Stealing a bid while playing hooky

PHILADELPHIA – My partner Christine Matus and I went on a mentoring mission to an inner-city school last Friday, and after so much do-gooder activity, we felt the need to balance the ledger and do something absolutely criminal.

So like good partners in crime, before going back to work we played some serious hooky and dropped in on the Raffles Bridge Club across the river in the Presidential Apartments to commit some serious thievery in the best tradition of the Bridge Burglar and the Bridge Burglarette, stealing several bids and contracts and coming first overall with a 68% game.

Even though we got only .60 MasterPoints for our efforts, it was thoroughly satisfying as a “B” pair to beat all seven “A” pairs by substantial margins. In our East-West bracket we relegated the very experienced pair of Dr. Bill Ravreby and Steve Grossman (who was acting as the Director) to second place – they have thousands of MasterPoints between them and we have less than 1,000.

Rhoda Grossman and Joan Hockman were first among the North-South pairs, but more than 10 percentage points behind us. In our head-to-head competition against other North-South pairs, we took 14 out of a possible 20 points (around 70%) against such luminaries as Jane Segal, who even has her own tournament named after her.

In short, we rocked. One board worthy of a bridge burglar theme because we stole it fair and square came precisely against Jane and her partner, Bob Johnston. They could have made 2 Spades or 3 Clubs on the hand, and they indeed bid those suits.

We shouldn’t have been able to make more than 1 Diamond on it, but with some encouragement from me, bidding on fumes as usual, we went all the way up to 3 Diamonds, where they let us have the contract – and Christine made it, stealing two tricks in the process!

That’s the kind of hand that has all the necessary elements for a bridge burglar feat – gutsy, in-your-face bidding that shuts the other side up, and the inducing defensive errors that let you make way more than you should. Naturally, it was a top board for us.

My partner Christine really at West, but to make play easier to follow, we’ll turn the hands around and her South and she will become Smug Sam in my column. I’ll be Sam’s partner Shy Shem as North, although my bidding was anything but shy this time. Bob Johnston will pay the West hand and will assume the role of my column’s anti-hero Flustered Flo, while Jan Segal with the East hand will become Flo’s partner, Loyal Larry.

The hand

South Dealer; East-West vulnerable

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

The bidding

South West North East
1 1 2 3
3 All pass

Opening lead: 9

How Flustered Flo played it

It’s hard to find the right contract on unbalanced hands, when one partner is long in one suit but has no support from the other, and the situation is exactly reversed in another suit.

But as Flustered Flo found out in a recent club game on the diagrammed hand, it can also be difficult to find the right defense on such unbalanced hands. On offense, the partners usually try to find a compromise suit that they can both live with. That’s not such a bad strategy on defense, either, but Flo was unable to find such a strategy as West when she came up against her nemesis, Smug Sam, playing the hand as South in 3 Diamonds.

Naturally, Flo led her singleton Club, the suit her partner had bid, but her East partner Loyal Larry’s King was caught between dummy’s Queen and Sam’s Ace. Sam drew one round of trumps to dummy’s Queen and Larry’s stiff King, which gave Larry the opportunity to give Flo a ruff on the following Club lead.

Flo then took out two trumps with her Ace, one from dummy and one from Sam’s hand, and now she was in a quandary how to continue. She figured the only shot at beating the contract was the possibility that her partner had the Space Ace, so she led a low Spade. Sam could have taken the trick with dummy’s 8, but unfortunately, he had to overtake it with the 9 out of his hand.

Sam then led his Spade Ace and ruffed a Spade in dummy to lead his free Club Queen, pitching a Heart from his hand. Apart from the three trump tricks he’d given up (the two top honors and a ruff), all Sam lost was one Heart trick to make his contract.

“Totally unprincipled bidding as usual,” Flo scoffed at Sam. “Did I see that right that your highest trump was an 8 and you raised to 3 on that hand?”

“Only because my partner had supported my Diamonds,” said Sam, “although that was a big surprise to me because my partner Shy Shem shed his usual shyness to squeeze out a bid he probably shouldn’t have made.”

“Like I said, totally undisciplined bidding,” Flo repeated, “but how can we stop you from making it?”

“If you double me, you can put me Down by two tricks and collect 300 points,” Sam offered.

“But how?” Flo asked, considerably flustered again now.

“After taking your three trump tricks, you should never have led away from your King of Spades,” said Sam, smug as always. “That gave me two extra tricks, a free Spade finesse and a cheap way to get to the dummy with a ruff to collect my free Jack of Clubs to pitch a Heart loser.”

“But I was hoping my partner would have the Ace,” Flo tried to say in her defense.

“Hope is not a strategy,” said Sam. “If your partner had the Ace of Spades, he’d probably still be bidding.”

“So what should I have led instead?” asked Flo.

“There was only one other choice – Hearts,” explained Sam. “Not such a strange lead. You knew he had long Clubs and you had none left, and you had long Spades but she had told you in the bidding she couldn’t help you there. But you were both bidding so you must have some points somewhere. Just like when you try to find a compromise suit on offense when you can’t find a fit, you do the same on defense. You conclude your partner must have some points in your second suit of Hearts, so you lead a Heart.”

“I never thought of it that way,” Flo admitted.

“If you lead a Heart after collecting your three trump tricks,” Sam admitted. “You get three more tricks – two Hearts and a Spade – and I go Down Two.”

“What really galls me about you, Sam,” said Flo as she gritted her teeth, “is that it’s not enough for you to steal the bid away from me, which you always do, but you also have to take at least two more tricks than you should.”

“But that’s the only way I can stick my neck out during the bidding,” said Sam.

Speak Your Mind