Stealing a win at the Blue Hen Sectional

WILMINGTON, DE – My partner Christine Matus and I seem to do best in bridge tournaments when we go some place where nobody knows us and we can fly under the radar. That wasn’t possible this past Saturday (2-23) at the Bridge Studio of Delaware’s Blue Hen Sectional when we both got mini-McKinney awards prior to the open pairs game.

I had won the most MasterPoints in the category where I started at the beginning of the year (100-200 points) and Christine had done the same in hers (300-500 points), We both won around 150 points during the course of last year, most of them playing together. So every pair that arrived at our table congratulated us on our achievements, sarcastically saying something about being “awed in the presence of royalty,” and then tried to beat our brains out – we had a bull’s eye on our backs.

We held our own, though, coming in second in the C stratification, behind our friends and sometime teammates Marylyn Calabrese and Andy Rubin, with a 52% game that earned us another .64 MasterPoints.

Our 15 minutes of fame were apparently over on Sunday for the four-person Swiss teams competition when we were back to flying under the radar and nobody remembered our awards. Hooking up in a truly international team with Scotsman Colin Mackay and Canada’s Spencer Kiernan (since I’m Dutch Christine was the only American on our team), we registered as a D team in the B/C/D category as one of the lowest-ranked teams not even able boast 2,000 MPs in total.

In a thrilling competition that went down to the last hand played, we won the whole thing, coming in first across all categories with 98 Victory Points (VPs) earning us another 5.9 Silver MasterPoints. Going into the last of the seven rounds, we came up against the then first-place team anchored by Pat Loeffelholz, Christine’s normal Wednesday night partner, which sported a lofty 6-0 record at the time. The only way we could win the whole competition was to blitz them by at least 28 International Match Points (IMPs) – and we proceeded to do just that, beating them by 31 IMPs.

The big blows came when I made an overtrick in a 4 Spades contract, while our teammates pushed their opponents playing the same hands as we had to 5 Spades, doubled them and set them by a trick – a huge swing of 14 IMPs. I was somehow able to induce Pat to throw away the wrong card as I ran my long trump suit. The other big blow came when Pat and her partner failed to reach a Small Slam in Hearts, while our teammate Colin was able to bid it with the help of a “splinter” bid by his partner Spencer (our captain) indicating a singleton in Diamonds – another 14-IMP swing.

Pat’s team finished in third place, allowing the team captained by Judge Bob Shenkin, playing with Ella Zimmerman and teammates Trish and Dale Richards, all good friends of ours, to sneak into second place. Earlier during the day, Bob Shenkin’s team had actually beaten us by 12 IMPs in our head-to-head matchup, but we accumulated more Victory Points overall thanks to our three blitzes, two of them by shutouts.

The Blue Hen Sectional attracted just about all of the luminaries of the area, the people with tens of thousands of points. Donna Morgen’s team tied for first in the A/X game with the team of Robert Killan and Daniel Ellis. The team of Corey Krantz and Meyer Kotkin was third and more big boys tied for fourth place: The Harold Jordan/Richard Popper and the Rick Rowland/Kenny Cohen teams.

The best hand from the weekend for a column on the “bridge burglar” theme came from Saturday’s pairs game when I was able to make two overtricks in a 1 No-Trump contract, when I shouldn’t even have been able to make a One contract, so I stole no fewer than three tricks! Actually, our opponents, two guys named Bob and Dan, should have had the contract in 2 Clubs, the best anyone could make on the hand. Not only were they unable to find that fit – they couldn’t stop me from making three more tricks than I should have. Naturally, we got more than 81% on that board.

I will be South and once more assume the role of Smug Sam, while my partner Christine will be Sam’s partner Shy Shem as North – this time she was really shy and had nothing to say. The West opponent who couldn’t find the right lead to prevent me from making all those extra tricks will assume the role of my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo.

The hand

West Dealer; North-South vulnerable

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

The bidding

West North East South
Pass Pass Pass 1 NT
All pass

Opening lead: 2

How Flustered Flo played it

When you get a strong 1 No-Trump opening and you’re very hopeful of getting to a good contract with your partner, it seems like about half the time your hopes are dashed when your partner has next to nothing, not even a five-card suit, and has to pass.

Then the Declarer is stuck playing 1 No-Trump when the point split is pretty close to 20-20, meaning the opponents have a better-than-even chance of beating the contract. Defending against such a 1 NT contract on the diagrammed deal at a recent Sectional tournament at her club, Flustered Flo was unable to seize on her opportunities and she let her opponent make two overtricks instead of putting him down, as she should have.

The fact that this debacle, which gave Flo close to a bottom board, came against her nemesis Smug Sam was all the more galling for Flo.

With the West hand Flo led the Spade deuce, the second of her four-card suits, on the opening trick to her East partner Loyal Larry’s Ace. Larry, ever loyal to Flo, returned her partner’s suit, and Sam took that Spade trick with his King. Sam then put Flo back in the lead by playing another Spade to Flo’s Queen. He knew it would be fatal to let East get the lead because his Club King would be toast.

By now Flo knew her partner was out of Spades, so she wasn’t going to continue that suit. Instead, she started her second four-card suit by leading the Club 5, a trick that Sam gratefully captured with his King.

Sam then ran off five Diamond tricks, led a Heart to his King when Larry ducked his Ace and collected the Spade Jack before giving up the last two Heart tricks to Larry, scoring two overtricks.

“The points were split evenly 20-20,” Flo said, shaking her head. “How can we let you make nine tricks on that hand?”

“If you’d played better defense,” said Sam, smug as always, “you can put me down, limiting me to just six tricks, instead of letting me make nine.”

“How can we do that?” Flo asked, considerably flustered now.

“You can never lead a Club, Flo,” Sam explained patiently. “You’ve got to figure that with my No-Trump opening that I am much more likely than your partner to have the King of Clubs. So you’ve got get into your partner’s hand to hook my King.”

“And how can I be sure to do that?” Flo asked. “I didn’t see much promise in leading either one of the red suits.”

“But that’s what you must do,” Sam replied. “A Heart lead will find your partner’s Ace and then you get your four Club tricks. Since you already had two Spade tricks, that gives you seven and I’m Down One. And you can even lead a Diamond and let me take my five Diamond tricks. I don’t get another trick after that. I have to come to you in one of the other suits and you get the rest of the tricks.”

“So for once I didn’t make a mistake on the opening lead?” Flo asked. “Usually that’s where I mess up against you.”

“Your opening lead was fine, Flo,” Sam admitted. “Your next ones weren’t so hot, though. Every lead is important. I had to put you back in the lead hoping you’d make a mistake.”

“So glad to oblige,” said Flo, gnashing her teeth.”

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