Remember the Alamo

T.J. Singer, one of the regular tournament directors in South Florida employed by the American Contract Bridge League, had told us that he was going to the 4th of July Regional in San Antonio, TX, under a new ACBL “directors exchange” program to let them see how things are done in different parts of the country – and perhaps improve their own procedures if they see something they like.

T.J. was the only person we knew when my partner Christine and I arrived in San Antonio. He liked the exchange, although he wasn’t quite sure yet what specific changes he would recommend to chief Florida tournament director Harry Falk. He said in some ways at Texas tournaments there is more paperwork for directors, and in other ways, there is less, and things are a little more loosey-goosey.

From a different player’s perspective, we sort of felt the same way. Some things were better and some were worse. We liked the bags full of goodies all players were given upon registering; we liked the table mats with a picture of the Alamo – why not promote a little bit of tourism? – and we especially liked getting a sheet of free stickers with our names and ACBL numbers to paste onto tournament entry sheets instead of having to write them all out every time.

But we absolutely hated the fact that the tournament’s host chairman had apparently been unable to negotiate with the hotel for a separate little room to the side to conduct tournament business. As a result, during the day while playing we were most of the time “treated” to the constant clicking noise of the automatic dealing machine that was preparing boards for the next sessions. Christine said she was just about going bonkers from the irritating noises coming from the corner of the room.

It was hot in San Antonio all the week – high 90s every day – but we did some good eating of TexMex cuisine and Texas barbecue, and some great sightseeing. We did the Alamo, of course, and the unique Riverwalk on the lower level of the city, but what we enjoyed almost more was a tour we invented for ourselves of the other four missions at three-mile intervals south of the Alamo. The Concepcion, San Jose, San Juan and Espada missions are much less famous, but they gave us a much better idea of what life was like under the Spanish colonial and Mexican eras on what were then frontier outposts.

Our bridge during the week was so-so. We went as hot as the Texas summer heat the first three days, getting a total of 6.69 MasterPoints of the Gold and Red varieties in various pairs games, including the tough A/X/Y field, an average of more than 2 points a day. But then the last two days we were there, Friday and Saturday, we got as cold as the cranked-up air-conditioning in the hotel, getting shut out.

Probably our most satisfying result was a top we scored in the first session we played, the Tuesday afternoon side game, when we managed to steal a contract from our opponents with our still fairly new strategy of opening super-light in third seat – after two passes, if you’d overcall the hand, open it.

Christine opened a Heart on just 9 high-card points as South. After West bid 2 Diamonds, I raised her to 2 Hearts, and we were allowed to play 2 Hearts vulnerable, going Down One as we should have. The minus-100 was a top score for us and an absolute bottom for our opponents, who could have had Games in 4 Spades or 3 No-Trump. Our nameless West opponent with the big hand who should never have let us have the contract will be Flustered Flo in this episode of the adventures of the Bridge Burglar, while Christine will be her nemesis, Smug Sam. I’ll be Sam’s North partner, Shy Shem.

North Dealer; North-South vulnerable

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

The Bidding:

North East South West
Pass Pass 1 2
2 All Pass

Opening lead: Ace of Clubs

Flustered Flo knows that many bridge players these days open super-light in third seat, but she hasn’t quite figured out yet how to counter that strategy, especially when her nemesis Smug Sam is employing it.

Sitting West in a pairs game at a 4th of July Regional tournament, Flo knew she probably had the best hand around the table with her 17 high-card points, and she had been poised to open a No-Trump. But then – wouldn’t you know it? – Smug Sam opened a Heart in front of her.

Without anything resembling a Spade stopper, Flo didn’t think she could overcall a No-Trump anymore, so she bid 2 Diamonds. Sam’s North partner, Shy Shem, went to 2 Hearts, and after Flo’s own East partner, Loyal Larry, as well as Sam had passed, Flo was in the pass-out seat.

Should she let Sam have the contract in 2 Hearts? Or should she bid on – and if so, how and where? Should she double to make her partner bid, go to 3 Diamonds, or belatedly indicate her point strength by bidding 2 No-Trump? She couldn’t decide, so she just passed and hoped for the best.

The play was pretty routine. Flo collected her top Clubs and led a third Club to dummy’s Queen. Sam continued with dummy’s Jack of the trump suit to force out East’s King, and then quickly lost two Diamond tricks as the opponents executed a successful finesse on Sam’s King of Diamonds. Flo led back a third high Diamond that Sam ruffed, and Sam next forced out Flo’s Ace of the trump suit. Sam then had the rest of the tricks with good Spades, trumps and a Club to be Down One and give up 100 points. He had lost six tricks, 2 Hearts, 2 Diamonds and 2 Clubs, but taken the rest.

Sam didn’t seem unhappy about the result at all – no wonder; it turned out to be an absolute top for him and Shem and a bottom for Flo and Larry. All other East-West pairs had scored 420, 400, 170 or 140 for bidding and making 4 Spades or 3 No-Trump, bidding 2 or 3 Spades and making four, or bidding 2 or 3 Diamonds and making 4. No other North-South had been allowed to play any contract.

If the play had been routine, the post-mortem was anything but. The 4th of July fireworks outside were almost as loud as Flo’s protests.

“How dare you open with just 9 high-card points – and being vulnerable, no less?” Flo asked Sam. “Was that some kind of psych bid? I’m going to tell the director so they can start watching you!”

“Go ahead if you wish,” said Sam, smug as always. “We open super-light in third seat. It’s right here on our card. If you would overcall with the hand, we open it in third seat, and I would certainly have overcalled a Heart with it. You have only yourself to blame for your poor result, Flo. Don’t you think you gave up on the auction a little too soon with your big hand? My partner and I have a motto: ‘Never let ‘em play 2 Hearts!’ Apparently you don’t subscribe to that?”

“I didn’t know what to bid,” said Flo, rather defensively. “I figured you for a minimum of 12 points because you opened and your partner for a minimum of 6 because of his minimum raise. That left only a max of 5 points for my partner and with only 22 combined high-card points, I didn’t want to go to the 3 level without knowing if we had a fit. I hadn’t heard anything from my partner.”

“That’s your fault, too,” said Sam, piling on. “You underbid your hand the first time with a simple overcall of 2 Diamonds. Your hand is too big for that. You have to double or say One No-Trump to show your points. Then you’ll hear about your partner’s Spade suit and you’ll wind up in 3 or 4 Spades or 3 No-Trump.”

“Why couldn’t you just have passed, like everyone else with your hand?” asked Flo. “Then I can calmly open my One No-Trump and my partner and I can reach our ideal contract without all that interference.”

“That’s a laugh,” said Sam. “You know that if I possibly can, I’ll find any way to interfere with my opponents and so will most duplicate players these days. We’ll never make it easy for you – so you might as well get used to having to fight for your contracts.”

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