performed decently — and when we thought we’d stunk up the joint with several bonehead plays, we actually did very well.

One board we were proud of was one from the Friday afternoon (Dec. 28) session, the first day we played, when we managed to put down a pair from Pawleys Island (a popular retirement community near Myrtle Beach where they play a lot of bridge) by two tricks in an attempted 3 No-Trump Game contract – when they actually should have been able to make an overtrick with their combined 28 points.

That hand was once again too good to pass up for a column on the “bridge burglar” theme of stealing good results, whether it’s on offense or on defense. The male Pawleys Island player with the South hand will become my column’s anti-hero Flustered Flo and go Down to a combination of his own inept play and our defensive trickery, and his female partner will become Loyal Larry with North. With the East hand, I am Smug Sam who always finds a way to best Flustered Flo (and rub her nose in it), and Christine will become my partner Shy Shem. She could do nothing but be shy with her one-point hand, but she picked up on my defensive signal, a lead-directing double.

The hand

North Dealer; neither side vulnerable

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

The bidding:

North                     East                        South                    West
Pass                        Pass                       1 No-Trump        Pass
2 *                      Double                  2                         Pass
3 No-Trump        All pass

* the 2   Stayman convention bid indicated a four-card major suit holding

Opening lead: 3 of Clubs

How Flustered Flo played it

The artificial bids that often follow a 1 No-Trump opening, like Stayman 2 Club bids indicating a four-card major or “transfer” bids, are a wonderful opportunity for the defense to throw in a lead-directing double. They know the bidders aren’t going to leave the double in, and it’s a great chance to give a partner valuable information.

On the diagrammed hand Flustered Flo played as South in a recent Regional duplicate tournament, she didn’t think she’d have much trouble bringing home a 3 No-Trump Game contract when she and her partner had a combined 28 points and seemingly a perfect No-Trump distribution.

But she had to play the hand against her nemesis Smug Sam, who sat East, and saw the chance to throw in a lead-directing double on the artificial 2 Clubs Stayman response (showing his four-card Heart major) by Flo’s partner Loyal Larry. That made Sam’s West partner Shy Shem, who otherwise didn’t have much to say, lead his singleton Club. If it hadn’t been for that double, Shem would have led a Spade – and after that Flo’s road the Game was going to be very easy.

Sam took his Club Ace and continued with the Queen. Flo held up her King for one trick to see what the exact Club distribution was and she got a little scared when West showed out on the second Club trick. She was forced to take her King on the third Club lead and discovered that she had only eight sure tricks – one in Clubs and Hearts and three each in Spades and Diamonds – so she’d have to pick up a 9th trick somewhere. A 3-3 split in Diamonds was unlikely, so she decided that setting up a trick in Hearts was a better bet.

So she went to the dummy with the Spade Ace and led a low Heart, hoping that East would have the Jack and West the King so she could finesse with the 10. Alas for Flo, Sam got in with the Heart King right away and ran his remaining Clubs for Down Two.

“You had to attack the Diamonds instead of the Hearts to get your ninth trick,” Sam told Flo after the slaughter was over.

“But I can’t count on a 3-3 split there,” Flo objected.

“True,” Sam conceded, “but since I was long in Clubs, I wasn’t likely to be long in Diamonds as well, and you had a 50% chance that the Jack would be on the short side. Your Heart play had much less than a 50% chance of success. With four Diamonds tricks, three Spades and one each in Hearts and Clubs, you had your Game.”

“You had a side entry with all your Clubs,” said Flo. “I’m surprised you didn’t double me.”

“And give you a doubled overtrick?” Sam exclaimed in horror. “Never!”

“I saw how I could have made the three bid, but how on earth could I have made an overtrick?” Flo asked.” Surely  I never have more than my nine tricks.”

“You shouldn’t hold up your Club King,” Sam explained. “You should take it right away and save a Club to come back to me.”

“Lead right into your long Clubs?” Flo protested. “I’d have to be crazy to do that!”

“It may be counter-intuitive, but it’s your best play,” Sam explained. “After taking the lead on the second trick with the Club King, you run out all your Diamonds and Spades. I’ve got to protect my Heart King so I can slough only one Heart. Thereafter, I have to part with two of my winning Clubs. You lead your last Club to me. I can take two more Club tricks, but then I have to lead from my Heart King, giving you a free finesse. All I get is three Club tricks – and you get an overtrick.”

“And I’m supposed to find that play at the table with the time pressure of the clock ticking away,” Flo protested. “I just wish I could ever get that good.”


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