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Caplan upsets Strul - a tale from an underdog.
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Foreword

My Bridge partner and friend Erika Rodin posted this article on the Swedish Bridge website. We'd also promised our teammates Mark and David we would share it with them. We discussed it and decided it should be translated and shared with Bridgewinners.com and the rest of the bridge world. 

Here is a story from an underdog, from Erika's point of view.

 

Prologue

In the summer of 2016 Emanuel and I decided we would go to Toronto in 2017 to play bridge. They were hosting the Summer NABC with the prestigious Spingold but we really didn’t have any specific plans. Perhaps a few Knockouts, Life Master Pairs and who knows, maybe we could scrap together a team for Spingold.

In Toronto, we started off by playing the Open Pairs, a KO and the LMP. Spingold was starting Monday and the registration deadline was approaching. We wanted to participate and thus we needed another pair. I found a friend from the Netherlands and asked if he had any ideas. Good, great or bad didn’t really matter.

Two hours later he returned and said he asked an American who asked someone else who had implied they might know someone. Later a person approached our table where we were playing and said they had someone for us to play with tomorrow.

Excited, I ran to the registration desk 15 minutes before closing. Since we are from Sweden they didn’t have any data on us and asked if we should have any seeding points. I told them no, and that we preferred none so that we could play a game against the best in the world.

Later that night, I looked at the bracket and saw I had received four seeding points for some reason. Our teammates had 2 each and Emanuel none. All in all, we were seeded 103 out of 104 and everything was panning out as planned. With two byes and the draw our destiny was team Strul.

Strul in Swedish means “mess”, but the team posed a scary lineup:

Aubrey Strul, Michael Becker, Richard Coren, Michael Kamil, Tarek Sadek and Waleed El Ahmady. Reigning champions in Reisinger, one of the most prestigious tournaments in USA, multiple other titles among them but I was still a little disappointed... I could’ve had 60 boards versus Boye.

Session 1

Monday arrived and Emanuel and I went to the play area. We still had no clue who our team mates were, what they looked like or if they could play bridge. After a while the American from yesterday showed up and introduced us to Mark and David Caplan – brothers from Toronto. We had no time to chat, the game was about to start.

We sat down and started making the boards. Emanuel told me:

- “My greatest fear is that we can’t score a single IMP in this match”.

I smiled and said to him that we knew our goal now. At least one IMP.

Our opponents arrived.

They asked about our system. Transfers over one club with 2 Multi (modified so that the spade holding is 10-13 instead of weak). They asked for a defence. We had the ACBL 2 Multi defence with us, but unfortunately that was not good enough. Our modification apparently changed the whole idea and after a director call we had to change it to a normal Multi showing a weak major. I tried to explain that the defence was sufficient, but to no avail. Unfortunate that we had to start this game with an argument and a change of convention.

Finally, it was time to start playing.

The first board of the evening and I was plenty nervous. I had a nice 11 count 5233. My RHO opened 1 and I overcalled 1. Pass to my left and 2 by Emanuel which was forcing. I raised to 3 and +150 later I regretted not showing more strength and thought “-7, not a great start”.

Next board my partner opened 1 after two passes, RHO entered with 1 and I passed. LHO bid 2 and Emanuel 3. 3 to my right and I gave it a moment but passed. LHO also thought about it but passed. Before Emanuel acted RHO asked, “Agree with hesitation?”. Emanuel responded jokingly if he meant his partner but nodded and bid 4.

Another director call, not even two boards in, but after the three undertricks the opponents were happy enough and we could move on.

Two boards later Emanuel opened 1, RHO overcalled 2 and I passed. Now, lefty went in the tank and eventually bid 2 showing a good heart raise. A little upset from previous boards, I asked “Hesitation?”, but RHO would not hear it and said the hesitation does not matter if he bids. “You are right if he passes, but he bid!”.

Emanuel bid 3 which became the final contract. When my hand tabled, showing singleton spade and QTxxx in hearts, RHO took the opportunity to comment “Ah that’s what you are upset about”.

Now I was noticeably unstable and after 3 just made Emanuel told me I need to stop with the attitude. It hurt and I felt the tears coming but, truth be told, that was probably exactly what I needed to hear. I decided I would focus on the bridge and not look so damn pissed.

