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Big Moment
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Most moments in our bridge lives are small.

Sometimes our decisions are clear. Sometimes the decision doesn’t matter; whatever you do will lead to the same outcome. Often the IMPs swung don’t matter much either way anyway in the wider scheme of things.

However, some moments at the table are big. This is the story of one such moment I experienced recently.

 

The annual Gold Coast Congress is one of the premier tournaments on the Australian bridge calendar. It attracts more international entries than any other event during the year, and the fantastic location on the Queensland coast means it's easy to have a great time regardless of how the bridge goes.

My team hadn't just come for a holiday, however, and had recovered from a slow start to qualify fourth from the Swiss. The teams format qualifies the top two teams through to the semi-finals, while third through sixth play off in what is effectively a quarter-final match. This meant we would play a cut-throat 24-board match against the fifth-placed qualifier, a highly experienced team mostly from South Australia.

We would go in with nothing from the previous three days except a 0.1 IMP carry-forward to ensure that there was no tie.

 

My partner Nye Griffiths and I took the first half of the match off. After 12 boards, we found out at score-up that we were down 40 IMPs with 12 more to play. Not insurmountable by any means, and not exactly the start we wanted, but as one of my teammates pointed out, “No one finds it easy to play with the lead."

This sort of situation provokes many different reactions from players. Some capitulate, thinking that more than 3 IMPs/board will be impossible to win back against a team that is already beating you. Others get desperate, trying to win the match on every hand but often burying any chance they had after only a few boards of the set.

Personally, I’ve always found it somewhat enjoyable playing when stuck a bundle of IMPs. There isn’t much pressure and expectations of you are not high, but the upsides of winning a big comeback are immense. It’s always seemed like more of an opportunity than anything else.

  

We sit down behind screens and get started. The set begins well for us.

The first board feels like lose 3 IMPs when our our opponents play 3 down one with 23 combined points. Our teammates Roger Lee and Andy Hung will play game for sure. The second board looks flat.

But on the next board our opponents get unlucky, wrong-siding a slam and going down one on the marked lead, for either 12 or 16 IMPs back. Then, we are allowed to play 3 for -100 while our teammates are sure to bid and make their 25-point game for another 8 likely IMPs. Things are heating up.

 

With the deficit perhaps halved by this point, how do you handle this hand after partner opens 2 (6+ clubs, 10-15)?

South
AJ6
J876
A6432
6
W
N
E
S
P
2
P
?

You are playing Precision. Your only real choices are 2 (an artificial inquiry), or Pass.

 

The upside of inquiring with 2 is that you might find a nice 4 contract that your opponents at the other table, playing standard, will almost certainly bid (1-1-3-4).

The downside is that when partner doesn’t bid 2, you have endangered your plus score by bidding to a higher level. Oh well, perhaps we can pass 2 and watch partner (hopefully) scramble home! It's time to be positive and investigate game.

 

West
Q753
K42
K85
1053
North
92
A103
107
AK9874
East
K1084
Q95
QJ9
QJ2
South
AJ6
J876
A6432
6
W
N
E
S
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
P
P
D
8
3 North
NS: 0 EW: 0
Q
2
8
7
2
0
1
10
J
Q
2
0
0
2
5
9
K
A
3
1
2
6
3
4
4
1
2
2
3
Q
6
4
2
2
3
9
A
5
10
3
3
3
7
2
10
5
1
4
3
A
2
6
3
1
5
3
K
J
3
5
1
6
3
7
Q
4
10
2
6
4
9 tricks claimed
N/S +110
10

 

In reality, partner rebid 3, so it looked as though we were now too high.

He received the lead of the Queen. He ducked this trick, ducked the spade switch, then won the second spade and ruffed a spade to hand.

Now he played a low heart from hand! LHO must be ready to duck from honour doubleton to make this play much worse than leading a heart to the 10. When LHO jumped up with the Queen, Nye quickly wrapped up a cheeky 9 tricks by winning the diamond switch, hooking up the hearts, and drawing trumps.

This felt like another 4 IMPs if the opponents ventured past 2 in the other room, plus a possible psychological blow to our opponents given that they could've beaten us on perfect defence. In reality, the other room was likely in 2, but +110 is still an IMP.

 

Onto the next board. The sixth board out of twelve is hard to judge. Our opponents stay out of a vulnerable game with 25 points but a misfit. 3NT is a somewhat lucky make but other games are doomed, despite having better chances single dummy. We could win 10 or lose 10 easily enough. Hopefully the boys can get this one right.

Board seven we sniff at a vulnerable slam in a strong club auction, but eventually go +680. The pair in the other room are unlikely to be able to bid it playing standard. The match is still live.

 

With 5 boards to play, I pick up this hand:

South
KJ92
6
A5
QJ8643
W
N
E
S
2
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

As all of partner's bids except 4 were forcing, my first three bids are virtually forced (3 hinting at a minimum). Over 3, 3NT seems like a fair description with a diamond card and a minimum. I don't really expect Nye to pass.

It’s not exactly clear what the nature of partner’s 4 bid is – either a cue-bid for spades or possibly a natural bid, trying to offer a choice of contracts – but cue-bidding 4 doesn’t feel wrong after we've already limited our hand. We’re happy to pass 4 when partner bids it.

 

North
AQ10
J107542
74
K2
South
KJ92
6
A5
QJ8643
W
N
E
S
2
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

The lead is the Jack and when dummy comes down, you can see that this board will produce a swing. In the other room they will likely bid 1-1-1-2 or similar, while at this table partner has managed to push us into a vulnerable game on 21 combined points and a 4-3 fit.

