The Bridge World regularly provides detailed analyses of the interesting and crucial deals of major championship events. Coverage includes the world team championships, the major United States national knockout team tournaments, and other international, national, and special events.
Losing at Lille
by Larry Cohen
Winning the World Open Pairs requires many miracles. In late summer, 1998, David Berkowitz and I were in Lille, France, and it seemed for a while as if those miracles were going to happen. But before we were in a position to profit from them, there were many non-bridge obstacles to overcome.
We had survived our jetlag and were getting used to the 25-minute walk from our hotel to the playing site (often in the rain). We were learning how to coax system explanations from non-English-speaking screenmates. Why was it so difficult for so many people to write out their Alerts? All that is required are suit symbols, numbers, plus and minus signs, and greater-than or less-than signs. If I had to explain, in French (or in Polish, or in Swahili, or in any other language), that my two-diamond opening was Flannery, I'd simply write, 4 ♠, 5+ ♥, 11-15.
We had adjusted to the frustrating ways of the tournament staff. In all fairness, I observe that it is a daunting task to run a nearly 700-pair event to which people are showing up (or not showing up) from more than 50 different countries, speaking goodness-only-knows how many languages. However, after the primary logistic hurdles had been surmounted, and the qualifying sessions were underway, the organization was poor. You never knew what your scores were, or when and where they would appear. [The matchpoint scores shown in this series of articles were inserted, weeks after the event ended, from Internet postings.—Ed.] When you finished each session and wanted to know your percentage after the first 11 or 12 rounds (as you can learn in America), you were out of luck. If you thought the recap sheets might be out in 10-15 minutes, you were sadly mistaken. We considered ourselves fortunate if we could learn our session score before the next session started. We never saw a printout that had our board-by-board results with a matchpoint score for each deal.
We were trying our best to cope with the smoke-filled rooms. It wasn't easy, and it shouldn't have been necessary. Is there no lung disease in Europe? And what about common courtesy? The thick smoke was always in our eyes and lungs. Speaking of courtesy, France seems not to have heard of free multiple-fixture bathrooms. The convention center had a few facilities, but every trip to the public Toilette, if you could find one, could cost two francs and often involved a wait in line (yes, even for the men). While I'm complaining, what does one have to do to get a plain old drink of water with dinner? (Don't even dream about an ice cube.) No, don't charge me 18 francs for a bottle of Evian (with or without gas); I don't need any Perrier, just a good ol' swig of tap water.
Sluggishly, we battled our way through the first four qualifying sessions with games of 46%, 51%, 71% and 49%. We were able to coast with that 71% game; there was no carryover, so all we needed was to be in the top 192 of an original 670 pairs.
Next came four semifinal sessions to cut the field to a 72-pair final. Again, there was no carryover (surely, this should be changed—problems with drop-ins notwithstanding), and we lost a bit of our intensity once it became clear that we were qualifying easily. Here's an unusual decision I faced in the semifinals, and the odd result that eventuated:
We were at favorable vulnerability. David dealt and opened three hearts; my Indian RHO overcalled three notrump; and I raised to four hearts holding:
♠ K Q 9 4 2 ♥ 6 5 3 ♦ 7 ♣ A 10 9 3.
At this point, my LHO and screenmate pulled out the four-spade card from his bidding box and placed it firmly on the bidding tray; I started to slide the tray under the screen. My opponent said Whoops, and tried to pull the tray back. We weren't sure what to do, so we called the director, who also happened to be from India. My screenmate wanted to change his call.
You may change your bid as long as the tray has not been seen across the table, the director politely informed my opponent. That's the wrong ruling. You are allowed to correct a slip-of-the-hand, but this was a slip-of-the-brain. In fact, my screenmate pleaded that he mis-saw his partner's three-notrump call and had mistaken it for three spades. He thought he was raising to four spades. I had sympathy, but this was not the local duplicate; it was a world championship. I reminded the director of the correct rules, and he agreed with me. Then, my screenmate started to plead. How can you be so cruel? his expression begged. The director stared at me with a do-the-gentlemanly-thing look.
I suppose a purist could argue that I was being unfair to the field, but I let the guy take his bid back. (Hey, it's easy to be a sport when there's no carryover.) He changed his bid to four notrump and we sent the tray across. My RHO bid five hearts (now I was getting interested), and my LHO jumped to six notrump. Enough of this nice-guy stuff. I doubled and led the spade king, and this was the full deal:
♠ A J
♥ K J
♦ Q 10 9 8 6
♣ 9 8 6 5
♠ K Q 9 4 2
♥ 6 5 3
♣ A 10 4 3
♠ 10 8 7 6 5
♥ Q 10 9 8 7 4
♦ 5 4
♥ A 2
♦ A K J 3 2
♣ K Q J 7 2
Declarer won with the spade ace, cashed his diamonds and led a club. I was a bit surprised to be able to run the spades. Down four doubled was a rare absolute top. (It was quite difficult to score a clear top, because the boards were scored across the entire field and there seemed to be at least one 1130 or the like each way on every deal.)
With all the silliness behind us, we were ready for the final rounds.
The Final; Session One
We'd play two days of 56 boards (starting at 10:30 a.m.) and then 30 more boards on the third day: 72 pairs, pre-duplicated boards, played barometer-style.
Wednesday, 10:30 a.m.
For us Americans (especially those not used to morning knockouts), it was an unusually early starting time. It was fortunate that we had adjusted to the jetlag, because it was 4:30 a.m. on America's east coast. We began the real event with two flat boards and then had to bid these hands against Martel-Stansby:
♠ A 8 3
♦ A K Q J 4 3
♣ 9 7 5 3
♠ K 6 4 2
♥ A J 10 3
♣ A K J 6
David opened the West hand with a strong club, and, after a highly artificial auction, we reached a very desirable six notrump by East. Diamonds were four-two and queen-tripleton of clubs was offside, so any (non-club) opening lead would result in 12 tricks. Surprisingly, for plus 990 we received 59 out of 70 matchpoints. I'd have expected the field auction to be along the lines of one diamond — one heart — three diamonds — six notrump. On a heart lead, declarer can set up a heart for his twelfth trick; perhaps, some declarers tried to make seven by finessing in clubs and went down one in the process.
A few more flat boards followed. Then, Bobby Levin and Brad Moss arrived at our table with a director in tow. The movement was a modified scrambled Mitchell (every pair would play every other pair) and Levin-Moss had started the deal at the wrong table. The director instructed us to begin the auction, but if any call deviated from what Levin-Moss had already seen, then we'd get average-plus and they'd get average minus. This seemed ridiculous, but we had no choice except to proceed as ordered. With both vulnerable, I picked up,
♠ K 9 5 ♥ A J 10 9 ♦ 7 ♣ Q 10 7 6 4.
It went two passes to me, and I knew I could open (say) seven notrump and receive an average-plus. I suppose that's against the spirit of the game—but what would Edgar have said, I wonder. [Perhaps that, in the context of this foolish procedure, the Director was at fault in not instructing the participants to try to take normal actions.—Ed.] I guessed to open one heart (we play a strong club, so my choices were limited), and the director stopped the auction; I had drawn a winning ticket. Average-plus. I never found out what Levin-Moss's other opponent had done with my cards. This skipped deal was a harbinger of weird things to come.
Through four rounds, we had avoided any bad boards. You know you're going to have many clunkers over 142 deals. Any pair in the final field is capable of taking your head off. At any moment you may get stripped, squeezed or endplayed. Numerous poor boards are born from the opening lead—either your own bad one or the opponents' good one. Many of these leads are blind guesses, such as the one David faced on our ninth board. Holding,
♠ J 6 4 ♥ A Q 3 ♦ Q 9 4 2 ♣ J 9 7,
he was on lead against four spades after RHO had opened one spade; responder, LHO, had bid three clubs (limit or better with three or four trumps), opener had rejected with three spades, and responder had raised to four. Personally, I'd guess to lead a minor, and, as partner hadn't doubled the artificial three clubs, I'd choose a diamond. It turns out that the leader is a 9-out-of-13 favorite. Any lead except a diamond is harmless. David led a trump, where I had two low. Declarer had king-jack doubleton of diamonds opposite three low ones. Late in the play, he led toward his king-jack and misguessed, giving us 53 out of 70. In the style of American matchpointing, top was really 35, because there were 36 tables, but the WBF style is to double what we consider normal matchpoint scores (which avoids half-points).
On the next deal, we played in a part-score when three notrump or five diamonds was on a straight 50-50 finesse. The finesse won, and, as we had 25 HCP, the field was in game and we received only 4 matchpoints. That was just our first of many bad boards.
We created one of those bad boards ourselves by bidding a no-play slam, but then got back on track when our opponents faced this Challenge-the-Champs-like tester:
♠ A Q 6
♥ A K 9 4
♦ A 7
♣ K J 10 9
♠ K 9 8 4 2
♥ 6 5 3
♣ A Q 7 5
|2 NT||3 ♥*||(Double)|
|4 ♠||5 ♣|
|5 ♦||5 ♠|
Six spades is a pretty good matchpoint spot, but it was doomed by a four-one spade split. In a bidding contest, you'd love to reach seven clubs, but that would have failed on the actual lie of the cards. Plus 50 for North-South turned out to be worth only 42 out of 70. The Vu-Graph declarer made 980 by guessing spades. When declarer, West, laid down the ace, his LHO, Zia, dropped the ten. As Zia had done a lot of vulnerable interfering, declarer trusted that the spade ten was not a falsecard from jack-ten-third or a true card from jack-ten doubleton. He crossed to dummy and successfully passed the spade nine for a top.
