Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Jennbridge: Ten Fun Days at the Phoenix Nationals

By Bob Klein.

I just got back from a really great ten days in Phoenix.  I had a mixture of successes and failures, shared in a really great housing deal, and have decided that it was a resounding success for me overall.  I'll give you a short synopsis of my activities, then present two fascinating hands that are interesting for totally different reasons.

I played the whole time with two partners with whom I have not been playing very long: Erwin Linzner and Helene Bauman.  With Erwin, I got knocked out of the Senior KOs the first day, won a compact KO, then qualified for the final but didn't scratch in the Open Board A Match Teams.  Helene and I had planned to take Tuesday off and start in the Senior Mixed Pairs, but (foolishly as it turned out) decided at the last minute to try our hand in the Blue Ribbon Pairs.  We lasted one day, went back to plan A and scratched 21st in the Senior Mixed.  We didn't have a team for the North American Swiss until a friend got us onto a six-bagger arranged just before bedtime the night before it started.  We managed to make it to the finals and had a decent 25th place finish.   About 62 master points including 40 platinum, so I was reasonably satisfied.  I really wanted to do better in the Senior KOs, but that's bridge.  By the way, kudos to my Washington DC pals, David Ruderman, Fred King, David Abelow and Bob Bell, for making it to the round of 4 in the Senior KOs.  I'm jealous!

The first hand comes from the compact KO.  It was during a match that we were winning easily, so in this context wasn't that important.  With both sides vulnerable, I was dealer with this hand:

♠ x

I opened 1 Diamond, which is limited to 15 points or less.  LHO overcalled 1 Spade.  Partner bid 2 Clubs, and RHO jumped to 4 Spades.  I had a nice hand for clubs, so I bid 5 Clubs.  LHO passed and partner made an unexpected bid of 5 Spades, which had to be a grand slam try in clubs.  RHO now made an even more unexpected bid: 6 Hearts!  What the heck is going on here?  What could partner or RHO have for these bids?  I thought about this for a long time.  I might have the right hand to make 7 Clubs with both red aces, but I chickened out and doubled.  I thought at the time that I was showing first-round control, but Erwin later pointed out that this was a mistake.  He said that by doubling here I was denying interest in a grand slam, and in retrospect I agreed with him.  The auction proceeded 6 Spades, double, all pass.  Erwin led the king of hearts, and this dummy came down:

♦ void
♣ void

Declarer ruffed the heart, and I immediately knew that they would make seven, since hearts ruffed out easily.  Minus 1840.  We weren't too happy at the time, since we knew that we could have made 7 but sold out.  However, while we were waiting for the other table to finish, it occurred to me that we might win the board despite this awful result.  I realized that if we had gone on to bid 7 Clubs, there was no way that the 7-6 freak would allow us to play it there and would bid 7 spades as a sacrifice bid, not knowing that it was cold!  Sure enough, at the other table our teammates bid to 7 Spades and made it doubled for 2460.  So we won 12 IMPs!  It turned out that we made what is commonly known as a striped-tail ape double, where you talk them out of a slam bonus by doubling a lower-level bid.  Here are all four hands:

                                ♠ void
                                ♥ KQx

♠AQJxxx                                                   ♠ Kxxxxx
♥void                                                           Jxxxxxx 
♦xxx                                                            void
♣xxxx                                                        ♣  void


I have never before seen a hand where a grand slam can be made by both sides.  Have you?  Interestingly, 7 Clubs would not have made as a heart lead beats it.  But if LHO had doubled for a heart lead, Erwin would have realized what was up and corrected to 7 Diamonds, which was cold from my side, and RHO would have had to take the "save" in 7 Spades since he wouldn't have been on lead!                                          

The second hand was from the sixth round of the finals of the North American Swiss.  We tied the first match.  I committed several blunders in match 2 and we lost 19-1.  I had to sit out the third match to rest.  My teammates got blitzed so our team was going nowhere fast.  When I came back in for Match 4, I resolved to at least try to get the team back to average by the end of match 6,which was my last scheduled match. The team did well in matches 4 and 5, so we were in position so that a big win would push us over average for the day.  By the way, this experience has convinced me that it is important to play six-handed in the last event of a long week, as everyone is tired.

