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My Little Spingold Run: Day 1
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Why do people enter the Spingold? For perhaps two to three dozen teams, the reason to enter is to win. Most teams have little or no chance of winning; they are probably there because they enjoy playing and competing against the best. I belong to the latter category.

This year my 79th seeded team won a couple matches to make it to the round of 32. This was a thrilling first for me, so I decided to write up my experience. This article is Day 1.

Day 1. My team this year was the strongest Spingold team I had ever been on. I was playing with my regular partner Alex Perlin. Our teammates were Frank Merblum, three-time national title winner and fresh off his win in the von Zedtwitz Life Master Pairs (with Doug Doub), and Alan Applebaum, one of the top players in New England and also one of my occasional partners.

Thanks to Alan and Frank, our seeding points ranked us 66 out of 94 teams, but there was a random shuffle and we ended up as the 79 seed. The brackets for these two seeds are quite different. The 66 seed gets put in the 4-way bracket with the 29, 32, and 63 seeds the first day (with 3 survivors), and the 2 seed (NICKELL) the second day. The 79 seed gets put in the bracket with the 16, 45, and 50 seeds the first day, and with the 15 seed the second day. So as the 79 seed we got a tougher first-day draw, but if we survived, we would get an easier second-day draw.

Our first day draw got even tougher when the 16 seed turned out to be Team GRUE (NPC). This team included three world champions (Fred Gitelman, Brad Moss, Justin Lall), as well as an Irish internationalist (Tom Hanlon) and a 2012 Vanderbilt winner (Les Amoils). It certainly seemed like they were underseeded. We would play them in a 32-board match. The winner would advance and get the evening off, while the loser would get another chance playing the 45 vs 60 loser in the evening.

I am used to playing with no expectation in the Spingold, but my more accomplished teammates were expecting more. Frank had declared, "I have already mapped out our bracket -- we will be playing HAMMAN in the third round!"

 

First Half. For the first half Alex and I played Moss and Lall while our teammates played Hanlon and Amoils at the other table. Here is an account of the match from my view.

On the first board, I was in 4th chair holding J10x AKxxx Kxx Qx. Brad Moss opened 1NT in third chair (14-16), all pass. What do you lead? I tried my 4th best heart. Declarer had Q10x in dummy and xxx in hand. He misguessed and we took all our tricks for down 3, +150. Teammates stopped in 1 and made exactly 1, so we picked up 6 IMPs.

Board 3 was potentially the biggest swing in the set. The layout was probably the following (not 100% sure, rotated for convenience):

West
Axx
xxxx
KJxx
AJ
North
KJx
AKQ
A10x
Q98x
East
Qxxx
Qxxxx
xxxx
South
xxx
Jxxxxx
x
K10x
W
N
E
S
1
X
3
3
4
4
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
4X South
NS: 0 EW: 0

West opened 1 (Precision) and I (North) doubled. East bid 3 showing both minors, less than invitational, and partner (South) bid 3. West bid 4 and I bid 4, doubled by West.

The lead was a low diamond and the ace won. Partner cashed three trumps and rode the 9, losing to the jack. West continued with a diamond, ruffed by partner, who cashed the J and played the K.

It seemed the contract was down at this point. Defense could win the A and play a diamond to force out declarer's last trump, and when declarer leads a spade West can win and cash the 4th diamond. This was indeed what happened except West ducked the spade, and partner put up the king, making 4. Afterwards West apologized to his partner that he pulled the wrong card.

The other table made 4 by guessing the J. We gained 5 IMPs instead of losing 13 had we gone down.

 

On board 7 our opponents faced the following defensive problem. You hold xxx KJxxx Axx Ax and open 1. LHO overcalls 2 and 2 by partner, passed to LHO who reopens with a double. RHO bids 3 all pass. You lead a heart and dummy tables:

You
xxx
KJxxx
Axx
Ax
North
Axx
A
KJxxxx
Qxx
W
N
E
S
1
2
2
P
P
X
P
3
P
P
P

What is your plan? Declarer plays a spade to the king and leads a low diamond -- are you ready for this?

 

The full hand is:

West
xxx
KJxxx
Axx
Ax
North
Axx
A
KJxxxx
Qxx
East
xxxx
Qxx
Qxx
KJ9
South
KQx
10xxx
x
1087xx
W
N
E
S
1
2
1
P
P
X
P
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

The winning defense is to win the A and play A and a club. Defense can draw trumps and then run hearts for down 3 and +300! In practice West ducked the A and declarer guessed diamonds, then crossruffed to make 4.

