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Las Vegas NABC, Day 5, Spingold
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A few months ago, my regular partner Kevin Schoenfeld asked me to team with him and two of his buddies, Atam Lalchandani and Ravi Bhalla, in the two-day Spingold.  The big one.  I think his assumption was that we would be in a four-way match on day 1, and then advance to day 2 to play one of the big teams.  Unfortunately, since our team had very few seeding points, we were in one of the head-to-head matches, matched up against the #11 seed, DIAMOND, with Hampson/Greco, Wold/Jacobus, and Diamond/Platnick.  Piece of cake, right?

We sat down to play, with John Diamond and Brian Platnick at our table, and Ravi and Atam facing Geoff Hampson and Eric Greco. On the very first board, in first seat, white versus red, I picked up:

South
x
KQ98xx
AQJxxx

This hand looked promising.  I opened the bidding 1, LHO (Platnick) overcalled 1, and my partner gave me a negative double.  Diamond now bid 4, and I paused the required 10 seconds before bidding 5.  Platnick doubled which got passed out.  Game on!  On the lead of the A, dummy came down:

There wasn't much to the play.  I ruffed it, played the A, RHO showing out as expected, and exited a heart to the !HJ.  I claimed making 5 for +550, losing only the A and the !DK.  All four hands are below:
 
 
At the other table, the auction started out the same way, but Kevin's hand was initially silent:
 
W
N
E
S
1
1
P
2
4
4
5
5
X
P
P
P
 
5 was down 1 for -200, so we gained 8 IMPs on the board.  The match was a bit of a seesaw, with a couple of game swings on both sides, in one case where one side was in the wrong game and the other making.  At the quarter, we were only down by 13, which seemed quite respectable.
 
In the second quarter, Eddie Wold and Marc Jacobus replaced Platnick and Diamond.  The match was a bit more one-sided, and we ended up down by 37 at the half.  Again, not insurmountable.   After a dinner away from the playing venue, we returned for round 3, with Diamond and Platnick replacing Greco and Hampson for the remainder of the evening.  
 
Now was where the pros really began to shine... it was like they had just been toying with us in the first half, and were now getting down to business. Gloves off!
 
Eddie and Marc bid two amazing 6 slams which appeared to me to be cold.  One was a result of a bidding misunderstanding, but the other was quite deliberate.  Lose 10 on each of those boards. We lost big on a couple other boards where there were competitive decisions to make at each table, and we made the wrong decision.  I did managed to score +1 IMP on one hand AND the beer, which was something.  We lost an additional 41 IMPs in the third quarter, a deficit that was going to be difficult to overcome.
 
In round four we changed tables, so Ravi and Atam could get to play against Wold and Jacobus.  The quarter started out pretty badly at our table.  We bid our way into a 4 game where we had a 5-1 trump split.  I was very happy to get out for down 1, but I believe that 3NT may have been cold, and they were in the right game at the other table.  Lose 13.  Our opponents got to a tough-to-find minor-suit game. I decided to overcall my six-card diamond suit in the middle of a strong-club auction and got punished; unfortunately, either a game wasn't in the offing or it was difficult to find, so we lost a lot on that board.  On the bright side, we did manage to bid and make a slam not found at the other table.  But most of the scores were on their side for the final segment.
 
 

It was only fitting that we ended the match on a high note.  On the final board, I picked up the following hand:

South
Q86
74
4
KQ96543

My partner opened the bidding in first seat 1NT, no one vulnerable.  Diamond overcalled 2, alerted as diamonds and a major.  I bid 2NT, Lebensohl. Platnick bid 3, Kevin passed, and Diamond bid 4

South
Q86
74
4
KQ96543
W
N
E
S
1NT
2
2NT
3
P
4
?

Your bid?

I decided to bid 5.  It seemed like their game might make, and I had a bit more offense than my partner might expect.  Platnick on my left doubled, and it all passed out.  On the lead of the Q, dummy came down:

North
K104
Q95
AJ985
AJ
South
Q86
74
4
KQ96543
W
N
E
S
1NT
2
2NT
3
P
4
5
X
P
P
P

I won the A and considered the hand.  RHO most likely had four hearts given the auction, since LHO had freely bid 3 at his first opportunity. (I missed an inference from the bidding at this point that would have been helpful in the play.)  So his shape was likely something like 1-4-5-3, or more likely 2-4-5-2 or 3-4-5-1.  If clubs split 2-2 I had a great chance.
 
I decided that my best shot was to ruff out the diamonds and hope that something good happened.  I made a mistake at this point, and played a low diamond towards my hand, ruffing.  (I should have played the J for a ruffing finesse against the K, pinning the 10 on my left, if LHO had started with Q10.)  I played a club to the J.  I led the 9, which was covered by the 10, and ruffed with the K, LHO showing out.  I played another club to the board and clubs split 2-2.  I now played the J, and RHO ducked, perhaps hoping that I only had six clubs and his partner could ruff.  I pitched a heart.  I continued with another diamond, and RHO covered the diamond with the K.  I pitched a heart.  He exited with the K, which I ruffed.  If hearts were 4-4 as I suspected, then LHO was 5422 and RHO was 2452.
 
What's your play from here?

North
K104
Q9
South
Q86
Q9

 

North
K104
Q9
South
Q86
Q9

RHO was marked with a doubleton spade.  He could certainly hold a spade honor, but I banked on it being the A.  I led low to the 10, LHO following low smoothly.  It held, and I claimed making 5 for +550.  All four hands are shown below:

West
AJ973
J832
Q2
108
North
K104
Q95
AJ985
AJ
East
xx
AK106
K10763
72
South
Q86
74
4
KQ96543
D

 
We had started the match with +550 and we ended with +550, a fitting conclusion to a long match.
 
When we compared results, we didn't bother to add everything up.  The fourth quarter was by far our worst quarter, with all of us being quite tired by then, and I suspect the overall score went into triple digits. But it was an incredible day of bridge all in all.  Playing against the #11 seed meant no pressure. Also, if you think about it, normally you'd have to pay a lot of money to play so many boards with such terrific pros; we got to play against them all day for the paltry sum of $40 each. It was an amazing day of bridge, and such an honor to get to play against the best in the world.  And they were all incredibly gracious and nice hosts to boot.
 
It wasn't until yesterday that I realized how stressful playing in the Life Master Pairs was, mainly because I wanted to do really well as it was one of my year's goals.  Since I had no such illusions about the Spingold, it was quite liberating and I was able to relax all day.  I suggested to the team that instead of playing in the Wernher Open Pairs we instead play in a Regional KO, as I really still need a break from the stress.  So that's what we're going to do today.
 
Hats off to the DIAMOND team and thank you for being such great hosts!  Good luck in your run for the rest of the Spingold -- we'll be rooting for you!
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