One of the real pleasures on the ACBL tournament docket is the January regional in Honolulu. Combine the balmy weather and the locale at the West end of Waikiki, just steps away from the sand and an alluring marina, and you have a setting far more special than your garden-variety regional.
I was infused with considerable aloha spirit as I sat down to play in the opening Charity Pairs. Late in the session, we were clunking along with what felt like a 49% game, when I had a chance to execute my trademark specialty: “walking the dog.” Walking the dog is a term for deliberately underbidding your hand with the desired objective of buying the contract at an affordable and optimal level. My sub-specialty is to do this when I have hearts and the opponents have spades. We have all been at the table for auctions such as:
Pard RHO You LHO
X♥ X♠ 4♥ 4♠
These auctions are frustrating. When you are on the wrong end of the spade suit’s tyranny, that feels like enough punishment, but when your LHO cackles, “Doesn’t the ACBL require you to announce your 4♥ bid as a transfer”, while he bids 4♠, the resulting angst is palpable.
Accordingly, I resolved many years ago to minimize the frequency of bidding 4♥ on the above auctions. Actually, eliminate might be a more precise verb choice, except in those relatively few situations'where I have lots of defense against a 4♠ contract. In situations where most others would bid 4♥, I will either content myself with a 3♥ underbid or, occasionally, a put-it-to-em 5♥ plunge. I immodestly claim my dog walks to generally be rousing successes. I can even report that a calculated 3♥ underbid was the only time I ever “got” Richard Pavlicek in two Vanderbilt matches. I considered this a crowning achievement because I came to regard the now-retired Pavlicek as one of the most underrated great players of the past 40 years.
So, imagine my delight in an otherwise mediocre session, when I pick up:
♠Ax ♥Kxxx ♦xx ♣K109xx at all white in second chair.
The auction started against a unknown couple that may well have been married:
Even though I clearly had the values for a 4♥ call, all readers can divine my happy chirp of 3♥. This certainly did not appear to be a hearts-versus-spades scenario, but I wanted to buy the hand in 4♥, perhaps doubled. Also, I did not want LHO to bid 5♦ over a direct 4♥. So, out came my dog leash.
The next bid by LHO blew my mind: 4♠!! The 3♦ bid clearly fit his hand. In fact, my table feel told me that he was not bidding 4♠ as an advance save. Nope, he had high hopes of chalking up +420.
Partner doubled. My first instinct was to check the backs of everybody’s cards but I decided against it, being the maven of ethics that I am. My happiness at my too-clever 3♥ bid had quickly morphed into terror. I knew something was amiss but I had no idea as to what that something might be. To add to the uncertainty, a charitable categorization of my partner’s game would be “unpredictable.” The last time I had encountered so much fog, I was on the Golden Gate Bridge in mid-August. I had been thrust into Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone and saw no logical way out. Whatever I did could be terribly wrong. My fourth heart was a clear defensive liability and I might have enough that we could scramble home in 5♥. On the other hand, high on the list of actions that would provoke nausea in partner and subject you to demeaning ridicule is a pull of partner’s double of a non-making 4♠ into a non-making 5♥. The Phantom should be restricted to theatergoers. Eventually, whispers of “the 5-level is for the opponents” overwhelmed me and I made a tortured pass.
I decided to lead a club. My LHO turned out to be a comedian. The fog started to clear as I perused dummy:
My mood did not improve as I watched partner’s ♣J get ruffed. It got worse as I came to grips with the fact that RHO had opened 1♠ with:
Two comedians! Three if you count me. My poor partner had a 16-count with 5 hearts so you can hardly blame the double. The opponents bid to their 14-point game in a manner that suggested their possession of the hand records. Given that partner was a certainty to get the ♣Q right on the auction, the horror of the realization that we could make a slam in three different strains was unbearably sinking in.
I had been brutally victimized by a spades-against-hearts dog walk. Whenever I next play against this unforgettable duo, I fervently hope they do not bring a dog collar to the table. That would be embarrassing.
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