However, it looks like partner hasn't done too badly, as the contract has some chance. How do you plan the play?

 

 

North
AQ10
J107542
74
K2
South
KJ92
6
A5
QJ8643

It seems natural to win the first trick ( J, 4, 2, A) and start establishing the clubs. RHO wins the King with the Ace and cashes the Queen, followed by a third diamond. We weren’t expecting that!

There doesn’t seem to be anything to do other than discard your heart and ruff in the short trump hand as West follows with the King.

North
AQ
J107542
2
South
KJ92
QJ864

With clubs 3-2 and spades no worse than 4-2, we can take 11 tricks now. Is there anything else to think about, or do we discover our fate by drawing trumps now?

 

 

North
AQ
J107542
2
South
KJ92
QJ864

If clubs are 4-1, we can attempt to cater for that by leading a club now rather than drawing trumps. If the club shortage is on our right (bare Ace), either RHO will ruff in front of our honours and have no way to beat us, or he can discard, in which case we will ruff a club with the Ace and overtake the Queen to draw trumps. We will then make whenever trumps aren’t 5-1.

If the shortage is on our left, they might have led a club, but even if they didn’t we can make the hand when trumps are 3-3 by drawing trumps immediately and conceding a club. We can also succeed by playing a club to our Queen (ruffed); we ruff the return in hand, ruff a club with the Ace, then overtake the Queen to draw trumps.

It looks like there is a danger that if we play a club, we might suffer a lethal ruff when LHO has a singleton club and also short trumps. However, we can’t make the hand on that layout regardless. Playing a club seems indicated.

 

 

North
AQ
J107542
2
South
KJ92
QJ864

You play a club to the Queen. Everyone follows.

It’s hard not to grin in these moments. You draw trumps and those break as well. You’ve won another virtually certain 10+ imps to go with the previous good stuff, and your side has gone from a big underdog to the favourite with four boards to play.

On the next board you get lucky again, pulling off a mini NT swindle to lose 100 against a 25-point vulnerable game, and on the penultimate board your opponents go off in a vulnerable 3NT that has no chance on paper but that your teammates will sometimes make. It looks like today was your day.

...

Our team wins the set by a mile and the match by a small margin. We proceed to ride the momentum through the rest of the tournament, and end up winning the whole thing after that big comeback. What a great game this is!

 

Unfortunately, life isn’t always like that. I was so keen to get that beautiful +620 on the scorecard that I neglected to make the safety play of the second round of clubs. As my teammate Sartaj Hans would no doubt say, the anticipation got the better of me; having got to a great position, I didn’t hear the warning bells behind the strange ruff and discard defence.

Clubs broke, but trumps were 5-1 with West, and my elegant “draw trumps and claim” line ended with a sombre -300 as I drifted three off, losing trump control and the rest of the club suit in the process. The ruff and discard starts to make sense now.

Having actually lost the match by 17 and been knocked out of the event, rather than the triumphant victory I had been hoping for, we wandered off to lunch. Over some Indian food we worked out the second step to the right play in 4:

After the second round of clubs holds up, you can now afford to try a sexy trump substitute safety play, pushing a third round of clubs through West!

 

West
87653
AQ3
KJ10
109
North
AQ10
J107542
74
K2
East
4
K98
Q98632
A75
South
KJ92
6
A5
QJ8643
W
N
E
S
 
2
P
2
P
2
P
2N
P
3
P
3
P
3N
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
P
P
D
11
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
J
4
2
A
3
1
0
3
9
K
A
2
1
1
Q
5
10
7
2
1
2
9
6
K
10
1
2
2
2
5
Q
10
3
3
2
J
6

 

If West ruffs, you can over-ruff with the Ace, play the Queen back and overtake it, and make even when West holds 5 trumps. If West prefers to discard, letting his partner ruff the next club with his singleton trump, we have 4 tricks in the bag ( Ace, ruff, two top clubs). With 6 more trumps between our two hands, we can ruff a club winner, ruff a heart with our 2, and cross-ruff high to make our contract.

Finally, if West follows to our top club, we can simply ruff our winner with the Ace of trumps and attempt to draw trumps with nothing lost.

 

With the other table going one down in 2, our -300 was good for a loss of 5 IMPs. If I had made 4, we would’ve gained 12 IMPs instead, a swing of 17. I ask someone to remind me what the margin of the match was. It was 17, of course. Someone else conveniently remembers that 0.1 IMP carry-forward – all in good fun of course!

A seasoned squad from Sydney continues their good form from the Swiss (having qualified first) and wins both their semi-final and the grand final to bring home the bacon. Sitting at the victory dinner that evening, I can’t help but keep thinking about that 4 hand. Was it really that cold? Sure feels like it.

 

 

Almost a week after our event finished, I can't help but look up the vugraph archives. Believe it or not, on board 20 GIB tells me that even with the ruff and discard, I can’t do better than one off!

I suddenly see the problem. The plan to cash the third club, followed by a cross-ruff when West discards, only works when West has at least three hearts.

If they hold two hearts, they can throw one on the Jack, then their final heart as you ruff a club to dummy. Now you are denied the ruff with the 2 and finish a trick short.

The actual hand:

 

 

West
87653
AQ
KJ93
109
North
AQ10
J107542
74
K2
East
4
K983
Q10863
A75
South
KJ92
6
A5
QJ8643
W
N
E
S
 
2
P
2
P
2
P
2N
P
3
P
3
P
3N
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

 

I’m confident that Howard Melbourne, fresh off a single matchpoint victory on the last board in the Open Pairs, would have found the heart discards to beat me. Just another small moment at the bridge table after all.

  

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