In Praise of Pre-empts

Personally I hate moving – I’ve done way too much of it during my life and don’t plan on ever moving again – but it must be said that a change of venue is good for some things.

Take the Jacksonville bridge tournament, traditionally held just before or around the 4th of July holiday and the smallest of Florida’s 9 or 10 Regionals. Situated at a nondescript Marriott hotel right off an I-95 freeway exit, table count was heading down every year.

So this year (2018) they moved it, less than a half-hour south along I-95 to he World Village of Golf Renaissance hotel in the Golf Hall of Fame complex, and renamed it the St. Augustine Regional, even though that charming old Spanish colonial city is just as far from the playing site as Jacksonville.

But the change of scenery was a huge success and table count was way up. Also, the big boys and girls who hadn’t bothered in the past with the small Jacksonville tournament showed up in force. My partner Christine and I played in a team knockout competition with our friends Dave LeBar and Mimi Klug and as we advanced in the event, we found ourselves surrounded by nothing but bridge celebrities – Jeff Meckstroth and Eric Rodwell at a table to one side, young Kevin Dwyer at another and some of Florida’s top players like Bob Dennard and pros Larry Griffey and Spike Lay next to us on our other flanks.

The hotel was nice – the organizers probably got a good deal in the hot and humid summer months when the golf nuts stay away. The only blackmark against it on the days we were there was a false fire alarm that woke everyone up at 6 a.m. During morning play, they continued to test the fire alarm system with sirens and flashing lights – we had been warned it was a test so we kept right on playing.

Apparently the tournament will continue to be a nomad for a while until it settles on a permanent home. It’s supposed to move again to the Sawgrass golf course resort also south of Jacksonville, a stop on the PGA tour which boasts the famous 17th green on an island in the middle of a large lake.

Our team did well enough, surviving two rounds of knockouts in the second-highest bracket of the Wednesday-Thursday Kos and holding our opponents, a team from Pensacola, to a virtual draw in the first round of the semifinals before we kind of fell apart in the second half and had a collective collapse. Getting to the semifinals earned all of us 6.40 Gold MasterPoints, which seemed to make everyone on the team happy enough, especially Dave, who completed his quota of Gold points needed to achieve his Life Master rank. Now all he needs are just some more black points which can be obtained anywhere, including local club games.

Christine and I stayed around after our knockout elimination and played a side game, coming in second in a field that included some very good players, and earned another 1.70 Red points.

One of our most satisfying results from the earlier knockout rounds we won was a board on which Dave and Mimi made a 4 Hearts contract at their table, while we set our opponents, Jan Rusu and Marilyn Cance, by one trick in another Game contract, 4 Spades. Why did the opponents at our table wind up in the wrong contract? Because I pre-empted at the 3 level with a weak hand, robbing them of the bidding room to find the right contract. The board shows the value of pre-empts.

Such a feat is worth a Bridge Burglar blog entry, with Jan Rusu, who made the wrong bid, assuming the role of my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, as the South Declarer, while I’ll be her nemesis, Smug Sam, as East. Flo is playing with her usual West partner, Loyal Larry (Marilyn Cance, who incidentally got her Life Master rank at the tournament), while Christine is my West partner as Shy Shem.

East dealer; neither side vulnerabl

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

The Bidding

East South West North
(Smug Sm) (Flustered Flo) (Shy Shem) (Loyal Larry)
3 3 Pass 4
All pass

Opening lead: 6 of Clubs

The main value of pre-emptive bids is often not so much being able to steal a contract from your opponents with a minority of the high-card points, but the fact that you take one or two levels of bidding room away and make it much harder for them to find the right place to be in the auction.

Flustered Flo found that out on the diagrammed hand from a recent Regional tournament in her home state when she had opening points as South opposite a good hand of her partner, Loyal Larry, who as North held a legitimate One No-Trump opener. But even with a full opener opposite a strong 1 NT hand, she couldn’t find the right Game contract and went down in 4 Spades.

The board was dealt in a Swiss team competition and at the other table, the other team easily reached 4 Hearts and made it. Even more galling for Flo was the fact that she played the board against her perennial nemesis, Smug Sam, since a large contingent of players from her home club had made the trek to the Regional.

The reason Flo didn’t find the right contract was that Sam interfered in the auction with a 3 Clubs pre-emptive bid at the start. At the other table, Flo’s teammate playing the East hand did not open it and remained silent. South then opened a Spade, North responded 2 Hearts, South raised to 3 Hearts and North easily bid and made 4 Hearts.

But Sam’s 3 Club opening made for a totally different auction. Flo thought she had to get in there right away so she overcalled 3 Spades, and her North partner Larry, knowing that they belonged in Game but unable to take a shot in the dark on either one of his red suits, raised her to 4 Spades.

Sam took his two top Clubs on the first two tricks, and exited with another Club, which Flo ruffed. But once she got the lead, there was no way that Flo could prevent losing another two tricks to Shy Shem’s King and Jack of the trump suit, so she was down one.

“We were in the wrong contract,” Flo moaned to Larry afterward. “We belonged in 4 Hearts, not Spades.”

“Don’t worry, partner,” said Larry, always loyal to Flo to a fault. “The same thing will probably happen at the other table.”

But, comparing the scores later, they found out that the same thing had not happened at the table, where the East hand had not opened 3 Clubs and North-South had easily reached 4 Hearts, so with the two positive scores, Sam’s team was up 10 International MatchPoints (IMPs) on the board.

Flo rushed back over to Sam’s table. “Wait a minute,” she said. “Did you open 3 Clubs with just six Clubs? You were supposed to have seven for that bid! What kind of dirty trick did you pull on us now?”

“No dirty trick, Flo,” said Sam, smug as always. “In Clubs we pre-empt at the 3 level with a six-card suit because 2 Clubs is everyone’s strong opening. We only do it when we’re not vulnerable. It’s right here on our convention card, Flo. Our pre-empts are very light.”

“But you tripped me up,” protested Flo. “You took all this bidding room away from us so we couldn’t find our fit in Hearts.”

“Well, pardon me for saying so, Flo,” replied Sam, “but that’s exactly the point, of course.”

“So how could we have found our fit in 4 Hearts after your sly interference?” Flo asked.

“Double instead of bidding your Spades,” said Sam. “Your partner will be glad to jump to 4 Hearts right away.”

“But I was afraid that he’d bid 4 Diamonds,” Flo demurred.

“If that’s what he would bid, then maybe that’s where you belonged,” said Sam. “The point is to give him a chance to describe his hand to you instead of just barging in and insisting on your suit. It’s a partnership game, Flo.”

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