The Common Game

Some duplicate bridge players still refuse to play hands from The Common Game, believing that the hands are made extra hard by an evil computer or dealing machine that won’t let you make anything. It’s a myth that seems impossible to stamp out, especially among some less experienced players.

Of course the hands are truly random, and anyone who doesn’t believe that should play Swiss teams some day when the hands do not come from a duplicating machine or a computer but from human beings shuffling the cards and dealing out the deck.

Those hands are often just as crazy, or even crazier, than the ones coming from the computers of The Common Game, which seems to be gaining ground and is now used at clubs all across the country (although there seems to be a heavy concentration of Common Game clubs in Florida and in the New York-New Jersey area). Use of The Common Game helps clubs save money, time and manpower in running duplicating machines and allows players to compare how they did against hundreds of players in other parts of the state or country.

My partner Christine and I played in a Swiss team game Sunday (11-1-2015) with our friends Dick and Ann Bottelli at the Vero Beach Bridge Center, and in a curious quirk of fate, we had the greatest number of wins, taking 3 of the 4 matches, but we finished only in third place, behind two teams that went 2-2, but had a higher number of Victory Points – 46 and 45 respectively to our 44. Our problem was that two of our wins had been by minimal margins of 1 and 3 International MatchPoints (IMPs).

Our third-place finish got us .78 MasterPoints. Obviously a swing of just a couple of IMPs on any hand would have put us in first place, and Christine and I as well as the Bottellis went home muttering to ourselves about this hand or that … “If only I had …”

But, most remarkably, the hands we played were every bit as crazy – and therefore as difficult – than any set of hands we’ve ever seen in The Common Game, which is used for the pairs games. At one point, Christine had two hands in a row with a void. And on another, she had two 6-card suits, a void and a singleton – the probability of that happening is 0.07 percent.

That hand, apart from being a great example of human-dealt hands being just as difficult as those from the Common Game computers, will make a good Bridge Burglar blog entry. Christine found a great sacrifice in 5 Hearts over a 4 Spades contract for our opponents. They were a visiting all-female team from Toronto, Canada, spending a few days in Vero for beach and bridge just as winter sets in up north. Christine got doubled and went Down Two for a minus-300 score, while the Bottellis at the other table easily made their 4 Spades Game with an overtrick for plus-650. The difference of 9 IMPs helped us win that match.

Another interesting quirk on the hand is that if our opponents had gone to 5 Spades (as they probably should have) either I or Christine would have gone to 6 Clubs, and that contract would be Down by only one trick, so we would have given up 100 points instead of 300.

In any event, our Canadian opponent Patty who had the big East hand but failed to go to 5 Spades will become my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, while Christine is her nemesis, Smug Sam, who plays the South Declarer hand. As Christine’s (Sam’s) North partner, Shy Shem, I won’t do anything useful.

East Dealer; East-West vulnerable

10 8 7
J 10 9 7 6 5
Q J 3
West East
K J 9 6 5 4 A Q 2
Q 7 6 A 4 2
K 3 2 A Q 8 4
8 9 7 6
K J 10 9 5 3
A K 10 5 4 2
East South West North
1 NT 2 * 4 ** 5
Pass 5 Pass Pass
Double All Pass

*Alerted as a Cappelletti convention bid showing 2-suited hand, Hearts and a minor

**Texas “transfer” to Spades, Game-forcing, no Slam interest

Opening lead: 8 of Clubs

Flustered Flo hates it when she obviously has the best hand around the table, but her nemesis Smug Sam takes the bid away from her.

That’s what happened at one of her home club games when Flo opened a strong No-Trump with the East hand, but before she knew what was happening, her opponents had bid twice at the 5 level. Flo was so flustered about that sequence of events that she figured the best she could do was just double.

Flo’s West partner, Loyal Larry, predictably led his singleton Club. Sam took it in the dummy with the Queen and led dummy’s only trump, letting it ride when Flo played low, so Larry got back in the lead with the Queen of trumps. His attempt to get to his partner’s hand with a low Spade was successful as Flo took the Ace and led back a Club to give her partner a ruff.

Flo then eventually collected her trump Ace, but Sam had the rest of the tricks with trumps and his long Club suit. Flo and Larry had been able to take four tricks on defense – two trump tricks and a Club ruff, plus the Spade Ace – for a plus-300 score for Flo and Larry.

“I had no idea what was going on here,” Flo admitted. “I had a strong No-Trump opening, but before I could figure out where we belonged, both of my opponents had bid at the 5 level. I just had to double.”

“That’s what you get when you have four six-card suits around the table,” said Sam, smug as always. “I had two of them, your partner had one in Spades, and my partner had one, too – in Diamonds. I kind of wish he’d stayed out of it and not mentioned his Diamonds, but it didn’t really matter. With the vulnerability in our favor, I was going to go to the 5 level anyway over your 4 Spades if my partner had kept his mouth shut as he should have.”

“So I guess I should have gone to 5 Spades,” Flo lamented.

“You can certainly make 5 Spades,” said Sam. “All you lose is one Club and one Heart trick, but I wish you would have gone to 5 Spades.

“Because after you say 5 Spades, I will go to 6 Clubs,” Sam continued, “giving my partner a suit-preference choice between Hearts and Clubs, and he is certainly going to pass 6 Clubs since he has Club support. And we go Down only one in 6 Clubs, losing only the two major-suit Aces, so then my sacrifice costs us only a 100 points if you double, not 300.”

“So I finally did something right against you, trapping you in 5 Hearts doubled instead of chasing you to 6 Clubs?” Flo asked.

“Maybe,” said Sam. “We’ll see what everyone else did.”

The scores were not kind to Flo because at all the other tables, the East-West pairs were calmly allowed to bid 4 Spades making 5, without much interference, for 650 points so Flo’s score of 300 was a bottom.

“We had 25 high-card points plus distribution values and you guys had only 15 points between the two of you,” said Flo, rather indignantly. “How did you dare take the bid away from us at the 5 level anyway?”

“Points schmoints,” said Sam. “Taking about distribution, I had it all – two 6-card suits. Do you know how rare that is? The probability is 0.07 percent. So when I get an extremely rare gift like that, I’m going to bid my two suits ‘till the cows come home.”

“Moo moo,” said Flo. “I guess the cows finally came home.”


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