The Longest Bridge Odyssey

It was an Odyssey that lasted almost two full years. For my partner Christine and myself, our participation in the 2019 North American Pairs (NAP) competition became a real rollercoaster affair with lots of peaks and valleys – fortunately it ended on a high note at this year’s Online Spring Nationals.

We started qualifying for the Florida District 9 finals at our home club, the Vero Beach Bridge Center, several times in late spring and summer of 2019 to make it to the two-session finals in October in Orlando. At that playoff, we had a horrible end to the first session, but placed first in the evening session to end up in 5th place overall – one spot out of qualifying for the Nationals.

I had already written a column under the title “Goodbye, Columbus,” because it appeared we had just missed going to the 2020 Spring Nationals in Columbus, OH, when another pair dropped out and we were notified that we’d made it, anyway. We even got a small stipend for travel expenses from the District which we invested in non-refundable airline tickets to Columbus on SouthWest Airlines.

Then, of course, Columbus got canceled because of Covid, as did the next two Nationals where the NAPs were supposed to have been held, the Summer event in Montreal, Canada, and the Fall tournament closer to home in Tampa. Finally, the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) decided to roll these long-pending NAPs (almost as many stops along the way as Odysseus had on the way home to Ithaca from the Trojan War) into cyberspace at the North American Online Bridge Championships in March of 2021.

Once again, we started horribly in the two-day event on BBO and almost halfway through the first session of the first day, we were down around 36%. It seemed like we wouldn’t have a ghost of a chance to even make it to the second day. But then we started playing better and wound up with a 49.42%, within striking distance of at least staving off elimination after the first day (that had been our fate the first time we had qualified for the Nationals in the B stratification several years ago).

In the evening session of the first day, we pulled our game up enough to make it the second day in 40th position out of the 52 qualifiers from the original field of about 100 pairs.

The second day we got off to a roaring start when our first opponents overbid in the opening round, giving us an 87.5% score. That’s never sustainable, and when we started bidding more conservatively to avoid mistakes, we slid all the way down to 49% before we got our confidence back and righted the ship to score a respectable 54%. Then we rocked in the second session, scoring 60.42% and ending up with 57% for the event, good enough for 11th place overall and 12 Gold points.

All four B teams from Florida qualified, and although we had been last among those four going into the final, we wound up on top of that heap – not a bad outcome after all.

It was fitting that one of our really good boards giving us a 92% score was achieved with our favorite gadget, the snapdragon double, and we’ll make that board the latest episode in the adventures of the Bridge Burglar. (After three different suits have been bid, a double means that you have at least five pieces in the unbid suit and tolerance for your partner’s suit – no one knows the origin of the name “snapdragon.”)

On this deal, our West opponent who had the bid taken away from her will be my column’ anti-hero, Flustered Flo, while Christine who became the North dummy will be her nemesis, Smug Sam, for using the patented Snapdragon Double bid. I’ll get the play the hand as Christine’s (Sam’s) South Declarer, Shy Shem, while Flo is playing with her usual East partner, Loyal Larry.

East Dealer; both sides vulnerabl

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

The Bidding

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

*Snapdragon Double – showing at least 5 pieces in unbid suit and tolerance for partner’s suit

Opening Lead: 9 of Diamonds

The snapdragon double is an exotic bid that offers several tactical advantages. First, since few players are familiar with it, it tends to discombobulate your opponents. But quite apart from the psychological aspect, it can also be useful to identify a double fit – and we all know that two-suited hands can be very powerful.

That’s what Flustered Flo found out with the West hand on the diagrammed hand played recently in the long-delayed North American Pairs (NAP) competition at the Spring Online Nationals. On a deal where the point split had to be close to an even 20-20, Flo knew neither side was likely to bid it up to the 4 level. She thought she had won the contract in 3 Hearts before her nemesis Smug Sam, sitting North, took it away from her in 3 Spades, the master suit.

Flo obediently led high-low in her partner’s suit with the 9 of Diamonds, but Shem took the first trick with the Ace, and led a low Club from his hand to start setting up the Club suit before drawing trump. Flo rose with the Ace and continued with another Diamond, a trick that Larry took with his King.

When Larry returned another high Diamond, Shem knew he had to ruff high with the Ace. He then took two trump tricks in the dummy, before returning to his hand with the last trump trick, overtaking dummy’s Queen with his King. Shem then ran the Clubs and gave up two Heart tricks at the end to make his contract – Shem and Sam had only 19 points between them, but they had taken 9 tricks, giving up only two Hearts, a Diamond and the Ace of Clubs.

The plus-140 on the hand happened to be the par score on the board, but it was also close to a top (92%) because no one else playing in that direction had dared to bid 3 Spades and hope for a 3-3 trump split. The only people playing in the same direction that beat them were a couple of pairs who benefitted from East-West unwisely going to 4 Hearts and getting set by two tricks for plus-200.

“That was a very curious auction,” Flo told Smug Sam later when she called to congratulate him on his performance. “Just about everybody bid a suit at the three level – you guys bid the black suits and we had the red suits.”

“Yes, but since we had Spades, the master suit, we came out on top,” said Sam, smug as always.

“You were really lucky, with the Spades breaking 3-3,” said Flo. “How did you dare put your partner in 3 Spades when you didn’t know if he had 4 or 5 Spades?”

“True enough, I did not know that,” Sam admitted. “But it’s not like you can never play in a 7-card fit. Sometimes you have to because it’s the only contract that makes, like in this case. And I did know we had a good two-suiter in Spades and Clubs. Two-suited hands are always powerful. That’s the virtue of the snapdragon double bid. If you have the right distribution for it and your partner likes your five-card suit, you can afford to stick your neck out a bit.”

“Why did you have to do it against us?” asked Flo. “I don’t think I deserved an 8% score on the board. In fact, I’m so mad that I’m breathing fire like a dragon and I’d like to snap your neck off.”

“Now, now, Flo,” said Sam. “Calm down. That’s not where the name for the bid comes from anyway. It’s supposed to have been named for the beautiful flower, so it should make you think nice, colorful thoughts.”

“I don’t know whether my face is more red with anger or green with envy,” said Flo.



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