Peace in the Middle East?

The last couple of times my partner Christine and I played bridge in South Florida, we noticed something peculiar. Every time you play in South Florida, the game always has a number of professionals with their clients, who pay them a minimum of $200 per club game – more for Sectional tournaments.

Even more curiously, the pros always include a handful of Arabs – and most of their clients are rich old Jewish ladies. The Arabs and the Jews seem to get along just fine in South Florida at the bridge table.

“Yes, it’s true,” said one Jewish lady whose friends often hire an Arab pro. “We get along quite well here. They’re nice boys. They’re Egyptians. They’re different from most of the other Arabs. Between Israel and Egypt, we have no problems.” True enough, Egypt’s long bridge culture has produced strong bridge players like Omar Sharif who authored a bridge column and died last year in Paris.

One of the places we played bridge last week was the St. Cat’s club in West Palm Beach, where a couple of Bentleys are always parked, to say nothing of the Mercedeses and Lexuses. The St. Cat’s club plays at St. Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Church, which is literally just this side of the bridge across the Intracoastal Waterway from Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, now the Florida White House.

The locals don’t think much of the havoc Trump causes every time he spends a weekend here, although they’re glad that he’s now promised to helicopter in and not tie up the streets with his motorcades.

(By the way, could that Eastern Orthodox church just across the Intracoastal from Trump’s Florida White House be another Russian connection?)

Trump promised in the campaign he’d try to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict – so maybe while he’s spending time here he ought to check out the bridge scene to see what makes them click there. If Mrs. Bibi Netanyahu hired Mahmoud Abbas for a card game, at least they’d have to agree on a convention card – and that could lead to other agreements. In the last century, the U.S. and China broke the ice through “ping-pong” diplomacy, so maybe “bridge diplomacy” can bring peace to the Middle East.

Apart from the club game at St. Cat’s, we ran into the same Egyptian pros at Stuart’s Silver Sectional at the Khatib Bridge Center, the home club of Harry Falk, Florida’s chief director. We played just the first day (3-31-2017), coming in under 50% in the morning when we made three huge mistakes, but recovering nicely in the afternoon with a 53% game that netted us .55 Silver MasterPoints.

Our best board of the day was an absolute top on which I made 3 Clubs for 110 points on a combined 19 high-card points while our opponents had 21. They let me play 2 Clubs when I dared make a skimpy overcall which no one else had the guts to do. Also they mis-defended and let me make an overtrick, instead of setting me and putting me down one as they should have.

My East opponent who had the best hand around the table but didn’t play it very well will be Flustered Flo in this latest episode of the adventures of the Bridge Burglar, while I’ll be her nemesis, Smug Sam, with the South Declarer hand. Christine is my North partner, Shy Shem, while Flo is playing, as usual, with her partner Loyal Larry in the West seat.

North Dealer; neither side vulnerable

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

The Bidding

North East South West
Pass 1 2 All Pass

Opening lead: 5 of Hearts

Flustered Flo hates it when she knows she has the best hand around the table, but somehow the opponents manage to steal the bid away from her. When she thinks she’s going to play the hand as Declarer, making the mental shift is difficult for her when she suddenly find herself on defense.

That was the case on the diagrammed hand played recently at a Sectional tournament near her home when Flo had a nice 15-points-plus-a-singleton hand as East. She was happy to open with a Heart and even considered a second-round jump if her partner would bid anything.

But the smile ran away from her face when her nemesis, Smug Sam, overcalled 2 Clubs from the South seat. Her West partner, Loyal Larry, passed, as did Sam’s North partner, Shy Shem, leaving Flo in a pickle. She had the distinct feeling the hand was hers, but she didn’t have a rebid. If she bid Hearts again, she’d promise her partner a six-card suit, which she didn’t have; she couldn’t bid No-Trump with a singleton Spade and she couldn’t double the 2 Clubs. Her partner Larry would then be forced to bid, and if he really had nothing, who knew where they’d wind up and it would probably be too high.

So all she could do was pass, gnashing her teeth in frustration all the way.

Since she had bid Hearts, her partner Loyal Larry obediently led the Heart 5. When Sam played low from dummy, Flo won the trick with the Queen and led back her singleton Spade. Sam ducked the trick from his hand, and so did Larry in the West, allowing Sam to win the trick in dummy with the 9.

When Sam next led a small trump from dummy, Flo jumped up with her Ace and wasn’t very happy when Larry’s Queen fell under it. Flo next collected her Ace of Diamonds and continued with the Diamond 10 to Sam’s King. Sam next ruffed a Diamond in dummy, led dummy’s Jack of trumps and came back to his hand with trump, finessing Flo’s 10 and drawing out her last trump.

Sam then led the Heart 9 to force out Flo’s Ace, but he had the rest with his last trump and good Spades and Hearts. He’d made his contract with an overtrick, leaving Flo only with her Ace-Queen of Hearts and the two minor-suit Aces. The plus-110 score was an absolute top for Sam and Shem – and thus an absolute bottom for Flo and Larry, which made her none too happy.

“How dare you overcall at the 2 level with just 10 points and that flimsy Club suit headed by King-empty?” Flo glared at Sam.

“We weren’t vulnerable,” shrugged Sam, smug as always, “and I knew you weren’t likely to double anyway, so what did we have to lose?”

“Tell me this,” said Flo, “what should I have done after your b.s. bid?”

“Well, curiously enough the best possible contract on the hand is 4 Diamonds by North, but you’re never going to bid Diamonds on your three-card suit,” explained Sam. “And you can’t really make your partner bid because he’d start bidding Spades over Diamonds and that would be a disaster. So all you can do is resign yourself to the fact that you’re not on offense anymore and resolve to play better defense.”

“So where did I go wrong there?” asked Flo. “I know I probably shouldn’t have played my Ace of trump so quickly, but I wanted to save all my little trumps for ruffing Spades.”

“That would require getting into your partner’s hand and you had no idea how,” said Sam. “You worked so hard on getting ruffs yourself, that you overlooked an easy way to give your partner a ruff.”

“How could I do that?” Flo asked.

“On the second trick you take the Ace of Hearts and come back a small Heart,” Sam explained. “I can’t afford to ruff high with the King, so I have to pitch a Diamond and let your partner ruff with his singleton Queen. That gives you one extra trick besides your four sure tricks, and later you get another one with either a Diamond or a Spade ruff. The contract should be Down One instead of plus one.”

“Sometimes I find it hard to shift from offense to defense – I was intent on playing the hand,” said Flo.

“It showed, Flo,” said Sam.

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