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Caving in After a Matchpoint Catastrophe

Somehow, I found myself at the North Pole in early July. Or at least in the Arctic Circle at the closest significant city to Santa and his reindeer in Tromso, Norway. I have nothing against Norway.

To the contrary, the people are friendly, the fjords majestic, and Bergen may be the most beautiful city on the planet. However, I had some personal issues. I am a confirmed San Diegan. As such, cloudy, cold weather which necessitated wearing my heavy winter jacket was jarring. The Midnight Sun had been hijacked! Especially on a day like July 4th when I take pleasure in watching fireworks. Due to not finding an appropriate team, I did not play bridge in the first four days of my stay which happened to coincide with the European Bridge Championships. My mood did not brighten as my hotel room did not even offer one channel with Wimbledon coverage. As I am a lifelong tennis player who idolizes Roger Federer and is always up no later than 6AM San Diego time to watch the most important Grand Slam tournament, this development was another mood darkener. I felt the Gods taunting me, offering up sports fare on the telly such as the Tour de France. Wasn’t it just the same mind-numbing picture of a line of hunched-over cyclists repeated ad infinitum?

Finally, the pairs came. By USA standards, there are several desirable and unique elements in the Open Pair format. First, it is a 5-day event with two cuts. After 2 days, the number of pairs was trimmed to 100. After the 3rd day, 52 pairs remained for a two-day final where you played two hands against each other pair. My partner was an amiable Southern Californian, Alex Kolesnik. In reality, only 92 of the pairs of the original 210 qualified for the day three “Semifinal A”, as 8 pairs were allowed to drop in from the final stages of the Open Teams. This is appropriate and should be considered by the ACBL in our Summer National’s Life Master Pairs for those eliminated in Friday Grand National Team competition. Now, for the really cool difference! If you are one of the 108 pairs who do not make it thru the initial 2-day qualification, you get a second chance (or, as Bob Seger sang in “Fire Lake”, “Who wants to take that long shot gamble?”). You can enter “Semifinal B.” The top six pairs from this event join 46 pairs from Semifinal A in the Final. Can you imagine how fun and wild the second chance semi- final is must be as pairs feel the need to swing from the rafters in an effort to craft a big game?!? And do not get me started as to how common multi two diamonds was in this event, like in other parts of the world. As one can attest in a previous Bridge Winners post, the absence of multi in USA national pair events still makes my blood boil.

When I started pairs play in Tromso, there was yet another reason I was questioning my presence on the Arctic island. My 12-year-old son, TJ, was in his “Little League World Series” year representing one of the San Diego-area All Star teams. The previous Friday, in their District final, his All Star coach, a former major league catcher with the Oakland A’s. said that the home run hit by TJ was the hardest and farthest ball he had ever seen hit by a 12-year-old – a towering shot hit well above the center field flag pole at the 228 foot marker and estimated to travel 300+ feet. While I was absolutely thrilled, I was also quite sad to have missed it – especially since we have always had a close bond in baseball as I had previously coached many of his teams.

All of these elements conspired against me having my “A” game for the pairs. Nor did I have my “B” game or even my “C-“ game. How poorly did I play? Let me give you an example as to how I did not even show up: My LHO was declaring a 3 heart contract. I held KQJ tight of trump. For no reason I can fathom, at one point I ruffed in ahead of him, allowing him to pitch a loser. My misplay was really stunning. Regardless, we made it throughthe first cut in 46th place, a testament to Alex’s fine play.

In the third day, the sun finally came out and my spirits soared. I actually played reasonably well and we made it throughthe 3rd day in 14th spot as the top remaining American pair. Alas, cold, cloudy weather returned on day 4. For the same strange reason, my play again seemed to be impacted. No feeling close to the days when one has their A game. This hand arose and would ultimately have an impact of the balance of the event for us.

Alex
xx
AK10xx
AJxx
xx
Me
Axx
x
Kxx
KQJ8xx
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

We had a pedestrian auction, both vulnerable, with the opponents silent throughout.

I received the expected spade lead and ducked two rounds of spades before winning trick 3. RHO won tricks 1 and 2 before I took trick 3 perforce. By the carding, spades did not appear to be 4-4. And, here I was. In IMPs, I suspect the hand would have taken about 10 seconds to play. A heart over to the A and a club toward my hand. A 2.5% improvement, a priori, to cater to stiff A on my right. But since it was pairs, I tookplenty of time on my next play. There were several instances where I was thisclose to making the IMP play.

But I kept thinking, how could I potentially beat the field if clubs were 4-1? I was unsure that I wanted to burn my heart entry and 2nd red-suit stopper. On balance, after several minutes I decided that all the other 4-1 holdings favored me not burning such stopper. Thus, at trick 4, I played the K out of my hand. My RHO took the A and hesitated for his next play. Hallelujah, I thought, he has no more spades. While he thought, my spirits soared as I mentally calculated that my 2.5% “give up” for the contract was now considerably less since he started with only three spades in an auction where they did not bid. A heart came back. I won LHO’s heart honor with dummy’s Ace and played a second club. When RHO showed out, it was one of the most sickening feelings of my bridge career. I recovered enough to get out for down 1, despite the Qbeing offside. Regardless, the hand did what it should not do. I tilted out a bit and felt my energy ebb. My game reverted to mediocreville.

While I was furious at myself for repeatedly ignoring the little voice that said to play for RHO’s stiff A, days after, I did come to realize that my play was not as bad as it superficially appeared. In reviewing some of the hands on BBO, the first declarer who had received the same defense, also played the K at trick 4. This made me feel a little bit better. However, I have come to the conclusion that I misplayed the hand in this sense. I knew I did not have my A game and, at 63 years old, perhaps not as much mental energy as 30-40 years ago. A player has to be realistic in this state and save energy wherever possible. In terms of energy conservation, it was probably best to play clubs as my little voice kept trying to tell me. There were such small margins in play. Also, even in matchpoints, it can be aggravating to partner to go down in a hand that can so easily be made.

A good lesson learned. And the forgiveness process continues, little by little.

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