Join Bridge Winners
My Trip to the SHEINWOLD GRAND NATIONAL TEAMS, FLIGHT B 2018 in Atlanta
(Page of 15)

Be forewarned: This is a bit long, and maybe I should have broken this into a few parts. And it's mostly story as opposed to bridge hands. And until the end, there aren't actual hand records, so if you are looking for bridge hands, either forward to the end, or look elsewhere. In any event, I hope you enjoy this tale of me and team:

I know those outside of the bridge world would rather watch grass grow than read a gripping account of people playing a game they don’t understand or appreciate. But I personally always like to read this sort of article by other bridge players, so I am throwing my hat in the ring.

 

As a working stiff, I was pretty much regulated to playing in the one evening game offered at my local Orlando club and had been playing with Lance, the same partner, once a week since the mid ‘90s. When we first started playing duplicate, we didn’t know anyone else who played so we each convinced a friend to learn the game and play with us. But our friends didn’t have the drive to practice, read, or improve, so we eventually got frustrated and started playing together. Which worked out well. We started out playing Standard American and through the years went through 2-ver-1, Canape, and Precision, and we eventually landed back where we started: at good ol’ "Sub-standard American" (which is actually what we put on our card). We played a club game once a week for over 20 years, as well as the occasional local tournament. Maybe a Sunday Swiss in Daytona, but that’s about as far as we went to play bridge.

Playing once a week at the club and reading about the game is a good way to get better, but not a good way to get master points, so we ended up as pretty good “B” players. Our highlights are probably when we won the X part of the A/X Swiss at a local Regional and actually had the lead with one round to go in an open Swiss one year. So we’ve had a lot of fun, and some good results, generally playing with other guys similar in age (I’m now 52, the perfect age for a [deck of] card player), who all study the game but have to work for a living.However, about 5 years ago a political squabble and greed broke up our local club, and my evening game moved a little too far away to be convenient geographically, so my play became scarce. As a result, Lance started playing with Cabot, a newer player who had been playing a lot and wanted to get better (how he would get better playing with Lance is beyond me Wink) to take my place (and pilfer our system!), and they have been playing weekly for a couple of years.

When Grand Nationals Team time rolled around, I asked Lance if he wanted to play and if we could find other “B” teammates. He said he’d see what he could do. He eventually suggested playing with Cabot and Ping, another guy Lance and I had teamed up with in the past. Ping is slightly older than the rest of us, about which we constantly remind him. Our original 4th has long ago moved out of state (Hi, Jim!). I was wary, but I told Lance that I had no problem with this fourth as a teammate.

Ping is a great teammate. He’s like Odie from the Garfield comic strip. Always happy, always quick to take blame, and never upset with partner or a teammate. But we had tried to play together a few times and it made me want to jump out of a window. So we worked out that I’d play with the Cabot (after all, since he stole my system, I know (hope) he knows it, and I did play with him once or twice before), and Lance would play with Ping. Out masterpoint totals as the time of qualifying were: Cab: 902, Lance: 1242, Ping: 1736, and Mark: 1959. We got one live game in at the club before qualifying and felt reasonably comfortable. If I recall, Lance and Ping finished first and Cab and I finished second, so that seemed like a good sign. To the District 9 Qualifiers we go.

I’ve never been a fan of the qualifying process for GNT. Our team had to drive 2.5 hours (some much longer) for the right to play a knock-out. So if you lose, you’re back in the car. And if you win, you win the right to keep paying for another session until you lose. It somehow feels different to me than a regular KO. To me, it’s more like a satellite game to the World Series of Bridge. If you don’t win, you don’t get prize money for finishing second, so I feel like there should be one entry fee for the event and that’s it. Double the entry fee and the ACBL makes just as much money, but at least you aren’t punished for finishing third... or second. But I digress.We qualified and lived through day 1, so we had to spend the night and, hopefully, win two matches on day 2 to represent the district in Atlanta. Well the title of this article took any drama out of this part of the story, but we did win, and we started preparing for the event.

“Preparing for the event” means practicing with your new partnerships, so we scheduled Sunday sessions on Bridge Base Online (BBO) against each other, while we were all on a conference call, so we could discuss, ask questions, and fine-tune things. At least that was the plan.What it actually turned into was Lance and I trying to figure out what on earth Ping was doing. Apparently his addiction to BBO robots had made him bridge-crazy. So while Cabot sat quietly, the rest of us argued about what on earth these bids were supposed to show vs. what we actually thought they showed. And what is attitude. And it got loud. And it went on for weeks. My wife questioned why we were even going to Atlanta if it was going to be this bad, and I thought she had a point. The regular practice confusion left me with little confidence in our team, but hey, the district subsidized the trip, so I figured we’d go.