On board 10 I faced the following (non) bidding problem. Holding xxx AK108 Axx K7x red on red, I opened 1 and LHO overcalled 1 and partner bid 1, which in our methods showed 4 or more. RHO bid 2 and what is your call? This is a normal support double in our methods but I decided to pass, even though in the past a support double has never worked badly for me. Partner bid 3 which ended the auction. They led the Q (Rusinow) and I saw:

North
AJxxx
xxxx
AJ108
South
xxx
AK108
Axx
K7x
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
1
2
P
P
3
P
P
P

Well this is horrible. 4 is on a club finesse and normal breaks, meanwhile 3 is no better! I ended up winning the second diamond, club to jack (winning), and setting up spades. With diamonds 3-3 and spades 3-2 there was nothing they could do.  I figured we would be losing 10 IMPs. But at the other table, declarer in 4 took the club finesse the other way and ended up going down, so we gained 6 IMPs, averting disaster.

On board 11 I held KQxxx x KQxxxx K. I opened 1 and partner bid 1NT. I bid 2 and partner 2NT, and I raised to 3. Partner had approximately J10 KJxx Axx Qxxx. Defense led a club from A9xxx ??? 10 AJxx. The A was knocked out and a club continued, so partner made 5. The other table's auction started with 1 but responder tried to bid 1, which he had to correct to 2 to avoid barring partner, so now opener made a gigantic splinter and they ended up in 5 down 2.

We opened Flannery and missed a marginal non-vulnerable game that happened to be cold on the layout, to lose 6 IMPs.

On the last hand of the set I opened 1 with AK10x x xx Kxxxxx. It went 1 by Lall, pass by partner, and 3NT by Moss. Alex doubled this and I led a heart and Moss had just 8 tricks: 7 tricks in his hand (6 running diamonds plus A) and one in dummy (A).  Down 1.

After 16 boards we were up 27. This was a familiar position for me, up at the half against a sponsor, but then the pros would invariably come in and give us a beating -- I only needed to go back one year to find such a match. For the second half, Gitelman replaced Amoils, with a change in partnership also: Lall would play with Gitelman and Moss would play with Hanlon. Evidently Brad had had enough of us and announced to his team "we're switching." To which Justin asked, "who is switching?" since only one of them could switch! We sat against Gitelman and Lall.

 

Second Half. On the first board of the set (which is actually board 9), red on white in 4th chair, I picked up Kxx Qxx K9xx Qxxx. Partner opened 1 in second chair and Gitelman overcalled 4. Would you bid? I tried 4 and it went pass, pass, double. I passed and Lall pulled to 5, all pass. What would you lead?

West
Kxx
Qxx
K9xx
Qxx
W
N
E
S
P
1
4
4
P
P
X
P
5
P
P
P

 

There are 11 cards you can lead to beat this contract, but if you lead a low spade, the contract makes. Here is the layout:

West
Kxx
Qxx
K9xx
Qxx
North
x
J10
QJxxx
Jxxxx
East
Q98xx
A10xx
AK10x
South
AJ10x
AKxxxxxx
x
W
N
E
S
P
1
4
4
P
P
X
P
5
P
P
P
D
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

I led the K without much thought. Fred won, ruffed a spade, ruffed a diamond, cashed a high trump, and claimed down 1. At the other table the auction started 1-(4), but my hand passed (perhaps they played Precision). Opener reopened with a double and my hand bid 4, which was doubled by the 4 bidder. This went down 1, so we gained 6 IMPs. Later during the postmortem, teammates were amused that we won IMPs on this result because they thought 5 would likely make.

 

On the next board, Gitelman and Lall had a Precision auction to a laydown grand slam, and we lost 17 IMPs. After the board Lall commented that this was the second-ever board they've ever played together -- not bad!

The next board is an interesting play problem, faced by our opponents:

North
xx
Kxxx
Q9x
Jxxx
South
AJ109xx
Jxx
AK
AK

You have a strong club auction to 4. LHO leads the 10 (standard lead) and you win with the ace. How do you play?

 

South
AJ10965
J64
AK
AK

You can follow the play in the diagram above.  Justin cashed two high clubs, on which RHO dropped the queen. He then cashed the remaining high diamond, and played A, J. RHO won the queen and played a diamond. Declarer pitched a heart as LHO ruffed with the king. A low heart came back. What do you play?

South
AJ10965
J64
AK
AK
 

Lall thought for a while but he eventually guessed correctly, playing the king, to make 5. I don't know what his thought process was, but LHO was marked with 3=3=2=5 shape, and with the Q he might have led a heart.

