A rough and tumble game of kitchen bridge

Who says “kitchen bridge” is boring, low-level and unlikely to provide any kind of learning?

Duplicate tournament players may look down upon kitchen bridge for all those reasons and more, but a hand I played Saturday night in the lovely North Wilmington home of Chet and Barbara Thayer at their kitchen table during a dinner-and-bridge party belies all of those stereotypes.

On the deal diagrammed below, I was playing South and my partner and fellow-invitee Christine Matus was North. Between the two of us we had a pretty remarkable hand and we were surely headed for Slam. But when Barbara interfered in our bidding with her East hand on the strength of her long Diamonds, we had to shift gears and consider whether we could earn more points by doubling her than by going for our own probable Slam. Of course vulnerability was a major consideration.

As South I opened 1 No-Trump and after Chet’s pass as West, my partner Christine dutifully mentioned her five-card major suit first with a transfer bid of 2 Diamonds. Things got interesting when Barbara Thayer as East interfered with 3 Diamonds. As South I was pretty sure we could make Game in 4 Hearts, but we weren’t vulnerable and they were, so I doubled. I figured that even without any help from my partner, I had four tricks in her trump suit and my two side Aces for Down Two doubled vulnerable and a plus-500 score, possibly more, while a non-vulnerable Game for us would be only 420 points.

Chet passed as West and then things got a little silly. Christine decided she didn’t want the Down points. She wanted Slam, so she tried to keep the auction going by bidding 4 Clubs, but she mistakenly made an insufficient bid of 3 Clubs. Barbara immediately seized the chance to get out of her doubled pickle and accepted the bid, after which I bid Game at 4 Hearts. Then Chet pulled out a 3 Spades card. “If she can make an insufficient bid, why can’t I?” he said, with some logic, but he was shouted down and made to withdraw his bid. Christine then raised me to a Small Slam in 6 Hearts, which I made.

That was 980 points, but Christine should have left the double in because we would have set Barbara by 5 tricks for a much bigger 1,400 score.

In any event, the hand is so unusual that it deserves a column. Christine will play the part of my column’s anti-hero Flustered Flo, who always gets bested by her nemesis Smug Sam, while I will become Flo’s partner Loyal Larry.

The hand

South Dealer; East-West vulnerable

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

The bidding

South West North East
1 No-Trump Pass 2 * 3
Double Pass 4 Pass
4 Pass 6 All pass

*transfer bid indicating a five-card Heart suit

Opening lead: 2 of

How Flustered Flo played the hand

The possibility of a Slam makes any bridge player’s adrenaline pump a little faster. When Flustered Flo smelled a Slam on the diagrammed hand with the North cards, she went for it – even though she had a better score available to her elsewhere.

She knew her partner Loyal Larry’s double of East’s 3 Diamonds interference bid was for penalties. Larry surely thought they could score 500 points with Down Two, which would be more than a non-vulnerable Game their way in Hearts (only 420 points).  But Flo wanted Slam, so she kept the auction going by bidding her 6-card minor suit in Clubs and eventually they would up in 6 Hearts.

Larry let the opening lead of the Diamond ride to East’s Ace, sloughing the Spade loser from dummy. West ruffed the return Diamond lead, but Larry was able to over-ruff in dummy and thereafter East-West were through. After drawing two rounds of trumps, Larry unblocked the high Clubs from his hand, went to dummy with the Spade Ace and claimed with the remaining Clubs to make his Slam contract for a 980-point score.

“Aren’t you glad that I didn’t leave your double in and continued to Slam?” Flo asked her partner Larry, beaming with pride.

“I’m not sure,” Larry replied. He was hesitant to burst Flo’s bubble, since he’s always very loyal to her, but he couldn’t help himself and had to point out that the double might have produced more points for them because of the vulnerability.

“What can be better than a Slam?” Flo asked dismissively. “We’ll get a top or a tie for tops here – mark my words.”

Flo quickly had to eat her words when the scores at the end of the game revealed that her nemesis Smug Sam, who had also played North, got a top on the board by leaving the double by his South partner Shy Shem in and collecting 1,400 points for Down Five doubled vulnerable.

“Did you really put them Down Five on that board?” Flo asked Sam afterward.

“Sure did,” Sam replied, smug as always. “At our table East interfered as well with her 3 Diamonds bid and when my partner doubled, I let it stand. We got two tricks each in Hearts and Clubs, plus the Ace of Spades and my partner got four trump tricks. We got 9 tricks and they made only 4.”

“But how come you left your partner’s double in when you knew you had Slam?” Flo asked.

“Here’s my reasoning,” Sam replied. “To double 3 Diamonds for penalties, my partner had to have at least 6 sure tricks by himself on his hand alone. He had no idea yet how strong I was. I could very well have had five little Hearts and 6 points or fewer. I knew I had a lot of extra values. Sure, they were probably enough for Slam, but they were also enough to give us two more tricks on defense to add to my partner’s tricks for the double. So if he was looking at plus-500 with his double, I thought I could make than plus-1,100 with my hand. Getting 1,400 was a bonus, but even 1,100 was more than our Slam.”

“Don’t I get any style points for greater aggression?” asked Flo. “Shouldn’t going for Slam count for something?” Flo asked.

“Afraid not,” said Sam. “The only thing that counts is the final score, Flo, and that’s where you lost.”

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