The Bermuda Triangle

The annual world championship of bridge is called the Bermuda Bowl because the event started out there in 1950 – and returned to the island twice more for the 25th and 50th anniversaries in 1975 and 2000. But all other years, it has been staged somewhere else around the world, from China to India to Tunisia and any number of European resorts.

Bermuda does have a big annual tournament, the Bermuda Regional, held the last week of January, not to be confused with the Bermuda Bowl. This year I decided to give my partner Christine a trip to the Bermuda Regional as her birthday present, and fortunately for me, she loved her present. The British colony is a charming island with its pastel-colored houses on the hillsides, and the tournament is pretty special among all the Regionals we have attended (and we’ve attended quite a few from coast to coast).

The hospitality is outstanding, with a well-stocked goodies bag for all participants including sample miniature bottles of the island’s famous black rum, nice prizes for all section winners, tea in the afternoon for all in true British fashion and a closing black-tie awards dinner (most men actually did wear tuxes and the ladies looked radiant in evening dress).

The tournament may also be able to boast the most humorous directors. One evening play was interrupted when a director loudly said the following over the PA system: “A hearing aid has been turned in to us; so if you can’t hear this announcement, please come and see me!”

The tournament at the sumptuous Southampton Fairmont Hotel attracts a delightful mix of people, from Canadians fleeing the bitter cold in their country, including a number of pros, to British expats and locals and of course a good-size crew from the U.S. Eastern Seaboard – the major population hubs like New York City and Baltimore-Washington have several daily flights to Bermuda.

Gail Greenberg, who teaches at Honors in New York City and owns the Hartes’ clubs in suburban Westchester County, was there with her hired hand Jeff Hand (pun intended), on the heels of the annual bridge camp they run for well-heeled New Yorkers just prior to the tournament. They became the total points champions for the week, relegating the Tequesta/Vero Beach team of Ellie Hanlon, Mary Savko, Debbie Drury and Chris Smith to second place when they had a bad last day in the open teams event (Christine and I even beat them the last day, teaming up with two Canadian club owners).

Christine and I held our own competitively, getting about 11-and-a-half MasterPoints in just three days of competition, most of them Gold. Our highlight was the second session of a two-day Championship Pairs events (what they call A/X/Y pairs at other Regionals) when we scored 64%, good enough for first place in the B stratification and 8.54 Gold points. We also notched a Red point or so in a couple of side games and in the final team event with our Canadian partners.

One of our most satisfying boards was from that Thursday night Championship Pairs session when we got one of our five tops through aggressive interference, scaring our opponents out of an easy 3 No-Trump and driving them to 5 of a minor instead, which was an infinitely inferior contract for them.

That kind of steal is worth a Bridge Burglar blog entry, with our North opponent whom we managed to scare playing the role of my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, who played the North hand that became dummy. Christine will be her nemesis, Smug Sam, with the West hand. I’ll be Christine’s (Sam’s) East partner, Shy Shem, while Flo is playing with her usual partner, Loyal Larry, in the South Declarer seat.

East Dealer; North-South vulnerabl

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

The Bidding:

East South West North
(Shy Shem) (Loyal Larry) (Smug Sam) (Flustered Flo)
Pass 1 * 2 ** 2
2 3 NT Pass 4
Pass 5 All Pass

* Precision system opening bid, showing at least 16 points
** Michaels convention bid, showing holdings in both major suits

Opening lead: Jack of Spades

There’s an old saying in bridge that to put a Game contract at the 5 Level in a minor suit, rather than in 3 No-Trump, you need a note from your mother.

Flustered Flo didn’t have such a note from her mother when she had to bid the North hand from a diagrammed deal at a recent Regional tournament, but she still took her South partner, Loyal Larry, out of an easy 3 NT contract and steered him toward 5 Clubs, with predictably disastrous consequences.

The opponents seemed to have found a fit in Spades after her nemesis, Smug Sam, interfered with a Michaels cue bid from the West seat. So when Flo’s South partner Loyal Larry bid 3 No-Trump anyway, Flo got a little scared. She had enough points for Game and she had both minor suits, so wouldn’t it be better to try for Game in one of the minors? She definitely felt more comfortable when Larry accepted her invitation to play it in 5 Clubs rather than in 3 NT.

The play of the hand was rather uneventful. Larry successfully finessed the Queen of Clubs and eventually gave up only the Ace of Spades and the King of Diamonds. He pitched three small Diamonds from dummy on the King-Queen of Spades and the King of Hearts from his hand so he could limit his Diamond losses to one trick.

“I’m glad we at least made Game,” Flo said to Larry afterward. “Could you make 3 No-Trump, too?”

“I believe so,” said Larry in a for him uncharacteristic display of independence. “I think I can make the same 11 tricks in No-Trump with 2 Spades, 3 Hearts, a Diamond and 5 Clubs, so we’d have been better off in No-Trump, getting 660 points instead of just 600.”

“I’m sorry, partner,” said Flo, “but with both of them bidding Spades and me having a singleton in their suit, I was really scared. I knew you had at least one stopper, but if they drove that one out and got back in somehow, I thought we might be dead in No-Trump.”

“I understand,” said Larry, resuming his attitude of total loyalty toward Flo. “I happened to have two stoppers in Spades, but there’s no need to apologize, partner. You had a good reason to do what you did. Let’s just hope the same thing happens at the other tables.”

The same thing did not happen at other tables, because Flo’s and Larry’s plus-600 was a tie for a bottom on the hand – and thus gave Sam and Shem a tie for a top.

When Flo saw the hand records confirming her below-par score, she became indignant and sought out Smug Sam among the crowd.

“How did you dare throw in such a flimsy Michaels bid on that hand with just 3 high-card points?” Flo asked. “And you weren’t even 5-5 in the majors; you were only 5-4! That’s almost a psych bid!”

“Not at all, Flo,” said Sam, smug as always. “You could have doubled us in 2 Spades and it would have been a good sacrifice for us. We go Down Three for minus-500, but that’s still better than minus-600 or minus-660. You know that Michaels is a distributional bid – there’s no specific point count attached to it. You also know that we do always anything to interfere with your bidding – that’s all we were doing.”

“You always do that – I’ve got to admit it,” Flo agreed.

“Instead of blaming us for your misfortune,” said Sam, “you should blame yourself, because I don’t believe you had a note from your mother.”

“What does my long-departed, saintly mother have to do with this?” Flo asked, totally mystified.

“You know what they say in bridge,” explained Sam. “To play in 5 of a minor rather than in 3 No-Trump, you need a note from your mother.”

“But with both of you bidding Spades, I was scared No-Trump might be a disaster,” Flo protested.

“Your partner said he had Spades stopped,” said Sam. “Who are you going to believe? Your partner, who’s on your side, or your opponents who are trying to throw you off?”

“I guess I see your point,” Flo said reluctantly.

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