The Know-It-Alls

One of the surprises I got when I started directing duplicate games was how little some of the better players actually know about the rules and the laws of bridge – or maybe they do know the rules, but they try to bend them to their favor, intimidating everyone with their reputation as good players, so people will assume they know the rules, too.

My partner Christine and I had such an experience on Black Friday (11-23-2018) when I was playing, not directing, and we came up against the Canadian snowbird Rob Colton, a solid A player, partnering with Jan Ward, a former president of the Vero Beach Bridge Club and an A player herself.

I landed in a 2 Hearts part-score contract and after I had already lost three tricks, with everyone having four cards left, I claimed, putting down three trumps to the 9 and the Ace of Spades. “I have the rest with trump and the Ace of Spades,” I said. (Admittedly, it was an imprecise claim.)

Jan protested, saying she had a trump left, and Rob immediately jumped on that fact, saying their side should be awarded another trick since I had apparently shown myself to be unaware that one trump was still out and therefore, I might have played the rest of the tricks carelessly to let them get a trick.

The director was called. I said there was no way Jan could have scored her last trump because even if I had led the Ace of Spades first, she would have had to follow suit and she could not have trumped in. Then I would naturally run the rest of my trumps from the top and Jan’s lone remaining trump would fall under my higher trump.

The director sided with me and allowed my claim, but Rob still wouldn’t let it to. He contended that I was so confident all the trumps were out, I might have led a low trump instead of a high one, letting his partner steal a trick. He whined so much that the director agreed to consult another experienced director who happened to be playing at another table. Finally, making it seem like a magnanimous gesture on his part, Rob agreed to score the hand letting me make 4 Hearts, but under protest and asking the director to consider rolling it back to 3 Hearts after further consultations.

Even after the final scores were announced – Christine and I were first in our section with a 63% score while Rob and his partner were first their way with 62% — Rob still wouldn’t let it go and took his case to Candace Griffey, one of the rare top players who has also been a director and knows the rules inside and out. Candace dismissed his plea right away, confirming that the laws of bridge do not award opponents an extra trick in case of defective or incomplete claims if such a trick could only be won on a totally illogical or irrational play – no one runs a suit from the bottom.

In this case, no one would lead the 4 of Hearts from my hand to let my opponent win it with her 8 – that would be a totally “illogical or irrational play.”

The hand that was the source of the dispute was interesting enough from another aspect – Rob and his partner Jan missed the best defense to hold me to 3 Hearts, and thus gave us a score of over 80% on it.

That steal of the extra trick by us makes the hand worthy of a Bridge Burglar blog entry, in which Jan Ward will have to play the role of my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, with the West hand. I’ll be her nemesis, Smug Sam, as the South Declarer. Christine is my usual North partner, Shy Shem, while Rob is Flo’s partner, Loyal Larry, with the East hand.

North Dealer; East-West vulnerable

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


The Bidding:

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


Opening lead; 4 of Clubs

Before you make your opening lead on defense, you might take a second to ask yourself what everyone else is going to do on the hand. If close to an average score is good enough for you, go ahead and make the “usual” lead that everyone else will likely make, but maybe there’s a better alternative that can set you apart from the pack.

Flustered Flo was on lead with the West hand against a 2 Hearts contract played by the South Declarer, her nemesis Smug Sam, and she thought she might be able to sleepwalk through this hand – after all, she didn’t have anything and wouldn’t be able to contribute much to a spirited defense.

Her East partner, Loyal Larry, had opened a Club so she led the 4 of Clubs, high-low from a doubleton. Larry took the Ace and returned a Club to Sam’s Queen and Sam got to dummy with a Spade to lead a small Diamond off the board. Larry jumped up with the Ace and led another small Club. When Sam ruffed high with his Jack, Flo over-ruffed with her Queen before returning a Diamond to Sam’s King.

Sam next got to dummy with another Spade and led dummy’s only trump, catching Larry’s King under his Ace of trumps. Sam pulled one more round of trumps with his 10 and then claimed the last four tricks with his three remaining trumps to the 9 and the Ace of Spades.

“Wait a minute!” said Flo, “You didn’t say exactly how you’d take the last four tricks. I still have a trump left. I believe I should get another trick.”

When the director came to the table, Sam defended his claim, saying that even if he’d led the Ace of Spades, Flo would have had to follow suit, and then he’d lead his trumps from the top.

“If you didn’t remember that trump was still out, you might lead your small trump and let me take a trick with my 8,” Flo objected, but the director quickly dismissed her argument, explaining that no extra trick shall be awarded in case of an incomplete or insufficiently detailed claim if the only way the defense could win another trick would be through a totally illogical or irrational play.

Sam’s claim was allowed to stand and his plus-170 score – he had lost only the two minor suit Aces and Flo’s Queen of the trump suit – gave Sam and Shem a good board with a score well over 80%, and consequently a bad board for Flo and Larry with less than 20%.

“You know, Flo,” said Sam, “You might have done better trying to get an extra trick with sharper defense, rather than with spurious arguments to the director.”

“What was wrong with my defense?” Flo replied indignantly. “I didn’t have anything. I scored a trick with the only card I had, the Queen of Hearts, and I led my partner’s suit on the opening trick. There’s not much else I could have done.”

“Yes, there was,” said Sam, smug as always. “You made the classic lead, the suit your partner had bid, I’ll grant you that, but you didn’t think if you had a better lead available to you.”

“Why shouldn’t I lead that Club?” Flo demanded to know.

“Several reasons,” Sam replied. “First, a Club opening is often a convenient minor, so you don’t know if your partner really has Clubs. You might actually be setting up a suit for us. Second, yes, you’re short in Clubs and you might get a Club ruff later on. But you had a good trump holding with four to the Queen, with at least one natural trump trick and enough trumps to perhaps make my life miserable as I tried to make my contract. So maybe you shouldn’t be so anxious to set up a ruff for yourself.”

“But what was my alternative?” Flo asked, impatient for Sam to get to his point.

“You have to try and give your partner a ruff,” said Sam. “Your left-hand opponent had bid Spades and you had four Spades yourself. Somebody had to be short there and that could well be your partner.”

“Would a Spade lead have given us an extra trick?” Flo asked.

“It sure would,” said Sam. “I take the Spade lead in dummy, and lead a small Diamond to put your partner on lead with the Ace. He returns a Spade, which I take in dummy again to lead a trump to my Jack and your Queen. Then you lead another Spade to give your partner a ruff with his now-dead King of Hearts before it can fall under my Ace. That’s your fourth trick and you hold me to 3.”

“I guess even with a two-point hand I always have to think about the best defense,” said Flo. “Especially against someone like you, it’s amazing how much damage a lazy, unthinking lead can do.”



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