The Partnership Desk

At last week’s Orlando Winter Regional, as a member of the board of the Central Florida Unit (240) that stages the tournament, I felt it was my duty to volunteer any needed services and I was asked, along with my partner Christine, to staff the Partnership Desk for the last three days, which gave us an interesting perspective on how the bridge “meat market” works.

First of all, here’s how it does NOT work. The desk does NOT play matchmaker to line up big pros with sugar mommies and daddies who pay them to play – those deals are made privately behind the scenes.

I’ve read that the Partnership Desk is the worst place to find a partner, and there may be some truth to this, although if you go by yourself to a Regional and you don’t know anyone there, what else are you supposed to do? Some are looking for partners to play pairs and some pairs are looking for other pairs to team up with – a lot of people are after the big hauls of gold points available in team games.

Some players get fussy. They don’t want to pair up with anyone who puts them in too high a bracket – or too high a stratification – where they don’t think they have a chance. Most people want to stay down. under the radar, to have the best chance to earn gold points against lesser competition.

The same people often hang out day after day at the Partnership Desk to see who shows up and some people acquire a reputation. “You don’t want to play with him,” one woman whispered to another while both were looking over the available sign-up cards – apparently she’d had a bad experience with him.

Most people seemed happy to have been paired up through the Partnership Desk, but not everyone. “The Partnership Desk just did not work for me this week,” said one woman as she drove home an hour away on the last day of the tournament without having been paired up.

Christine and I played teams ourselves three times during the week, twice with lower-ranked players, partly to try and fly under the radar and qualify for a lower bracket in Bracketed Swiss and partly to help them get gold. Those efforts largely backfired as we finished 3-3 and 3-4 in head-to-head matches, both times earning slivers of red points only as we did not crack the top three spots in our brackets.

On the other hand, when we teamed with my fellow-Unit Executive Bob Sprick from Orlando and his partner, Cabot Jaffe, B players like us, we did much better, sweeping the second-highest bracket and earning 9.44 Gold Masterpoints. Our first-place finish had already been assured before the start of the last round, which we could have lost by a blitz, but for good measure we won it anyway, finishing 7-0 and far ahead of the rest of the field. We won our rounds by an average of 16 IMPs – quite impressive.

If that experience is any indication, you might be better off forging an alliance with teammates closer to yourselves in strength and just playing where you belong instead of trying to “game” the system.

A remarkable hand that gave us our only blitz of the day actually came against one of the two teams ranked above us in that second bracket. Christine bid 6 Hearts, got doubled and made it for a score of plus-1,660. At the other table, our East-West teammates Bob and Cabot only gave up 50 points, going Down One in 5 Spades, so the net score between the two tables of plus-1,610 on the board gave us 17 International MatchPoints (IMPs) and made it a good candidate for a Bridge Burglar blog entry.

Christine should not have been able to make her contract, so the West opponent who made the mistake playing defense on the hand will assume the role of my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, while Christine will be her nemesis, Smug Sam, with the South Declarer hand. I’m the North dummy and Sam’s (Christine’s) partner, Shy Shem, while Flo is playing with her usual East partner, Loyal Larry.

North Dealer; North-South vulnerable

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

The Bidding:

North East South West
(Shy Shem) (Loyal Larry) (Smug Sam) (Flustered Flo)
Pass 1 4 4
5 5 6 Double
All Pass

Opening lead: King of Clubs

Holding up Aces on defense is often the right play to get an extra trick, but to be able to do so – especially against lofty contracts like Slams bids with crazy distributions – takes nerves of steel.

On the diagrammed hand in a team game at a Regional tournament in her home state, Flustered Flo did not show those steely nerves, and therefore let her perennial nemesis, Smug Sam who sat South on the deal, make a doubled Slam that he did not deserve.

The plus-1,660 score that Flo handed Sam gave Sam’s team a blitz on the round, a victory by more than 28 International MatchPoints (IMPs) and thus the maximum 20 Victory Points (VPs) at stake. The lopsided win helped propel Sam’s team to first place in the second bracket of a Bracketed Swiss event, while Flo’s team languished somewhere near the bottom of the standings.


Sam captured Flo’s opening lead of the King of Clubs with dummy’s Ace and drew trump in three rounds. Then he led a small Diamond out of his hand.

Flo put up her Ace of Diamonds immediately. She thought she remembered hearing some place – or had she read it in a book somewhere? – that against Slam contracts, you take your Aces and don’t run the risk that they disappear when Declarer voids himself or herself in the suit.

Immediately after she had taken her Ace, Sam claimed his contract.

“I have all trump left and the top two Diamonds,” said Sam, smug as always, laying his hand on the table.

“So you do,” said Flo, reluctantly, after inspecting his hand.

“Sorry about the double, partner,” she added to Larry, who waved away Flo’s excuses – he’s always very loyal to her.

“Was there a way we could have beaten the Slam?” Flo asked Sam.

“There sure was,” said Sam. “You have to hold up your Ace of Diamonds the first time I play the suit.”

“Is there no danger that I’d be eating my Ace of Diamonds?” Flo asked. “I thought I was supposed to take my Ace against a Slam.”

“Everything is situational in bridge,” said Sam, “and you weren’t supposed to take it in this case. You have to hold it up, and when you make me spend a high Diamond honor to drive out your Ace, it sets up your partner’s Jack of Diamonds as the setting trick.”

“But how can I know that?” Flo asked indignantly. “How do I know that the little Diamond you lead is not a singleton? You could have some little Clubs left on which you would have to give me my Club Queen eventually.”

“You have to think of it as a risk-benefit scenario,” explained Sam. “Maybe there’s a small risk that if you hold up your Ace of Diamonds, you might eat it and let us make an overtrick. A doubled vulnerable overtrick would be another 200 points for us. At the stratospheric levels we’re at, with scores close to 2,000, that’s only one IMP and it hardly matters.

“If, on the other hand,” Sam added, “you manage to set me by one trick, my whole 17 IMPs go away, so it could be a swing of at least 17 IMPs your way. That’s huge. You have to take the chance and hold up that Ace.”

“But it would take nerves of steel to do that, and hope you get it later, and with interest,” said Flo.

“Maybe you ought to eat some nails for breakfast tomorrow to develop those nerves of steel,” said Sam.

“Now you give breakfast recommendations, too?” Flo asked.

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