Sam’s chutzpah Slam

My partner Christine and I needed a change of venue to break out of another mini-slump. A handful of times at a variety of sites in Florida and Georgia we had scored in the 40s or the low 50s and come away without points, despite the fact that in pluses and minuses against the par from the hand records, we had done well. That gave us the confidence that the slump in points was mostly a question of bad luck.

So we decided to try our luck elsewhere. There are three kinds of opportunities to play duplicate bridge in Indian River County where we live and of which Vero Beach is the county seat – although no longer the biggest city. There are by-invitation-only duplicate games at the country clubs and in the exclusive gated communities. We’ve been invited to play in such games a few times, and while the ambience may be very congenial, the quality of the bridge is not great, and there aren’t many points at stake.

Then there’s the Vero Beach Bridge Center, a club with over 1,000 members which owns its own building in a converted bowling alley and has consistently been in the top 10 bridge clubs in the country in attendance. A coterie of sharks hangs out there regularly, even more in the winter when a flock of snowbirds swell the ranks of the menagerie, many of them Canadians. The quality of bridge is high and the stratifications are at some of the highest levels around the country: C players go up to 1,000 MasterPoints and As don’t start until 2,500. This is where Christine and I play most of the time.

Then there are other “open” games, at the Vero Beach Community Center less than a mile from the Bridge Center, and at a Presbyterian church 20 minutes up Route 1 in Sebastian, which is actually the biggest city in the county. The card fees are a dollar less than at the Bridge Center ($6 vs. $7 – they don’t have the huge building overhead), and the stratifications may lie a little lower (A’s start at 1,200 points) but these games regularly draw a dozen or so tables. In a way, they feel more like “normal” bridge games, what you might find when you walk into a local bridge club anywhere around the country.

In almost three years in Vero, Christine and I had never tried community center or church (synagogue) games, but to break out of our latest mini-slump, we gave them a try this past week – and it worked to a large extent. On Thursday (5/19/2016) we were far out in first place until the last round, when I tried to force a Game that wasn’t there and went Down Four to fall back into second place with a 56% game that earned us .77 MasterPoints. And the following day we added another .28 for a 51% game in Sebastian that we rescued after a bad first round. Still, over a point in a couple of community games wasn’t bad.

One board we’re really proud of was a Small Slam I bid and Christine made with an overtrick at the Vero Beach Community Center. We were the only pair to bid a Slam on the hand and it shouldn’t have been made – the best defense sets it. But the point is that I had my reasons to bid it because I reasonably expected a defensive mistake on the opening lead. And for the defense, it’s a classic example of when to choose a risky but aggressive opening lead as opposed to a passive and seemingly safe lead.

That’s why the hand deserves a Bridge Burglar blog entry. Our unnamed West opponent who missed the opening lead will become my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, while I’ll become the North dummy and be Flo’s nemesis, Smug Sam, who bid the chutzpah Slam. My South partner Christine will be the Declarer who takes advantage of the defensive mistake to make the Small Slam with an overtrick.

South Dealer; North-South vulnerable

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

The bidding:

South West North East
3 Pass 4 NT  Pass
5 * Pass 6 All pass

*Blackwood convention response showing one Ace

Opening lead: 5 of Hearts

Against some contracts, the best leads are so-called “passive leads” that are sure not to do any damage to your own hand and usually just give the Declarer what he’s entitled to anyway. Then there are contracts, especially Slams, when passive leads are not the way to go and you must find a more aggressive way to open play because if you don’t get the first blow in, it may be too late.

With the West hand on the diagrammed deal at a recent club game, Flustered Flo was unable to find the right lead against the brazen 6 Clubs Small Slam bid by her nemesis, Smug Sam. from the North seat. Not wanting to under-lead any of her honors and possibly give Sam’s Declarer partner, Shy Shem, a free finesse in the South seat, Flo chose a neutral or “passive” lead with the 5 of Hearts.

Shem took that trick in his hand with the Queen, drew two rounds of trump, got the dummy with a Heart and dumped his two losing Spades on dummy’s extra Heart and second high Diamond. He then claimed the rest of the tricks to make his Small Slam with an overtrick.

“So you had the Ace of Spades, partner?” Flo asked her East partner, Loyal Larry, after the hand had been played. “So we could have set the Slam if I had led a Spade. But I can’t very well lead away from my King.”

“I understand,” said Larry, who’s always, well … very loyal to Flo.

“Sure you can,” said Sam, even though no had had asked him anything.

“But what about the very strong possibility of giving you guys a free finesse?” asked Flo.

“You were faced with a classic choice, Flo,” said Sam, “between a passive lead – not doing any possible damage to your own holding – or an aggressive lead to maximize any chances you and your partner might have. Defense against a Slam contract often requires an aggressive lead because if you wait too long to maximize your own chances with a passive lead, it might be too late. If you had thought about it correctly, your only chance of taking two quick tricks to beat the Slam is a Spade lead if your partner happens to have the Ace. By my bidding, I have indicated I have a monster. No other lead from your hand is likely to give you those two quick tricks you need. You’ve got to take the chance.”

“I see your reasoning,” said Flo. “But what on earth gave you the idea you could bid and make Slam on that hand? You should have gone down with your two Spade losers.”

“Maybe I should have, but I didn’t,” said Sam, smug as always. “With my hand I wanted to be in at least Game, maybe Slam. And I decided I’d rather gamble in 6 Clubs than in 3 No-Trump, because in No-Trump, you’re more likely to find the killing Spade lead. So I just had to make sure that my partner had the Ace of his suit to bid the Slam.”

“So you admit it was a gamble?” asked Flo.

“Sure it was,” said Sam, “but a very reasonable one. To make the Slam, one of three things had to happen. My partner had great length in Clubs so he had to be short somewhere else and that could well have been in Spades. Or, if he wasn’t short in Spades, the two top missing Spade honors had to be split between you two, so one or both of you would be scared to lead the suit. Only in one of the three cases – the leader holding both Ace and King of Spades and my partner not being short in Spades – would the Slam fail. I thought two out of three was a pretty good chance. I’d take that bet any day.”

“Isn’t this supposed to be a serious, brainy game?” asked Flo. “Not like the horses, where people bet on the color of the animal or the jockey’s shirt?”

“We still play the odds, Flo,” said Sam.

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