To the Nines

My partner Christine and I had never enjoyed much success at bridge tournaments in knockout competitions, which offer great possibilities for winning MasterPoints in bunches. Usually we got knocked out in the first round and we would do well if we survived even one round.

We turned the corner in a big way this past week at the Daytona Beach Regional, where we not only made it into the second day of the Wednesday/Thursday (11/4-11/5/2015) bracketed knockout series with our friends Marie LaChance and Linda Donahue from Melbourne, but we won the whole thing! Of the 16 teams entered in our bracket, after two days of grueling competition over 96 boards, we were the last team standing and accepted congratulations and high fives from many friends (and a few foes).

For each of us, the victory was worth 14.76 Gold MasterPoints, our second-biggest haul from one single event. Marie needed 10 points to reach her Life Master rank, and although she had thought it might take her several trips to Regionals to amass those, she got them all in one fell swoop (she still needs a few Silvers from Sectional tournaments to complete all rank requirements).

We truly were the comeback kids! In both first-day matches, we had to come from behind. We were down 7 International MatchPoints (IMPs) after the first session against an Orlando team, but came back strong and wound up winning by 9 IMPs. The second match against a team from Lakeland with a charming Southern drawl (they were originally from Alabama) was even closer. We were behind by 2 IMPS after the first 12 boards and fell even further behind on the first 11 boards of the second session.

That’s when we scored 12 IMPs on the very last hand to come out on top by just 2 IMPs. On that last hand, our teammates set their opponents’ attempted 3 No-Trump contract by two tricks for 100 points, while we set them three doubled in 2 Spades for another 500 and a total score of plus-600.

We started off the second day in similar fashion, falling behind a team from Jacksonville by 2 IMPS and then winning by 3, but we reserved our best showing for the final match against a team from rural Georgia, racking up a 28-IMP margin in the first session (with the help of a plus-800 when my opponent unwisely sacrificed in 4 Diamonds and I doubled and set him by 4 tricks) and coasting to a final 17-IMP victory.

(Two days later we went back up to Daytona to play bracketed Swiss with our friends Max Hughes from Vero and Won Yang from the Orlando area, but we just managed to win 3 matches against 4 losses for a modest haul of .63 Red MasterPoints.)

The board which allowed us to make it to the second day of the knockouts is worth a Bridge Burglar blog entry. It takes guts – and some knowledge of the more obscure “rules” of bidding – to leave a double in on a partial contract, in effect converting a takeout double to a penalty double. But Christine showed she had both the guts and the knowledge and got us the 500 points we needed – and the victory.

Our South opponent from Lakeland who haplessly opened with what seemed like a very reasonable weak 2 Spades bid, will become my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo. Christine, who left my takeout double in with her East hand, setting the stage for the 500-point “robbery,” will become Flo’s nemesis, Smug Sam, while I’ll be Christine’s and Sam’s West partner, Shy Shem.

South Dealer; neither side vulnerable

A 9 7 6 3
8 6 3 2
Q 6 2
West East
Q K J 10 4 2
K Q 4 10 8
K 9 7 5 4 Q 10
K 10 9 4 A J 7 5
A 8 7653
J 5 2
8 3
South West North East
2 Double Pass Pass

Opening lead: 4 of Diamonds

When your partner doubles a partial contract, it could be a negative double, a support double, or, more likely, a takeout double. In any and all cases, your partner wants you to bid something. Are you ever allowed to leave the double in, in effect converting a takeout double to a penalty double? And is there any kind of rule that can guide you when that’s acceptable – or maybe even advisable?

Sure you are, and sure there is, as Flustered Flo found out on the diagrammed hand, played recently in a knockout team competition at a Regional tournament in her home state.

Flo thought she pretty much had an arch-typical weak 2 opening with her 6 Spades and 10 points in the South hand. Nobody was vulnerable, so nothing much could go wrong, right?

Wrong! Flo might have known that her nemesis, Smug Sam, who sat East, had a nasty surprise in store for her. When Sam’s West partner, Shy Shem, doubled for takeout, and her own North partner, Loyal Larry, passed, Sam also passed in the East seat, leaving the double in. Flo certainly had no other place to go, so she also passed, leaving her to play 2 Spades doubled. She was even hopeful of making Game.

Sam played his Diamond Queen on the opening lead and Flo took the trick with her Ace, continuing with the Ace of trumps and then the 5, with the second trump trick revealing the horrendous split. Sam took the trick with the Spade 10 and returned a Diamond to West’s King. West then returned a small Club and Sam played the Jack when Flo played low off dummy. Sam followed with the Club Ace and another Club, which Flo ruffed. Flo then took the Ace of Hearts and came back from dummy with a Diamond, which she ruffed in her hand, but Sam and his partner had the rest of the tricks.

Flo had amassed only 5 tricks, her three Aces, a Club ruff and a Diamond ruff, for Down 3 doubled not vulnerable. The minus-500-score turned out to be enough to knock Flo’s team out of the event.

“How come you didn’t answer your partner’s takeout double?” Flo asked Sam. “He doubled, and you almost had opening points yourself. It looked to me like you guys had Game, maybe in 3 No-Trump.”

“Maybe,” said Sam, “but that would have been only 400 points and the 500 we got was better.”

“But don’t you always have to answer a partner’s takeout double?” Flo insisted.

“Not always,” said Sam. “Mel’s Rule of 9 told me to leave the double in.”

“Who’s Mel and where on earth does the number 9 come in?” asked Flo, rather flabbergasted. “I’ve heard of the rule of 17 and some other numbers rules, but what’s this one?”

“Add up the number of trumps you have in your opponents’ suit, add the number of honors you have in that suit – the 10 counts as an honor – and then add in the level of the bid,” said Sam. “In this case for me it was 5 Spades, plus 3 honors in Spades plus 2 for your bid at the 2 level. That came to 10. And Mel’s Rule of 9 says to leave the double in if the total comes to 9 or more.”

“Does it always work?” Flo asked.

“I guess nothing works all the time, but it sure did here,” said Sam.

“But why does it work?” Flo insisted.

“I don’t know – ask Mel.”

“And who’s Mel anyway?” Flo asked again.

“Mel Colchamiro – he’s still writing books, but everyone knows him as just Mel.”

“This is starting to sound like a ‘Who’s on first’ routine,” said Flo.

“No, it’s Mel on 9,” said Sam.

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