Join Bridge Winners
My Dallas Dreams, Part 1
(Page of 3)

(This article was previously published in the June issue of Bridge Magazine)

The American Nationals. World stars making their living battling for prestigious titles, rising stars fighting for their breakthrough, and beautiful and wealthy people present for the bridge as well as the social interaction.

I bought the cheapest possible flight ticket, had a couch in a close friend’s hotel room, and filled my suitcase with dresses and dreams. My ambition was to get a job or two to finance the flight (and perhaps my own hotel bed) and to play with random world stars in sudden need of a partner.  And should both fail, make sure neither the pool nor bar was in need of good company.

Pairing up with Dutchmen

The best part about the American nationals is the opportunity to play against the champions of the world. I played a one-day knockout with Meike Wortel from the Netherlands. We were eager to be seeded for the top bracket, so we made a rather optimistic estimate of our team’s combined amount of masterpoints.

We started the first match by gently smacking the Polish top pair Jacek Romanski - Apolinary Kowalski. After the first three boards out of 12 we were up by 20 IMPs and I asked them if they yielded so we could all go to the bar. They laughed heartily and kept laughing all the way through their beating.

Next up were the opponents of my dreams: the Dutch World Champions Sjoert Brink and Bas Drijver, Meike’s fellow countrymen. I jumped with joy at the sight of them, and they tried to run off to the other table, but I followed them, dragging Meike along.

We are well-acquainted from the bar, not the bridge table, and I had been dreaming of beating them, especially since the blondest of the two once claimed that he could pick a random guy from the street and still beat me at bridge. After some uncivil remarks on both sides, the game began. On one of the first boards I was in my favorite position, vulnerable against not, holding a huge hand: xx x Q1098xx Q1098. Drijver opened 1 on my left, and Brink responded 2, some artificial game force. The reason this is my favorite position is because I know I am usually the only one insane enough to bid, and this was no exception, as I overcalled 2. The bidding now went:

Christina
xx
x
Q1098xx
Q1098
Drijver
Axx
AJ9xx
AJ
Kxx
Meike
Kxxx
K10xx
Kxxxx
Brink
QJ10x
Qxx
AJxxxx
W
N
E
S
 
1
P
2
2
P
4
4
P
4
P
6
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
6X South
NS: 0 EW: 0

When Brink bid 6 I could feel my pulse rise as I calmly passed. I assumed they would run to 6 after Meike’s double, and I could hardly wait to pull out my red card.  After everyone passed I had a bittersweet taste in my mouth. I knew Meike probably wanted me to lead a major suit, but holding such good clubs I knew there was no rush, so I simply led my 10.

The most peculiar thing about the play was the expression on Brink’s face firstly cashing the king of clubs, next taking two unsuccessful major-suit finesses for three off.

Unfortunately we lost the match; however, I was happy for my Dutch favorites since losing to two blondes would not do their reputation good. The secret of what really happened at the table stays between the four of us…

In the Silodor Open Pairs I had the pleasure of once again pairing up with a Dutchman, the former world junior champion Tim Verbeek. His margin of error matches that of a robot and for him, "table feeling" means touching the table. I could almost tell how the inner calculations of odds passed before his eyes, while he sat erect and motionless on his chair.

So I played with my complete opposite. I am not afraid to play terribly against odds (even knowingly) if I sense that the cards are placed differently. Despite our different natures it was an immense pleasure to play with Tim, though he confessed after I semi-psyched a redouble that he was not as cool on the inside as his steady composure made him appear.

An example of not taking the standard disposition:

West
K2
AQ107632
J5
107
Tim
954
85
AQ963
A82
East
Q1083
94
10842
Q64
Christina
AJ76
KJ
K7
KJ953
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
2
P
2NT
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0

Lead: J

I looked a bit at the lead. It seems tempting to just play for diamonds 3-3 or even consider finessing West for the 10. If diamonds split 3-3 I have five tricks. If they don’t, I only have three diamond tricks since I cannot let East in to play a heart through my KJ. However they have a 9-card heart fit and only bid once. It looked suspicious.

I ducked the J at trick one. Though immovable as always, I could almost sense Tim getting a warning on his internal screen with red letters spelling out “ERROR-ERROR”.

The play was spot on, since East had 10xxx. Had I won my king at trick one, taken the successful club finesse, cashed my clubs and diamonds in dummy, and played a spade to my ace, West must unblock the K to avoid being endplayed. This holds the contract to 9 tricks. By ducking the J I got the same 10 tricks as after a heart lead.

We were second after the qualification and third after 3 quarters. About the last session I can only say that I never checked our final ranking. I am no masochist.