Next board:

  •  xx
  •  xx
  • irrelevant
  •  irrelevant

Bidding went:

(1NT)-2*-(3NT)-all pass

*4+4+ Majors

Emanuel lead 7 (3:rd or 5:th) and the dummy was:

  •  xx
  •  KTx
  • irrelevant
  •  irrelevant

Declarer played small and won with the jack in hand. He played a minor to me and now I acted a bit rash. Probably still a bit affected by the previous five boards and played a spade to Emanuel’s queen. Another heart from him and declarer managed to make 9 tricks. Had I paid more attention I would have realised Emanuel had 6 hearts and the spade shift let the contract make.

Further, our opponents managed to make a very difficult 3NT, but other than that our results were fine and when we approached the end of the session I picked up this hand:

North
AKQxx
A10xxx
x
Kx
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
4NT
P
5
P
?

  • 1 =12-14NT/18-19NT/Natural
  • 1 = 4+
  • 1 = 2-3, 11-14 HCP
  • 2 = ART GF
  • 2 = 3 spades
  • 4 = singleton heart

After Emanuel showed a singleton heart I knew he had at least a 5-card club suit. Worst case he had 3145 with two aces. If he had 6 clubs to his name 7 would be really good. He could also have the queen of clubs. I bid 7 and Emanuel had this position after a trump lead.

North
AKQxx
A10xxx
x
Kx
South
J109
J
AQxx
A109xx

Not the greatest of grands but after winning in hand, heart to the ace and a heart ruff, club to the king and another heart ruff, all he needed was clubs to break evenly. Which they did, and +2210 to us!

The session was over and we expected a 10-20 IMP deficit. We let an impossible 3NT make and doubled 1NT for an overtrick. But we also had 7.

3+2 was a push, 3NT lost us 10 but somehow the Caplans made a 6 contract with Tx opposite AK7xx in trumps for no losers.

Opponents only bid 4 when we were in 7 and unbelievably we were in the lead with 15 IMPs!

Perhaps the grand was a bit offensive as we only gained 4 more IMPs than a small would’ve, but those 4 IMPs would turn out to be very important…

We were so happy. We couldn’t believe that we had won a session. What would happen in the three sessions to come didn’t matter. To us, the match was over. We won.

Session 2

Before I tell you about session two I need to provide some back story. Just three weeks earlier me and Emanuel went to a bridge tournament in Sweden. On the way home, Emanuel read out loud from the book The Complete Guide To Passed Hand Bidding, by Mike Lawrence.

Basically, the book encourages light third seat openings that serves a lead directing or pre-emptive purpose. We decided that we could use Toronto as a good place to apply the book’s advice for the first time.

We added “3rd seat openings could be very light” to our declaration card and when I picked up:

North
xx
QJ10x
KJ10x
xxx

Pass, pass to me in green versus red, I tried 1.

After the 1NT overcall and jump to 3NT by opponents, Emanuel lead a diamond from Qxx.

Declarer went down when he tried for an endplay that didn’t work because Emanuel had more points than me.

They called the director again.

The TD was clueless as to what the problem was but they insisted that Emanuel should’ve bid 2 over 1NT with 4432 and 8 points.

- “It was a third seat opening”, the director stated with a condescending tone, “what do you want me to do?”.

Opponents said they just wanted to report it.

A few boards later I held 5512, again in third seat and again in green. I opened 2 Multi. Double, and 3 by my right.

Three undertricks in red.

Opponents played very well and bid and made three slams and declared a very tough 3NT to make.

The 3NT went down at the other table and one of the slams were not bid. But we had some good boards as well and after comparing the second session we were still up by 9 IMPs.

It was time for food and the Caplan brothers offered to buy. We discussed bridge, life and the boards played so far. Mark and David turned out to be very social and fun guys with a great attitude towards bridge. We were very happy with the lead but we realised that this was the end as they would now replace the sponsor with another pro for the last two sessions.

There was no way we could win.

Session 3

We faced the same opponents again but now we had two kibitzers at the table. It felt so good, if this was a 30 board match we would’ve been the victors.

I’ll provide two boards from this session as they were the major swings.

I was dealt the following in red vs red:

North
xx
Kxx
Axxx
Axxx

Two passes to me and I opened 1.

