Thursday, August 23, 2012

The supremacy of the club suit (part 1)

It was a fine summer night for the duplicate among the mead benches of Heorot.  The bats were flying in and out of the open doorways and there were sinister humors in the air.  Beowulf and King Hrothgar were determined not to repeat the previous week's performance where they received no field support at all to end below 50%.

Beowulf, a keen follower of the auguries, had some absurd notion from the sibyl he had consulted that the club suit would be supreme that night.  "Listen to the little black flowers," she had said.  "Surely, it should be the heart suit, as we were taught by the Venerable Argentus?"  "No, the clubs, you fool," the old hag cackled.

The first pair to come to the table were their mortal enemies, Grendel and his mother.  There was a standing truce after the sun went down on bridge nights until sunrise, but still I decided to take a seat behind the King for the first round, as the only seat where I could kibitz my master would have placed me perilously close to that odious monster.  The first board was an interesting way to start. Beowulf hadn't mentioned anything about clubs to his partner, as Hrothgar is not superstitious.  So it was a surprise when, after the auction 1 2 p 2NT X p, Hrothgar decided to bid 3♣ with ♠Q972 T 85432 ♣J98.  Beowulf laid down the following dummy: ♠AT54 AQJ96 J ♣KT2.  Hrothgar was able to cross-ruff his way to eight tricks and had to end down one for a 29% board.  Par on this board, as I discovered later, was 140 in spades.  I wondered at the time if there was a rule for Beowulf's double.  While surely a double of a natural 2NT bid was primarily for penalty, it must show a good hand with shortness in diamonds, expecting partner to leave the double in with the hoped-for useful holding in that suit.  Indeed, passing the double would have yielded plus 100 on proper defense.

The next board was quite exciting however and was a portent of good things to come, doing what the clubs suggested.  Hrothgar's hand was ♠A2 KQ976 J62 ♣762, vulnerable versus not.  Grendel's mother opened with 1 and his majesty overcalled 1.  I wondered how this might work out, given that he had three losers in opener's suit, but then this was matchpoints, and it's important to get the lead-direction in hearts.  Grendel raised to 2 and Beowulf surprised us all with 3NT.  After two passes, Grendel doubled with a vicious snarl and Beowulf removed himself into 4♣.  Grendel's mother doubled with a sneer as if to say "You moron!" and there things stood.  With eight solid clubs, Jack-fourth of spades and a singleton heart, Beowulf soon had 11 tricks pointed his way, having pulled off his favorite coup: discomfiting the Grendel family.  910 was good for all the matchpoints.  Local expert Brother Zacharius later pronounced that 3NT call as "deep."  Now I was beginning to be a believer in this club suit nonsense.

In the second round against the princes Hrethric and Hrothmund, the clubs seemed to be laughing at us again.  Beowulf opened 1NT (12-14) and there it rested.  The royal dummy consisted of ♠74 Q3 T95 ♣A75432.  I question the decision not to bid 3♣ but maybe those clubs could be brought home for a top board.  It was not to be.  Beowulf ended down four for an ignominious -400 and no matchpoints at all.

In the following round, clubs were again reigning supreme.  With all vulnerable, Hrothgar opened 1♣ with a minimum hand: ♠K543 J A94 ♣KT972.  After a 1NT overcall, Beowulf jumped to 3♣.  This was followed by a double and that was the end of it.  Nine tricks were unassailable for another clear top.  That sibyl certainly seemed to know what she was about!

I decided to cross over and sit behind Beowulf, who picked up a chunky 17-count with five clubs: ♠KQ9 KQ7 Q6 ♣KQT98 and nobody vulnerable.  After the 1♣ call, his left-hand opponent, visiting dignitary Wulfgar, jumped to 2.  This was doubled by Hrothgar and it came back to the mighty warrior.  What would he call?  Seventeen of the worst points you've ever seen, yet partner can double at the two-level.  Surely, he will do something, I thought.  After all, the hand has good clubs and that suit, we know, is in the ascendancy.  After what seemed like a very long inner battle, 2NT was the final call – who needs stoppers?  This was raised to 3NT.  The opening diamond lead went to the (singleton) king and... a spade was returned.  This had set the stage for a squeeze in case Wulfgar had four hearts but they actually divided 3-3 so almost every North in the room made 490.

The second board of the round again saw some action in the club suit.  Vulnerable versus not, Beowulf's hand (in fourth seat) was ♠Q642 K2 T5 ♣A9652.  Wulfgar opened 1NT (15-17) and there was a transfer to hearts.  After the 2 call, responder then jumped to 4♣.  I just about fell off my chair when Beowulf doubled this.  There was then a long hesitation before Wulfgar bid 4.  Wulfgar's consort raised to 6 and Beowulf observed that there had been a break in tempo.  Hrothgar ignored his partner's double completely and led a spade.  Dummy came down with Txx AQTxxx AKxx void.  I heard Beowulf remark "you have your bid, my lady."  Declarer played A then a small heart to Beowulf's king.  The spade return was ruffed and the contract was down 1 for a 93% board for our heroes.  I had a chance to ask Beowulf later why he had doubled 4♣.  Because of club suit supremacy, he said, and I couldn't draw him out further.

To be continued in part 2.

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