Where have they gone?

What’s happening to tournaments? Doesn’t anyone want to go anymore? Tired of seeing the same faces from across the state and the country all the time (most of whom are not very sociable anyway)? Apart from a few die-hard pros intent on beating each other’s brains out in knockouts and the souls desperate for ranking points in the gold rush, nobody seems to go anymore.

Across the country, attendance at Regionals and Sectionals is down. The only types of tournaments still growing are Regionals at Sea on cruise ships. Why? Well, we are dealing with an aging population less and less able to travel. Card fees have gone up. At most Regionals they’re $15 per person now. At some clubs you can play three times for that money – and not be embarrassed by the pros trolling the A/X/Y pairs games. And maybe there are too many tournaments and they are cannibalizing each other.

A case in point was the recent Regional at Ponte Vedra Beach held the week of the Memorial Day holiday which officially kicks off the summer season. It came right on the heels of the Tampa Regional, and although we didn’t attend the Tampa event, we heard it was lightly attended, too.

The North Florida tournament has been a nomad for years. It started out as the Jacksonville Regional around the 4th of July and it always was the smallest of the state’s nine Regionals spread out during the year. Then it moved to a different date and different venue, the World Village of Golf somewhere between St. Augustine and Jacksonville. That seemed to boost attendance quite a bit last year. This year it moved again – to the Sawgrass resort with the golf course that has the famous 17th green surrounded by water. You wouldn’t think that change of venue would significantly depress attendance, but it did.

The resort hotel’s cavernous ballroom was less than half full most days – some club games have more tables than this Regional with its many scheduled events. The tournament’s daily Bulletins could be printed on just a couple of pages. When my partner Christine and I played in the Bracketed Swiss event on Tuesday with our friends Mimi Klug and Dave LeBar, we were hoping to fly under the radar and get placed in about the third bracket down. Unfortunately only 10 teams entered and we were all lumped together in the same bracket, making the event stratified instead of bracketed.

That evening, the side game attracted only three tables. The next day, when our erstwhile teammates Dave and Mimi entered what was supposed to be a bracketed knockout with a different pair, there were no brackets there, either, and everyone was lumped together in the same group.

Competitively, we did okay, finishing 4th in the two-session (Non)Bracketed Swiss with Dave and Mimi for a haul of 2.95 Gold MasterPoints. Our 4½- 1½ won-lost record was better than some teams ahead of us, but two of our victories were by the narrowest of margins (1 or 2 IMPs) and what counts in the final score is Victory Points, in other words, margins of victory. The next day, Christine and I came in third overall in the 8-table morning side game, just behind the pro Jerry Helms (whom we beat in our three head-to-head boards) and one other pair. Our 55% score gave us another 2.13 Red MasterPoints.

In the Swiss teams competition where we shuffle and deal the cards, I had one remarkable hand with a 9-card Club suit – I can’t recall whether I’ve ever been dealt a 9-card suit before, either by a computer or by a human. I bid it differently from the way it was bid at the other table, and as a result, we got 5 International MatchPoints (IMPs) on the board, which propelled us to one of our bigger victories.

It was such a remarkable hand that I can’t pass it up for a Bridge Burglar episode. My column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, will first bid the hand wrong as the South Declarer, the anonymous opponent of Dave and Mimi at the other table, while her nemesis Smug Sam (me), will show the right way to bid the hand.

East Dealer; neither side vulnerable

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

The Bidding:

East South West North
(Anonymous) (Flustered Flo) (Anonymous) (Loyal Larry)
1 4 4 Pass
Pass 5 Double Pass
5 All Pass

Opening lead: Ace of Spades

Few books have been written about how to bid 9-card suits. They don’t happen often enough to make it worthwhile.

As a result, Flustered Flo had no idea how to bid the South hand when she picked up the 9-card Club suit in a four-person Swiss team event at a Regional tournament in her home state where the cards were shuffled and dealt by hand. Knowing that her perennial nemesis, Smug Sam, sat South at the other table and would play the same hand increased the pressure on her.

Flo knew this was a points-schmoints hand and high-card points would be irrelevant. After her East opponent, Smug Sam’s teammate, had opened a Spade, Flo knew she had to do something, but what? She decided to bid 4 Clubs, the same bid she would have made with an 8-card suit, because, well, she knew she had four losers and she had no idea whether her North partner Loyal Larry would be able to pick up any of them. And, thinking optimistically, maybe Larry had something and just bidding 4 would give him a chance to say something.

But it was her West opponent who got a chance to say something, bidding 4 Spades. After Larry and her East opponent passed, Flo stuck her neck out one more time by going to 5 Clubs. As Flo expected, West doubled, but East decided they could get more points from Game than from a double, and bid 5 Spades.

Now Flo was stuck. If she sacrificed in 6 Clubs and her partner had nothing, she’d surely get doubled again and be Down Three. That would minus-500, worse than giving them their 450 for their 5 Spades Game. So Flo passed.

The play of the hand was uneventful. Flo got her Ace of Clubs but she and Larry had no other tricks, so their opponents had a plus-480 score, making one overtrick on their 5 Spades contract.

“That may not be bad, partner,” said Flo. “As you saw, they had an easy 6 Spades Slam. My interference may have kept them out of it. If our teammates get the Slam at the other table, we’ll be fine.”

“I hope so, partner,” said Larry. “Let’s see what happens there.”

Flo’s hopes were dashed when it was revealed that at the other table, Smug Sam had been allowed to play 5 Clubs doubled as South, going Down Two Doubled to give up only 300 points. That meant Sam’s team won the board by 180 points, good for 5 IMPs which boosted Sam’s team to a 14-IMP total victory.

“I can’t believe that they let Sam play 5 Clubs,” said Flo. “I’m going to ask him how he did it.”

“How did you manage to play that hand in 5 Clubs?” Flo asked Sam after walking over to the other table. “How did your bidding go? I went to 5 Clubs, too, but they bid 5 Spades right over me.”

“Yes, but there was one huge difference,” said Sam, smug as always. “Your first bid was 4 Clubs and then you went to 5 Clubs on the second round of bidding. I went to 5 Clubs straight away, right after East had opened a Spade.”

“Why is that so different?” Flo asked. “I’m not getting it.”

“Isn’t it rather obvious?” Sam asked. “With your 4 Clubs bid, you gave West a chance to bid 4 Spades and show support for his partner, which then encouraged him to go to 5 Spades. With my 5 Clubs bd, it was too risky for West to go to 5 Spades. He took the safe way out, doubling with his three Aces.”

“I guess I see it now,” Flo said meekly.

“Just think if it this way, Flo,” said Sam. “If you’re going to pre-empt to shut them out, then REALLY shut them out, and don’t give them any chance to regain the initiative.”

“But East-West missed an easy Slam at both tables,” Flo noted.

“Yes, I had been prepared for them to bid 6 Spades,” said Sam. “And then I would have gone to 7 Clubs. Down Four doubled would have been only minus-800, better than giving up the Slam for 980.”

“So are you going to write a book about how to bid 9-card suits now?” Flo asked.

“Not enough money in it,” said Sam. “I’d sell only one copy, to you, since you may be the only one who ever got a 9-card suit and didn’t bid it right.”

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