I also figured that if I found another team to scrimmage against at least I wouldn’t have to hear the other half of my team arguing on the phone. Well, trying to coordinate two teams playing at the same time on BBO is like herding cats. I did manage to find two teams who wanted to play. The first scrimmage was scheduled, but we had a time-zone issue, and the second our teammates couldn’t make. Our opponents wanted to play against me and Cabot, so we did get that in.

With the second team, we had a misunderstanding as to which week we were starting. Our communication was through Bridge Winners, and, if there’s a way to see deleted Bridge Winners emails, I haven’t found it, so we still don’t know who was wrong. So we ended up practicing against the B team who qualified from the DC area. Very nice folks, but they also had a week when one of their team couldn’t show up, so they had found a replacement who wasn’t really at our level, but practice was practice, and they were apologetic. We played various configurations of this team over the few weeks leading up to the event. I thought we lost more than we won, but some of my teammates felt differently. I honestly wasn’t looking at the scores; I was just happy to be able to review the bidding and go over things with my partner.

With a local sectional scheduled the weekend before the event in Atlanta, Cab and I decided to have one more face-to-face game before we left. It couldn’t have gone better, as we won the event overall – and comfortably, with a 71% game. Not only did this make us feel good heading out but it also apparently gave Ping confidence that we would hold up our end of the bargain at GNTs.

Finally the time comes to head to Atlanta. We all have jobs, and we needed to arrive at different times. Also, my wife is disabled, so I wanted the flexibility of her being able to come with me if needed, so I drove. I also needed a car because I wanted to revisit the Marietta Diner, 20 minutes North of Atlanta. The rest of my team flew in. While we all get along and truly like each other (at least I like them, you’ll have to ask them about me), I couldn’t help but feel like the Red Sox team who couldn’t get along and was famously referred to as the team with 25 players; 25 taxis.

I got in early on Tuesday, checked into my Air B&B condo, a block and a half from the playing site, and read the threatening notifications about how much it would cost me in dollars and blood if I were to lose my building access card. With the qualifying Round Robin starting on Wednesday I had a little time to explore, so I walked to the playing site to investigate. I discovered that the site was connected via skyway to Peach Tree Station, which housed a very large food court in addition to a few gift shops and a CVS drugstore. A very handy way to have Nationals. Much more convenient that others I’ve been to, where you practically need a car if you want to eat something that isn’t hotel food. I also discovered that there was an entire network of skyways to local hotels that all connected like one big human habitrail. It was also very convenient for staying out of the summer heat.

I was hoping to start the bridge week by sleeping late on Wednesday, since I knew I’d be up late, but unfortunately I haven’t needed an alarm clock in years, so I was up at 7:30, same as always. So I went early to the playing site, registered my team, and group-texted everyone where to go. Our team met in the food court for lunch, and I got a $3 souvenir plastic cup that could be refilled for $1 until October, which I figured I’d make good use of. Our teammates were once again going over their card and arguing, albeit mildly, about agreements, with me the occasional arbitrator. Wanting to clear my head and not get stressed before the match, Cab and I left them to finish their squabbles and told them we’d meet them at the tables.

In case you are unfamiliar with the format: there is a representative from each of the 25 ACBL units (although it apparently isn’t uncommon for a team not to make it, as evidenced by different numbers of entrants in different stratifications). On the first day you play eight 7-board matches, Swiss style, to determine the top 16, which are seeded in order of finish for the bracket that starts on the second day. As a bonus, the top 4 teams also get to choose their opponents from the lower qualifiers. This is likely a bigger bonus for the top 2 brackets than it is for B and C strats, since I can’t imagine anyone has heard of anyone else in the field (perhaps unless they are prolific posters on Bridge Winners) and one would probably just look at who did the worst in the qualifying games, which is a pretty small sample size.

It is a long way to go and quite a bit of expense to come all this way to not qualify for the bracket, so I was a little anxious about the first day of play. I wasn’t happy at the start, as we were randomly placed in the round robin, which is never my favorite. And the directors had the round-robin tables right near the scorer’s table, so when the other teams had to score up after round 1 and get seat assignments for round 2, they were noisy and talking all around us. I guess the directors had never done this before.

We played against one pleasant team – and one that was less than friendly. But when our matches were finally scored and we had won our first two comfortably, I thought we were in pretty good shape, as 16 out of 25 teams (64%) would make it through. I was also happy to see that the friendly team had beaten the other team in the round robin. But our team score was an odd number, and since we won each match by the same score (+16), I thought it had to be an even number. When I asked what scoring system was used, I was directed to a scrap of paper with fractional Victory Points awarded for every IMP (International Match Point) won or lost, as opposed to the usual ranges, which I’d never seen before. Another new experience.

