Tennis trip with a healthy side game of bridge

JACKSONVILLE, FL – While in Jacksonville, FL, to watch the American tennis players demolish Brazil in the first round of the 2013 Davis Cup over the weekend, my partner Christine Matus and I managed to get in a side game of bridge Friday morning at the Lakeside Bridge Club.

We couldn’t dance the samba after our performance at the bridge table, and we were unable to put down the hammer like 6-foot-9 U.S. tennis star John  Isner, who seemed to be able to pull a service ace out of his pocket whenever he needed it.

Going into the last round, we were at almost 51% and seemed headed to score some points as the lowest-ranked B team in the open game, but our opponents in the last round stumbled into a lucky 4 Spades Game that dropped us down just below 50% — and just one spot below those earning MasterPoints.

(Actually, our very first round probably hurt as much as that last round. That’s when Christine – maybe she hadn’t had enough coffee yet — trumped her own good Spade from dummy with a Club – she thought she was playing a No-Trump contract, but actually she was playing 3 Clubs.)

Jacksonville has a very active bridge scene with games just about every day in different locations, but the Lakeside game with some tough players was the only one that fit our schedule of tennis-watching. The people were very friendly and they showed us that Jacksonville is more like the Deep South than it is part of Florida by addressing us as “y’all.”

The jokers among the crowd were a couple of jolly retired guys named Pat and Mike who said they’d probably wind up killing each other some days. We got a couple of good boards off them, and when we had the sit-out right after playing them, they said they’d arranged it that way to give us “more time to gloat.” (Actually I was still gloating over a Small Slam in Hearts I’d stolen off two ladies in the previous round – they never found the killing Diamond lead that would have netted them two tricks right off the bat, so I even made on overtrick.)

The most satisfying hand of the game, which got us a top board and is good enough for a column, was one on which I made 5 Spades, for a vulnerable 650 Game. It was one of those hands when the opponents had a suit, too – Hearts and they sacrificed in 5 Hearts, pushing me. What was I to do? Double them and perhaps take 300 points off them for Down Two doubled not vulnerable? Or push for our own risky Game and the 650 points?

I was all on my own because my partner Christine had said nothing except for putting me back in the suit I had bid first – Spades – even though I would have preferred to play the contract in my longer Diamond suit. That’s why I made one of my infamous faces at her when I first saw her dummy, which irritated her no end, but all was forgiven and forgotten when I made my contract.

In reality I played the board as North, but to make the goings-on easier to follow, I’ve turned the hands around and made myself South. I’ll be Smug Sam as usual, and my partner Christine, who hardly said anything and still had to endure my stares, will become Sam’s partner Shy Shem.  The hapless woman who thought she had my cornered by going to 5 Hearts with the East hand will become my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo. Her West partner who supported her Heart suit is Loyal Larry.

The hand

East Dealer; North-South vulnerable

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

The bidding

East South West North
1 1 2 Pass
3 4 Pass 4
5 5 All pass

Opening lead: Jack of Hearts

How Flustered Flo played it

When the opponents attempt to sacrifice in 5 Clubs, Diamonds or Hearts over a 4 Spades Game bid, it’s often a difficult decision what to do. When the opponents do this, most of the time they won’t be vulnerable, so by doubling them the most you might get is 300 or 500 points for Down Two.

But can you make 5 Spades? It’s often a stretch, but it’s so tempting, especially if you’re vulnerable and you stand to gain 650, which could well be a top. The decision often comes down to what you feel in your gut – there’s rarely an exact calculation you can make to come to the right decision.

Playing the East hand in a recent club game on the diagrammed deal, Flustered Flo thought she finally had her nemesis Smug Sam, who sat South, cornered by bidding 5 Hearts.  She was pretty sure she had no defense against Sam’s 4 Spades bid, but she was confident she would e able to limit the damage to no more than Down Two in 5 Hearts her way. Even if Sam doubled, she’d give up only 300 points, instead of 620 to Sam’s Game in 4 Spades. That would be a good board for her.

She didn’t think Sam could go to 5 Spades all by himself. His partner Shy Shem, exhibiting his usual shyness, had said nothing beyond putting Sam back in his first suit, Spades, from his Diamond bid.

So Flo was highly surprised to see Sam bid 5 Spades anyway. A double was too risky on such a distributional hand, so, gnashing her teeth, Flo just passed.

Her West partner Loyal Larry loyally led his Jack of Hearts, which Flo overtook with her Ace to continue with her King, trapping dummy’s Queen, but Sam took that second trick ruffing it in his hand. Sam drew two rounds of trump and then, seeing that it would be utterly impossible to ever get to dummy to even attempt a Diamond finesse, calmly led his Diamond Ace, dropping Flo’s stiff King.

Sam then ran the Diamonds. Eventually Larry jumped in to take a trick with his Jack of trump, but the rest of the tricks – and the 5 Spades contract – belonged to Sam.

“I can’t believe how lucky you are to drop my King of Diamonds,” said Flo, still gnashing her teeth at what she believed to have been her misfortune. “You could never get to your dummy to even attempt a finesse on it, so did you just take a wild guess or what?”

“Not a wild guess,” Sam replied, smug as always. “I knew I had a better-than-even chance to drop it. You were long in Hearts so you had to short in something, most likely one of my two long suits. And since you had by far most of the points, if you had only one Diamond, it was most likely to be the King.”

“I can’t believe it,” Flo said. “I’ve seen you sacrifice so many times to take a good Game away from me,” Flo lamented. “And when the tables are finally turned and I have a good sacrifice to keep you out of Game, you go to the 5 level on a dicey bid and you make it only because you drop a stiff King.”

“Well, Flo,” said Sam. “I hate to tell you this, but you did have the right idea with your sacrifice – except you didn’t push it far enough.”

“What do you mean?” asked Flustered Flo, her curiosity aroused.

“You should have sacrificed again in 6 Hearts. I double and you go Down Three, but that’s only 500 points for me – not the 650 we got. It would have been a good board for you, maybe even a top, because every other East-West pair is meekly going to let South make 5 Spades.”

“I didn’t think of that,” admitted Flo.

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