I know just enough to be dangerous — but mostly to myself. While a couple of recent sessions playing in the A/X pairs left me licking my wounds and wondering why I ever thought I might be able to play this game, playing amongst beginners can be its own sort of hell. I’ve been attempting to eschew finesses in favor of plays with a somewhat better than 50/50 chance of success, but to do so requires one to more heavily rely on the bidding and discards of ones opponents. When said opponents are not bidding or playing their cards in a way that at all resembles rational behavior, things get very weird, very fast.
I’d played against this couple a handful of times before, they are decent intermediate players. He is the stronger player of the two; however, she makes unusual plays that are hard to read — whether it is intentionally or not is debatable, but the fact remains she can be quite deceptive.
My partner, with whom I’ve been playing for a couple of years now, and I had one of our typical exchanges that left me with absolutely no idea what was in her hand and somewhat unsure of just what was in my own. She opened: 1♦-1NT-3NT. My LHO led the jack of spades.
In that suit, the dummy came down with Kxxx. I held the ATx. I was left trying to figure out what holding she might lead the jack from, a broken sequence of J98 perhaps? A doubleton maybe? I turned to her husband and asked about their leads. He said they were “standard”. I pressed a little, “Not Rusinow?” He said no. In that case it seemed like the finesse into my AT was marked as being on-side. Still the lead of that jack was niggling me, maybe because he looked just a little surprised at my asking about the lead at all. I decided to table the issue of the marked finesse until it became necessary. As luck would have it I was able to set up my moth-eaten club suit and avoid the “marked” finesse altogether — good thing too because that jack was from the queen after all, something I remarked upon when it became apparent that my RHO had begun with a singleton spade. Link to the whole hand here.
Earlier in the day we had stumbled, twice, into a previously unidentified gap in our understanding. Playing against the aforementioned team who murdered us in the compact knock-outs, our opponents were playing an artificial club. The opening of 1♣ was alerted as forcing, but less than game-forcing. The response of 1♦ was alerted as “noise”. Holding a decent diamond suit I doubled. My partner took it as take out and bid her four card spade suit. Fortunately, the responder was not broke and the opponents took the bid and ended up in 3NT. Unfortunately, partner did not lead a diamond. Later in the day, my RHO opened 2♦ which was alerted as Flannery (showing five hearts and four spades). Again I held a decent diamond suit and doubled. LHO bid 2♠. Partner bid 3♣ which ended the auction. Our combined seven card club suit to the QT9 did not play nearly as well as our combined eight card diamond suit to the AKQJ would have, still it was only fair considering earlier during the ill-fated K.O. match I’d ended up in 5♣ with a 4-3 fit and a combined total of about 22 HCP. Sometimes down two really is good bridge.
Another day I was playing in a two-session “Baby Seals” pairs event with a partner who has about a hundred master-points. She and I met through the partnership desk at a regional tournament about a year and a half ago. We had wanted to play in the 299er evening game that night, but due to a lack of entries we got tossed into the open pairs game. We came in 2nd in “B” and, needless to say, kept in touch. Back to our most recent outing, she was playing very well. I was not. For example, when my LHO failed to cover my queen on the first trump trick in an “obvious” cover situation, I began playing for a bad trump split that never materialized and in the process let my RHO score her ten of trump — the one her partner had failed to promote by not covering — anyway. I managed to just make the hand while everyone else scored up an easy overtrick. In light of this dreary performance, probably no one was more surprised than my partner when we arrived at a table and one of the opponents said to me, “I wasn’t going to say anything, but someone told me you’re like an expert and that you’re going to be writing bridge books one day.” I asked if she was sure they were talking about me and said that the only book I might be qualified to write would be entitled What Not to Do at Bridge. (Turns out that title was already taken for a newspaper column written by William McKenney way back in 1938.) I have no clue who would have told these poor folks such a thing, but I’d like to thank them. Nervous opponents are a great asset and for the first time that day I managed not to embarrass myself. In fact I got to play one rather interesting hand at that table.
My partner opened the bidding 1♥, my RHO doubled for take-out and holding an interesting assortment of 8 HCP and a ratty five card spade suit I decided to bid 1♠. Typically this would be a de facto cue bid showing support for partner’s hearts, but having never discussed this with her I figured I could toss the bid in just to be a nuisance, plus I did (just barely) have a tolerance for hearts holding a small doubleton with a singleton ace of clubs. My LHO bid 2♣. Partner raised to 2♠. RHO bid 3♣. (Oooo! A pinochle deck!) This got passed around to my partner who now bid 3♠ and that’s when the panic set in. That bid ended the auction. When the dummy came down and I realized I had a chance of making the contract even with the bad trump split it was the best news I’d gotten all day. Link to the whole hand here.