Emanuel bid 1 (transfer to hearts) and I bid 1, denying 4-support. Now Emanuel bid 1NT to play and that’s where the action normally ends. But LHO decided to double last to act and after RHO gave it some thought, he let the double stand. I considered my options but decided to end the auction.

Fortunately, Emanuel had 11 points (3433) and made an overtrick. LHO was not happy, “You had eleven?”, he asked and called the director once again.

But again, the director didn’t understand what the problem was. Our opponents said Emanuel should’ve made an invitational bid with his 11 count. TD noted the bidding but the look from his face told me exactly was he was thinking.

The very next board I picked up:

North
Jxxxx
KJ10xxx
xx

Emanuel passed and RHO opened 1. All green. I tried an aggressive bid of 3. 4 to my left and Emanuel bid 4.

Pass, pass and LHO struggled for a bit, then tried 6.

I foolishly bid 6 doubled for -1100 when 6 clubs didn’t make as Emanuel had the ace and king of clubs.

After the session ended we compared scores and somehow we had increased our lead by an additional two IMPs.

What in the world was going on? Our only costly board was the 1100 one. But this was a great example of the wonderful attitude of our teammates.

 - “Sorry, minus 1100.”

- ”Perfect! That was our bad board as well, lose 15!“

 Having teammates like that, cheering you on despite a bad result is priceless no matter the match, but especially in a match like this.

Session 4

Before the final session, a lot of people approached us to wish us the best of luck. Our Swedish friends told us to keep it cool and that we had this in the bag. Two Swedes, Ida Grönkvist and Ola Rimstedt, joined our table to watch the final session go down. This helped with the nerves and gave a sense of security at the table.

Again, we would be playing the same pair.

First board:

North
Q9
Kxxx
KQx
AKxx
W
N
E
S
P
P
1NT
2NT
?

I opened 1NT in 3rd, LHO bid 2NT showing minors. Emanuel passed and after a while so did RHO.

I’m awful at doubling contracts. Emanuel once said “When Erika doubles, you know it’s at least four down”. I really wanted to double because I could double either minor quite comfortably. But the fears of doubling and watch them make the contract took over and I passed.

Emanuel lead the 7 and this was the dummy:

West
8xxxx
QJxxx
x
xx
North
Q9
Kxxx
KQx
Axxx
W
N
E
S
P
P
1NT
2NT
P
P
P

Declarer asked for the queen of hearts and I won with the king. Declarer pitched a diamond.

We could set up our heart tricks, giving dummy one. But declarer is missing entries to the board and that would give him the opportunity to play diamonds towards hand. I returned the 9 of spades, declarer played the jack and Emanuel won the king. When Emanuel returned spades it turned out that declarer had AJT of spades, but of course, no entries to the dummy. He played a small club to me, and I returned clubs. He gave up and played the ace of diamonds and another diamond to my hand.

I cashed my tricks and played the heart to Emanuel’s ace. Down two. I should’ve doubled.

Next I had:

North
KQxxx
Axx
KQx
xx

And opened 1. Emanuel bid 2NT (a Jacoby variant) showing at least 4 support and at least invitational values. I bid 3 to show a minimum hand and Emanuel pauses before he bid 3. I raised to 4 and shortly the director was a the table again.

After the board our opponents said:

- “You shouldn’t say minimum, you should say 15 or below”.

Next boards our opponents stopped in 4NT after a quantitative raise, which was the correct decision as 6NT had no play when the only finesse required was off. This was not good, maybe our teammates would try this slam because they had missed a couple already?

I picked up these 13:

North
xx
AQxxx
xx
KQ10x

And opened the bidding with 1. 1 by Emanuel and I bid 2 showing hearts and clubs, non forcing. Emanuel passed and tabled his hand:

North
xx
AQxxx
xx
KQ10x
South
K10xx
x
Q10xxx
xxx
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
2
P
P
P

Oh, and did I tell you we were vulnerable? After a pretty miserable try, not counting trumps, I went 5 down.

Next:

North
A
xxxx
AQxxx
xxx

Pass to my right and pass by me. LHO opened 1NT, Emanuel passed and 2 (transfer) which I doubled. 2 from lefty, and 3 by Emanuel. 4 ended the action and I wasn’t all that excited by the diamond lead anymore. Ruffing spades in my hand seemed like the best prospect, hopefully using diamonds as entries to Emanuel.

