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Lose the Trials Semifinal with Me
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The Open USBC (the Trials) was held in Schaumburg, Illinois in mid-May. My team made the semifinals, losing by 18 IMPs to the FLEISHER team, which went on to win the event. Making it this far in the Trials was extremely exciting, but losing by a small margin always leaves you frustrated, dwelling on mistakes and missed opportunities.

In this series of articles, I'm going to walk through my decisions in our semifinal match. I'll mention the results from the other table and other players' choices at my table, but the focus will be on my decisions.

Entering the Trials

The new, semi-permanent home of the various Trials is convenient for me, as a Chicago resident, although less convenient than you might expect, as Schaumburg is a roughly 45 minute drive from downtown Chicago (worse, I'm sure, at rush hour) or an hour-long train ride. I would never consider commuting under those circumstances, but at least I didn't need to worry about plane tickets—I could just go home when my team was knocked out.

In early April I still had no plans for the Trials, and neither did Ron Smith, so we agreed to enter if we could find a good team. I noticed John Diamond and Brian Platnick hadn't entered either, so I decided to ask Brian if they were interested in playing. I have some experience with JD and Brian. I've played with Brian on occasion, Ron and I played a regional KO with JD and Brian a few years ago at a nationals, and I was the NPC for DIAMOND when they won Trials in 2016.

JD and Brian agreed to play, and no one else on the team wanted to deal with the administrative end of the Trials, so I reprised my role as captain and entered the KRIEGEL team. We considered adding a third pair but eventually decided to play four-handed for a couple reasons. We all felt capable of playing all the boards, and not sitting out can help with momentum and rhythm—no one comes in cold if everyone plays the whole time. Plus, if we won, we would be able to add a top pair from one of the losing teams.

The Early Rounds

18 teams entered the Trials, two of which had byes: FLEISHER to the Round of 16 and ROSENTHAL to the Round of 8. We were the #6 seed, but that wasn't necessarily where we would end up in the bracket. Finishing in the top four of the round-robin is worth additional temporary seeding points, which can change seeding order. Also, beginning with #3 and #4, pairs of seeds are shuffled, and the round-robin winner has the option to re-shuffle its seed.

The round-robin functioned as a good warmup for us. No one was playing particularly well, and it was good to have a couple days of relatively low-stakes bridge to get into the swing of things. We slogged through and finished somewhere in the middle of the pack. We were never in danger of not qualifying, but we also only briefly flirted with the chance of a high finish. WOLFSON won the round robin. We maintained our #6 seed after the shuffle, while WOLFSON exercised its right to re-shuffle and ended up on the ROSENTHAL side of the bracket.

Our Round of 16 matchup pitted us against MORRIS, NPC, sponsored by Mike Levine. I played with Mike in the last national cycle, which culminated in our making the semifinals of the Vanderbilt. Mike played with Eddie Wold, plus Dennis and Jerry Clerkin and Marc Jacobus and Mike Passell. Mike Levine has macular degeneration, so his vision is very limited, and play at his table is usually slow. Ron and I were the fast pair on our team (and among the fastest pairs in the whole event), so it was in everyone's interests for Mike and Eddie to play against us when they were in, which they did all four sets they played. Of the remaining four segments, we played three against Jacobus and Passell and one against the Clerkins.

We got off to a 16-IMP lead after one segment, lost a few back in the second, but won the third and fourth sets to lead by 50 at the halfway point. We extended our lead to 69 with one segment to play. We lost that segment by 21 but still won comfortably.

Meanwhile, our likely Round-of-8 opponent KRANYAK (Vince Demuy, John Kranyak; David Grainger, Greg Hinze) was having more trouble than expected with WARNER (Glenn Eisenstein, Steve Zolotow; Anam Tebha, Marc Warner). WARNER led by over 50 after two segments, but KRANYAK stormed back and took the lead in the third segment. They added 20 more IMPs in the fourth, so it looked like that was that, but WARNER came on strong the next morning, retaking the lead with a big fifth segment and tacking on a few more IMPs in the sixth eighth. The morning-afternoon seesaw kept up in the last quarter, and KRANYAK eventually triumphed by 62 IMPs.