I was a bit disappointed after the pairs, since being a talkative blonde from time to time makes it challenging to be recognized for anything other than my verbal skills. Undiscovered queens haunted my thoughts and dreams throughout the night.

Joining the German Open Team

On the last weekend of the Spring Nationals, all of the Vanderbilt teams besides the four semi-finalists compete in the Jacoby Open Swiss, fighting for their last chance of glory. The night before the beginning of the tournament, lonesome players and pairs run around the bar in pursuit of partners or teammates.

Earlier during the week I had been asked by a South American all-star team if I could find a good partner, since they needed a third pair. However I had been so focused on the pairs I hadn’t given it much thought. I failed to find a partner before midnight and had to send the charming South Americans into the open arms of a thrilled lonely pair.

However, in America, there is a new opportunity around every corner. On my way to bed around 3 in the morning I ran into a nice woman with whom I was superficially acquainted, and who was without plans but had lots of desire to play. She and I formed a team with my Dutch partner Tim and his regular partner as teammates, with a small wage for the three of us. I went to bed happy, though my sleep was disturbed by the many missed opportunities from the pairs. I woke up to the message that my partner had to rush home due to a family emergency. I was alone again.

I went to the venue just before playing time in case something turned up. 130 tables had already started play, yet a lot of people were still running around looking for lost teammates, partners, or even last-minute pairings.

I no longer remember in which order the following events took place, but I recall being offered a few hundred dollars to play with a 3-person team whose teammates hadn’t showed up.  At some point, I ran into my German friend from Denmark, Sabine Auken, who was about to rush out of the room with a distressed expression on her face.  She told me they didn’t have a team because one of their teammates didn’t want to play all the time. It took me exactly 1/3 of a second to choose to play with the German open team rather than for a small wage. I play bridge for love, not money.

“I can play some,” I heard myself say. I had barely uttered the words before Roy Welland waved to me from the registration desk.  There was an odd number of teams, so we had an opportunity to jump in. I texted Tim the robot to hurry to the venue to join the 3-person team who had asked me to play with them, and the match turned out very successful.

So suddenly I was the fifth player on the German open team. Not what I expected waking up in the morning. However, I do speak a bit of German, and my mother was born and raised in Hamburg, so I could be worse off. My partner-to-be was Josef Piekarek, with whom I was acquainted. And let me put it mildly: he did not look pleased with the idea of playing with me. At all. On the other hand, his partner Alexander Smirnov looked very happy since he could now go shopping as planned.

They played the first two matches together (one match is 7 boards) while I filled out a convention card for me and Josef. He told me to write down exactly what I wanted to play. So we played weak NT, 2 0-10 Multi, and some special 2-major openings. During our system discussion, which he insisted to have in German, he looked as if I were torturing him verbally; however, he agreed to play as I suggested.  There was just one minor thing I forgot to tell him: I like to redouble – for business.

We sat down to play. It went well for the first two boards. Then on the third board I held this hand:

A Q10xx AQ9xx J95

Neither vulnerable, my partner opened 1, next hand bid 4, I doubled, and my partner bid 5, doubled by preempter’s partner. Now I happen to know the score for making 5 of a minor redoubled not vulnerable. It is +800, compared to only +550 in 5-X, and if the contract only goes one off, it is -200 compared to -100. So you can win 8 IMPs while risking only 3. Plus I like when it tickles a bit…

So I redoubled, almost convinced my partner held 6 clubs, since he had not bid 4NT. This is what happened next:

W
N
E
S
1
4
X
P
5
P
P
X
P
P
XX
P
5
P
P
X
P
P
P

The full hand:

West
K
Axx
KJxxx
A108x
Piekarek
Qxx
KJxx
x
KQ76x
East
J109xxxxx
xx
xx
x
Christina
A
Q10xx
AQ9xx
J95
W
N
E
S
 
1
4
X
P
5
P
P
X
P
P
XX
P
5
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
5X North
NS: 0 EW: 0

5 could have been beaten with a club ruff, whereas 5 would most likely make after the double. However, maybe due to the redouble, the defense didn’t find their club ruff, so we were +650. Not as good as +800, but plenty since Sabine and Roy also defended 5-X, one off, after slightly more sane bidding.  Sabine only bid 3 on her turn, which was doubled and redoubled by Roy.  Sabine then bid 4 over 4, obviously not wanting to defend 4.

After the first two matches with (re)doubles and IMPs flying around his ears, my partner looked a bit dizzy, but a lot happier. During the break, he confessed to me in German: “Ich wusste gar nicht, dass du ein Bridgespieler bist.” (“I had no idea that you were a bridge player.”)

(To be continued.)

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