Those MF Hands!!!

Like most duplicate bridge players, my partner Christine and I always try to leave Miss Fit at home – we don’t like a menage-a-trois – but every time she seems to be able to sneak into the car and come along.

Misfits are a fact of life in bridge and are one of the more challenging aspects of the game. Not every hand is going to present you with a nice, easy 9-card fit and a lay-down Game. That wouldn’t be much of a challenge. How to play the misfits separates the men from the boys – or the women from the girls, since us writers have to de-genderize everything these days.

I remember commiserating recently with Jay Prillaman, a top player who teaches courses at our home club, the Vero Beach Bridge Center. “I wish there were guidelines on how to play misfits better,” I said. “Maybe you ought to write a book about it,” Christine added.

“I you do, I’d buy it,” commented Jay.

The day before Thanksgiving (11-25-2015) Christine and I had a game at our home club where of the 28 boards we played, fully 10 could be classified as bad misfits, meaning one partner had a singleton or a void in the other partner’s longest suit, and there was no second suit they could easily agree on, either. Yet, we did extremely well. As a matter of fact, by one measure we did better than we’ve ever done in our bridge careers. We played 22 of the 28 boards better then par against only three below par and three others exactly at par. That should have given us about an 84% game, but we had to settle for 63%, still plenty good enough for first place overall and 2.50 MasterPoints.

What’s the secret of playing the misfits well? No one finishes first with a 63% game without the benefit of gifts from opponents’ errors – and we got a few. Twice we wound up playing No-Trump contracts (either at the 2 or at the 3 level) that should not have been made but our opponents gave them to us.

If you can’t agree on a suit, No-Trump may seem like a logical fallback but that’s often not the case. First, to open or respond you probably counted on distribution points from a void or singleton, but if headed for a No-Trump contract, you have to subtract those points again; then you’re not likely to get to the required 25 points. Secondly, in misfit hands you’re likely to have transportation problems; even if you have the 25 points and could set up 9 total tricks, you often can’t get to them for lack of transportation.

The best strategy for playing misfits and salvaging something – or limiting the damage – still seems to be to get out early and pass as soon as you can, as hard as that may be.

A perfect example was a Wednesday board on which Christine had two five-card minors and I was 5-4 in the majors. We didn’t go for the temptation to try No-Trump as many other pairs did – we both had to revalue our hands downward because our singletons were in each other’s suits. We stopped at 3 Diamonds, making an overtrick we shouldn’t have made. The 83% score qualifies the hand for a Bridge Burglar entry. The only two pairs who beat us were the beneficiaries if big down points from opponents.

Our West opponent who missed an opening lead to hold us to 3 Diamonds will become my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, while Christine will play the hand in the South as Flo’s nemesis, Smug Sam.

South Dealer; neither side vulnerable

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

The Bidding:

South West North East
1 Pass 1 Pass
2 Pass 2 Pass
3 Pass 3 All Pass

Opening lead: Jack of Hearts

Flustered Flo sat West on the diagrammed hand at a recent duplicate game at her Club and when she came to the table where her nemesis, Smug Sam, sat South, she was apprehensive. Smug Sam always had a way to get her, but this time, Flo was rubbing her hands in glee with schadenfreude as Sam and his North partner, Shy Shem, were having trouble agreeing on a suit.

Sam had bid both minors and his partner Shem had bid both majors and obviously they didn’t like each other’s suits at all while they were getting higher and higher. Flo was hoping they would, in desperation try to settle in an unmakeable 3 No-Trump contract.

But Shem would have none of that and put Sam back in his first suit at 3 Diamonds, which got passed around, making it Flo’s lead.

After ripe deliberation, she chose the Jack of Hearts – she correctly suspected that Shem’s second bid probably didn’t represent much of a suit – and she was pleased to see Sam put up the Queen, which was promptly gobbled up by her East partner Loyal Larry’s King.

Larry’s return Heart lead was ruffed by Sam, who went to the dummy with the Spade Ace and led the Club Jack, forcing Larry to come up with the Ace. Larry returned another Heart that Sam ruffed, he collected the King of Clubs and then cross-ruffed Clubs, Hearts and Spades until he made every one of his trumps good. That strategy gave him 10 tricks – the Ace of Spades, the King of Clubs and 8 trump tricks, to make contract with an overtrick for 130 points. That was close to top for Sam and Shem – they only got beat by a couple of other North-South pairs who benefitted from East-West going Down Two doubled in an attempted 4 Hearts contract for 300.

“At least I was able to finesse our his Heart Queen with my opening lead,” said Flo. “I was rather proud of that lead.”

“Actually, Flo,” said Sam, smug as always, “it was one of the worst leads you could have made.”

“What should I have led instead?” Flo asked.

“When we have trouble finding a fit and we’re obviously short in each other’s suits, you can pretty well assume that we will want to do some cross-ruffing,” Sam explained. “You’ve got to start that right away, leading a trump. If you lead a trump on the first trick, I can’t use all my trumps and you can hold me to 3 Diamonds.”

“While you’re at it, trashing my play,” said Flo, “is there anything else we did wrong?”

“Well, yes, it was a 20-20 hand,” said Sam. “You might have put up a little more active defense during the auction. If you bid a Heart after my partner’s opening bid of a Diamond, I can never bid my Hearts and you find your Heart fit. After we reach 3 Diamonds, you can sacrifice in 3 Hearts. If we double, we get 100 points, but we probably won’t. In any event, it’s better than letting us have 110 or 130.”

“But here’s my main question,” said Flo. “You guys had bid all four suits between you – all natural, no fourth suit forcing, no new minor forcing or any of that staff. So how come you didn’t take a shot at No-Trump and you’d go down horribly?”

“No-Trump is rarely the solution,” said Sam. “We didn’t have the points or the transportation. We just had to find a safe place to bail out.”

“And since when do you play it safe?” Flo asked, rather more sharply than she had intended.

“When it suits me,” said Sam.

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