Stealing bids, parking spaces at the Black-Eyed Susan

PIKESVILLE, MD – The Black-Eyed Susan Spring Sectional duplicate bridge tournament this past weekend (March 22-24, 2013) in the Baltimore, Maryland, suburb of Pikesville turned out to be dangerous place for bridge burglars like me – but not necessarily at the bridge table.

First of all, it was still too damned cold for the event to be called a “spring” Sectional; because of the bone-chilling wind, you couldn’t really go out of the Doubletree Hotel in Pikesville for a breath of fresh air. Then my belt broke – perhaps we ate too much for lunch at the nearby Gourmet Again deli – in the middle of a session and thereafter I had to be careful to prevent my pants from falling down, and thus be arrested for indecent exposure.

And on Saturday evening at the picturesque Inner Harbor, we arrived back at our car after dinner a split second before a tow truck would have had us on the hook for parking illegally; someone must have tipped them off that a couple of bridge burglars were coming – but we got away with parking for free in a prime spot.

We got away with quite a few daylight robberies at the bridge tables, too. In the Saturday morning pairs game, my partner Christine Matus and I had wanted to play in the 0-750 MasterPoints category where we belong, but the directors were looking for one pair of volunteers to move up to the Open game with the sharks with thousands of MasterPoints, so we agreed. We didn’t fare that badly, coming in second in the C stratification with a game just over 52% that earned us .85 Silver MasterPoints.

In the afternoon we entered another pairs game that was at the same time a Board-a-Match teams game, in which we were one of the top teams in the lower bracket, and our teammates, John and his friend from Baltimore, were one of the lower-ranked teams in the upper bracket. We all had two chances to win points, one from a normal pairs game and one from the team match, which was scored only for wins, losses or draws.

Our teammates did not have a good game in their bracket, so we didn’t score in the team match, but in our bracket in the pairs competition, we came in second with an outstanding 62.31% game that earned us another 2.12 Silver points.

An incident-filled team competition

On Sunday, we teamed for the first time with Caroline Hughes and her husband John Strange, fellow-members of the Delaware Bridge Studio, for the Swiss teams competition finale of the tournament, and we captured another .52 Silver points for winning two of our head-to-head matches, ironically both by blitzes.

It was a competition with many incidents. At times it seemed like the Director was living at our table. One time a Director forced my partner Christine to speculate out loud for the benefit of our opponents about what one of my bids might mean. It was the first time we’d ever heard a Director force a player to speculate. Usually, just saying “I don’t know for sure” is enough.

Then another Director gave another ruling which we most emphatically disagreed with. One of our opponents had revoked, which resulted in him getting three extra tricks, the trick he illegally trumped, a Club trick he trumped later because he’d illegally sloughed a Club, and a Diamond he’d illegally set up. In those cases, a so-called “Director’s equity” decision can award the injured party (us in this case) three penalty tricks or even more, but we were given only a one-trick penalty. It was sweet revenge to beat that team by a blitz anyway.

Our cheating opponent later during the round got even with me for calling the Director on him by calling the Director on me – for using foul language.

A good bridge burglar hand

One of the most satisfying “bridge burglar” feats of stealing a hand came Saturday morning when we were swimming with the sharks. I overcalled 2 Hearts with just 9 points and the vulnerability against us, and my partner Christine even raised me to 3 with just 7 points to support. I went Down One to give up just 100 points. The hand records later revealed that our opponents, Eileen and Liz, should have been able to set us by two tricks, but, even worse for them, they missed two different Games in 3 No-Trump and in 5 Diamonds.

I guess we just acted like we belonged in a Hearts contract – just like we acted like we belonged in an illegal parking place on the Inner Harbor.

I’ll have to use the board for a column on the bridge burglar theme. In reality I sat North, but to make play easier to follow, I’ll become South and once again be Smug Sam. My North partner Christine becomes Sam’s partner Shy Shem. The unfortunate West opponent who should have kept on bidding will become my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, and her West partner is Loyal Larry.

The hand

North Dealer; North-South vulnerable

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

The bidding

North East South West
Pass Pass Pass 1
Pass 1 No Trump 2 3
3 All pass

Opening lead: Ace

How Flustered Flo played it

Whoever said there’s no bluffing in bridge has never come up against Smug Sam. Every time he comes up against our hero, Flustered Flo, Sam seems to make his bids with so much confidence that he makes Flo believe that he really has something, which is rarely the case.

Flo knows about Sam’s tendencies to engage in those bluffs, and every time he does it, she resolves that she’s not going to let him to do it to her again, but then those doubts creep into her mind again – what if he really has something this time?

As West, Flo opened a Spade, and she was somewhat surprised, and even more annoyed, to see Smug Sam, who had a passed hand as South, jump in with an overcall at 2 Hearts after her own partner Loyal Larry had bid One-Trump. Flo bid 3 Diamonds to show her partner a second suit – he could always put her back in 3 Spades if he liked that suit better – but then Sam’s North partner Shy Shem came to life, raising Sam to 3 Hearts. Flo couldn’t really rebid anything, so she just passed, leaving Sam to play 3 Hearts.

Flo led her Ace of Diamonds on the opening trick but when Sam threw his Jack under it, she was scared to continue Diamonds and shifted to a Club instead. Sam took the Club Ace and led the trump Jack and all four top honors went on that first trump trick. Flo continued with another Club to her partner Larry’s nine, but Sam ruffed the next Club lead high in his hand and drew the last trumps.

Sam next gave up a Diamond, ruffed the return Diamond lead in dummy, and took the failing finesse on the Spade King to concede Down One for minus-100 points. Flo wasn’t too happy to just have to take such a small score on a hand she had one had high hopes for, and she asked Sam – because he always seems to willing to share his wisdom – what she could have done better.

“First of all, Flo, you know we’re both passed hands, so we probably have no chance of making 3 Hearts,” Sam said, Smug as always, “so you can double and then you should put me Down Two, not just One.”

“How?” Flo asked.

“I know your partner should have supported your Diamonds, which would give you more confidence to do it, but you’ve got to get into your partner’s hand by underleading your Ace-King of Diamonds. Once your partner gets in with his Diamond Queen, he leads a Spade. Even if I take the Spade Ace because I know the finesse will fail, you get back in with the trump Ace, you take your Spade King and you can give your partner a ruff. Then you get one trick in each of the majors, two Diamonds, a Club and a ruff for Down Two.”

“That would give us 500 points and a top, I guess, but you were bidding so confidently, I hate doubling anything short of Game,” said Flo, rather defensively.

“I understand, Flo,” said Sam, “and that’s probably pretty good thinking. The problem is you had three bids available to you better than my 3 Hearts, two of them Games.”

“I can’t believe it,” Flo said, incredulously.”

“Believe it,” said Sam. “You can make 3 Spades, which beats my 3 Hearts, but you also have 3 No-Trump and 5 Diamonds. Just play the hand out – you’ll see.”

“But you were bidding your Hearts so confidently,” Flo said. “I thought you really had something and that the points were closer to an even split. You lied.”

“I would prefer to call it a good acting job,” said Sam, ”since apparently I did a pretty good job of playing the part of a guy who really had something.”

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