by Pieter VanBennekom
Our local bridge tournament director Joey Livezey canceled his usual Wednesday night duplicate tournament at the Hershey's Mill Community Center, so John "Unlucky Louie" Walston and Pieter "Cy the Cynic" VanBennekom, who had been looking forward to playing with different partners, decided to hook up as a team and play in the pairs game at the Delaware Bridge Studio in North Wilmington.
It wasn't our best outing, although we had been on track to finish 3rd in the C category (and maybe earn a sliver of a MasterPoint) until the last round, when we did not do well and fell back into the pack. What hurt was was that several other C pairs did well in the competition and finished ahead of many of the A and B pairs (which included other refugees from Hershey's Mill such as Debby Bryan and her British husband Andy), not giving us much of a chance to grab separate honors among the lower-ranked Cs.
Barbara and Chet Thayer won with a 61.81% game, earning 1.98 MasterPoints each, and John Lutz and Sam Rosenthal were second with 59.70%. We finished with a 48.26% game, just below average. We had our troubles during the evening. John failed to try a finesse in a 3 No-Trump contract that would have brought it home, and we missed a Small Slam in Hearts when John gave me a limited raise (1 Heart to 3 Hearts) instead of a jump-shift to a different suit to indicate extra strength that would have made me ask for Aces instead of settling for Game in 4 Hearts.
I also screwed up on one hand when I did not try hard enough to find a fit for a Game in 3 No-Trump, instead going for an impossible Game in 5 Clubs. All hands were computer-dealt and very challenging to bid and play, but this one was really curious because we should have bid 3 No-Trump even though neither one of us had a Heart stopper. The opponents would have taken 4 Hearts tricks right off the bat, but the remaining 9 tricks would have been ours! So how do you find the gumption or the cojones to bid 3 NT when neither one of you has a Heart stopper? That's what my column will be about, hence the title "No Stoppers? No Problem!"
On the diagrammed hand, I played the South hand and John was North, so I'll turn myself anti the anti-hero of my column, Flustered Flo.
- - -
West Dealer; East-West vulnerable
Spades A K Q J 4
Hearts J 9 6
Clubs J 10 6 4
Spades 9 8 7 6 3 Spades 10 5
Hearts A K 10 8 Hearts Q 3 2
Diamonds 7 Diamonds Q 10 8 5 4 3 2
Clubs 9 8 5 Clubs Q
Hearts 7 5 4
Diamonds A K 9 6
Clubs A K 7 3 2
West North East South
Pass 1 Spade Pass 2 Clubs
Pass 3 Clubs Pass 5 Clubs
Opening lead: King of Hearts
- - -
Can you ever bid 3 No-Trump when neither you nor your partner have a single stopper in one of the four suits? Before you say "no" too quickly, take a look at what happened to Flustered Flo with the South hand in a recent duplicate game.
After her partner, Loyal Larry with North, indicated Club support, Flo decided that between the two of them (each had opening points) the point count was enough for Game, but she had no indication either of them had any stopper in Hearts, so she took a shot at 5 Clubs. When West led Ace-King of Hearts and then another Heart to East's Queen, she was Down One before she even started.
"Just an unfortunate hand," Flo told Larry. "I hate those kinds of hands. If you're brave and you stick your neck out, and your opponents find the right lead, you get punished and you go down. And if you're a coward and stay in 3 Clubs, you get rewarded with a tops on the hand. No Game makes on that hand even though it appears you have the points."
Flo was almost right, but not quite. True enough, about half the pairs playing the same hand went to 5 Clubs and all but one (who got a Diamond lead instead of a Heart) went Down One. And roughly the other half stayed in 3 Clubs and made an overtrick.
But tops on the hand went to Flo's nemesis, Smug Sam, who bid 3 No-Trump with the South hand and made an overtrick when West collected his top Hearts and led a another Heart to East's Queen; then East had no way of getting back into the West hand to collect the last Heart trick.
Considerably flustered at the news that her nemesis had beaten her once again, Flo approached Sam: "How did you dare bid 3 No when neither you nor your partner had a single stopper in Hearts?"
Sam just shrugged. "I bid 3 No after he supported my Clubs. I knew we had the points for it when my partner opened and I had 14 points," Sam said, rather smugly as always. "After I heard him support Clubs, I was pretty sure I had seven tricks for him in the minor suits. His opening points had to account for at least two tricks in the majors. I didn't care if they were all in Spades or if he had one in Hearts."
"Weren't you afraid that they'd run Hearts on you and you wouldn't be able to stop them?" Flo asked. "That's why I didn't go there."
"So what if they took 4 Heart tricks right off the bat?" Sam replied. "The other nine would be mine and in 3 No I can afford to give up 4 tricks. In 5 Clubs you can't afford to give up even three as you found out. Remember, in No-Trump you count your winners, not your losers. I felt pretty sure we had our nine winners."