After that deal, the event was never the same. All hell broke loose. The change was called, and suddenly everyone was yelling for the director. Apparently, the French workmen who put out the guidecards had reversed two of them, putting them onto the wrong tables. This resulted in players' going to the wrong place and, after everyone had followed the wrong movement for a while, suddenly people found themselves playing back against opponents from earlier rounds. After a long recess to analyze the problem, the directors reconfigured the movement. They didn't do it exactly right, because many pairs were still involved with playbacks. The staff decided that no playbacks would be allowed, so whenever you faced an old opponent you'd simply sit out the round and receive percentage of your game. (Originally they were going to assign 60% to both pairs, but then sanity prevailed.)
Many pairs had one or two sit-outs during the rest of the session. We, however, seemed to be at a vortex of the (revised) movement. Our next six rounds were all scheduled against the pairs we had already played. We considered it a luxury to get the rest of the session off. This is a long and gruelling event, and it's a big advantage to be resting for 12 boards while your fellow competitors are frying their brains. While we were leisurely going to lunch, our counterparts were expending valuable mental energy. After the first of five final sessions, of which we had played a little more than half, we were in a satisfying fourth place, and well-rested.
Wednesday, 4 p.m.
The evening started off with a disaster. I held:
♠ K 10 7 5 4 2 ♥ J 7 6 ♦ Q 8 5 3 ♣ —.
David opened a strong club, and RHO jumped to three diamonds. I could have bid three spades, but we play that as game-forcing with a better hand than mine. Instead, I doubled to show 5-8; David cue-bid four diamonds. I thought I was much too strong to bid only four spades. After all, we'd belong in slam opposite something like,
♠ A x x x ♥ A K x x ♦ x ♣ A K x x.
I jumped to five spades, and David corrected to six clubs. Whoops! I passed. David held:
♠ 6 ♥ A K 4 ♦ 9 ♣ A K Q J 8 7 5 4.
The heart queen dropped singleton, but the defense took two aces and we were off to a shaky start. The same opponents bid and made a nice 620 on the second deal, and we had an average-minus to go with our bottom. With no time to catch our breath, we were ushered into the Vu-Graph studio to play the next two deals in front of a live audience.
At times like this, a partnership is psychologically tested. I was inwardly seething about David's four-diamond bid on board one. I thought he was showing four-four in the majors. Why hadn't he simply bid four clubs, natural and forcing? Meanwhile, he was presumably upset with my jump to five spades on a hand that was practically useless to him. He didn't think his four-diamond bid said anything about the majors.
The way we cope with disasters (and they are inevitable) is clearly the strongest part of our partnership. Nobody said a word; nobody even raised an eyebrow. There would be time after the session to sort out the problem. There were 112 more deals to be played, and to approach them in a state of anger and partnership friction was not going to win us any medals.
We marched into the Vu-Graph room, and Chris Compton was soon declaring three notrump on this layout:
♠ K J 7 6 4 3
♥ K 8 6
♦ 9 8 2
♠ A 2
♥ Q 10 9 2
♦ A Q 7
♣ Q 8 5 2
♠ 10 9 8 5
♥ 7 5 4
♦ 10 6 5
♣ 7 4 3
♥ A J 3
♦ K J 4 3
♣ A K 10 9 6
|—||1 ♦*||2 ♠||Pass|
*Precision (two-plus diamonds)
All Wests opened the bidding, so every declarer had an easy time placing the opposing cards. David chose to lead the heart ten, as bad as anything. Declarer won with the jack and advanced the spade queen, ducked. Declarer then played a club, and David took his queen to continue hearts. Declarer cashed his club and heart winners, then threw David in with the spade ace to lead away from his diamonds at the finish; making three.
When declarer endplayed David, we could hear the Vu-Graph theater erupt into applause. For the man on the street, this was a nicely played contract, but in the world-championship finals it was just an average result. There wasn't a declarer in the room who couldn't make three notrump; for an expert, it was child's play to develop some sort of successful end-position against West.
On the second deal of the round, I held:
♠ A Q 8 4 ♥ K Q J 8 6 ♦ 8 2 ♣ Q 4.
I opened one heart and David responded one notrump, semi-forcing. He could have up to a 12-count and possibly a three-card limit raise in hearts. I hated all of my possible actions, and I guessed to pass. This turned out to be a winner. David had a 3=1=4=5 minimum and judged the play well to make 90, our only possible way to go plus.
Three flattish deals followed, and I felt that we had settled back into a nice groove, although we were still below average for the session. Then, an opponent tried a dubious psych:
Neither side vulnerable
♠ Q 6 4 2
♥ Q 7 5 2
♦ K 8
♣ K 8 2
♠ K 9
♥ 10 9 3
♦ A 10 7 5
♣ A J 9 4
♠ A 10 8 5
♥ A K 8 6 4
♣ Q 7 6
♠ J 7 3
♦ Q J 9 4 3 2
♣ 10 5 3
Eddie Wold, North, opened a 10-12 notrump. I overcalled two clubs to show the majors, and we were on our way to a normal four hearts. South, Dick Zeckhauser, chose to make a psychic card-showing double. This was passed around to me, and I bid two hearts. David passed, and it looked as though we had missed our game for a bottom. Not so. North, David's screenmate, had told him that South's auction had created a force. Unwilling to double, but having to take some action, Wold took out to two notrump. This was passed around to David, who was ready to wield his ax. He doubled two notrump and subsequently doubled South's runout to three diamonds. This was defeated three tricks, and North-South got only 1 matchpoint out of 70 for their efforts. (Recall the double matchpointing; in America, that would have been one-half out of 35.)
We had a shot at a big score on the next deal when, for once, I put my finger on a lucky lead. However, declarer, Doug Simson, guessed everything perfectly to put the result back to average.
Things continued positively when we were allowed an extra overtrick after a defensive misguess. We had regained our momentum, but were immediately summoned back to the Vu-Graph room. The organizers had access to the barometer scores and always knew who was doing well. Any time we were called into Vu-Graph, we presumed that we were among the event leaders.
On Vu-Graph, Paul Soloway guessed the play well in three notrump on the first board; then, we settled for plus 300 on the second deal when we had 600 available in three notrump. For the round, we collected only 15% of the matchpoints and were heading in the wrong direction again.
But the next round yielded us a smashing 97%. First, our opponents had a bidding accident that could happen to anyone. What would it mean if you started with one diamond (Standard American), it was followed by two passes and a balancing double, then you took out to one heart. Is that lots of red cards and a nice hand, or is it an escape from one diamond with, perhaps, 4=4=3=2? If you do an informal survey, you're unlikely to get a consensus answer. I suggest you make an agreement with your partner. Against us, Sidney Lazard opened one diamond and ran to one heart. I bid one notrump behind him, and Bart Bramley raised to two diamonds with queen-jack-third of diamonds, playing his partner for a red two-suiter. Holding five diamonds, I happily doubled, and we collected 800 against their three-three fit for our first 70 of the finals.
On the next board, with neither side vulnerable, David faced an opening-lead problem holding,
♠ A J 10 8 4 3 ♥ 7 2 ♦ K 3 ♣ J 9 2.
|—||2 ♠||Pass||3 ♠|
He chose a low club, and this was the full deal:
♠ 7 6
♥ 10 6 3
♦ J 10 8 2
♣ K 8 7 6
♠ A J 10 8 4 3
♥ 7 2
♦ K 3
♣ J 9 2
♠ K Q 5
♥ Q 9 8
♦ Q 9 6
♣ 10 5 4 3
♠ 9 2
♥ A K J 5 4
♦ A 7 5 4
♣ A Q
South could cash two clubs and exit in spades, but, as long as the defense is careful, declarer has no way to pick up both diamonds and hearts. At most tables, declarer took nine tricks. At our table, declarer laid down the ace-king of hearts at tricks two and three, not a bad shot. He could have escaped for down one by playing a low diamond from hand (playing LHO for the indicated 6=2=2=3 shape and one diamond honor). Instead, he immediately used dummy's club entry to pass the diamond jack, which resulted in down two and 66 matchpoints for us.
We were rolling now and continued lucky when, with only our side vulnerable, I picked up:
♠ K ♥ K 10 9 8 7 ♦ 10 6 5 4 3 ♣ J 8.