 

Next, a big hand. Third chair white I picked up Ax AKQx x AKJ9xx. I got to open 1 and partner responded 1. What would be your plan? You play that 3 is an ambiguous mini/maxi splinter (could be either short spades or short diamonds, game invitational or slam invitational).

Would your answer change if I tell you Brad Moss is holding your cards at the other table?

I tried 3, then over partner's 3 signoff, I decided to bid 6. They led a spade and when I put down dummy I said (inappropriately), "if you have J you have play!"

Here was the hand from partner's view:

North
Ax
AKQx
x
AKJ9xx
South
xxx
Jxxx
KQxxx
x
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
P
1
P
3
P
3
P
6
P
P
P

On the spade lead partner won the ace, A, K, heart to jack, and hooked clubs. Clubs were Q10x onside, so making 6.

After this hand Fred good-naturedly said to Justin, who held two hearts: "It could have been worse, you could have had jack doubleton of hearts." Then he said, "This will probably be a push."

I couldn't tell if Fred was joking, but he was right. At the other table Moss splintered 3 with my hand. They proceeded to bid the slam and our teammates led the A, so his partner made six with a little less sweating. Such are the bluffs that these experts play!

We lost 8 IMPs on this tough hand (board 15, layout approximate, rotated to make myself south):

West
AKJxxxx
x
Ax
Qxx
North
x
AQJ10xxx
K
Kxxx
East
10
xxxx
Jxxx
A109x
Me
Q98x
K
Q109xxx
Jx
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
P
P
3
4
P
P
P
D
4 North
NS: 0 EW: 0

At our table LHO opened 1, partner 2, passed to LHO, who was able to describe his hand perfectly in Precision by jumping to 3. Partner bid 4 ending the auction. Opponents defended double dummy, knocking out the K in dummy before the diamonds were unblocked, for down 3, -150. Teammates were -200 in some spade contract (possibly doubled), so we lost 8 IMPs.

 

We got those IMPs back and more on the next hand. Red, I was dealt AJxxx x AQxx Axx. I opened 1 and partner bid 4, artificial in our system showing a good 5-card raise to 4. What is your call?

We have a lot of ways to make a major suit raise, so the most I think I can play partner for is two useful cards, plus some shape. I could only see one layout where slam would be good, something like Kxxxx xxxx Kx xx. Kxxxx xxxx xx Kx slam would be on a finesse and a break. Kxxxx Axxx xxx x slam is on a finesse, Kxxxx Axxxx xx x slam is good, but this might be too good for this type of raise.

If I had a help-suit slam try here perhaps my hand was worth a 5 call; lacking that I signed off in 4. Partner turned up with 109xxx AQJx 1098 x. Spades broke and the K was onside, but the J was offside, so making 5. The other table splintered with partner's hand and ended up in 6 down 1, so we gained 13 IMPs.

Next (board 1), a defensive problem. white/white, I was dealt Ax QJ K109xxx AKx in fourth chair.

The auction went two passes and RHO opened 1. I bid 2 and LHO bid 3, and RHO 3, all pass. I led a high club and saw the following dummy:

Me
Ax
QJ
K109xxx
AKx
North
98xxx
Kxx
AJxx
x

I switched to the J. Declarer won the king in dummy and played a spade. Partner played low (udca), declarer jack, and you won the ace. What now?

Here is the full layout:

West
Ax
QJ
K109xxx
AKx
North
98xxx
Kxx
AJxx
x
East
Q10x
9xx
x
J10xxxx
South
KJx
A108xx
Qx
Qxx
D

I continued with the Q, but that gave declarer no trouble. He won the ace, ruffed a club, spade to king, and lost two spades and two clubs.

At the other table after the same start, the defender in my position switched to a diamond, declarer winning the queen. Now declarer misguessed hearts and went down, and that was 6 IMPs to them.

Board 3 brought this dangerous layout:

Me
Jxxx
AJx
AJxxx
x
North
10xx
xxx
Q10x
xxxx
East
K9x
Q10x
Kxxx
Kxx
South
AQx
Kxxx
x
AQJxx
D

Our opponents opened a strong club as South, 1 by North (negative), 1 by South (4 or 5), 1NT by North, 2 by South (showing 9 cards in hearts or clubs). This was passed out. I led a spade to partner's king and declarer's ace, and declarer played A and J, partner winning the king. We set up our spade trick and waited for our 3 heart tricks and a diamond trick, so that was down 1. It felt lame to let them play in their 9-card club fit.  Is there a "correct" spot to enter the auction? My options as West would be to bid 1NT over 1 to show spades/diamonds or clubs/hearts, or double over 1 to show either diamonds or majors, or make a takeout double of 2.

