Reminiscences of fun hands

In the middle of each year the NSW Bridge Association conducts its annual “Teams of three” congress, where three players draw an expert captain, sometimes even a top Australian international. It is quite a task for the convenor to get the numbers right and when, some years ago, they found they had 46 teams but only 45 captains, I received a panicked call to come in and make up the numbers.

This is a fun and friendly event, with lots of champagne and knick-knacks given out as novelty prizes. For example, there was a prize for the first person to win the last trick of a hand with the D7, known as the “beer card” because that is the prize traditionally awarded (at least amongst youth players). The player who won this prize had earlier been about to use the D7 from dummy. Luckily her captain played the D8 from dummy instead at that stage, winking to the opponents and saying “same value”, and sure enough the D7 won the last trick.

Another time, it was announced: “there will be a prize for the partner of the next captain to go down in a contract”. Regrettably that was the only prize I won for my team.

Another time there was a possible slam on a particular board, and the convenor asked anyone who had bid and made slam to come up and claim a prize. It turned out that one top player had gone down in the slam, while another had passed the hand in! How is this possible? Let’s see the deal:

Dealer West, nil vul.

          NORTH
          ♠ KQJT976
         
          83
          A764
WEST                EAST
 A85                43
 QJ742              KT65
 JT6                KQ54
 K5                 T32
          SOUTH
          
 2
          
 A983
          
 A972
          
 QJ98

West passed, as most would. So did North – “I only had 10 HCP, partner”! There was another pass, around to Stephen Burgess, who once achieved arguably the best result of any Australian player, third in the World Championships. When short in spades, it is recommended that you pass in fourth seat (after three passes) if your strength is marginal for an opening bid, and that is how the hand was passed in.

As for our expert who went down in 6C, the difficulty is in picking how to play the clubs. After winning the diamond lead, you cash the HA to discard the diamond loser, then lead the CQ. If West covers, you must decide whether to finesse East for the C10. If West did not cover the CQ you still have a decision to make – whether to play low to the ace (the winning play this time as West’s CK is now bare), or to lead the CJ (the winning play if East’s C10 were now bare).

As for the bidding, North can count six spades tricks (losing only the SA), plus the CA and perhaps another club (often the fourth round of a suit comes good). With 7-8 tricks, the hand should be opened 4S, especially if not vulnerable (typically bid three tricks higher than you expect to make if not vul, or two tricks higher than you expect to make if vulnerable). More generally, when pre-empting with a fairly solid 7-card suit and 7-4 shape, it is usually best to bid straight to game.

My partner opened just 3S, which I passed, but luckily East-West came to the rescue, doubling her so when she made 12 tricks it was worth almost as much as a slam.

Here is one more decision from the event. You are not vulnerable against vulnerable opponents. West opens 1C, passed around to you with this South hand:

SOUTH
 AK
 A
 AK74
 QT9873

Normally you should stretch to call rather than allow the opponents to play in a suit at the 1-level. This time, however, the vulnerability suggests you may do better to pass and take them down. Sure enough, 1C makes at most two tricks, so the 500 point penalty is better than you would have scored even if you made game.

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