We Are The Champions

Nobody wins every time at bridge and nobody loses all the time, either, so what makes you more successful one time over another?

My partner Christine and I had our most successful tournament ever this past weekend at the two-day Sectional at our home club, the Vero Beach Bridge Center, coming in first overall in the morning pairs session with a 66% game that earned us 8.25 Silver points, and then getting 66% again in the afternoon session, which was good enough for second place overall (first in our direction) that netted us another 5.16 MasterPoints.

We didn’t do as well in the Sunday Swiss teams competition with teammates Lorie Heiberger and Glenn McBride, when we had a tough draw, having to face top-ranked teams in the first and the last round, and we finished up with a 3-3 won/lost record.

But the .90 Silver MasterPoints we all earned for that effort put Christine and myself at a total of 14.31 MasterPoints for the whole tournament, which meant we were the top two point-getters for the entire event – we’ve never done that well anywhere! And it wasn’t like we had no competition. John Brady from Jacksonville, the national champion of all Sectionals, was there playing with one of his favorite partners, John Moschella from Orlando, as were some standouts from South Florida, and just about all the local luminaries who outrank us by thousands of points.

We couldn’t believe we had done that well and we didn’t think we had done anything outstanding. When we asked ourselves why we had done so well this time, a couple of things stood out.

We played solid bridge and avoided any big mistakes of the kind that can result in disasters. And when our opponents made mistakes, we generally took advantage.

But there was one other factor. We did not engage in post-mortem discussions after any hand. As soon the hand was over, we went on to the next one, and deliberately avoided any discussion of what went wrong or right, or any recriminations of what either one of us could or should have done better. The problem with those discussions is that they tend to stay with you through the next few hands and don’t let you concentrate on the next hand – or at least they can prevent you from approaching the next hands in the right frame of mind, as a totally new problem to be dealt with.

Whatever – it worked.

In the afternoon session we were second only to a 97 1/2 -year-old woman and an 88 ½-year-old man (the pair’s average age was 93), but ironically, in the morning session we had one of our best boards against them when we got a top on a board where they failed bid an easy Slam. They had 6 Clubs or 7 Diamonds, but after some attempts at interference by us, they stopped at 5 Diamonds, and failed to take any overtricks.

The unnamed South Declarer who didn’t get the most out of the hand by a long shot will have to assume the role of my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, in this episode of the adventures of the Bridge Burglar, while I’ll be her nemesis, Smug Sam, with the West hand that put up most of the interference. Christine is East as my (Smug Sam’s) partner, Shy Shem, and Flo is playing with her usual partner, Loyal Larry, who became the North dummy.

South Dealer; neither side vulnerable

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

The Bidding:

South West North East
(Flustered Flo) (Smug Sam) (Loyal Larry) (Shy Shem)
1 1 2 Pass
2 NT 3 5 All Pass

Opening lead: Ace of Spades

Finding Slams on less than 29 high-card points usually involves taking advantage of a void in either partner’s hand, but it’s hard to find those Slams with conventional Slam tries like the Blackwood convention.

You can get a count on partner’s Aces and keycards, but you still don’t know in which suits he or she has those cards, and if they’re in the suit that you’re void in, they sometimes don’t do you much good.

On the diagrammed hand played at a recent Sectional tournament at her home club, Flustered Flo sat South with a pretty minimal opening, and since her North partner, Loyal Larry, also had a minimal opening, they settled for a Game in 5 Diamonds, which they hoped would not be a stretch.

Flo’s nemesis, Smug Sam, was on lead from the West seat and offered his Ace of Spades, which was promptly ruffed in dummy. Flo actually thought she had a chance to set up a good Spade trick in her hand (on which she would be able to pitch a losing Heart from dummy) so she came to her hand three more times, twice with high trumps and once with the Ace of Hearts, to ruff all her remaining Spades. Alas, no Spade winner could be set up.

Now she was out of trump in dummy, and, wanting to guard against a 4-1 split in Clubs that would make the opponents’ Jack good, she took a finesse on the Jack of Clubs the wrong way and lost that trick. Sam then also collected his good King of Hearts before surrendering the rest of the tricks to Flo’s Clubs and remaining trumps.

“I know I could have made an overtrick, partner, by just running the Clubs” Flo said to Larry. “Hopefully those 20 points I gave up to the Club Jack won’t hurt us too much. I’m kind of pleased that we at least bid Game in a minor on just 26 high-card points. We both had minimum openings.”

Larry waved her apologies away – he’s always loyal to Flo and wouldn’t think of questioning her play.

However, Flo was very disappointed to see that she and Larry got an absolute bottom on the board – thus giving Sam and Shem a top. Most people reached a Slam in Clubs or Diamonds on the hand, and a couple even managed to bid and make the Grand Slam in Diamonds. Of the few people who stayed in 5 Diamonds, all but Flo at least made one or two overtricks.

“I had no idea there was a Slam to be hand on that hand,” said Flo.

“Your partner had a better hand than you did because of the void in Spades, one of my suits,” said Sam. “Perhaps he should have asked for Aces, but I guess he didn’t know how to tell you that he was void in Spades, which would have been huge for you.”

“That’s right,” said Flo. “I had no idea.”

“You need a separate Ace-asking gadget for Slam tries when you have a void,” said Sam.

“Is there such a thing?” Flo asked.

“Of course there is,” said Sam, smug as always. “It’s called Voidwood, or exclusion Blackwood. My partner and I use it all the time, and we would have had no trouble getting to that Slam.”

“How does it work?” Flo asked.

“On the second round of bidding, your partner would have jumped to 4 Spades, which was my suit,” Sam explained. “The cue bid in my suit means that he’s void in Spades, and he wants to know how many keycards you have, meaning Aces outside the Spade suit – he doesn’t need the Ace of Spades because of his void – and the King of the trump suit, meaning Diamonds.

“In this case, you would have given him 3 keycards, because you have the King of Diamonds and Aces in Hearts and Clubs, so you would have answered 5 Hearts. Four No-Trump would be zero, 5 Clubs would be 1, etc., etc. Then it’s easy for him to bid 6 Diamonds, and maybe even 7 if he’s confident that you’ll be able to dump enough Heart losers on his long Club suit.”

“You make it sound easy,” aid Flo.

“Believe me, it is,” said Sam.

“I’ll have to try that convention once,” said Flo. “Maybe I’ll call it Sam-wood.”

“I’d be honored,” said Sam, “but I’m afraid that name won’t catch on – too many people already know it is Voidwood.”

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