KRANYAK was another unsponsored, four-handed team, and we expected a tough but pleasant match. Everyone involved is friendly with each other, and I am good friends with David and Greg. They are regular partners and teammates of mine, and they were on our Vanderbilt team in Memphis. Speed considerations dictated our lineups in this match too. Fast players like to play against other fast players, so Ron and I played against David and Greg all eight segments, finishing with an average of an hour on the clock. In the fourth segment, both tables in the WOLFSON match finished early, so they resumed 40 minutes before the scheduled start time. We started at the usual time and finished three boards ahead of one of those tables and five ahead of the other.

21 IMPs was the key number on the first day of the match: we led by 21 after two segments, lost it all back in the third, and reestablished our 21-IMP lead after four. The second day was swingy: we gained 26 IMPs, lost 18, gained 20, and lost 26, so our final margin of victory was 23 IMPs.

The DONN-FLEISHER match was close and controversial, with the final result coming down to an appeal. I do not want to rehash that topic here, but I was rooting for DONN, both because we would rather have faced them than FLEISHER (in most people's estimation, the favorite to win the event) and because I had close friends on DONN. What I knew about the case and the fact that the director had ruled in FLEISHER's favor made it likely that we would be playing FLEISHER in the semifinal, and so it proved.

First Eighth

The first bad sign came before the match even began. I had felt the beginnings of a cold coming on during our match against KRANYAK, and I woke up feeling worse. I tried to keep my symptoms at bay with a barrage of DayQuil and cough drops, but I never ended up feeling 100%. Ron was also fighting a cold.

I met Joe Grue in the lobby to pick seeding rights. We ended up with the rights in 1, 4, 5, and 6. FLEISHER fielded its typical morning lineup: Marty and Chip sat out. With the seed to start, we lined up with Ron and me against Geoff and Eric in the Closed Room and JD and Brian against Brad and Joe in the Open Room.

 

After a flat game, my first decision came on Board 2:

Greco
732
KQJ
963
KQ87
Smith
Q94
A52
10872
A64
Hampson
AJ1086
107
K54
1032
Kriegel
K5
98643
AQJ
J95
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
P
1
P
P
P
D
1 East
NS: 0 EW: 0

I elected to pass 1, which was a losing decision in theory, as 1 made while we can make 2. Brad doubled in the same position, so Joe declared 1NT, which was not making. East led the 3. Joe played the 9 from dummy, won the A, hooked in diamonds, and gave up a heart. West switched to spades. Joe could have repeated the diamond finesse and gone down two (or one, if he had cashed out completely), but West could have been holding up the K. He established hearts, but the defense was able to run both black suits for down three. +300 and -80 gave us 6 IMPs.

 

I bid less than Brad on Board 3 as well, holding:

Kriegel
AQ765
1076
Q105
107
W
N
E
S
P
1
2
P
?

I passed, thinking we had probably found a decent spot and game was not likely. West passed too, holding a 4=1=4=4 17-count. Ron held:

Smith
42
AQ92
87
KQJ84

and 2 failed by a trick. Brad bid 2 at the other table and played it there. He was down 2, so we gained 2 IMPs.

 

Board 4 offered a vulnerable 3NT which would usually make when A6 facing KQ10742 ran for six tricks and usually fail when it did not. Brad and Joe bid it, Ron and I did not, and diamonds did not come in. +200 and +110 gave us a lucky 7 IMPs.

I had little to do for the next few deals, but two were of interest. First, Board 7 (click NEXT to follow the Open-Room play):

Platnick
107642
7
Q643
K76
Grue
AQ53
KJ104
KJ9
105
Diamond
K8
Q8652
A105
932
Moss
J9
A93
872
AQJ84
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
5
K
9
2
0
1
5
8
Q
9
0
0
2
3
J
A
7
2
0
3
10
2
4
K
1
1
3
3
8
J
2
3
2
3
A
7
4
2
3
3
3
9
7
K
5
1
4
3
Q
6
3
6
1
5
3
A
2
4
10
1
6
3
10
3
8
K
0
6
4
6
10
8
J
0
6
5
11

At my table, East continued spades at trick two, so I was not tested. I led a club to the 10, finessed in clubs, and eventually made nine tricks: +600.