David opened a strong club, and my RHO, Howard Weinstein, bid one diamond to show majors or minors. I doubled (5-8), and Steve Garner jumped to three clubs, pass or correct. RHO corrected to three hearts to show the majors. I passed (double would have been takeout), and LHO bid three spades. They had finally settled into their fit. David now emerged with four clubs, natural and forcing. I tried four hearts (maybe it would be a five-three fit), and that ended the auction:
♠ 9 8 4
♥ A 4
♦ A 9 8
♣ A K Q 10 7
♠ A 7 5 2
♥ 5 2
♦ K Q J
♣ 9 6 3 2
♠ Q J 10 6 3
♥ Q J 6 3
♦ 7 2
♣ 5 4
♥ K 10 9 8 7
♦ 10 6 5 4 3
♣ J 8
With a three-three heart break, we'd have had a good chance for ten tricks, but RHO had shown majors. I won the diamond-king lead with dummy's ace and played three rounds of clubs. RHO ruffed low. I overruffed, played a heart to the ace, and led a fourth round of clubs. Again East ruffed, but this time I pitched my singleton spade, and East was on play in this position:
♠ 9 8 4
♦ 9 8
♠ A 7 5 2
♦ Q J
♠ Q J 10 6 3
♥ K 10 9
♦ 10 6 5 4
A spade back would defeat the game. I could ruff and draw the last trump, but I'd have only one trump left and two diamonds to knock out. From East's point of view, however, I might have held all the remaining trumps and one fewer diamond. For example, interchange West's and declarer's red fives. Playing for that layout, East returned a diamond, hoping to score a diamond ruff. Garner won and switched to spades, but I had the timing back to establish my long diamond. Plus 620 garnered (sorry about that) almost all the matchpoints.
Firmly on a roll now, we had finished playing against American pairs. The movement was sensibly structured so that all countrymen would oppose each other early in the finals. This would prevent dumping to one's compatriots late in the event, if one pair were clearly out of contention. (In my experience, however, there is so much competitiveness among the American pros that I doubt any would be tempted to help their fellow nationals.)
We now ventured into the unknown world. Sure, we recognized the name players from the foreign countries, but for the most part I never knew whom we were facing. Against a Swedish pair, David opened one spade in third seat with ace-king-queen-fourth of spades and a balanced pile of junk (he had one other jack). We landed in two spades (a four-three fit) and made three on misdefense for a near-top.
Our optimistically hoped-for gallivanting through the rest-of-the-world halted when I made a terrible decision on the next board. In fourth chair, at unfavorable vulnerability, I held:
♠ J 8 5 3 ♥ 7 5 ♦ K 9 8 6 ♣ 10 9 3.
The dealer opened three hearts, David doubled, and my RHO raised to four hearts. I passed this back to David, who doubled again. I had to decide whether to pass or to take out to four spades. One of my favorite bridge maxims is, When in doubt, bid four spades over four hearts. For no good reason, I went against that theory and passed. I suppose this could have been right if David hadn't had four spades, but in fact he had a huge hand shaped 4=1=4=4. A few cards were favorably located, and we could actually make six spades. Still, 680 would have been better (average minus) than the mere 11 matchpoints we scored for plus 500 against four hearts doubled.
Our momentum broken, we followed up with two very poor results. First, a Swedish opponent had to respond to a strong notrump with,
♠ 9 ♥ 7 3 ♦ 10 7 6 5 3 ♣ A Q 10 6 3.
He could have passed and made 90, but he wheeled out some sort of minor-suit device (I never secured a clear explanation) and played in three clubs, making 110 for a near-top. Then, David held,
♠ 3 2 ♥ Q 8 6 5 4 2 ♦ Q 7 ♣ K Q 9.
With both vulnerable, I opened one spade and David's RHO bid two notrump for the minors. David chose to bid a nonforcing three hearts. His LHO competed to four clubs, and I thought it was rather trivial to bid four hearts with,
♠ K Q 9 6 4 ♥ K 10 3 ♦ A 6 5 2 ♣ 3.
Something was wrong with our series of competitive decisions. All of David's cards would have been much better on defense than offense. We were defeated two tricks (David's RHO was 1=2=5=5) for our third straight miserable score.
But in this session of ups and downs we were about to go back on a good streak. We were playing against the Swedes who would end up winning the bronze medal. First, I had the kind of decision that constantly arises in pair games. Holding,
♠ K 10 5 ♥ A 5 2 ♦ 6 5 2 ♣ K 5 4 3,
at favorable vulnerability, I was in fourth seat. Two passes were followed by one heart on my right. I passed, and LHO raised to two hearts, passed back to me. At IMPs, it wouldn't occur to me to balance, but at matchpoints it's very tempting to try to steal the deal for minus 50 (or minus 100) or to push them to three hearts down one. Against weak opposition, I'd probably double and hope they'd let David out for a score lower than minus 110 (weak players are afraid to double experts, and they often misdefend by a trick). In this competition, I decided that balancing was too dangerous. These people are not afraid to say double, and their defense is often deadly. It turned out that double would have begotten a redouble, and we'd soon have been minus 300 (partner had an unsuitable 4=2=4=3 hand). Our minus 110 was an average-plus.
On the next board we killed them:
♠ A K 2
♥ J 9 8 2
♦ A K 10 3
♣ 8 6
♠ 9 6 5
♦ 9 7 6
♣ A K J 9 5 2
♠ J 10 4
♥ A 7 5 4 3
♦ Q 8 2
♣ Q 4
♠ Q 8 7 3
♥ K 10 6
♦ J 5 4
♣ 10 7 3
|Pass||2 ♣*||Double||3 ♣|
*natural (six-plus clubs)
Three clubs would have failed by a trick, but it's not clear which of our opponents did anything wrong. David's raise to three clubs had really done it to them. I led my singleton heart; David won with the ace and (knowing I had to have the ace-king of clubs for my opening bid) returned the three for me to ruff. I was prepared to underlead in clubs to get another heart ruff, but perhaps I could reach David twice in clubs if he held the queen and the ten. So, I played the club jack to trick three. David duly overtook with the queen, and this time he returned the heart seven for me to ruff. This high heart denied the club ten, so I continued with a high club and persisted with a third round of the suit. Declarer was not enjoying the play, and ended with a zero when he chose to ruff low at trick six.
Next, we played strong Venezuelans, but they produced poor judgment on both deals and practically handed us two tops. Compared to my previous World Open Pairs finals experience, we were receiving an abnormally high number of gifts. Perhaps everyone was exhausted from the strenuous conditions.
Three flattish boards followed, and then we ended the session with another near-top. Again, a ton of matchpoints would swing on an opening lead. I had to select from,
♠ K Q 5 4 ♥ Q J 10 6 ♦ 7 6 5 ♣ K 6,
after this sequence:
|1 ♦||1 ♥|
|1 NT*||2 ♣**|
|2 ♠||3 NT|
All leads seemed dangerous; I settled on the heart queen. Dummy tabled a five-card heart suit, and at first glance it looked like honor-nine-fifth (the holding I feared). But the smoke must have been in my eyes, because this was the actual scene:
♠ A 10 3
♥ 9 7 5 3 2
♦ Q 8
♣ A 8 5
♠ K Q 5 4
♥ Q J 10 6
♦ 7 6 5
♣ K 6
Declarer won the heart lead and played on diamonds, knocking out David's ace (his only card above a nine). Obeying my Smith Echo (an encouraging card on declarer's lead to suggest continuing the suit led originally), David continued hearts. South won and led a spade from his jack-nine-fourth to my queen and dummy's ace. Declarer continued spades, and I cashed my two hearts to hold the contract to three. At most tables, the auction had gone one notrump (15-17) — two diamonds (transfer) — two hearts — three notrump — pass. This elicited a spade lead, which resulted in 11 easy tricks (declarer was 4=2=4=3 with all the undiscussed honors and both minor-suit tens). For minus 600, we got most of the matchpoints, and we finished the opening day of the finals in second place.
I'd love to tell you our exact percentage for each session, but we never knew! [Some two weeks after the event ended, The Bridge World's private detectives were able to determine that Berkowitz-Cohen's percentage scores, by session, were approximately 54%, 60%, 55%, 55% and 51%.—Ed.] We'd get updates of the event standings, but at no stage would we ever see a normal recap sheet, with our scores for each board, our matchpoints on each board, and our total for the session. We were a long way from the efficiency of ACBL-run national pair games. To be sure, this secret style has certain efficiencies of its own—no one could bother the administrators by complaining about a scoring error.
With two-fifths of the final completed, we were in great position, lying second. Owing to the movement fiasco, we were well-rested, and we were playing in good luck.
Thursday, 10:30 a.m.
We defended the first two boards of the day well for average-plusses. However, on the second round I picked the wrong opponent against whom to card honestly:
Both sides vulnerable
♠ 10 3 2
♥ A K Q 10 5 4 2
♣ 9 7
♠ A Q J 8
♥ 8 7
♦ 8 6 3 2
♣ A 10 8
♠ 6 4
♥ J 6
♦ Q J 10 5
♣ Q J 6 5 3
♠ K 9 7 5
♥ 9 3
♦ A 9 7 4
♣ K 4 2
|Pass||1 ♠||2 ♥||Pass|
|2 NT||Pass||3 NT||(All Pass)|
David led a diamond, and Gabriel Chagas, fresh from winning a silver medal in the Rosenblum Teams (the knockout finalists had automatic placement in the pairs finals), won in dummy and cashed one high heart. Next, he played a spade to the nine and David's jack. If David had been out of hearts, declarer would have had immediate access to his ninth trick. However, David accurately played back a heart. Chagas won and started to run the suit. With one heart to play, this was the position:
♠ 10 3
♣ 9 7
♠ A Q
♣ A 10
♦ J 10
♣ Q J 6
♠ K 7
♣ K 4
Unsure of LHO's shape, declarer had to guess what to throw on the last heart. I had earlier thrown my second spade to let David know what was going on. Unfortunately, that also told Chagas that the spades were four-two and not five-one (we play five-card majors, but David had chosen to open a four-bagger in third seat). Chagas threw a spade in the diagrammed position, and David was helpless. No matter what he discarded, he would have to give Chagas his ninth trick in a minor. Thanks to my spade discard, the ending was easy for Chagas to read. David threw a diamond, and Chagas played a spade. David cashed his other spade, and Chagas correctly threw his diamond ace to score his club king at trick 13, for 61 out of 70 matchpoints (the equivalent of 30.5 out of 35 in America).
