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The Golden Rule

This deal took place at a sectional tournament in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. My partner and I were paired with our semi-regular teammates with whom we’d managed to win a few team events in the past. However, our teammates were having some difficulties of late. It seems that they falling into the trap of playing Moysian fits when the contract was better suited for notrump. For those of you unacquainted with the name, the Moysian fit was named for Alphonse Moyse Junior who was rather fond of opening four card majors and raising with three, thereby providing the partnership with a 4/3 major suit fit. So, we decided to break up the team. I played with one of our teammates while my partner played with the other.

Things progressed swimmingly during the swiss team on Sunday. We reached the final match against the (considered) top team in the event. We weren’t exactly chump change, but I’m sure others in the swiss thought us to be the underdogs. My partner and I had played a few times together in the past, so I wasn’t surprised we’d had no difficulty whatsoever up to this point. I was oozing confidence and pretty sure we had a plus card going a few hands into the match. In other words, I thought we were ahead. Doggone! We’re going to beat these guys and win the swiss! But everyone knows that it only takes one major mistake to derail a victory train in a short match.

Before continuing to read this little saga, it is important that you understand a couple of very important concepts. Rarely does the absence of a convention cost you a tournament. Much more likely to occur is a misunderstanding over a conventional agreement. Before absent mindedly checking off those little boxes on your convention card, put a little thought into what you’re doing. When sitting across the table from someone with whom you partner infrequently, know that the chance of having a misunderstanding increases exponentially with every little box you check. The cure? Employ KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid! I had the opportunity to once partner a player whose team went on to become the runner up in the world championships. At the time we played I had considerably more experience, yet he wanted to play more conventions than could possibly be fitted onto our card. Not to be. I kept our card looking so white you could add your monthly grocery list to room left over. Trust me. Other bridge players stop laughing at you when you produce results. KISS works. An addendum to KISS is the Golden Rule. Never make a bid your partner is likely to misunderstand. You’ve been there. These bids are most likely going to occur in competitive auctions, but they can crop up anytime, anywhere, just like weeds in your prized garden…only faster. You’ve had it done to you and you’ve done it to your partner. Cut down on these and your chances of winning events will greatly increase. Why do I call it the “Golden Rule?” You know, “Do unto others…?” In this case, don’t do unto your partner what you don’t want done to you.

Back to the match. With our side vulnerable and the opponents not, I opened 1NT on Kx, Kx, Axxx, AKxxx. It is a problematic hand. Had I been playing with my regular partner who was now at the other table, I would have opened 1C and reversed. Playing with my present partner, I opted for KISS. No trump auctions are straight forward and there is little room for you or your partner to make one of those imaginary bids that cannot be fathomed by the person sitting across from you. How hard can it be? Stayman, transfers, blackwood, quantitative slam try, check for aces, bid the slam, don’t bid the slam. Simple stuff. It’s gotta be less than .01% of the time that a misunderstanding occurs in a no trump auction, n’est-ce pas? Especially when one is being extra careful to avoid misunderstandings.

With the opponents staying out of the auction, my partner responded to my opening NT by bidding 2S, a relay. After my forced response of 3C, he raised to 4C. Great! A slam try in clubs. This is really cool. I’ve got about the best hand anyone could have for a club suit slam try! We were on our way. Not willing to concede the grand, I cued the diamond ace. Maybe partner would bid 5NT, a grand slam force, and I could slide into what should be a cold 7C. Bidding like champions. It doesn’t get any sweeter than this!

Now you’re probably thinking that something went wrong about now. And, you’d be correct. Before I reveal partner’s next call, I’ll let you make a guess as to what he bid. On second thought, I’ll give you five guesses. If you make, maybe, fifteen guesses, you might guess correctly…but it’d still be 50/50. I’ll give you a clue. It wasn’t 5NT. My opponents were thoroughly gracious. They were as understanding as could be. At this moment in time, you see, I may have given them cause to summon the director. However, we were all friends and I’m guessing my opponents were as stunned as I when the slightest furrow began to take shape in my brow.

I bring you back to the Golden Rule. Remember? The key is to try really, really hard to NOT make a bid that can be misconstrued by partner. What was my partner’s bid? Six hearts. Yes, six hearts. This is not a typo. That bid has to rank among the top ten on the list of most confusing bids of all time! Maybe the top five. Six hearts. OK, let’s suppose that every call my partner has made in this auction makes perfect sense. Sans bidding boxes, we were orally making our calls. That’s it! I misheard the auction! I kindly requested a review. Darn! (That wasn’t the exact word that came to mind, but this is a family publication.) I did not mishear.

OK. I am a professional. Well, a professional amateur, anyway. I can get around this little rock blocking the road. I’m a mathematician. Mathematicians are problem solvers. I can do this. I’ve deciphered more complex puzzles than this. (To be honest, I wasn’t as confident in my ability to solve my conundrum as I sound, but one needs to keep up appearances.) I put my brain on steroids. Got it. My partner is showing shortness! He wants me to… Think, you idiot, think. He wants me to… OK, that’s not it. He can’t be showing shortness. OK. Got it. He wants me to pick a slam. 6H or 7C. But why would he relay to clubs before bidding six hearts? And why would my choice be between six and seven? And why would he bid 4C after the relay instead of showing his hearts?Up until now, I was a little bit surprised our opponents hadn’t called the director. I was, after all, taking a little extra time. OK, more than a little. I guess they were feeling a bit sympathetic toward me. Wouldn’t you?

Enough. I succumbed. I bid 7C, quickly followed by pass, pass, pass. My left hand opponent led. Partner tabled dummy. And…pause for dramatic effect…I claimed!

I’m guessing you probably didn’t figure out my partner’s six heart call. Partner had hearts. After the claim was accepted, he explained to the table that he misspoke. He meant to bid 2D at his first turn. He thought he had bid 2D. He didn’t realize until I asked for a review that he hadn’t bid 2D. To his credit, he never gave his misspoken bid away. No “Excuse me, that wasn’t my bid.” Not a single utterance. Stone cold face. My partner couldn’t have been more ethical. I mean, really, would anyone have held it against him had he looked just the slightest bit confused upon hearing from the opponents during the review that he had bid 2S?

Naturally, my partner had no clue what my 3C bid was after I “refused” his transfer to hearts. He meant 4C to be ace asking, except that it wasn’t since it was club support by agreement. In his mind, my 4D response to his 4C call showed all or none of the aces and, after recounting the points in his hand, he knew that was impossible! He figured he should just bid what he thought he could make. Hence, 6H. Fortunately for us, it turned out he also had the QJxx of clubs and seven clubs was laydown.

We wrapped up the set and my partner and I got up to go compare with our teammates. Everyone was waiting for us. The hotel workers were already folding up the chairs. As I was beginning to depart, one of our opponents from the other table looked at her teammate’s card. She said something to the effect of, “They bid the grand? Great contract. How did they get there? We only got to 6.” I picked up the pace, but was unable to escape the sound of the loudest groan I have ever heard uttered at a bridge tournament.

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