JD found the diamond shift in the Open Room (his 5 was attitude), setting Brad a nasty problem. As the cards lay, he needed to win the K. His duck would have been necessary if East held A10xxx and the club finesse lost, but in practice it allowed the defense to untangle the diamonds. The Q did not drop, the club finesse lost, and West produced the thirteenth diamond: down one, +100; 12 IMPs our way.

(At double-dummy he can make after ducking the Q by taking a first-round heart finesse through East. The major suits are blocked, but he can afford to overtake the J because West will be triple-squeezed on the fourth round of hearts.)

 

Board 8:

Greco
Q2
AQ42
AKQ3
986
Smith
104
J10
10986542
75
Hampson
KJ953
987653
Q2
Kriegel
A876
K
J7
AKJ1043
W
N
E
S
1
2
X
P
P
P
D
2X North
NS: 0 EW: 0

I didn't hate my dummy for 2-X. Geoff led a heart to Eric's ace, and Eric cashed two rounds of trumps and the Q, then shifted to the Q. Ron could have made the contract by playing clubs from the top, dropping East's Q and cashing a third round while West was unable to ruff. Expecting East-West to be able to make 4, however, he played for down one, simply conceding a spade and avoiding the chance of West ruffing a club with the 3.

Ron overlooked the fact that 4 might be able to be beaten on a trump promotion, which is exactly what happened at the other table. North passed over the strong club at the other table, East responded 1, and South overcalled in clubs. West eventually became declarer in 4, and after a club lead, South cashed his black-suit winners and played a third club for down one. -50 and -100 sent 4 IMPs to FLEISHER.

On Board 9, Ron and I got a bit unlucky:

Smith
QJ102
KQJ5
A10
J62
Kriegel
K863
A1074
K2
1074
W
N
E
S
1
1
X
2
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

4 was hopeless because of the mirror distribution. If Ron had been 4=4=3=2, it would have been excellent. We lost 5 IMPs when Brad invited with my hand opposite a 13+-16 notrump and they played in 3.

 

Board 10 was a slam deal, with six virtually cold and seven on a finesse. In competition, Geoff and Eric tried for grand but rested in 6, while JD and Brian bid 7. The finesse won: 13 IMPs our way.

 

I erred on Board 11:

Greco
874
K10763
K8
J83
Smith
AQJ92
Q3
A109642
Hampson
K65
5
AJ109652
Q7
Kriegel
103
AQJ9842
74
K5
W
N
E
S
 
1
P
2
3
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 North
NS: 0 EW: 0

I converted to 5, but in retrospect pass looks like a better call. Partner rated to have a heart void, because he would usually pass 4 with a singleton. If the opponents had two diamonds to cash, making 5 would require no loser in the black suits. On the actual deal, 4 had play but 5 did not. East led the A and continued diamonds, so Ron went down two. 4 can be beaten after A, diamond to the K, trump.  It looks like declarer can make by simply rising ace and ruffing out the clubs, but East can pitch a heart on the third club, forcing declarer to ruff high to reach his hand. East should refuse to overruff (a good general principle), forcing declarer to spend another high trump to drive out the trump king. At that point, East can return a diamond to allow partner to uppercut declarer with his last trump, establishing the setting trick in trumps.

Brad and Joe stopped in 4 at the other table, and JD chose the singleton heart as his opening lead. That was ineffective, and declarer took 11 tricks: -100, -150; 6 IMPs to FLEISHER.

Board 12 was a push in 4 down one, and we lost 10 IMPs on Board 13:

Greco
A9865
AJ82
J1095
Hampson
QJ2
KQ3
Q3
97654
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
P
X
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

All the East-West values are pulling their weight and then some. JD passed 2 after the same start to the auction. Spades were 3-2, and both tables took 10 tricks: +170, -620.

 

Board 14 was flat, but we won a swing on the last deal of the segment. As North, Ron held:

Smith
J62
AJ764
J3
KQJ
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
P
2
X
P
2NT
P
3
P
P
P

Joe didn't overcall at the other table, so JD and Brian stopped in 2, which made on the nose: +90. Eric could have played for down one or down three in 3, but he chose to take down two instead. We won 5 IMPs for +100.

 

After 15 deals, the score was FLEISHER 26, KRIEGEL 45

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