But Emanuel lead a diamond, and the dummy was:

West
Kxx
KQxxxx
xxx
x
North
A
xxxx
AQxxx
xxx
W
N
E
S
P
P
1NT
P
2
X
2
3
4
P
P
P

I won the ace and declarer followed. From the lead and bidding it looked like declarer had a singleton diamond, despite his 1NT opening. Which means Emanuel has Kxxx. With 15-17 to my left Emanuel could only hold 2-4 more points. I guessed the last chance for a defeat included the ace of clubs in Emanuel's hand.

I played my spade ace and lead a club successfully to Emanuel's ace and he returned a spade to defeat the contract.

A few boards later I was dealt:

North
Kxx
Kxx
Kxxx
xxx
W
N
E
S
3
4
5
5
P
P
P

LHO opened 3. Emanuel bid 4 showing diamonds and a major. My right bid 5 and now it was me. Since 4 promised a very good hand I bid 5 and when the opponents missed the killing defense of A and another to ruff, the contract made.

Opponents were clearly upset and RHO apologised for the missed lead.

We were approaching the end of the match and on this board Emanuel found himself declaring 3NT and the queen of diamonds hit the table.

North
AQxx
Kxx
x
A10763
South
Kx
Q10xx
Axx
KJ92

Overlooking the hand, Emanuel saw three tricks in spades and one diamond trick. He would need 5 tricks from the club suit. He could finesse either way or play A and K and hope for the Q to drop. He decided to win with the ace, not holding up diamonds.

He tried the trick of playing the jack of clubs in hope that a twist, hesitation or cover would reveal the queen but unfortunately for him instead his lefty discarded a small heart.

Now the game was hopeless, as he didn't have enough entries to dummy to solve the QTxx. He played the ace and the T, but his RHO obviously covered.

Now he tried a heart to the king, in hopes that defenders didn’t see the position.

Small, king and discard (spade)! He could now claim 10 tricks. 

Three boards remained and I managed to revoke in the middle of 4 by my LHO. A sigh of relief after the contract makes anyway and the revoke just gave them +1.

Eventually it was time for the last board of the match and I all I wanted was a plain 1NT-3NT board with 10 top tricks no matter the lead and line. Instead, I pick up this monster:

North
KQx
Axx
KQx
AKQx

Emanuel passed and RHO pre-empts 3. I bid 3NT and Emanuel bid 4 (no agreements).

Why?

Why is this the last board?

I realised that if Emanuel had an ace, slam looks good so I tried 4NT. Emanuel bid 5 showing two aces. Wow. Slam looks great and I dug deep into the bidding box and grabbed 7.

Emanuels face looked scared and he was probably also asking why this had to be the last board.

After the trump lead Emanuel started to think. And he did so for a long time - it felt like an eternity.

Finally he played on, drew trump and claimed with the comment “Sorry I had to count to 13 a hundred times over”.

We had played extremely slow and everyone else were finished.

When we came out from the play area we met all the other Swedes and a circle formed around us. It was such a great feeling. We started comparing the results and behind me I had the Rimstedt sisters Sandra and Cecilia. I didn’t need to convert anything because, as soon as I said the numbers, either one of them yelled out the IMPs for that board.

Board after board… we had quite a few winners but also some losers.

When three boards remained we were in the lead by 15. But then 2 - 5 came and we were now down to a 3 IMP lead.

Finally, the board where our opponents had stopped in 4NT and…

So did our team mates! PUSH!

“WIN BY THREE” someone yelled and everyone cheered, hugged and high fived.

We won. We won! WE ACTUALLY WON!

I can’t really describe what it felt like.

It was and still is unreal. The four of us, a scrapped together team, defeated one of the best teams in the world. I could not stop smiling. Still now, as I am typing this, I can’t stop.

I would like to end this with a big thank you to Emanuel. If he didn’t tell me to get my s**t together after the first few boards, things would’ve probably gone down hill. Furthermore I would like to thank our fellow teammates who were exemplary both at and away from the table. I’ve probably never had teammates with such a great attitude which made any bad board easy to handle.

It was the bridge experience of my life and it will probably be many years, if ever, before something better comes my way.

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