Why didn't David keep three spades in the endgame? Think about the penultimate round of hearts. On that trick, David had been squeezed down to the ending you see above. Had David kept three spades, he would have had to part with a minor-suit card. No matter which one he discarded, he'd be dead.
Say he had thrown a diamond to reduce to three-two in the blacks. Chagas would lead the last heart and throw his diamond ace, leaving David with no effective answer. (Declarer would score one of his black-suit kings at trick 13.) If, instead, David blanked his club ace, Chagas would blank his club king in the five-card ending, then play a club. It was a frustrating deal for the defense. David was discarding after declarer, yet was squeezed first.
I apologized to David for my revealing carding, and on that down note we had to go on Vu-Graph again. This was another psychological test. We had to do everything in our power to focus on the next deal. It was very tempting to try to analyze why we didn't beat three notrump, but there would be time to do that later. We were late (the play in three notrump took forever) and frenzied as we were whisked into the dreaded Vu-Graph room to face the other Brazilian Rosenblum silver medalists.
My RHO opened a weak-two in diamonds and, at favorable vulnerability, I overcalled two hearts, holding:
♠ 7 4 3 ♥ A J 9 8 6 ♦ — ♣ A 9 6 3 2.
This was promptly doubled for penalties, followed by two passes; the tray came back to me. Should I sit?
I decided to run, and had to choose either three clubs or redouble. Partner could easily be 5=1=5=2 or the like, so I tried redouble, and, to my surprise, David pulled to three clubs. I passed, willing my opponents into a doubling rhythm. No, LHO retreated to three diamonds and it was David who doubled for penalty. In a surprising turn of events, my RHO (and screenmate) pulled to three spades. What was going on? I asked him again if two diamonds was natural, and he assured me it was. As David had run to three clubs (not two spades), it seemed as if the opponents had a good spade fit, so I bid four clubs. The bizarre auction continued four spades on my left, five clubs by David, all pass. Can you construct a deal to match that auction?
♠ 7 4 3
♥ A J 9 8 6
♣ A 9 6 3 2
♠ K 10 9 5
♥ 10 4
♦ K J 9 5 4 2
♠ A Q J 8
♥ K 7 5 3 2
♦ A 3
♣ Q 10
♠ 6 2
♦ Q 10 8 7 6
♣ K J 8 7 4
|—||2 ♦||2 ♥||Double|
|3 ♣||Pass||Pass||3 ♦|
|Double||3 ♠||4 ♣||4 ♠|
A diamond was led; David drew trumps and played ace of hearts, jack of hearts to produce eleven tricks.
After all that excitement, plus 400 turned out to be only average, as several pairs were doubled in the same contract or were plus 500 on defense.
On our second Vu-Graph board, David faced this demanding play problem in three notrump:
♠ A 7 5
♥ Q 7 2
♦ 10 9 6
♣ 10 7 3 2
♠ K 10
♥ A K 3
♦ A K J 2
♣ K Q 9 6
There had been no opposing bidding. He received the spade-three lead (fourth best). He took the jack with the king and made the thoughtful play of a heart to dummy and a club to the nine. Even if this lost to the jack, LHO wouldn't necessarily know to continue with the spade queen. The club finesse did lose to the jack, but LHO continued with the spade deuce. David played low from dummy; RHO won the queen and cleared the suit, David throwing a diamond. Now David played another club, RHO won with the ace while David unblocked the queen.
Out of spades, RHO returned a heart; David cashed one diamond and the rounded-suit winners, ending in dummy. In the two-card ending, when he led a diamond toward his king-jack, he knew that LHO had started with 5=3=2=3 shape and that his last two cards were a spade and an unknown diamond. David made the anti-percentage play (two-to-one against) in diamonds by going up with the king. He thought he was in a good matchpoint position because of his earlier handling of the club suit. Other declarers, he reasoned, might have played the club king from hand at trick two. Then, East would clear spades, and a later finesse for the club jack would lead to down one. Alas, cashing out for plus 600 earned us only 8 matchpoints as the diamond queen was onside and most of the field made overtricks.
A trend that was to stay with us the entire event continued. Any time we were threatened with a below-average session, a few good boards came our way. Our good streak in this session started when David had to rebid after one spade — pass — one notrump — pass — ? with,
♠ K 9 8 6 5 2 ♥ A 9 3 ♦ A K 9 ♣ 4.
He chose a scientific (flexible?) two diamonds, and this proved to be a big success. The players who rebid two spades were minus 300 in that contract when they bought a stiff spade opposite and suffered a five-one trump break. Two diamonds landed us in a four-three fit, and although our opponents defended very well to obtain down one, we still received 49 out of 70 matchpoints.
A few normal boards plus another gift (this time, a declarer took one trick less than he should have in a part-score) vaulted us into first place. In the qualifying rounds, we had never been able to get our scores. We didn't have the patience to wait the necessary hour after the evening session, so we'd go to get a bite to eat. Upon our return, the building was usually locked! The finals had a much smaller field and was run barometer style, so we were handed updated standings every few rounds. Seeing our names at the top of the list at the event's half-way point really got our blood pumping.
We judged well to stop in four spades for a good board and, shortly thereafter, our vulnerable opponents pushed to three notrump with two balanced hands and 23 highcard points. That kind of stuff might work for Meckwell in America, but for this Chinese pair in Lille the cards lay poorly, and declarer was set 300.
One flat board later, we increased our lead. At favorable vulnerability, I held:
♠ A 2 ♥ K J 3 2 ♦ 9 7 6 4 3 ♣ 4 3.
My RHO dealt and opened two clubs, natural. I passed, and LHO responded two hearts, nonforcing. David overcalled two spades; RHO and I passed, and LHO bid three clubs. David competed with three diamonds, and RHO bid three hearts. At this point I did the wrong thing in theory: I raised to four diamonds.
This was the full layout:
♠ 5 3
♥ A 6
♦ Q 10 8 5
♣ A Q J 8 2
♠ K J 8 7 6
♦ A K J 2
♣ K 6 5
♠ A 2
♥ K J 3 2
♦ 9 7 6 4 3
♣ 4 3
♠ Q 10 9 4
♥ Q 9 8 7 5 4
♣ 10 9 7
|2 ♥||2 ♠||Pass||Pass|
|3 ♣||3 ♦||3 ♥||4 ♦|
I had just taken us from a plus position to a minus. However, South over-competed to four hearts. Finally, something I could double. Why double three hearts when you can double four? David led a high diamond, and declarer ruffed to play a heart to the ace and another heart. I won my king and played a high diamond (suit-preference). Declarer pitched a spade, and we took three spade tricks and, eventually, another heart for plus 800 and our third clear top of the finals.
I thought we were on an invincible run, but the next stretch of boards brought me back to reality. We had a bunch of averages, mixed in with some average-minuses. A Chinese declarer correctly guessed jack-ten opposite king-low. Two Germans judged well to play in a cold five diamonds when three notrump would have failed. We were goaded into a phantom sacrifice when the Danes bid aggressively to a game.
Then, we received another gift. Our opponents overbid to a grand slam that had little play and was defeated two tricks by a five-zero trump break. (We couldn't double because they could have run to seven notrump and, on the lie of the cards, make it.)
Next, with both sides vulnerable, I faced an unclear balancing decision holding,
♠ Q 6 4 2 ♥ 9 6 3 2 ♦ K Q ♣ K Q 8.
My RHO opened one heart (five-card majors) and LHO responded one notrump (forcing). RHO rebid two diamonds (could be a three-card suit), and LHO converted to two hearts, passed back to me. My first instinct was to pass, but then I asked if responder could have four spades, and I was told he couldn't. We probably had at least an eight-card spade fit, and it might be hard for them to double us in two spades without a trump stack. A double by me would be for penalties (with takeout I would have acted earlier), so I bid two spades. It looks ugly, but it turned out spectacularly well. Everyone passed.
The full deal was:
♠ A 10 9 8 7
♥ A 7
♦ 8 6 4
♣ 9 7 2
♠ 5 3
♥ K 10
♦ 10 9 2
♣ A J 6 5 4 3
♠ K J
♥ Q J 8 5 4
♦ A J 7 5 3
♠ Q 6 4 2
♥ 9 6 3 2
♦ K Q
♣ K Q 8
Nice spade support, partner!
Plus 110 was worth 53 matchpoints. I still don't know if my two-spade bid was a sensible decision or just plain lucky. Is there any reliable way to judge what to do in matchpoint part-score situations where the opponents stop low but announce only a mild fit?
We finished up the session on Vu-Graph, a place that hadn't been particularly kind to us. David opened a shapely ten-count as dealer at favorable vulnerability. This propelled us into an unmakable three notrump with 10 opposite 13, but I was allowed to escape for down one and almost average.
Then, David held,
♠ A Q 10 6 5 4 ♥ 6 ♦ K 8 5 2 ♣ A 3.