The other table opened a natural 1, double by West, and East jumped to 2NT. I don't think West raised to three but I am not sure. On a club lead 3NT was cold if diamonds came in, but they didn't, and declarer ended up going down 2 for -200. Win 6.

On Board 4 it was our turn to bid a lot (rotated for convenience):

Fred
Q10xxx
J10x
Jx
AKx
Me
9x
xx
K8xxx
Q9xx
Justin
Jx
Qxx
Q10x
Jxxxx
Alex
AK8x
AKxxx
A9x
10
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1
X
P
2NT
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0

Red on red, Alex opened 1 as South and Fred overcalled 1. I doubled and Alex jumped to 2NT, which I raised to three. Fred led a high club and switched to a spade to Justin's jack. Alex won and ducked a diamond to Justin, who continued spades. Fred won the 10 and continued passively with a diamond, and now Alex only had 8 tricks for down 1. Lose 7.

 

Next, I picked up xxx AK97xx K10x x white on red, and RHO opened 1NT. It seemed normal to bid, but I remembered thinking perhaps I should pass. That thought was right as this was the layout (rotated for convenience):

West
Jx
J108xx
xxx
xxx
North
K109xx
x
xxx
AQJx
East
AQx
Q
AQJx
Kxxxx
Me
xxx
AK9xxx
K10x
x
D

If I had passed I might have been defending 2! More likely, partner would balance 2 and that plays fine. In 2 I was down 2 off the top but I randomly dropped a trick and was -150, to lose 3 IMPs.

 

On the next-to-last board I picked up Qx KJxx Axx KJ87 in second chair. Everyone was vulnerable and I got to open 1. Partner bid 1 and I bid 2, passed to RHO who balanced with a double. I redoubled, 2 by LHO, double by partner, passed to LHO who bid 2NT, pass, pass to me. What now?

I didn't really know what was going on, but I thought I had described my hand so I passed. The full layout (rotated for convenience):

Alex
AJ10x
Q10763
J10x
x
North
98xx
A
K9xx
Q10xx
Me
Qx
KJxx
Axx
KJ87
South
Kxx
xxx
Q8x
A9xx
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
P
1
P
2
P
P
X
XX
2
X
P
P
2N
P
P
P
D
2NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0

I was in a fog this whole hand. Partner led the 6 which looked high to me, and declarer won the ace. Declarer played the Q from dummy, covered and won with his ace. Next came diamond to the jack, king, and ace, and I continued a small spade won by partner's ten. Partner continued 3 to my king and I played the Q, covered and won. Partner played a heart to my jack and I pushed a diamond through. Declarer won and played back a spade, and partner had to give dummy a spade at the end. Down 4 for +400. If I timed the defense better we could have set this 5 tricks. We lost IMPs on this board because after 1m-1-2, our counterparts jumped to game and was +620. We lost 6 IMPs when we could have held the loss to 4.

On the final board I picked up A87xxxx xx Qxx A all white, and I opened 1. LHO bid 2, partner 3, and RHO 3. I bid 3 and was raised to 4. They led a high heart and I saw the following:

North
Q10
Qx
K109
KQxxxx
South
A87xxxx
xx
Qxx
A

How would you play? Obviously the contract had no play so I played it quickly. They cashed two hearts and switched to a diamond. RHO won the ace and continued diamond. I won the ten in dummy and led a spade to the ace. LHO had stiff 9 so I was down 2.

At the other table Brad opened 2 with my hand but ended up in 4 anyways (really?). He played the spade suit by first leading toward dummy. When it went 9, 10, jack, he hooked the queen on the way back to go down only one; 2 IMPs to them.

We lost 25 IMPs this set and squeaked by with a 2 IMP victory. It definitely felt good to beat such a strong team in the first round. In assessing the match, it seemed they bid a lot more than us: their side bid three games that we didn't bid (one due to an obvious mistake on my part), while we bid one game they didn't bid. Some games they bid were good and some not so good. They bid three slams to our one: one was cold, one was poor, one was good if you bid it Brad's way but bad if you bid it my way. In terms of card play it seemed they made more major mistakes than us: pulling the wrong card in 4x; the 3 defense was worth a lot but I can't really judge whether that was a mistake; finessing the Q the other way in 4 was weird but perhaps that was just a 50-50 guess. I was disappointed that I dropped 5 IMPs in undertricks (both declarer play and defense) on the last 4 boards -- I was definitely having last hand syndrome and wasn't fully concentrating toward the end. These IMPs add up and it was fortunate that it didn't cost us.

To be continued...

 

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