Our 14th Nationals playing together were held in Memphis, Tennessee. For five times we have been playing in a team captained by Hansa Narasimhan and eight times our captain has been Justine Cushing. Now in Memphis we had a new team, playing four-handed with Connie Goldberg from Philadelphia and Hua Poon from Singapore. As usual, we arrived already on Wednesday evening to have one day to recover the jetlag. Thursday, our vacation day, was luckily nice and sunny. There’s not too much to see in Memphis, the best part of our sightseeing was the Civil Rights Museum, which was located in the same building that Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968.
|The sun was shining :)|
The Spring Nationals starts traditionally with the Kay Platinum Pairs. This was our first time to play this event, since with Hansa and Justine we always started the first weekend with Knock-out Teams. Platinum Pairs is a three-day event pair with half of the field eliminated after each day. To be eligible to play in the event player must have won at least 50 platinum points in the past three years (platinum points are earned only in National rated events of ACBL). Before the games started Connie asked us to be nice to her if we would meet at the table. We met. And we were nice.
It’s a borderline decision if my hand is good enough for GF 2/1. Two spades didn’t promise six cards, and that’s why I had to bid two no-trumps. Three clubs was natural, possibly 6-4, and three spades showed doubleton. Hua started with the Queen of hearts and I was already regretting not having bid a semi-forcing one no trump. Vesa would have shown his black two-suiter and my invitational two no trumps would have ended the auction.
Connie follows the lead with the six of Hearts, standard attitude. What would be your line of the play?
The prospects were poor indeed. Even if spades would break, the lead removed the only sure entry to the dummy. Looks like I have to find spades 3-3 and Club King with West to make my contract. I decided to try my luck in diamonds first. The ten of Diamonds ran to West’s Queen and Hua returned a low heart to Connie’s ten and my King. A low spade went to the King, back to hand with the Jack of Diamonds and another spade, Hua winning with the Ace and Connie showing an even number. Hua returned a Diamond to Connie’s King and my Ace. Fingers crossed I tried a Club to dummy’s Queen, but Connie won with the King and contract was two down. The whole hand:
With open cards I could have made the contract. After the Ace of Hearts, I should play a Club to the Ace and a small spade to dummy’s King. Then a low spade from dummy and later ducking a Club to Connie’s King and nine tricks are mine! Not easy to find this kind of imaginative line. And we promised to be nice… After the first session we were just above the qualification line, but the second session was well below average, so we were kicked out from this event after the very first day.
On Saturday we entered the A/X Open Pairs, with much easier field, as the following board proves. How would you play the hand if North finds the best lead, a trump?
At our table an elderly lady from the North seat tried her luck with the Ace of Spades and Vesa soon claimed all the tricks, with a 94% score for us. After the trump lead it’s not that easy. If you try to ruff all your minor losers in dummy, you have to concede a diamond to the defence and after a second round of trumps the contract will fail by one trick. Dummy reversal saves the day. You win the heart lead in dummy and ruff a spade. Next concede a diamond trick for the opponents and win the trump continuation (as good as anything). A spade ruff to the hand is followed by Diamond Ace and a ruff. A third spade is ruffed to the hand and dummy is crossed with the Queen of Clubs. After two rounds of trumps South is squeezed in minors the whole hand being:
After the spade lead Vesa was playing the dummy reversal with the squeeze and the lucky lie in the minors gave him the valuable overtrick. The first session we scored 59% and the second 55%, which meant 6th place in the field of 114 pairs. The results: https://live.acbl.org/event/NABC191/23PA/2/results
Our original plan was to start the main team event, the Vanderbilt KO-teams, on Monday, but Connie changed her mind and we decided to play pairs during the week and teams only the last weekend. With only four in the team it was maybe the best thing to do. In the Vanderbilt it’s better to have at least a five-member team.
The second main Pairs event of the week was the two-day Lebhar IMPs Pairs. We start very well and after the first session we have the lead with over 80 IMPs, with over 10 IMP gap for the second place. The following board was one of the successful ones of the session:
You have a modest holding A874 Q1072 A2 1084. RHO opens with one Heart, LHO one Spade, RHO two Hearts, LHO two no trumps and RHO three no trumps. Your turn. A man or a mouse?