He opened one spade and I responded with a semi-forcing one notrump. He rebid two diamonds, and I jumped to four diamonds to show a maximum with at least five diamonds. David would have liked to cue-bid four hearts, but we treat that as a key-card ask in diamonds. At matchpoints, he didn't want to drive past our highest-scoring game, so he chose four spades and played the deal there opposite,
♠ J ♥ A 8 ♦ A J 10 4 3 ♣ Q 10 9 8 4.
Surely, the sound openers are laughing at us. I couldn't afford to bid two of a minor game-forcing given the garbage that we open (as on the previous board).
A club was led against four spades and David misguessed (he played the ten). He lost a spade and a club to make five. Diamonds were two-two, so six diamonds was easy (even with three-one diamonds, there is some play for the slam).
In spite of our poor last round, we were still in first place with three of five sessions completed. But we had only 45 minutes to rest before the next session.
As Americans, we're used to ACBL events that have a three-hour break between sets. In WBF-land, we were playing 28-board sessions under the toughest of conditions. The screens slow things down, language differences are often impediments, and unfamiliarity with the methods used in other countries also addles the brain. (I'm still trying to figure out the Polish Club.) Add all this to the constant smoke and world-championship pressure, and one really could use a good rest between sessions. David is used to taking his nap at dinnertime; here, the hotel room was 25 minutes away. No eateries were within walking distance, except the convention center's own snack bar. There was barely time to grab a sandwich (which we were forced to eat in the noisy, smoky convention hall) and walk back up three flights of steps for the evening session.
Thursday, 4 p.m.
We started against a French pair with a top and a bottom. First, we bid six notrump, which appeared to be on a finesse for a king, but the finesse turned out to be for an ace.
Neither side vulnerable
♠ A K J 9 8 7
♥ A 8
♦ 5 4 3
♣ Q 8
♠ 6 3 2
♥ 9 7 6 5
♦ Q J 9
♣ A 7 4
♠ 10 5
♥ K 2
♦ 10 8 6 2
♣ 10 9 5 3 2
♠ Q 4
♥ Q J 10 4 3
♦ A K 7
♣ K J 6
|1 ♣*||Pass||1 ♠**||Pass|
|1 NT||Pass||2 ♠||Pass|
|2 NT||Pass||4 ♣***||Pass|
|4 ♥||Pass||6 NT||(All Pass)|
**game force, five-plus spades
Six notrump needs a successful heart finesse to bring the trick total to 12. Had the opening lead been the diamond queen, there would have been no story. David would have had to take the heart finesse, and East would have known to return a club.
But the opening lead was a heart. David had to finesse at trick one. East won the king, and . . . He knew from the auction that we were off an ace, but which one? East took his best shot by playing a diamond. Dummy's club queen indicated that declarer was more likely to be able to take extra tricks in clubs, and that even if a diamond hit declarer's ace, South was unlikely to have enough diamond tricks to fulfill the contract. David had only two diamond tricks, but the surprise fifth heart provided us with plus 990—a lucky top.
We gave it right back:
♠ A K J 10 8
♥ A J 8 2
♦ 10 6
♣ 7 4
♠ Q 6 5
♦ K Q J 9 2
♣ J 10 8 6 2
♠ 9 3 2
♦ A 8 7 5 4 3
♣ A K 3
♠ 7 4
♥ K Q 10 7 6 5 4 3
♣ Q 9 5
|—||Pass||1 ♠||2 ♦|
|4 ♥||6 ♦||Pass||Pass|
David led a diamond, so declarer's fate rested on the play of the spade suit. He chose to play ace, king, jack and guessed to ruff the third round to score 1430. You be the judge: Should David have led a club, or should I have doubled? Would my double suggest a spade lead? Minus 1430 ruined any momentum we had from the first board. (Note that, in a diamond contract, East can hold his black-suit losers to three after a heart lead by drawing trumps, cashing the ace-king of clubs, and leading a spade to the queen.)
Over the next few rounds, we had a bunch of average to average-plus results, and our lead over the field started to widen. But then, we were summoned into Vu-Graph, which until then had been our personal chamber of horrors. On the first board, I had to lead after two spades — pass — four spades — all pass, from,
♠ J 6 4 ♥ 10 8 7 4 ♦ Q 7 3 2 ♣ A 10.
On such an auction, dummy often has a trick source in one or two of the side suits, so an attacking lead seemed called for. Furthermore, laying down an ace when a preempt is on your right is not likely to blow a trick in the suit. My lead of the club ace struck gold. David had king-queen-fifth of clubs, and the opponents' were three-three. Any other lead would have allowed declarer to pitch clubs on dummy's red-suit winners. Declarer had ace-ten-sixth of trumps opposite dummy's queen-doubleton. We added two trump tricks to our three clubs for down two, and 61 matchpoints out of the 70 available (on the double matchpointing used over the 36 tables in the finals).
Next, we perpetrated one of our most successful auctions. David opened one heart. Over a takeout double, I raised to two hearts on the ugliest five-count you've ever seen (3=3=4=3 with three low hearts). We treat this raise as purely destructive (based on the knowledge that we have eight trumps). Most modern tournament players use a similar treatment and have an artificial method to show a decent raise. This start, as it so often does, propelled the opponents into the stratosphere; they played in five clubs, down 200. At last, we had produced a good round on Vu-Graph.
Although we were starting to separate from the field, as was to be our norm throughout, we could never sustain a roll. On the next round, we came tumbling back to earth. First, David held:
♠ K Q 5 3 ♥ 8 ♦ Q J 9 7 5 2 ♣ A J.
With nobody vulnerable, he opened one diamond as dealer. It went one heart — pass — one spade back to him. I'd consider it only a tad aggressive to bid two diamonds in Standard, but in Precision (where the opening bid had promised only two diamonds), I think it is mandatory to show the long diamonds. David thought so too; he was doubled and set 300 when I tabled an unsuitable 3=5=1=4 four-count.
On the next deal, at unfavorable vulnerability, I held:
♠ J 8 7 4 3 ♥ Q J 10 2 ♦ 9 8 7 ♣ 9.
LHO opened one club in third seat and David offered a takeout double. This was redoubled and I was able to take one of my favorite actions, two spades (which we play as weak, typically based on shape, not high cards). This bid is especially effective when they've opened in third seat; nobody knows whose deal it is. I expected at least eight trumps and thus Law protection. Everyone passed, and David tabled:
♠ K 10 5 ♥ A 9 5 3 ♦ Q J 5 ♣ K J 2.
Dummy wasn't pretty, but still I was happy to be playing in two spades rather than defending three clubs. Wrong! They led a heart and I ducked, of course. RHO won the king (uh-oh) and returned a heart, ruffed (oh no!). I ended up down two, a very unmagical minus 200. We did salvage 25 matchpoints, as some pairs bid and made three notrump the other way (a very lucky make).
Our next two boards were sloppy. David went down in a game he probably should have made, and I took a silly risk trying to hold a part-score to three and thereby let it make five. On those four consecutive boards, most of our lead eroded.
Then, David faced an unusual suit-combination decision in one notrump:
♠ A 5
♥ K Q
♦ J 10 9 7 4 2
♣ Q 8 3
♠ Q 10 4 3
♥ J 9 6
♦ A Q 5
♣ J 10 2
West opened one club; I, North, overcalled one diamond; David bought it in one notrump. A low heart was led; David won with the king and advanced the diamond jack. RHO played low, and at this point a case could be made for low, the queen, or the ace—not something you see every day. If David played low and lost the trick to the king, a spade back (the king if necessary) could render dummy's diamonds useless. If David played the ace, he'd be giving away a trick if the diamond finesse was on (18 points were missing; there was plenty of room for RHO to have the diamond king). David settled on playing the queen, a bit of a compromise. The queen won and he continued with the diamond ace, LHO showing out. David continued diamonds and ended up plus 120, for another poorish score.
That was our fifth straight below-average board, but just as we were about to lose the lead in the event, the tide turned again. First, I guessed the play well in a part-score for an average plus. Then, our opponents went for 300 in three spades doubled when they overreached against our 10-12 notrump. (Christian Mari of France balanced with two spades holding six spades and a shapely seven count, but Francois Leenhardt couldn't take a joke.) We followed up by finding the best defense against a part-score, and declarer helped us out by giving the contract less-than-perfect play. A few more decent boards followed, and we were securely back in first place. But then, of course, we were summoned to the horror chamber.
On Vu-Graph, we reached six spades by South on these cards:
♠ K 10 5 2
♥ A K J 7
♦ K 10
♣ A 3 2
♠ Q J 8 7 4
♥ 6 5 3
♦ A J 6 2
If we'd played from the North seat, we could have hoped for a useful off-suit lead. However, David received a club lead and, as nobody likes to go down at trick one, he called for dummy's ace. Trumps proved to be two-two, and the result basically came down to the heart finesse. (You could cash two hearts and fall back on a miracle diamond position or a squeeze, but the heart finesse was as good a shot as any.) The finesse lost, of course—we were on Vu-Graph—, and we received only 8 matchpoints. In case you're wondering, ducking at trick one would have led to a faster down one.
Next, our Scottish opponents bid to seven diamonds:
♠ A 7 5
♥ A 10 9 2
♦ A 10 7 6 4
♥ Q 8
♦ K Q J 2
♣ A K J 10 7 6
|1 ♦||2 ♣|
|2 ♦||3 ♠*|
|4 NT||5 ♠**|
**two keycards plus diamond queen
The club queen was onside doubleton, so a greedy seven notrump would have made, but nobody was that hungry. Slightly less than half the field reached seven diamonds, so we limped out of Vu-Graph with our usual disastrous round.
