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Magical Monaco
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As I walk along the marble-covered floor of the Hermitage hotel on my way to the breakfast terrace by a small fountain in the garden, I have to bite my lip to hide a smile. I feel like a character in a romance novel. The castle-like buildings of the city; the shining cars with symbols unknown to me; women with perfect bodies hidden by tight, colorful dresses, accompanied by handsome middle-aged men dressed in tuxedos.

However, none of this would matter to me if it were not for the bridge stars lighting up the city. Getting a kiss from Sjoert at breakfast, a wink from Geir in the hallway, and a high five from Dennis before game time.

I am participating in the Ladies Cavendish with my American partner Lindsey Weinger. She started playing two years ago as a Mother’s Day present for her mom, but has developed at a pace any world champion would envy. We are going to play the women’s teams and pairs at the World Championships in Sanya, so Lindsey suggested that we practice at a European tournament such as Rhodes or Pula.

“Did you ever hear about the Cavendish?” I asked.

Of course she had, even before she had begun to play herself. I told her about the city, the auction, all the intimidating world-champion opponents. It was an easy choice for Lindsey. She wants to learn by getting beaten by the best and be at the event that will give her the best experience.

 

Player's Auction and BridgeSpinner

We spend the Tuesday before the auction to discuss our system notes at the Monte Carlo Beach Club. Lindsey tells me she saw Lionel Richie there the day before. I have no idea what he looks like and wouldn’t be able to point out a single celebrity. I am busy enough keeping track of the bridge players.

We go to the venue to watch the finish of the teams, but suddenly find ourselves playing bridge against Pierre Zimmermann and the president of the EBL Yves Aubry on the BridgeSpinner, a new invention that will likely conquer the bridge world within a few years.

The auction with Zia

It is a small and elegant device placed in the middle of the table. It hands us predealt cards in a second and records the play of the hands if you put the cards back in the machine without shuffling. Of course I forget and shuffle my cards as the only one among us…

The entire bidding is entered on a tablet, which makes it possible to compare plays and auctions in a tournament between hundreds of pairs. I imagine we will all be playing on the BridgeSpinner in the future. It saves the organizers the trouble of predealing tons of cards, since each machine deals the cards board by board and the advantage for the players is they will be able to go over every play and every bid of a hand. It is highly likely that the 2015 Cavendish will be played on the BridgeSpinner.

It is my first time at the Cavendish and I always dreamt of witnessing the auction, so I am very excited as Lindsey and I return to the venue after jumping into dresses to match the occasion.

It quickly becomes even more exciting than I imagined. Jean-Charles Allavena, who I only knew from emails and tireless efforts of organizing this event, approaches me with the words: “You are going to work tonight.” I have no idea what he means, but I will say yes to anything he asks of me. 

“You are going to do the auction with Zia,” he says. I can feel my heart beating faster as I accept.

Before bridge occupied my dreams, I wanted to be an actress, so I like to perform and can’t think of anything I would love more than being Zia’s sidekick.

Yet as I stand in front of the champagne bucket, players, and buyers, a feeling I have never had at the bridge table is sneaking up on me. I am suddenly nervous. Several times I run out of words (which occurs to me about once a year) and I am scared I will not be able to sell my friends at the price I consider them worth.

But Zia saves me. Being the only blonde he never asked to play a tournament with, I am still a bit mad at him (and last time I complained about it he told me that now I am too old). Yet I think he is a gift for an event such as this. He sends me down to pour champagne for Mr. Gladysh from Russia, who immediately raises the price of Helgemo-Helness to 47,000 euros.

As we speed up the tempo of the auction I feel more relaxed and am now able to say “going once, going twice…. Sold to the gentleman in the pink shirt” without laughing at myself. I seem to have a poker face as I am the only one thinking that I am awkward. I make a mental note to use that to my advantage at the bridge table the following day.

Game time

I always feel a wave of happiness washing over me as I arrive at a venue and see the screens waiting impatiently for the play to begin. 

The auction with Zia

I told Lindsey before the tournament that I would pinch my arm if we qualified for the A-final. After the first day we are 13th out of 20 pairs with a score of -68 IMPs. As a comparison Marion Michielsen and Meike Wortel have a gigantic score of +906 IMPs, almost twice as much as second, and rumors report they are taking the second day of the qualification off to go to the beach club…

We have breakfast with them Thursday morning and it seems a part of their success rubs off since we have a great morning and end up sixth after finishing the session with a huge board, perfectly illustrating the devious Multi.

