Tuesday, February 03, 2009

BRIDGE: Can YOU Count to Thirteen?

Let's say you find yourself with a mostly unfamiliar partner, playing in a pairs event at the local Duplicate Bridge Club. You have time for a brief conversation and don't really come to any agreements beyond the basic American Standard Yellow Card. Your partner DOES express enthusiasm for the 1430 variant of Keycard Blackwood. How likely is THAT going to come up?

Foreboding drums of discontent play in the background ...

You get dealt [S] Q [H] Q-10-9 [D] A-Q-6 [C] K-Q-J-10-5-2. A more than decent hand with 16HCP, but too many of them made of quacks (queens and jacks). Fear not, suddenly your hand grows in value immensely as your partner opens the bidding, first to bid, with 1H, vulnerable against not. Thoughts of slam immediately come to mind.

And the bidding by right-hand opponent does nothing to stop this slam express. He makes a pre-emptive two spade overcall. The odds of partner holding important heart and club cards now go up substantially. How best to get there? With a regular partner, 3C shows where your side values are when you make the requisite heart raise to five later. It implies first or second round control of diamonds and spades for going spelunking for a slam. Wonderfully descriptive, don't you think? But will a first-time partner draw all the right inferences?

You opt NOT to take the chance. So you cue-bid spades, which will undoubtedly elicit another bid from partner. You are not going to meekly accept an 'uninterested in slam' sign-off call of 4H, but you will have at least gotten heart support off your chest. So, you pull the 3S card out of the bidding box.

The next two bids surprise you. The opponent to your left DOUBLES! Then partner bids ... 3NT! Seems like everybody around the table owns one of the four top spade honours! And partner's free bid saying so, certainly rules out a minimum opener. Is it possible partner holds the ace of spades, five hearts to the ace-king AND the ace of clubs? It's consistent with the bidding. And look at your cards. The magic holding in partner's hand means SEVEN NO TRUMP is possible. Might come down to the H8 being in partner's hand, but there are two pointed aces, six clubs and five hearts to take, if so. That's thirteen and a grand slam!

So you ask for aces and partner chirps 5C. One or four aces, the king of hearts qualifying as an ace on this bidding. Can't be one ace. It HAS to be the magic hand. 7NT emerges from your bidding box. Your left-hand opponent doubles. You smirk. You 'know' the double is a request to your RHO to find an unusual lead. It almost assuredly shows the king of diamonds. You doubly smirk. Your opponent is not going to get a chance, even with a diamond lead, to get that king. You are going to REDOUBLE and run off the first 13 tricks!

With the big blue XX card still lying on the table, the opening leader faces the jack of spades and you spread your beautiful cards on the table. Partner doesn't seem happy. More importantly, partner does not seem confident. You understand why as your queen is gobbled up by the ACE OF SPADES in left-hand opponent's hand. In short order, you find out partner has opened with:
[S] K-9 [H] K-J-8-7-6-5 [D] K-10-9-8 [C] 2

Opening leader had EIGHT spades for the 2S overcall. He also had the heart ace and was itching to double 7NT himself. HIS partner had two aces. Partner COULD have held the damage to eight down by cashing four diamonds with the aid of a finesse. Instead, a parade of spades after getting a heart out onto the table at trick three led to sluffing a trick in the wash. TEN down! MINUS 4600 rather than 4000 or even the possible 3400. Didn't matter. Ice-cold bottoms are not made of any sterner stuff than -3400.

You shake your head and wipe one possible partnership out of your contact book. It takes brilliance to lose 4600 points on a single hand. And you just can't see yourself being exposed to such brilliance again.

N0t until your partner can find 13 points to open and then freely bid again. When PARTNER can count to thirteen, it makes it so much easier for you to start counting to thirteen again.

Even if it takes awhile.

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