Feeling momentum slipping away, I picked up:
♠ A 7 5 ♥ K 10 7 5 ♦ A 7 6 5 ♣ K 9.
We play one notrump as a strong 14 to 16. Many points swing on little decisions like this; I guessed to open one diamond. David had four hearts and a weak, flat hand. He responded one heart, I raised to two, and, with a lucky lie of the cards, we scored 140 for 41 matchpoints. Had I opened one notrump, we would have scored 90, for a terrible score. We seemed to be on the right side of many of these petty guesses, and this deal was just another little sign to me that this might be our event.
After a few flat boards, I faced an excruciating lead-and-defend problem with,
♠ Q J 6 5 ♥ A 6 4 3 ♦ Q J 9 7 ♣ 4.
Britain's Jason Hackett opened one club on my right, and his brother Justin responded one diamond on my left. Jason's two-notrump rebid was raised to three, ending the auction. I led the fourth-highest spade and this was the full deal:
♠ K 9 2
♥ J 9
♦ K 10 4 2
♣ A 8 6 3
♠ Q J 6 5
♥ A 6 4 3
♦ Q J 9 7
♠ 8 7 4
♥ Q 8 7 5 2
♦ 6 5 3
♣ 10 2
♠ A 10 3
♥ K 10
♦ A 8
♣ K Q J 9 7 5
Dummy followed low, David played the four (standard count), and declarer won with the ten. I took this in stride as I'm quite used to blowing tricks on opening lead. (David usually calls me golden-arm.) Declarer ran six rounds of clubs and cashed his spades ending in dummy. I chose to come down to queen-jack-nine of diamonds and the singleton heart ace. This was the ending:
♦ K 10 4
♦ Q J 9
♥ Q 8 7
♥ K 10
♦ A 8
Declarer led the heart jack and guessed to put up the king. I exited with the nine of diamonds, of course, and we held declarer to five, receiving 53 matchpoints. Many Wests had made a takeout double of one club (both sides vulnerable) with my hand. To me, that's pointless opposite a passed partner; you're unlikely to be able to compete successfully, and all you accomplish is to give away your strength. In fact, many declarers (armed with the information that their LHO had all the missing cards) made six, and some made seven on a triple squeeze: After the diamond-queen lead, declarer runs clubs and reduces the West hand to a pulp. We didn't get a top only because some Norths made the sick response of a natural two notrump to one club and received a heart lead from the other side. Those who put up dummy's king got what they deserved for their indelicate bidding: down one.
We finished the session against the only Greek pair (and the only woman, Maria Vlachaki) to reach the final. We stopped accurately in five clubs with:
♠ J 9
♥ J 8
♦ A J 8 7 2
♣ K Q 9 8
♥ A 9 4 2
♦ K 4
♣ A 10 7 5 4 2
|1 ♦*||(1 ♠)||2 ♣||(2 ♠)|
|3 ♣||(3 ♠)||4 ♥|
*Precision (two-plus diamonds)
After a spade lead, six clubs would require three-three diamonds with the queen onside. Several pairs reached six clubs, but there was no diamond miracle, so we received 48 out of 70.
On the last board of the day, we defeated a part-score for an average. With one session to go, we were leading the field by half a board.
Most of us can remember how exciting it was to win our local duplicate for the first time. Many Bridge World readers have experienced the sensational thrill of winning their first sectional, and perhaps even a regional, pair game. When I won the Blue Ribbon Pairs in 1981, my first national pair championship, my heart was shooting through my chest during the entire final session as I realized that we were on our way to first place. The World Open Pairs is held only once every four years, and it's rare ever to have an opportunity to win the event. Even if you can fight through all the qualifying sessions, the final rounds are like a war. In past finals, I was beaten up by the tough players in the field. They made good opening leads, they doubled, they defended well, and they played the spots off the cards.
But this year, our table opponents weren't playing so well. We had been leading for much of the final rounds and needed just one more decent session to reach the pinnacle of the matchpoint bridge world. Visions of standing on the podium accepting the gold medal as they played our national anthem danced through my head. We could be world champions. Even people who know nothing about bridge would be impressed. We had been playing in great luck, and we needed it to last for just 30 more deals. I couldn't wait for the last session to start. As you might guess, it was difficult to sleep that night.
The last session was 30 boards. Because of the need to finish the event in time for the victory banquet in the evening, the directors advanced the starting time to 10 a.m.
Friday, 10 a.m.
Our first round featured a flat board, following which our Indian opponents bid a pushy, lucky game for 420. Only one quarter of the field bid it. Earlier in the finals, we had been on the right end of most of the luck deals. Was this a bad omen?
No, it wasn't. Our Christmas in September continued on the next round. An Icelandic opponent had to choose a lead from,
♠ 9 5 2 ♥ Q 10 7 4 3 ♦ Q J ♣ K Q 8,
after a third-position one heart on his right, one spade on his left, one notrump on his right, all pass. He chose the club king; dummy had jack-fourth opposite declarer's ace-fourth. I had opened one heart in third seat with ace-king-jack-fourth of hearts and ace-fourth of clubs (because a Precision one diamond on three low was so unappealing). Even a heart lead from the queen would have defeated one notrump, but the club lead had the effect of giving me the timing to set up and to use the clubs for plus 90 and a near top.
On the next round, we received yet another gift when our opponents slipped on defense, and David took full advantage by stealing an overtrick. After three rounds, it felt as if we were on a 60% pace, which would almost surely be far more than sufficient to win. But then the party ended—we were summoned into Vu-Graph.
On the first board, our Italian opponents bid a normal six clubs. On the second board, we earned a terrible score. With nobody vulnerable, I held, in third seat,
♠ 9 7 5 ♥ A Q 7 5 2 ♦ 10 4 ♣ Q J 2.
It went two passes to me, and I had to choose among one heart, two hearts, and pass. It's my normal style to pick one of the two bidding alternatives, but, conservatively, I chose to pass. Perhaps I was sitting on our lead. LHO opened two notrump (18-19), and everyone passed. I was cursing myself, for I knew I wasn't going to get a heart lead from David. He led the club ten, and this is what I saw:
♠ 8 4
♥ J 9 4
♦ 8 6 5 3
♣ A 7 4 3
♠ 9 7 5
♥ A Q 7 5 2
♦ 10 4
♣ Q J 2
Dummy played low, I covered with the jack (which turned out to be a good play), and declarer won with the king. The club six was returned to the five, four, and my queen. What now? It looked as if David had led a club from ten-nine-third, so I presumed he had gone passive from some four-triple-three hand. There were no suit-preference (or Smith echo) inferences available from his club spot; he could not afford to play the nine for fear I had started with queen-jack doubleton.
Playing David for a tripleton heart, I shifted to the heart deuce (third and fifth). Declarer played low, David played the three (to show an odd number), and dummy won the trick.
I felt great. David had not given them a pointed-suit trick on lead, and we had managed to get our hearts established. Declarer would surely lose some diamond or spade finesse to David, and a heart return would defeat the contract. Well, maybe in some other lifetime. This was the layout:
♠ 8 4
♥ J 9 4
♦ 8 6 5 3
♣ A 7 4 3
♠ A K 10 6 3
♥ 10 6 3
♦ 9 7
♣ 10 9 5
♠ 9 7 5
♥ A Q 7 5 2
♦ 10 4
♣ Q J 2
♠ Q J 2
♥ K 8
♦ A K Q J 2
♣ K 8 6
Declarer won the heart in dummy and soon claimed 150, for 62 out of 70 double matchpoints (the equivalent of a 35 top in America). Personally, I would have led a low spade from David's hand and presented declarer with his eighth trick. David had potentially done much better; if I had shifted to spades at trick three, we could have beaten the contract two tricks. But, how was I to know? Even if I did shift to spades, David would have to work out somehow to win the spade and make the unnatural-looking switch to a heart. At some tables, the club ten was led and ducked all around. Then, there was no way to defeat even three notrump.
I was told later that the Vu-Graph announcers had thought that both David and I were too conservative in the auction. They suggested that he should have opened two spades, but I think that's a terrible first-seat action with ace-king-ten-fifth.
We followed our usual Vu-Graph calamity with our worst board of the tournament. Facing the Italian Ro-senblum gold medalists, we let a ridiculous three notrump make six when we should have beaten it two. It's too embarrassing to put the deal in print. We have a partnership term to describe what happened; we call it brain damage. Up until now, we had gotten our share of deals wrong, but they were all within the realm of normal bridge decisions. In contrast, brain damage is the perpetration of a clearly stupid (no-win) action: an out-and-out mistake. (Parts of this article have been awkward to write, because we were not anywhere near peak form. I'd prefer to skip all of our blunders, but that wouldn't be honest journalism.)