Board 13 was the next to last hand of the set.  We had pretty good results on the first five, so I thought we were ahead in the match but not by a lot.  I was sitting West in fourth seat and picked up, with only our side vulnerable


Helene and I play Precision.  She opened 1 Diamond, which showed either 11-13 balanced with any diamond holding including a small doubleton, or 10-15 or so unbalanced with a real diamond suit.  My RHO overcalled 3 Clubs, preemptive.  I bid 3 Hearts, LHO passed, and Helene surprised me with a cuebid of 4 Clubs.  She had to be showing me a great hand with heart support that could not open a strong 1 Club to begin with.  I was at the crossroads.  Should I try for slam with a hand with just 11 HCP, so that the two had a maximum of 26?  Normally one doesn't try for slam with an 8-loser hand opposite one with a maximum of 15 points.  However, the combination of RHO's preempt and partner's cuebid suggested that she had at most one club, so at least two of the three losers were almost certainly covered.  If she had 4-card support along with the singleton club, then all my cards would be working nicely.  She could easily have a diamond suit headed by the AK so my queen could be huge.  If she had something like xx/KQxx/AKJxxx/x, six hearts would make easily.  So I decided to make the only slam try available below game and bid 4 Diamonds.  This would sound to her like "last train" and by inference show something in diamonds in the context of this particular auction.  She now bid 4 Spades, so she really liked her hand since she cuebid above game.  So I went on to Blackwood and bid 6 Hearts when she showed me 3 keycards.

Dummy led the ten of clubs, and I looked at:


My first reaction on seeing the dummy was disappointment that there were only 3 trumps, no king of diamonds and only 5 diamonds, so I would have my work cut out for me.  Moreover, this was a slam that would probably not be bid at the other table, so 26 IMPs could well be riding on the outcome.  I felt that the whole event might depend on whether or not this one came home.  If we lost 13 on this and lost the match, it would be really demoralizing and our day would end in disappointment.  If we won 13, we'd have a solid win and possibly get above average for the day, and I'd end up feeling good about the team's chances.  On a personal note, since I screwed up match 2, it would give me a nice feeling of redemption by doing something positive for the team.  You think that bridge is only a game?

Given these circumstances, I would have liked an hour to figure out the best line of play.  I had to come up with something in a few minutes.  OK, folks, take a few minutes and decide on a line of play, starting with what card do you play to trick 2?  There are two main possibilities to come up with 12 tricks: club ruffs in dummy and setting up diamond tricks, which might be combined with a fallback spade finesse if needed to get to 12.

I considered starting out with ace of diamonds and a diamond ruff to hand, followed by a club ruff, diamond ruff, club ruff then king of hearts. This line has the complication of when do you take your spade tricks, spades possibly getting ruffed and overruffs with the queen and/or jack since no trumps would have been drawn.  The possible permutations with this approach were too difficult for me to consider in any reasonable amount of time.  Another possibility was to play a spade to the ace and take a diamond finesse, planning to eventually ruff 2 clubs in dummy and pitch my spade loser on a diamond.  This would require losing no trumps if the finesse lost, so I decided it was too risky.  I thought it better to start with a trump to the ace to reduce overruffing possibilities, get an idea of the trump position and to be able to start the diamonds with the queen.  This could have a psychological advantage if an unsuspecting North, holding the king, isn't immediately ready to duck and gives away its location.  So I played a heart to the ace, and got a surprise: RHO played the queen! Now my prospects improved since I didn't have to worry about 2 trump losers.  I briefly considered the idea of restricted choice and picking up trumps for no losers, but decided that dummy's trumps were needed for either ruffs or entries to set up diamonds so this idea wasn't relevant here.  So I followed through on my original plan by putting up the Queen of Diamonds.  LHO played low smoothly so I went up ace and ruffed a diamond with my deuce.  Once this survived (LHO could hardly overruff low given South's club preempt), all the heart spots could only lose to the jack.   So I continued with a club ruff with dummy's ten and a diamond ruff back to hand.  Eureka! RHO followed with the king! Now the hand was cold.  All I had to do was play a trump to the king, pitch my last club on the Jack of Diamonds, and my losing spade on the now-established diamonds, losing only to the Jack of Hearts.  The icing on this delicious cake was that RHO was dealt the doubleton QJ of hearts so I made 7!  Sure enough, slam wasn't bid at the other table so we won 13 IMPs as part of a 19-1 VP triumph.  The team ended up over average for the day, and slightly under average overall because we had a low carryover. Everyone on the team went home happy.

The two opposing hands were

♠QT832            ♠ 5
♥53                    QJ
♦T873                K52
♣T9                   ♣KQJ7532

Even after thinking about this hand for a long time afterwards, I'm still not sure what would have been the best line of play.  I'm just happy that this one worked.  As the cards lay, most but not all lines would have succeeded.  My RHO, who I later found out is a good French expert, told me I played the hand well, which felt good to hear.  I invite comments.

Good luck!  

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