During our system discussion Lindsey introduces Flannery, which I refused to play. To quote one of my favorite former partners Kaare Gjaldbaek: “The only advantage of playing Flannery is that Steve Weinstein supports it and people like to agree with him.”

Instead I introduce her to 2 as a weak Multi with 2/2 as 8-11 HCP. “Multi is forbidden in the States, right?” she replies. I explain that it is only in pairs and that I think it is one of the most hopeless rules at the American Nationals. Not being allowed to play a convention so common in Europe hinders the Americans from learning something new, not to mention how to play against it. Being allowed to have written Multi defenses at the tables is to me the same as if I were allowed to look at my NT-system during play.

I do agree with the Americans at one point; that it is difficult to defend against. I just don’t see why that is an argument. We could use the same argument to forbid squeezes. The most amazing thing about bridge is the high level of difficulty. I think we should always aim at supporting the evolution of bridge by being open to new ideas and it seems to me the US is lagging behind when it comes to system development.

After this minor political contribution, let me get back to the board. Lindsey is very good at remembering new things, so though I know the risk of playing Good/Bad Multi in an unpracticed partnership, I supply her with some good simple agreements and she jumps into it.

Frey
AK4
QJ
A98
AJ532
Madsen
862
A107652
K3
86
Hugon
K843
Q10654
KQ107
Weinger
QJ109753
9
J72
94
W
N
E
S
 
P
2
X
2
3
P
4
P
4
P
4N
P
5
P
5
P
6
P
6
P
6N
P
P
X
P
P
7
X
P
P
P
D
7X West
NS: 0 EW: 0

We play against the winners from 2013, the French pair Nathalie Frey and Babeth Hugon.

Lindsey opens 2 Multi, next hand doubles and I chose to bid 2 pass/correct, which is invitational if Lindsey has hearts.  I rejected jumping to 3 pass/correct, since I assumed she had spades and thought it would be better to play it from my side to protect my K. Next hand bids 3, meant as a cuebid but perceived as natural as it turns out. I was almost sure after the hesitation from my screenmate before her 3 bid that they were about to step onto a slumbering volcano. West bid 4, cuebid, but perceived as natural, 4 was a cuebid, West bid 4NT, (which I assume was asking for aces with spades as trump) and 5 (perhaps inquiring for the queen of trumps?).

After East's 6, West bid 6. I was convinced they were … let’s just say in trouble. However I saw no reason to double 6, since if Lindsey had spades we already had a great board if it was six down vulnerable. If Lindsey had hearts (which I didn’t really believe) they might have bid a makeable contract. After my screenmate’s surprise as 6 came back on the tray, I could hardly wait till it came back to me. I doubled 6NT and they ran to 7, which I doubled and led the A, gave Lindsey a ruff, and had the K to come. +800 and 130 IMPs, a huge board to finish a great session.

Lindsey almost felt bad for the opponents having such a disaster. I didn’t. It is part of the game. They won last year and should know their agreements as a top pair.

We are plus about 200 IMPs before the last ten boards. We are excited and I feel on fire, however I also know that it only takes two big swings out to have us back on zero. Or just 20 IMPs out on each board…

During the last session I feel the IMPs running like sand through my fingers. I have 5-9 balanced on every hand and can’t even make a sensible psyche. We finish at +3 imps, which sadly wasn’t enough to qualify this year and we have to play the B-final the next day.

Lindsey is obviously disappointed as am I, yet I try to explain to her how proud she should be of herself. She has played bridge for two years. All the other participants are either World or European champions or have represented their country internationally. We get a drink with the many players from the open who share our disappointment and in good company we quickly start smiling again.

A Poker Star at the Bridge Table

Gus and Martin

Martin Schaltz and Gus Hansen

Photograph taken by Francesca Canali

I just love to see Gus Hansen’s name on the Cavendish starting list. To have one of the world’s best poker players participating only adds to the uniqueness of the event. 

Gus loves bridge. He reads bridge every day. He plays once a year. He thinks that we don’t psych enough in bridge. His prediction is that in ten years' time from now, there will be 30% more psyching within top-level bridge. Perhaps the same development he has been a part of in poker.

Once in a while some of us try to argue that psyching is not always the best approach in a partnership game since you might hit your partner and create an atmosphere of insecurity, making your partner reluctant to support you, preempt, etc.