Fortunately, we were able to maintain our composure and dig in hard for the last 21 boards. On the next deal, we defended carefully to beat one notrump. Then, we had to go back onto Vu-Graph, and again we defended accurately against a part-score for a decent result. But then, a typical Vu-Graph catastrophe:
♠ Q 10 8 5 4
♥ A K 7 6
♦ 9 8 3
♠ A 2
♦ A 6
♣ Q J 10 9 7 6 5 4
♠ J 9 7 3
♥ 10 9 5
♦ K 4 2
♣ A K 2
♠ K 6
♥ J 8 4 3 2
♦ Q J 10 7 5
|Pass||2 ♣*||Double(!)||2 ♦**|
|4 ♥||5 ♣||Pass||Pass|
|5 ♦||Pass||5 ♥||Double|
*natural; six-plus clubs
Everyone had judged the auction accurately (notice Mittelman's ultra-aggressive entry), and we were slated for a poor score because most of the field was plus 600 our way. We made a bad score a bit worse by collecting only 300. I led the spade ace, looking for a ruff and covering the possibility that declarer could pitch a spade loser on dummy's hypothetical high clubs. David played the three (suit-preference) to suggest that I switch to clubs. I shifted to the club queen; he overtook and tried to give me a spade ruff. Perhaps, if I had wanted a spade ruff, I would have played a club other than the queen. However, one could argue that I should play a suit-preference card in clubs—low for a diamond back and high for a spade back. Declarer won with the spade king, drew trumps, and had to lose only two diamond tricks. Our failure to get the diamond ruff cost only two matchpoints. Several East-Wests bid and made six clubs on a pseudo-squeeze.
We happily exited the Vu-Graph room and proceeded to go on a mini-roll. Our Dutch opponents missed a pushy but makable game. Then, we stayed out of trouble with a six-five hand on which the field was going for a number. Our results on the next round made me think that the title would be ours.
♠ K J 9 4
♥ 6 5
♦ 10 4 2
♣ A 7 6 2
♠ 8 6 2
♥ A J 4
♦ K Q 6
♣ K J 9 3
♠ 7 3
♥ K 10 8 2
♦ A 5 3
♣ Q 10 5 4
♠ A Q 10 5
♥ Q 9 7 3
♦ J 9 8 7
|Pass||1 ♦*||Pass||1 ♥|
|1 ♠||Double**||3 ♠||Double***|
*Precision (two-plus diamonds)
**three-card heart support
I have no problem with North's Lawful raise to three spades, but opposite a South who is apt to make four-card overcalls it's a bit hazardous. David made a good decision to double, and it was easy for me to leave it in, because we tend to have at least two trumps for such card-showing doubles. We led trumps at every opportunity and held declarer to seven tricks: plus 500 and all 70 matchpoints.
On the second board of the round, David triumphed after wild bidding and play:
♥ A 5 3
♦ K J 10 7 4 3
♣ J 9 8
♠ A K 4
♥ 10 7 6
♦ Q 5 2
♣ K 7 5 4
♠ 10 8 6 3
♥ J 2
♦ A 9 8
♣ A Q 10 3
♠ J 9 7 5 2
♥ K Q 9 8 4
♣ 6 2
Often, North opened one diamond (the field made us look like sound openers) and South became declarer at two hearts. The defense led trumps, holding declarer to six or seven tricks. I passed the North hand and David opened two hearts(!) in third position. I responded three diamonds, showing a heart fit. When David's three hearts ended the proceedings, I was wondering, Where are the spades? What we lost by getting too high, we gained back because the defense miscalculated David's hand—as who would not? West led a normal-looking high spade, then the defense played three rounds of clubs. David ruffed and led a diamond to the jack and ace. (West was already marked with the high spades and the club king.) East's best play would have been a trump, but that was impossible to find. The defender placed David with six hearts, so it seemed that a trump return would give declarer the rest (draw trumps and use dummy's diamonds). So, East returned a spade: nine, king, ruff. David played king of diamonds, ruffed a diamond, cashed the spade jack, and led the spade seven to ruff in dummy. West, with the long defensive trump, had the unpleasant choice of allowing a low ruff in dummy or of ruffing and permitting declarer to overruff and pick up trumps by straight leads.
One last time, they tried to ruin our momentum by sending us to Vu-Graph. The first board was flat. On the second, in fourth seat at unfavorable vulnerability, I held:
♠ A K 9 6 4 3 ♥ A 8 7 2 ♦ 5 ♣ 10 4.
LHO opened one diamond, and RHO responded one notrump. I overcalled two spades, and LHO's three-diamond rebid was passed back around to me. This is MSC material—there are several possible choices. I didn't want to double because I was afraid of hearing four clubs. I didn't want to pass because, . . . well, that's just not me. I chose three hearts, which felt strange with such a disparity in the majors, but no action was perfect. It went double on my left (in the world finals no one is shy about doubling part-scores) and David corrected to three spades, also doubled on my left.
But that did not conclude the auction. This was the full deal:
♠ J 8 7
♥ 9 6 3
♦ A 8 3
♣ Q 6 5 3
♠ Q 5 2
♥ J 10 5
♦ J 10 6
♣ K 9 8 2
♠ A K 9 6 4 3
♥ A 8 7 2
♣ 10 4
♥ K Q 4
♦ K Q 9 7 4 2
♣ A J 7
|1 ♦||Pass||1 NT||2 ♠|
|3 ♦||Pass||Pass||3 ♥|
|Double||Pass||4 ♦(!)||(All Pass)|
As you can see, I was slated for plus 730, but Ramer guessed to retreat to four diamonds. (With three spades and an ace, I'd have left the double in.) David led a low trump, and Paulissen won with dummy's eight. Declarer led a club to the jack and David's king. Later, South used his two minor-suit entries to lead hearts up and made 130; we had achieved yet another poor Vu-Graph result.
With only 12 boards to go, we received our last scoring update. The staff decided they would conceal the results for the final six rounds to avoid ridiculous shooting at the end. The sheet showed us in the lead by one-and-a-half boards. If only we had been permitted to score 730 on the last Vu-Graph deal, we would have had an insurmountable lead.
Down the Home Stretch
We were allowed to play the next deal in two hearts, making two, with a nine-card fit. An opponent failed to double one heart, at unfavorable vulnerability, with,
♠ A K J ♥ K 2 ♦ J 9 5 4 2 ♣ J 10 7.
That's not my idea of winning matchpoint strategy. (I prefer in early, in often.) The passer subsequently sold out (after a one-spade response and a two-heart rebid by opener) to give us 54 out of 70. Then, we stopped in five hearts with a side-suit guess for six based on jack-fourth opposite king-ten doubleton. I guessed right (there were strong clues from the auction) and this turned out to be dead average. Ten boards to go.
On the next round, we played two seemingly ordinary boards, but somehow received a total of only 17% of the matchpoints. First, David played in a normal three notrump and went down one. It turned out that the field played mainly from the other side (this possibility wasn't apparent to us) and made the contract after a different lead. Then, David made a normal fourth-highest lead against their slightly aggressive three notrump. The lead blew an overtrick (we expect that), but it all seemed sort of average-minus. Later, we found out that our score was worth only 8 matchpoints out of 70.
Despite this poor round, we were surely still leading. And we then proceeded to go on a good run. We received a helpful lead and a tame defense against our three notrump, scoring 630 for 60 matchpoints.
On the next board, we flirted with disaster. With nobody vulnerable, David held:
♠ K J 7 4 3 ♥ Q 8 ♦ 6 4 ♣ A J 8 5.
|—||(1 ♣*)||1 ♦||(1 ♥)|
|1 ♠||(2 ♥)||Pass||(Pass)|
*Polish club (often a weak notrump, but possibly one of a number of strong hand-types)
David knows I hate it when we let the opponents play at the two level with a known eight-card fit, so he tried two spades. He was promptly doubled. Silently cursing me, he scrambled to two notrump, takeout. This also was doubled. I ran to three diamonds with my 2=2=6=3, and we had landed in a safe port in the storm. They could have doubled for 100, but retreated to their nine-card heart fit, scoring 140 for an average score.
Six boards to go.
After the next board, I was seeing gold:
♠ 8 7 4 3
♥ A J 9 3
♦ A Q 8
♣ K Q
♠ A 10 5
♥ 10 4
♦ J 9 7 4
♣ 8 7 6 5
♠ J 9 2
♥ Q 8 6 5
♦ K 10 2
♣ J 10 2
♠ K Q 6
♥ K 7 2
♦ 6 5 3
♣ A 9 4 3
|1 ♣||Pass||1 ♥||Pass|
|1 NT||Pass||3 NT||(All Pass)|
At many tables, West led a diamond, but most declarers played low from dummy and had the timing to make the contract. On any shift, declarer could take three hearts, four clubs, one spade and one diamond. David chose to lead from his club sequence, second highest from low cards. I unblocked the jack at trick one (from my point of view, there was just enough room for David to have ace-nine-eight-seven of clubs). Declarer played a spade to the queen, and David gave this his smoothest of ducks, often a good technique. Declarer continued with a heart to the jack and my queen.
I was about to return a club (after which, declarer would have had nine easy tricks), but I did some thinking. Declarer's spade queen was not likely to be from ace-king-queen, so I knew that David had a high spade, in which case declarer had to have the rest of the high cards. Envisioning the actual layout (not hard from the auction and the first few tricks), I returned a heart. This transportation-destroying play caused declarer a big problem. He chose to win in dummy to lead another spade up.
David won with the ace and found the menacing diamond switch. From this point, declarer could have untangled his nine winners with the help of an endplay: diamond ace, heart king, club to dummy, heart ace, spade—after which I would have had to give either a diamond and the long spade to dummy or two clubs to the closed hand (At double-dummy, I could have avoided this possibility by playing the jack on the second round of spades, but I had no way of knowing that declarer's spades were not king-queen-ten.)
