What a Gem!

She did it! My partner Christine made Ruby Life Master in the rankings of the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL), going over the 1,500 MasterPoints mark.

She did it at the first Sunday (11/5/2017) game of the winter season at our home club, the Vero Beach Bridge Center. In Vero, where we have 1,100 members and we’re by table count the 8th largest bridge club in the country, it’s difficult to get people to come out on a Sunday, and we had only four tables for the game. Going in, Christine needed 1.04 points to reach 1,500 points, and normally such a small game doesn’t offer enough points, but it was a special membership game with extra points so we gave it a try.

Not only did we reach the goal – at first we thought we’d blown it away, coming in first with a 58% game, beating three A pairs and three other Bs, and notching 2.63 points. A late score correction knocked us down to second place with only 57%, but the 1.97 points for second place were still more than enough to maintain Christine’s ruby status. We had a true “pajamas game” with tops and bottoms, getting tops or ties for tops on 11 of the 28 boards, but we also had 9 bottoms or ties for bottoms.

Thinking back to the days when we were starting out in the world of duplicate bridge, we never dreamt we’d get this far – 1.500 points had seemed like an insurmountable mountain to climb back then. (Since we started playing together, I’ve always been about 200 points behind Christine and since we’ll continue to play as partners, I guess that’s where I’ll stay).

It took us several years to get our first 300 points for our Life Master rank – we never had any problems with special colored points from tournaments since we’ve always been fiends for tournaments and we have more colored than normal black points. But this year we may accumulate close to 300 points in just a single year. We thought Christine would get her new illustrious rank by the end of the year, but she got it almost two full months early.

As a bridge expert once told us, at some time the points just start coming in bunches, and in our case, that has turned out to be true.

It wasn’t too many years ago that the ACBL introduced the new ruby and sapphire rankings (at 1,500 and 3,500 points respectively) to give people an incentive to continue striving for points and going to tournaments. When you used to you reach 1,000 and became a Silver Life Master, the level of 2,500 for Gold Life Master might have seemed unattainable, but the new Ruby rank at 1,500 wasn’t that far away. Similarly, 3,500 became a nice intermediate goal to strive for between 2,500 and the Diamond Life Master rank at 5,000. At least in our case, those new interim incentives have worked.

Ironically, one of our top boards on Sunday was a missed Slam. We could have made 6 Hearts on the board, but we stopped at 4, making two overtricks. The fact that it was still a top was due to others not even bidding Game on the board.

That’s why we’ll make it the latest episode in the adventures of the Bridge Burglar, with our West opponent and good friend Geri Vaughn playing the role of my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, even though she did nothing wrong, and me being her nemesis, Smug Sam, with the North hand that became the dummy. Christine will play the hand as the South Declarer.

North Dealer; North-South vulnerabl

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

The Bidding:

North East South West
1 Pass 1 2
4 All Pass

Opening lead: Ace of Diamonds

Bidding Slams should probably not be a goal in most duplicate bridge events. Just bidding your Games and making the greatest possible number of overtricks will usually give you a good score – even if the hand records later show that you could have made a Slam.

Flustered Flo, who had a good hand on defense with the West cards on a diagrammed deal from a recent game at her home club, thought she might have had a good board when her nemesis, Smug Sam, who sat North, and his partner Shy Shem, who was the South Declarer, missed a Small Slam in 6 Hearts.

She was hopeful of getting a top or close to a top score because of their missed Slam, but to her bitter disappointment, she got a zero on the hand.

How was that possible?

When Smug Sam raised his partner to Game in 4 Hearts, his South partner, Shy Shem, couldn’t hide a look of shock from his face. “You may curse me now, partner,” said Sam, smug as always, “but when you see my hand and you make your contract, you’ll thank me.”

Shem just nodded – he wasn’t convinced yet.

Flo shifted to a trump at Trick Two after taking the opening trick with the Diamond Ace. Shem took the trump trick in his hand and immediately took the successful finesse in Clubs. When the Jack held, he led the Ace of Clubs, dropping the King.

He came to his hand with another high trump and led a low Spade, finessing Flo’s King with the Jack. He then drew out the last trump, dropped Flo’s Spade King under dummy’s Ace, collected the dummy’s Queen of Clubs, tossing a Diamond from his hand, came to his hand with the Queen of Spades, ruffed a Diamond in dummy to collect the 9 of Spades and claimed the last trick with a trump.

Shem had made 12 tricks for a plus-680 score.

“There’s nothing we can do to stop the Slam so that might be a good board for us,” Flo said hopefully.

“Don’t get your hopes up, Flo,” said Sam. “Some Slams can be made but can’t be bid. We just have 24 points between us. No one is going to bid that Slam. You have to get so lucky to catch both black Kings onside as doubletons that you’d be tempted to go to the casino. You can’t count on so much luck.”

Sam was right and Flo’s hopes of a good score were completely dashed. As a matter of fact, the minus-680 was an absolute bottom for Flo and her East partner, Loyal Larry. No one else had even bid Game on the hand! At most other tables, the North players had jumped to 3 Hearts in the second round of the auction and South had passed, even though most other South players also did make the 12 tricks.

“Come to think of it,” Flo asked Sam, “why did you jump all the way to 4 Hearts? I believe you guys use courtesy bids for protection after a minor opening, so if your partner didn’t have four Clubs after your One Club opening, he had to bid. When he said a Heart, he could have had zero points and only four Hearts. And I was bidding, indicating I had points. So how did you dare go all the way to 4 Hearts? Shouldn’t you have said 3 Hearts and left it up to him whether to go to Game?”

“As a matter of fact, your bid convinced me to go to 4 Hearts right away,” said Sam. “Since you bid Diamonds, the value of my hand went up with my singleton Diamond, and you sitting in front of me raised the possibility of successful finesses. That’s why I did not want to give my partner a chance to pass 3 Hearts.”

“Should I have sacrificed in 5 Diamonds?” Flo asked.

“I wish you would have,” said Sam. “Then you might have driven us into the Slam. Or we’d double and get at least 800, which is more than we got for our Game with the two overtricks.”

“So there’s nothing we could have done to avoid a bottom,” Flo concluded. “This game is so frustrating when we have to play against you all the time.”

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