Last week, I was in Atlanta to represent District 21 (Northern California) in the GNT Flight B. Although I had been unable to participate in the GNT-B District Finals due to their holding the GNT-Open District Finals on the same day, my wife Helen's team (Helen Chang, Lynn Shannon, David Weinberg, and Stephen Tu) won the event and invited me and my good friend Steve Chen to join them in Atlanta. Steve and I had represented D21 two years ago in Toronto and made it all the way to the GNT-B finals before losing to an excellent team, so this year my goal was to win it all.
The major difference between Atlanta and Toronto was the number of Bridge Winners users in the field. Time and time again, I would be greeted by opponents carrying Bridge Winners convention cards and complimenting me on our site. It really made me feel like we were making a difference. Thanks, everyone!
As always, there were hands of interest. Perhaps the most striking was played by my teammate David Weinberg in our semi-final match vs. District 12 (Michigan). Sitting South, he reached 7NT on the following cards:
The auction started with a Kokish sequence to show a game-forcing balanced hand. North then discovered South held 4-4 in the majors, and all the missing keycards except for the ♠Q. North then located the ♦K and, counting 11 tricks from only 21 known HCP with more known to be in reserve, bid the grand. When a small club was led, it looked like the contract hinged upon the diamond finesse.
However, David's intuition told him the finesse was more likely to be wrong, in that there may have been restricted choice at play given the lead of a club. (If LHO had held nothing in diamonds, he might have led a diamond, or thought longer about his opening lead). So instead of taking the finesse, David decided to play along squeeze lines instead. He cashed the ♠AK and ♥AK, then began to run the clubs, pitching his useless spades. West, holding all the side queens, soon found his position very difficult. Here was the position with a few cards to play:
David led the second-to-last club from dummy, pitching the ♥2 from hand after East discarded a heart. West then made a subtle error. Knowing that declarer held both ♦AK, he chose to unguard hearts by pitching his ♥Q. Unfortunately, this natural-looking discard allowed a double squeeze to mature with diamonds as the pivot suit. On the last club, East had to throw a diamond to guard the ♥5, David pitched the ♥5, and West was squeezed in the pointed suits. West needed to unguard his ♦Q, trusting partner to guard the third round of diamonds with the ♦9. It's true that this line allowed the defense to beat the hand if the diamond finesse were on (by covering the first round of diamonds), but in practice, the pseudo-compound/double squeeze was successful.
At the other table, the opponents stopped in 6NT, declared by North. After a high diamond lead, declarer rejected the finesse but only cashed the ♥AK prior to running the clubs. This allowed me, sitting West, to painlessly discard hearts and hold declarer to 12 tricks.
Partner and I also found a nice defense in the first half of the semi-final:
As West, I led the ♣Q against the opponents' 3♦ contract and was surprised to see 5 trumps in dummy. Declarer played low and partner played the ♣7 (upside-down count, so hi-lo = odd). Declarer followed with the ♣8. What now?
The bidding and play to the first trick marked declarer with a singleton club. It looked like declarer was 5=2=5=1. We already had 1 club trick and we'd be getting at most 1 spade trick. So we'd need 2 hearts and a diamond. But if declarer had 5 diamonds, partner had a singleton, which must be the ♦K for there to be any hope of it scoring. Thus, we would need to put declarer to the guess in the red suits before he found out too much about the hand.
At trick 2, I smoothly shifted to a low heart. Declarer thought for a while, and eventually called for the ♥K. Partner won the ♥A and returned a heart to declarer's jack and my queen. At this point, I exited a heart. Declarer ruffed this in hand to take the trump finesse, and when he lost to partner's stiff ♦K, he went down 1. The full hand:
Of course, declarer should have played on spades first to discover who held the ♠A. Once I was known to hold that card, he could then confidently drop partner's ♦K, as he needed to hold that card to justify his opening bid. Perhaps I should have shifted to a trump immediately after winning the ♥Q, but at the time I didn't want declarer asking himself why I was so eager to lead a trump from a hypothetical ♦Kx.
The final hand of note occurred in the first half of the finals against a solid team from District 11 (Ohio):
Would you choose 3NT or 4♠?
It sounded like partner had another heart stopper to offer the choice of 3NT, and I was worried about the quality of my spades, so I chose to pass 3NT. Partner tabled:
The ♥6 (fourth-best) was led. How would you plan the play?
I had 2 top spades, 1 heart after the lead, and 4 diamonds. I needed to establish 2 more tricks, which could easily come from the spades if that suit broke 3-2. However, clubs were a potential problem. With the ♣A almost assuredly offside on the bidding, if RHO were to get on lead in spades, then I could easily lose 3-4 clubs in addition to a spade and a heart. I had to avoid giving RHO the lead. Luckily, there was a textbook avoidance play to do so.
At trick 1, I won in hand with the ♥J (to encourage a heart return by RHO should he happen to win the lead) and led a spade. LHO played the ♠J, which was promising. I overtook with the ♠A and crossed to hand with the ♦J to lead another spade. This time, LHO played the ♠Q and I let it hold. LHO was stuck on lead and could not prevent me from taking 10 tricks. Had LHO played low on the 2nd round, I would have gone up with the ♠K and exited a spade, hoping that my LHO was dealt the long spade. Alas, making 4 was merely a push vs. the other table in 4♠ making, but I did manage to get the satisfaction of knowing I did my best.
Unfortunately, we were not playing in our best form on the final day and our Ohio opponents eventually prevailed. So once again I was the bridesmaid in GNT-B. I thought that would be my last Flight B event, but apparently the ACBL Board of Directors just voted to extend the Flight B masterpoint limits from 2000 to 2500, starting next year. At this rate, I'll never get out of Flight B!
Plus... it's free!