The 70% Club

My partner Christine and I had the second 70-plus percent game of our bridge careers (8-30-2018) and we’re still sort of scratching our heads as to what lifted us to such exalted status.

We got a special mention at our home club, the Vero Beach Bridge Club, and we’ll be listed in next month’s issue of the Gazette, our club’s newsletter, while we’ll also get our names in the next issue of the Sunshine Bridge News of District 9 (Florida). Ironically, I’ll have to submit it myself because it just so happens that I am the SBN liaison for our Central Florida Unit 240.

We had a 71.31% game, good enough for first overall and 2.30 MasterPoints in a 13-table, one-section game where 11 of 26 pairs were A players (we’re only Bs). Director Arnie Summers said we consistently stayed at over 70% throughout the 13 two-board rounds, never dipping below that magic line.

The first time we scored over 70% was about four years ago at a small game in nearby Fort Pierce. We actually had 76% and could have been written up in the monthly Bulletin of the ACBL but there was some reporting snafu and that game director tragically died shortly afterward.

So how do you get a 70% game? If there was a formula, we’d bottle it and sell it, but I’m afraid there isn’t. I distinctly remember that for our 76% game in Fort Pierce, I screwed up the last hand, bidding a Slam that wasn’t there, but we still got 76%! So it isn’t playing mistake-free bridge.

We weren’t mistake-free at Vero, either. On our lowest board, I ignored a cardinal rule (never bypass a four-card major) and went straight to 3 No-Trump with an opening hand after my partner opened One Diamond, on the general principle that with openers opposite openers we should be in Game and with a flat hand, 3 NT was probably the best place to be. Except that in this case, my partner also had four Spades and we should have been in 4 Spades, not 3NT. I had to work to make my 3 NT Game because I should have been able to make only 2, but most others were in 4 Spades, beating me by 20 points.

Another mistake that I was most upset about at the time, missing an easy Slam when my partner dropped me in 4 Spades and I made 7, didn’t hurt us as much. We still got a 67% on the board.

So what’s the secret to a 70% game? This may not sound like a very brilliant insight, but it’s mostly just to play solid bridge and hope you get a whole string of boards with scores in the 70s and 80s, and a few higher to compensate for inevitable mistakes – 8 of the 26 boards we played were tops or ties for tops. And concentrate on defense. Defense wins games, in bridge as in football, tennis and any other sport, so never complain about getting a bad hand with few points. Just concentrate on communicating with your partner through defensive signals and play every hand as well as you can.

The most remarkable board in our 71% game was a 4 Spades doubled contract made by Christine with an overtrick for plus-690 when we had only 16 high-card points between us. A couple of A players, Gini Hauser and Julie Shelquist, doubled Christine because they thought there was no way she could make it, but Gini later came to regret her bad double. The only reason that it wasn’t an absolute top was that a very unwise East-West pair gave their opponents 800 points.

That hand is too good to pass up for a Bridge Burglar blog entry, so in this episode Gini Hauser will assume the role of my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, with the West hand, while Christine will be her nemesis, Smug Sam, as the South Declarer. Julie will be Gini’s (Flo’s) usual East partner, Loyal Larry, while I’ll wind up being the North dummy as Christine’s (Sam’s) partner, Shy Shem.

North Dealer; East-West vulnerable

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

The Bidding:

North East South West
(Shy Shem) (Loyal Larry) (Smug Sam) (Flustered Flo)
Pass 1 1 2
2 3 3 4
Pass Pass 4 Double
All Pass

Opening lead: Ace of Hearts

Hand evaluation is one of the finer points of bridge and Flustered Flo got a good lesson in it from her nemesis, Smug Sam, on the diagrammed deal at a recent game at her home club.

Flo sat West and when her East partner, Loyal Larry, opened and then rebid after her 1 Heart response, she knew he had a real opening. With her own 11 points, that meant it was their hand, and there was no way Sam would be able to make his 4 Spades bid, so she slapped the double card down. Surely Sam was up to his stealing antics again. His bidding on fumes deserved to be punished and she was hoping to take him for at least 500, maybe 800 points this time.

That plan got off to a very shaky start when Flo’s Ace of Hearts got ruffed by Sam on the opening trick, setting up dummy’s King of Hearts as a good trick. But as it turned out, that didn’t really matter as Sam added insult to injury by never even using the King of Hearts – he didn’t need it.

Sam led a low trump, forcing out Flo’s Ace, and before another disaster happened, Flo decided to lead a Diamond, the suit her partner had bid, to enable Larry to collect his Ace. Sam ruffed the next high Diamond, drew out the last trump, and started attacked the Clubs side suit, claiming the rest of the tricks when the Clubs split 2-2.

Sam had made his doubled Game contract with an overtrick for a plus-690 score. That gave him and Shem over 90% on the board – en route to a big game with a total score over 70 percent – since only one other North-South pair had done better. That pair had gotten the benefit of an ill-advised 6 Hearts bid by their East-West opponents, which had gone Down Three doubled for a plus-800 (they should have been able to limit the damage to Down Two for just 500).

Several other North-South pairs played the hand in 5 Spades doubled and made that contract, but 4 Spades doubled with an overtrick was a better score (690 to 650).

“I’m going into the closet to hide,” Flo said when she realized what had happened. “That was such a bad double by me. I should have known distribution was probably crazy on the hand. I just didn’t realize how crazy.”

“Not to worry, partner,” said Larry, who’s always very loyal to Flo. “A lot of other people doubled, too, and it looks like even a double at the 5 level would not have been good.”

“I know,” said Flo. “It’s all Sam’s fault, and his incredible chutzpah, bidding Game on just seven high-card points. The gall of the man! Come to think of it, with just seven high-card points and a six-card Spade suit that was pure junk without a single honor, he had no business overcalling One Spade after our One Diamond opening. If anything, he should have said 2 Spades showing a weak jump-shift, and then you guys probably never get to 4 Spades. But he was too weak to even do that, with a suit to the 9 without an honor. He basically flouted all the rules.”

“Rules, schmules,” said Sam, smug as always. “This was your arch-typical points-schmoints hand. High-card points were totally irrelevant here. My hand was completely distributional, being 6-6 in the black suits. I never used high-card points to evaluate the strength of the hand at all.”

“What did you use, then?” Flo asked.

“By Losing Trick Count,” Sam explained, “I had only five losers. That’s a very strong hand, and that’s how I bid it. When my partner raised my Spades, I knew he had at least four of them, so I would be able to limit my losses in the trump suit to probably one trick, two at the most. That gave me the courage to bid 4 Spades, and I would have gone to 5 if needed, especially since we were not vulnerable and you were.”

“You were a little lucky that the Clubs split 2-2 so you could set up your second suit,” Flo protested.

“On the other hand,” said Sam, “you could also argue that I was a little unlucky because my King of Hearts was good after the first trick and I could have dumped my Diamond loser on it if I’d been able to get to the board right away. I had been hoping to make 6.”

“I guess there is no limit to your greed,” sighed Flo. “Even getting over 90% against us isn’t good enough for you.”

Speak Your Mind