At matchpoints doubling would be lunatic, at IMPs only foolhardy, but that’s what I did. Partner obeys and leads a heart, but when the dummy gets down, I’m getting worried.
With 16 hcp in the dummy I start to regret my double. Well, if he makes the contract, it’s only minus four IMPs.
Declarer takes the trick with the Ace, plays a diamond to his Queen and a second round to dummy’s King. I continue with a small spade and declarer plays a small. After the second round of Hearts declarer can’t make more than eight tricks, 8 IMPs for the good guys. Declarer didn’t want to play the King of Spades, because if Diamonds are 3-3, he has nine tricks. But on the other hand, I would not play a small Spade if I have the Queen as well. Poor declarer must have been very unhappy to go down in three no trumps with a combined 28 count!
The following club slam was an interesting declarer play problem:
Two no trumps promised 18-19, three Clubs forced three Diamonds and four Clubs showed 5-5 blacks with slam invitational values. Now my four Diamonds would ask keycards with Clubs as trumps, four Hearts would accept the slam invitation with Spades as trumps, four Spades and no trumps would be to play. When partner was a passed hand I didn’t dream about grand slam, but to make a slam invitation he must have at least one Ace, so I saved some time by not to using RKCB with four Diamonds, but rather bid directly what I thought I can make. As if we ever were short of time… South leads the King of Diamonds. Take it over.
The first four tricks are obvious. The Ace of Diamonds, a Heart to the Ace, a Club to the Ace and discarding a Diamond to the King of Hearts. But then?
How about taking the King of Clubs and if the Queen is not falling, eliminating the red suits and throwing in the defender with the last trump. Not a good idea. Dummy doesn’t have any more trumps and defence can safely exit with a Diamond. If declarer could eliminate the red suits and then finesse Clubs, South must open the Spade suit, if he has doubleton Queen of Clubs. Forget that! Declarer doesn’t have entries to do all that. Hoping to find some material for the daily bulletin, I cashed a high Heart, ruffed a Heart to dummy, took the Ace of Spades, came into my hand with the King of Spades, ruffed a Diamond and was prepared to run the Jack of Clubs. If South has the Queen of Clubs doubleton, but a Spade doubleton as well, he is endplayed and has to give me ruff and discard. If North would have overruffed the fourth Heart with his doubleton Queen, I would have been thankful that I would have to apologize only to my partner and not to my teammates as well! The whole hand:
We start the second day from third place, but the carryovers are surprisingly small. The third session is not good and the fourth is bad. We are not playing well but our opponents are.
Your partner starts with the Jack of Clubs. What is your defensive plan?
If you take the Ace of Clubs, you must return your singleton Diamond to the second trick. This is just enough to beat the contract the whole hand being:
Declarer has nine tricks, one Spade, four Hearts, Two Diamonds and two Clubs, but not a real chance to establish the tenth trick. The spades are breaking, but declarer can’t establish the suit without giving the lead to East, who will return a Diamond and West will ruff out one of declarer’s winners. And if declarer removes West’s all trumps, he doesn’t have an entry to cash out his strong Clubs. But let’s make North’s Spades slightly stronger, say 1093. Then if you took the Ace of Clubs in the first trick, you handed the contract for your opponents. Then a Diamond return is not enough anymore. Declarer can establish his tenth trick from the Spade suit. East will never gain the lead for the Diamond ruff. Easiest way to set the contract is to play low to the first trick! The Ace of Clubs will never score a trick, but declarer ends up one trick short. That’s what our opponent did at the table, earning 8 IMPs for this good defence.
After the games at post mortem we came to the conclusion that North should bid three no trumps at his second turn. South’s three Diamonds surely shows majors, but why didn’t he double at his first turn. Because his distribution is not correct for a take-out double. Most probable 4-4-3-2 or 4-4-4-1. And if for example Kxx of Diamonds, North should be the declarer in a no trump contract. East hardly can start the Queen of Diamonds from AQ10xxx.
On Tuesday it’s again matchpointed pairs event with 70 pairs of average standard. First round, second board, I have nice opening hand 1054 AKQ106 95 K92, prepared to open one Heart in the second seat, but East open one Heart before me and I have to pass. West bids one Spade, East two Clubs and West three no trumps. Do you react? A man or a mouse?
