Optimists don’t fare well in Reston

RESTON, Va – I should have known better than to try and squeeze in a late-night bridge game after the annual visit to my tax accountant, which is always a pretty exhausting exercise. But since I still use the same accountant who has served me well since the days I lived in the DC area in the ‘80s and ‘90s, that’s exactly what I did Wednesday night at the Reston, VA, bridge club,

At the Reston Community Center, a very nice facility, I was surprised to see Marshall Kuschner collect my $8 entry fee (for which we also got some very nice snacks, I hasten to add). He had been the director at this past weekend’s Black-Eyed Susan Spring Sectional duplicate tournament in the Baltimore suburbs and he had been at my table for several directors’ calls, so I don’t know if he remembered me fondly or not – but he certainly remembered me.

I got hooked up on a blind date with Howard Bender, a retired college professor and dean who now dabbles in computer translation software, and more importantly a true gentleman and a very nice guy as well as very good bridge player. He had become available to me as a partner because he just lost his regular guy, someone who had moved barely 10 miles away.

Traffic in DC’s Northern Virginia suburbs has become so horrendous in the evening rush hour that people just don’t want to venture that far to play bridge anymore. I was also surprised not to see a single familiar face since I had just recently on another visit to DC played at the Knights of Columbus in Arlington, VA – people apparently don’t make the trip from that area, either.

Howard and I did not do well, finishing next-to-last in the tough Open game with a percentage in the high 30s. According to the hand records, we played much better, doing better than par on 12 boards and scoring under par on just 11, while playing the remaining four boards at par. The problem was that many of our minuses were absolute zeroes.

Even though Howard and I seemed to be on the same page when we hastily prepared a convention card, several times we did not understand each other later during the auctions on rebids. I thought he was encouraging me to go to Game when he meant to give a “stop” bid, and I thought he wanted me to bid when he launched a penalty double at the 2 level. In general, we tended to over-bid, which showed, as Howard said later in a post-mortem, that we both tend to be incorrigible optimists – not the worst thing to be in the world.

Howard and I did get a few good boards, and at least one of our tops will become a column on the “bridge burglar” theme when we managed to steal an overtrick that no one else made, staying in a 3 Spades contract and making an overtrick. What helped us was that many other pairs went to Game in either 3 No-Trump or 4 Spades on the hand and no Game makes against the best defense. We, on the other hand, stayed at 3 Spades and made the overtrick.

I really sat East but to make the play easier to follow, I’ll turn the hands around and make myself South as I assume the identity of Smug Sam. My partner Howard becomes North as Sam’s partner Shy Shem – and he was pretty shy by never re-bidding his 12-point hand, but that was exactly the right thing to do. Our unfortunate West opponent who failed to find the right defensive lead will become my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo. Her East partner is Loyal Larry again.

The hand

West Dealer; both sides vulnerable

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

The bidding

West North East South
Pass 1 Pass 1
Pass Pass Double Pass
2 Pass Pass 2
Pass Pass 3 Clubs 3
All pass

Opening lead: Ace

How Flustered Flo played it

Numerous times Flustered Flo has seen her nemesis Smug Sam drive her up too high to put her down. So on the diagrammed deal at a recent club game when Flo sat West and Sam was South, Flo thought the shoe was on the other foot as she finally got a chance to drive Sam up.

Flo was very happy to see her East partner, Loyal Larry, launch a take-out double when it looked like Sam might end up playing a partial One Spade contract. Flo and Larry had made a pact to try and never let their opponents play a contract at the one or two level if they have anything at all to interfere with.

Flo bid 2 Clubs in response to the double, and when Sam kept bidding Spades, her partner Larry even raised to 3 Clubs, forcing Sam to go to 3 Spades, even though Sam and his partner in the end declined to go to Game.

Clubs was their suit, so Flo led the Ace, followed by a small Club, hoping to find another top honor in Larry’s hand because of his support bid.  Unfortunately for her, Sam took the second Club trick with the King and immediately drove out Larry’s Ace of trumps.  Larry led a Heart back to Sam’s Ace, allowing Sam to finish drawing trumps and then run the Hearts, dumping a Diamond loser out of his hand. He gave up one Diamond trick and claimed the rest, making his contract with an overtrick.

Sam didn’t seem too distraught about missing the Game bonus on the hand, and indeed, the 170 score for North-South turned out to be tops on the board. All other North-South pairs had either gone for Game in 3 No-Trump or 4 Spades and gone Down One, or had been limited to 9 tricks in a partial Spades contract. The overtrick put Sam and Shem a notch above the rest.

“You did well passing all my bids, partner,” Sam told Shem. “Game just isn’t there even though I did make the overtrick. We should have two Diamond losers, but I managed to get rid of one of them.”

“I don’t understand,” said Flo. “I’m finally able to drive you up to the maximum of your ability with aggressive interference bidding, and I still get a bottom. What did I do wrong this time?”

“You not only have to bid the hand right, Flo,” said Sam, smug as always, “you’ve got to play it right, too.”

“So what did I do wrong there?” Flo asked.

“Your opening lead of the Club Ace gave it to me,” Sam answered.

“But that was our suit,” Flo protested. “My partner had supported me in it. Why shouldn’t I lead it? And what should I lead instead then?”

“You should lead a Diamond instead,” Sam explained. “Then, after your partner gets in with the trump Ace, he leads a Club to your Ace. You come back with a Diamond and you guys get two Diamond tricks all day long – and I don’t get an overtrick.”

“How do I know that I should lead a Diamond and not a Club?” Flo asked.

“You have one very good reason NOT to lead a Club,” said Sam. “You have too big a hole between your Ace and your Jack and you have no guarantee your partner has the King.  And you have two good reasons to lead a Diamond. You have a nice doubleton that might give you a ruff, and you’re probably leading through strength since my partner opened a Diamond. Remember that old rhyme: ‘Dummy on the right, lead the weakest thing in sight; dummy on the left, lead through heft.’”

“So I had three different reasons to make the right lead and I couldn’t find any of them,” said Flo, feeling herself getting flustered again.

“You said it, Flo, I didn’t,” shrugged Sam.

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