In practice, South decided that things had gone badly for him in the early play, but that he could get back to par if the diamond finesse won, which would let him take all his tricks. So, he finessed the queen of diamonds, after which he was booked for defeat. Only four pairs defeated three notrump, and with this big board in the bank we needed only to hold on for five more deals.
When ahead in an IMP match, you can hope for some calm one notrump-three notrump deals, but in matchpoints against a fierce field it's much tougher. There could be a zero around the corner on almost any board.
With both sides vulnerable, David dealt and passed holding:
♠ J ♥ 10 ♦ A 9 8 7 4 3 ♣ A 10 8 5 3.
He saw two spades — double — four spades. He bid four notrump for takeout, and I took out to five diamonds. After long thought, David passed. My hand:
♠ A 3 ♥ K J 4 2 ♦ K J 5 2 ♣ Q J 7.
The diamonds split and the club king was onside. We scored 620 and 25 matchpoints.
In the penultimate round, we made a disciplined stop in three spades with:
♠ A Q J 7 3 2
♥ 6 4
♦ K Q 4
♣ Q 4
♠ K 10 5
♥ K Q 10 9
♦ J 9 8
♣ 10 5 2
|1 ♠||2 ♠*|
|2 NT**||3 ♥***|
One third of the field reached game, so we had another good result. The second board was an alertness test. We reached four hearts with no opposing bidding and I received a spade lead:
♠ A 3
♥ A Q 10 7
♦ Q 6
♣ A J 6 4 3
♠ 9 7
♥ J 9 8 6 3 2
♦ A 9 4
♣ K 5
Not the lead I wanted to see. I won with the spade ace and considered laying down the heart ace, but after long thought I decided it was better to take a heart finesse—even if that lost and the opponents cashed their spade, I might be able to get back to even by throwing my diamonds on the clubs. I crossed to the club king at trick two and played a heart—and it went king. Careful now. I won with the ace but did not draw the second round of trumps just yet. I played the club ace, risking five-one clubs in exchange for picking up the more probable four-two with the queen long. When I led another club, my foresight was rewarded: RHO showed out. I ruffed the club, crossed in trumps, and ruffed another club. Then, I could cross again in trumps, pitch my spade, and still have a trump left in dummy for the third diamond. Notice that drawing the second trump early would exhaust dummy of trumps in the endgame. Plus 480 was only an average, but we had avoided brain damage.
This board is a further illustration of how matchpoints drains so much of your energy. Nobody would even break a mental sweat playing this deal at IMPs. There are so many vital card-play decisions to be made at matchpoints. At IMPs, you can get away with numerous minor errors that cost only at most an imp at a time.
The common view is that IMPs is a fairer test of bridge and that matchpoints is a crapshoot. I totally disagree. While there is a huge luck element in matchpoints (whom you play, how they play, and when you play them), that luck evens out over a lifetime of bridge. If you consistently produce good results board after board, you will score a high percentage game.
At IMPs, your results are scored more or less on a quite haphazard one top. You are totally dependent on one result at the other table instead of the more consistent and realistic average of the field. In addition, at matchpoints there are many more crucial bridge decisions—almost every trick counts, whereas many tricks at IMPs are relatively meaningless.
IMP matches are often determined by a few big slam swings, often on the random location of a key king. Matchpoint events are rarely won or lost on any one or two finesses.
As we sat down for the last round, I thought we probably still had our board-and-half lead. In actuality, that lead was only one-quarter of a board. Poland's Kwiecien and Pszczola had put on an incredible charge and were breathing down our necks. Incidentally, because of the movement debacle we never opposed Kwiecien-Pszczola in the finals. At least it was they who were summoned to the Vu-Graph room for the last round. We played against their compatriots, Martens and Szymanowski. The first deal was our version of the shot heard round the world.
With both sides vul., I held:
♠ 9 7 ♥ J 6 ♦ A K 6 3 ♣ K 10 8 3 2.
Martens opened one notrump (15-16) on my left, and Szymanowski responded two spades on my right. He Alerted me (on my side of the screen) that this showed either an artificial invitation to three notrump with a balanced hand or a club suit. I suspected the former.
Opener bid two notrump to show a minimum and, to my great surprise, Szymanowski corrected to three clubs. I passed, of course; opener passed, and David, bless him, reopened with a takeout double. I was licking my chops and picturing that gold medal. But then, disaster struck.
The full deal:
♠ A K 10 8 3
♥ 9 8 7 3
♦ 10 8 7 5
♠ Q 6 5
♥ K Q 10 2
♦ Q J 4 2
♣ A J
♠ J 4 2
♥ A 5 4
♣ Q 9 7 6 5 4
♠ 9 7
♥ J 6
♦ A K 6 3
♣ K 10 8 3 2
|—||1 NT||Pass||2 ♠|
|Pass||2 NT||Pass||3 ♣|
|3 ♦||Double||(All Pass)|
As you can see, we were about to accumulate an easy plus 500 against three clubs doubled, but a funny thing happened on the way to the bank. Szymanowski redoubled to say that he had extras. I could pass and collect 1,000 (for down two redoubled), but there was one small problem—make that a big problem. Systemically, that pass of a business redouble says, Partner, I have no long suit to run to; you pick your best suit. This you-got-us-in, you-get-us-out treatment is quite useful when I have, say,
♠ Q x x ♥ A x x ♦ A x x ♣ 10 x x x.
Then, I don't have to guess which three-card suit to bid. With his actual hand, David could bid three spades, and we'd be in our best fit. Our theory is that, when they redouble for business, we are usually the ones in trouble. Our focus is on surviving, as opposed to trying to collect a huge penalty.
On the actual deal, painfully I had to pull to three diamonds in front of David (if I passed, he would not be allowed to sit). The agony of it all. (Maybe I should have led out of turn or something?) Three diamonds was doubled on my left, and that ended the auction.
So, with plus 1,000 out of the window, perhaps I could salvage 670 in three diamonds doubled. (I'd talk to David after the session about changing our methods over a redouble in this type of auction—assuming we were still talking to each other.) Martens got off to the best defense by leading the heart king and a heart to the ace; then, a trump came through. I figured diamonds were four-one from the penalty double, and I knew clubs were six-two from the auction. I asked RHO if he could have a four-card major, and he said no. (That was one of the clearest answers I received all tournament.) It was almost a double-dummy problem, and an annoying one at that. It looked like a deal from the Par Contest that had been held at the beginning of the tournament. The world championship was at stake, I was mentally suffering from being systemically forced to give up the plus 1,000 that had been dangled in front of my nose, and here I was facing an extremely complex play problem.
I was picturing the timing of all the various lines of play in my head. Should I ruff a club first (to discover LHO's exact high-card points in preparation for a potential double-spade finesse), or should I start with ace-king and a spade ruff? Then, I tried to envision all the various endings. I wanted to take an hour, but the directors were hovering. Eventually, I chose to ruff a club, then followed with three rounds of spades. I ended up a trick short; all lines (single- or double-dummy) lead to only eight tricks.
Minus 200 was sure to be a bottom (the field result was plus 500 our way against three clubs doubled). Could we hold on for one more board?
On the last deal of the round, session, championship (and, it felt like, our lives), David opened three spades, as dealer, with nobody vulnerable. My RHO passed. I held:
♠ A ♥ K Q 8 6 ♦ A J 6 5 ♣ K 10 8 4.
We play our three-bids very light, so I guessed to pass, and LHO reopened with a double. This time I was ready to make a systemically indisputable penalty double, but RHO, drat him, passed and led a diamond.
♥ K Q 8 6
♦ A J 6 5
♣ K 10 8 4
♠ K 9 6
♥ 9 7 4 3
♦ 9 2
♣ J 9 5 3
♠ 8 4 3
♥ A J 10 2
♦ K 10 7
♣ A 7 6
♠ Q J 10 7 5 2
♦ Q 8 4 3
♣ Q 2
David's three spades was a bit out of character, but it would have been a huge success if Szymanowski had not made a great decision to leave in the double. In a symmetrical world, we could have redoubled three spades and tested their agreements.
We lost the diamond king, two aces, a diamond ruff, and the trump king for down one. This was another zero as most of the field went plus our way, or at worst minus 50. You can't imagine a lower feeling at the bridge table than the one that comes from ending a potentially winning world championship with two bottoms.
We got up from our chairs in a state of shock. The first board had taken us so long that everyone else was finished. They already had the bad news for us. The pair that had been in second place had scored 1,100 on the first board and 140 on the second with our cards. It didn't take a rocket scientist to realize that we were going to lose. All we could do was hope to hold on to a silver medal. We did (barely), but it left us with an empty feeling.
Michael Rosenberg once suggested to me that a good pair should be able to win every matchpoint event it enters. If you play perfectly, you should never lose. Of course, nobody ever plays perfectly, especially Americans in Europe. As I look back at the five sessions, I see that the event was ours to win. The luck (key finesses and the like) was about average, but we received far more than our share of gifts. If we had played well, we would have clinched the title long before that fateful final round.
All your life you dream about winning a world championship. To have defeat snatched from the jaws of victory on the eighteenth green is a cruel way to lose.
Here's a sampler of the features, articles and columns that you will find in the pages of The Bridge World each month.