Having four sure tricks after the Heart lead, I decided to gamble with a lead directing double. Partner duly leads the nine of Hearts.
Declarer covers with the Jack and you win with the Queen. What next?
If partner has a singleton Heart, I should cash my four Heart tricks and hope that we can cash fifth from somewhere. But if I cash my Hearts, I might establish ninth trick for the declarer. That’s why I played back the ten of Spades, just hoping that the remaining Heart is in my partner’s hand. How right I was:
Declarer took the trick with the Ace, Vesa was signalling with the Queen and dummy discarding a Club. The declarer crossed to dummy with a Diamond and took a successful Club finesse, but when the King was not coming down under the Ace, the contract was one down.
The declarer didn’t choose the best line of the play. After the Ace of Spades he should cross to dummy with a Diamond and play the eight of Hearts discarding a Club from his hand. I win and can take one more round of Hearts before switching to a Spade. But if I cash a third round of Hearts, I’m paving the way for an endplay against me. After the third round of Hearts I continue with a Spade, but declarer wins and cashes his Diamond tricks. I have to keep my three clubs so in the four-card ending declarer throws me in with my singleton master heart and I have to give declarer three Club tricks.
It doesn’t make any difference if I don’t take a third heart but play a spade instead. Declarer ducks the Spade to Vesa and organizes the same kind of endplay against me. So, giving up?
No, don’t take a third heart and don’t continue with a Spade but a Diamond! If declarer now concedes a Spade to Vesa, he will play another Diamond. In the five-card ending I have two high Hearts left and the contract goes down. So again. Heart nine, Jack, Queen and small. Spade ten, Ace, Queen and small. Diamond to the Ace and Heart eight to the King. And now after a Diamond switch one down?
Oh no, declarer has a different kind of medicine against that! He takes the Queen, finesses the ten and takes the fourth Diamond. After two rounds of Clubs with a finesse he plays a middle Spade to Vesa, who has only Spades left in his hand. Vesa is able to continue with a high spade, but declarer ducks and takes two last tricks his K6 of Spades. Who would have believed that North can’t afford to play a high Spade at the second trick!
If Vesa plays a low spade instead of the Queen and declarer crosses to dummy with a Diamond to play the eight of Hearts, would I have found the killing defence not to cash a third Heart but to play back a Diamond?
To be honest, I would have misdefended that position! We have two good sessions, 63% and 67%, finishing first with a big margin to the second place. The results: https://live.acbl.org/event/NABC191/26PA/2/results
On Wednesday it’s again a two-session pairs tournament with 112 pairs participating. You open with one Spade holding A6542 A73 Q4 KJ3, LHO overcalls with two diamonds and partner doubles negatively. What is your call?
I was tempted to bid two no trumps. If partner has something like Axx or Kxx in Diamonds, the contract would be right-handed. I decided to bid two Hearts anyway, rebidding this kind of spade suit was not an option for me. Partner invites with three hearts. What then?
At IMPs I would accept the invitation with three no trumps, hoping for the best, but at matchpoints it is wiser to go for a plus score and pass.
South starts with the Ace and King of Diamonds and continues with a third round of the suit. Your plan?
Obviously, our opponents are having a signalling misunderstanding. I happily discarded a spade from the dummy and ruffed in my hand. I took the Ace of Hearts and continued the suit to South’s King. He tried a Spade, but I claimed ten tricks.
A clever no trump bid from me wouldn’t have worked at all this time. Even if South leads a low Diamond, seven tricks is the limit in a no trump contract. The nice gift from our opponents gave us 99% score, but I shouldn’t be too proud of that. The opponents made a serious error, but so did I.
It was a mistake to cash out the Ace of trumps. Now if South continues with a fourth round of Diamonds after the King of Hearts, North’s Jack of trumps is promoted to a trick. But if I continue with a low heart after the Diamond ruff, I always make ten tricks. The two sessions were 60% and 61%, being enough for third place, only four matchpoints behind the winners. In the last board I made an expensive misguess. So close for a second first place! The results: https://live.acbl.org/event/NABC191/27DO/2/results
The third big pairs tournament, Silodor Open Pairs, a two-day National event has a starting field of 336 pairs. Again, half of the field is eliminated after the first day. The first session is very good, 63%, the second enough, 50%, and we are qualifying easily for the second day. In the third session we do almost everything right, scoring 69% and taking the lead with a big margin to the second place.
