Psyching ’em out in Mechanicsburg

MECHANICSBURG, PA – We had great confidence that the road crews would clear the Pennsylvania Turnpike overnight after last Friday’s snow event, and our confidence turned out to be entirely justified as my partner Christine Matus and I made it to this past weekend’s Sectional duplicate bridge tournament in Mechanicsburg without any problem in a about an hour and a quarter.

The Sectional had tried a new location, the Park Inn Hotel by Radisson, and at first the playing room looked very cozy with a fake fireplace, but when it turned out to be very difficult to get the temperature just right – it was either too hot or too cold – unfortunately they had to shut off the fireplace.

In the Saturday morning open pairs game we also went from very hot to very cold. We absolutely rocked at the start with top after top but toward the end of the session Christine’s brain got fried and we had a couple of bad rounds.

But by then we had accumulated enough good boards to still tie for first place in the X category for players with fewer than 1,000 MasterPoints (MPs). That 54.2% game earned us 1.42 Silver MPs. In the afternoon session with a stronger field – many good players apparently postponed their arrival due to the previous evening’s snow event – we scored just below 50% but came in first in the C stratification and earned another 1.65 MPs. More than 3 points in a day – not a bad haul!

Although the crowd was not quite as friendly as what we’d become used to on our recent gallivanting about the South, at some tables we were indeed able to engage in friendly banter.

When I raised Christine’s 2 No-Trump bid to Game in 3 NT, I remarked:

“I’ve never been able to refuse a lady’s invitation.”

“Well, don’t stop now,” Christine snapped back.

“If these guys’ bridge is as good as their lines,” said one of our opponents, “we’re in trouble, partner.”

We take that kind of remark as a challenge and we proceeded to kill them in that round, taking both boards off them with very good scores. On that first 3 NT contract, I squeezed out an extra overtrick to make 5, and on the second board, I absolutely stole a second 3 NT Game contract that I should not have been able to make with the help of a psych bid.

That steal is too good to pass up for a column on the Bridge Burglar theme. In reality, I played the hand as East, but to make my crime easier to follow, I’ll turn the hands around and will become South as I assume the role of Smug Sam. My partner Christine will play North as Sam’s partner, Shy Shem. Our unfortunate opponent with the East hand who had challenged us to make our bridge as good as our lines of dialogue, will assume the role of Flustered Flo, my column’s anti-hero who always gets bested by Smug Sam. Her West partner is Loyal Larry.

The hand

South Dealer; North-South vulnerable

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

The bidding

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

* 2 bid was alerted as an “inverted minor” bid showing strong hand with Club support

Opening lead: 6

How Flustered Flo played it

Flustered Flo has been snookered by her nemesis Smug Sam many times, but she can’t remember any time when Sam so totally fooled her as he did on the diagrammed deal played at a recent Sectional tournament in her district.

When dummy came down, Sam saw that once he could get the lead, he had eight sure tricks, two top Spades and six Clubs. He needed to manufacture only one additional trick to make his contract. Since West had bid Spades, he naturally assumed West had the Queen, so he tried to steal his ninth trick right away by playing the Jack from dummy. That ploy backfired when Flo came up with the Queen, forcing Sam to play his Ace.

If he’d played low from dummy, Sam had his ninth trick, but he missed that chance to make his contract, showing he’s human after all and doesn’t always show clairvoyance. Sam knew if his opponents ever found a Heart lead, he was dead, but he had to chance it, so next he tried to set up his ninth trick by leading the King of Diamonds.

Flo took her Ace, and, to please her partner, Loyal Larry, she returned a Spade. Sam took his King, collected the Queen of Diamonds and ran off his six Club tricks to make his contract, conceding the last three tricks.

“Let me see your cards,” Flo said after play was over and she grabbed Sam’s hand. “So let me see here … you made a rebid in 2 Hearts on a four-card suit to the 7?” she added, incredulously.

“Yes,” Sam replied, smug as always. “It’s known as a psych bid. I knew my partner wasn’t going to leave me there.”

“Shouldn’t that be alerted?” Flo asked.

“My partner can’t alert that,” Sam replied. “He’s as much in the dark about it as you are. It’s just intended to keep you from leading Hearts if we wind up in No-Trump – and apparently it worked. You guys had the lead twice and you didn’t find the killing Heart lead either time.”

“So if we lead Hearts, we set your contract?” Flo asked.

“Of course you do,” Sam admitted. “You take four Heart tricks right off the top and the Ace of Diamonds to put me Down One.”

“And how are we supposed to know that you don’t have any Hearts?” Flo asked. “How do we know if your bid is real or if it’s a psych bid?”

“You don’t,” said Sam, “that’s the whole point of a psych bid.”

“So how do I know to lead Hearts then?” Flo insisted.

“You must lead a Heart when you get in with your Ace of Diamonds, Flo,” Sam explained, “because it’s your only chance. You get to the Heart lead by process of elimination. You’re not going to lead a Club into dummy’s huge suit. You’re not going to lead a Diamond because I obviously have the Queen – otherwise I wouldn’t have led the King.

“And I’m not likely to have bid No-Trump over your partner’s Spades without a second Spade stopper, so by process of elimination a Heart lead is your only chance.”

“”That seems highly speculative to me,” said Flo.

“Okay then,” said Sam, “I’ll give you another more calculating reason why you should lead a Heart. Your partner made a 2 Spades bid on the second round after showing a passed hand. He had to have some points to make that bid. You already know he has no points in either of the minor suits. Maybe he does have the King of Spades. But that would give him only 3 points.  He has to have the Heart Ace – just do the simple math.”

“I must admit – I didn’t think of it that way,” said Flo, “but I still think your psych bid is a dirty rotten trick.”

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