But Gus doesn’t really listen. He believes strongly in his own opinion and together with the young Danish magician Martin Schaltz he has created a system of “controlled psyching”, enabling them to reveal a bluff in the second round of bidding through some relays. They play transfers on ALL opening bids, and accepting the transfer means “My first bid was a bluff”. The opponents hold all the same information as Gus and Martin, everything is alerted and explained.

However their strategy did not turn out very successful. They went for 500, 800, 1100, and when they finally had a good result, their opponents called the director because of their unusual methods.

One of their less-successful boards was against Gus and Martin’s countryman Dennis Bilde playing with Zia:

Martin
98
K763
94
Q10752
Dennis
QJ3
Q1094
J76
A96
Gus
K1052
85
KQ85
KJ8
Zia
A764
AJ2
A1032
43
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
X
1
1NT
2
P
3
X
3
X
P
P
P
D
3X West
NS: 0 EW: 0

Gus opened 1 in third seat on two little and Zia doubled. Now Martin Schaltz in West responded 1 on two little. Dennis bid 1NT and now Gus optimistically raised Martin to 2, who now ran to 3, doubled by Dennis. Gus ended in 3-X for -800 after the Q lead.

The moral of the story is that it is dangerous for a player to psych and twice as dangerous if both players psych.

That being said, I do agree with Gus that bridge players psych too rarely. The majority is far too occupied with what they risk, and some even seem to believe that psyching should not be a part of the game. I think that being able to fight back attacks such as psyching (and Multi) is just as much a part of the game as taking a finesse. Bridge today is an aggressive fighting sport, no longer one for soft bidders who would rather make 170 than risk losing 50.

If only Gus would spend a few years playing more bridge, learn what it means to be in a regular partnership (bridgewise anyway), I am sure he would get a feeling for when is the right to time to psych.

He can start by learning from a woman. Cathy Baldysz and Anna Sarniak were second in the Ladies Cavendish for the second year in a row. In the final Anna psyched a redouble (which is my all-time favorite action) to keep the opponents out of a vulnerable game:

West
A72
KQ102
AKJ84
5
Sarniak
1084
864
103
Q9874
East
QJ953
93
Q652
A10
Baldysz
K6
AJ75
97
KJ632
W
N
E
S
P
2
X
XX
2
P
P
P
D
2 East
NS: 0 EW: 0

Baldysz in the South seat opened 2 (Precision, either 6+ or 5 and 4 in a major, 10-16)

Next hand doubled, and now Sarniak held nothing but the Q9874 of clubs and a balanced hand. Instead of making a predictable preempt, she redoubled 2 showing a strong hand. Now next hand only bid 2, and West obviously did not consider bidding on after this development.

What I like most is that Cathy and Anna are our teammates for the women’s teams in Sanya – I have a feeling they will be somewhat more understanding than others if we come back with -400 for one down in a redoubled vulnerable contract…

 

Dancing in the Moonlight

I have rarely been to a tournament with such friendly people. Despite the money at stake, all players are nice and supportive of each other. After game time, people go to dinner in large groups and meet at the nearby casino afterwards.

On the short walk between the restaurant and the hotel after dinner one evening, Lindsey and I keep running into participants and paused to talk to both friends and new acquaintances; it took us an hour to make a 5-minute walk and we actually never entered our hotel since we were talked into joining some friends for a drink along the way.

Despite the friendly atmosphere there can be only one winner in each category. In the open pairs, Buras and Narkiewicz are merciless. In the women’s the young Tal sisters from Israel surprisingly win the event after Marion Michielsen and Meike Wortel played in a league of their own during the entire qualification. They end third and you would think they were disappointed. I have rarely seen any pair so graceful in defeat; throughout the day they are wearing black and blue dresses in matching styles that would match a gold medal even better, and yet smilingly accept the bronze at the prize-giving ceremony. They tell me that they are happy with their play and thus not so upset that the results were not to their advantage.

After dinner a large group of us meet at the casino. Marion and Meike have drinks with Dana and Noga, the Israeli sisters who just defeated them.

Afterwards we go to an open-sky club placed on the pier of the harbor with white interior, overlooking the dark sea. We are dancing under the stars and little by little smaller groups of players are joining us after their dinner, each and everyone welcomed with a cry of joy and a hug from one or more of us.

We finish the night with the traditional skinny dipping in the harbor. Who else took part you can read in my book some years from now. So far the moon above Monaco is our only witness.

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