Stefan Skorchev from Bulgaria and Cristophe Grosset from France won’t forget the next board too soon:
Two no trumps showed 20-21, but with good five-card suit upgrading should be automatic. Skorchev started with a low club (fourth best) and Vesa noticed that this opening lead was not surely the best for the defence. Grosset follows with the eight of Clubs. What next?
Did you play a high Club from dummy? Then you won’t make your contract anymore. You can establish your Club suit, but you will make only seven tricks and go one down. That should be a fair score, because looks like NS can make nine tricks in Diamonds. Vesa played the seven from dummy and overtook the eight with the Ace! The whole hand:
Vesa continued with a low Heart, Skorchev took the Queen and continued with the Queen of Clubs! That’s an expert play. If you lead a low Club to the presumed partner’s Jack and declarer’s King, you are on the lead later, which is not a good thing, of course. The play of the Queen forces out declarer’s King and after few moments South will take a trick with the Jack of Clubs and play Diamonds thru declarer. Now the Queen of Clubs was a disaster and we scored well deserved 80% from the board. Another good board from the third session:
My three Clubs showed 6-9 with four card support. Gale Senter started with the King of Hearts and continued with a small one to South’s Ace declarer ruffing. Vesa played a small spade and North was following with the nine. How would you continue?
Vesa played the ten from the dummy and South was following with the five. The Ace of trumps confirmed the 3-1 brake and next Vesa took Diamond AK and ruffed a diamond, North discarding a Club. Heart ruff was followed by another Diamond ruff, North again discarding a Club. On the forth Heart both defenders were following, Vesa ruffing and continuing with his fifth Diamond. North refused to ruff, but on the next trick Vesa could throw her in with the trump. Vesa got his tenth trick with the King of Clubs. These efforts were worth 83%. The whole deal:
If North would have ruffed third or fourth round of Diamonds, Vesa just discards a club on that trick and then another one on the fifth Diamond. If North would have split her Spade honours on the third trick, Vesa has to finesse the Diamonds in order to make his contract.
Unfortunately, the fourth session is just average, dropping us to fifth place. Fifth place in Silodor Pairs is maybe the best achievement for us so far in American Nationals, but it would be much nicer to rise up from f.ex. 20th place to fifth and not like this way! The results: https://live.acbl.org/event/NABC191/OPEN/4/results
The last weekend it’s finally team tournament, Jacoby Swiss Teams. Out of 112 teams 56 will continue on Sunday, we end up at 39th place, six VPs above average. We start the final day well, rising up to best ten teams when four rounds is left to play. How would you play the following no trump game?
After the bidding I was commenting: “This is like playing with my wife!” Peter Bertheau was leading the three of Spades (attitude) and Daniel Zagorin was following with the eight (standard attitude and count). It’s a good question, should North show count or attitude for the ten. Anyway, I paused to think for a while and Peter was commenting: “Your wife would have finished the board already!” How would you continue?
If I play a diamond to the Jack and it loses to the Queen, I’m most often down. Only if Peter has five Spades two the King without any red Ace, I’ll survive. I decided to cross to my hand with a Club and played a Heart to the King. Zagorin cashed the Ace and played back the two of Spades, confirming the 4-4 Spade distribution. I ducked the Spade to Peter and next he cleared up the suit. Next I had to make the correct guess in diamonds. Zagorin had shown the other red Ace, so I played Diamond to the King. Wrong!
“Your wife would have made an overtrick!” was supposed to be a funny comment, but I didn’t laugh. I was sure that we should lose 10 IMPs on the board, but to my big relief Antonio Palma was playing the contract exactly the same way, so no swing. Before the last round we were lying seventh, just eight victory points behind the leaders. In the last match we made lots of wrong decisions at both tables, losing heavily and dropping to 16th place. If we would have won the last match with the same numbers we lost, we would have won the whole event! So close. Maybe next time? Las Vegas in July. Results: https://live.acbl.org/event/NABC191/SWIS/4/results