I felt that in this strat, the seeding would mean little, and that just getting into the field in any position would be ok. But as Swiss-team games go, when you win, you get stronger opponents. Round 3 brought us back to earth quickly! We lost to the Chicago team by over 30, which would have been a blitz under normal scoring, but we got a fraction of a point under the current system. In round 4 we produced another loss (-16) to a team from LA, which put us at 2-2, but below average and too close to the bubble for my comfort. I wasn’t ready for dinner, as it was only 5PM, so we decided we’d head to the 24-hour diner later, after the evening session. to eat and/or review hands. I went to my room to rest, realizing once I got there that I left my $3 refillable souvenir mug somewhere at the playing site.

Other than finding my $3 souvenir mug right where I’d left it, the second half didn’t start out well. We lost a low-scoring, well-played match against the team from Philiadelphia, 9-1. So we were now 2-3 and firmly on the bubble. But apparently the Swiss gambit was finally paying off, as we won our 5th match 21-0 for a little breathing room. Our 3rd evening match was against a team from the DC area, and I was the last to realize that we finally got to meet our sparring partners from the months leading up to the event. Now it really counted, with the losers to be right back on the bubble with only one round to go. Fortunately we had a good set, winning by 11, with my teammates judging well on both slam(ish) hands, avoiding 1 and bidding 7 on the other. They were a very nice team, but it’s always more annoying to lose to people you “know” even if it’s only virtually.

For our last match, with both teams comfortably in the field, we were pitted against a team from Ohio, and it was much more relaxed. Despite this, I was annoyed when we started off the match: Our opponents were late. After a couple of minutes I called the director to make sure that, if anyone was penalized for late play, it wouldn’t be my team, but one of our opponents showed up as soon as I’d made the director call and said his partner was coming. When said partner finally arrived, he apologized and said he was in the bathroom. No problem, except that he reeked of smoke (and I’m allergic). I didn’t know you could smoke in the bathrooms at the Mariott. Go figure!We ended up losing by a single IMP, yet earning a higher seed than I had expected (6) for finishing pretty much average at 4-4, 84 Victory Points, just over half possible.

I must point out that the caddies were amazing: You never had to call one! They brought you boards before you needed them, often carrying them for several tables at a time, never bringing you the wrong board. I couldn’t have been more impressed unless they were also serving root-beer floats or maybe juggling.

With hurdle #1 passed, our senior member went to bed, and the rest of us went to the diner so those of us who hadn’t eaten could do so. It was difficult to review hands at the diner, however, as apparently Wednesday night at 12:30AM is a big Karaoke night. Noise aside, I enjoyed a nice Patty Melt (although I had to ask for Swiss instead of American cheese. Who makes a Patty Melt with American cheese?!) and I could relax a little knowing we didn’t completely waste our time by not even getting into the main draw. When I got back to the condo, I realized I didn’t have my key card, which I hoped I just left in my room, but I couldn’t find it. Ugh. So much for a stress-free week.

Unfortunately, day 2, I'm awake at 7:30 again, despite the fact that I’d gone to bed after 1AM. I was going to have to stay up later to have any chance of sleeping in, it seems. So after failing to get back to sleep and failing to find my building access card, I ripped a few pages out of a puzzle book, left the room ($3 souvenir mug in tow), and headed back to the habitrail. Nobody had turned my card in at the hotel, but when I went back to the diner, I was thrilled to find that it had been left at the hostess stand. So I went for an early Mexcian lunch (they supposedly open at 11, but it’s closer to 11:15), had a steak quesadilla and $1 refill in my souvenir cup.

After eating, I went back to the playing site, registered my team for the day, group-texted our new location on a different floor, and relaxed over puzzles until game time. I made my half-assed attempt at a team pep talk, telling everyone that we were now a team: no bickering, no blaming, and be professional, not letting on if you had a bad set until we went over the scores. I’ve played against Meckwell, so I know the professional model: two classy guys who hardly say a word during the match. That’s what I wanted us to aspire to. Granted, the way we play, we have a lot more to complain about than they do, but why not shoot high?

It was announced at one point that anyone who survived this day’s match would be playing behind screens for the duration of the event! I was excited and anxious about this. I had never done this, but always wanted to. I was anxious also because we would have to communicate everything in writing, and I don't think English is Ping's first language. Sometimes I'm convinced It's not his second or third language either. Even his regular teammates usually have no idea what he is saying via email when discussing a bridge hand. This looked like a penalty waiting to happen. Do you know what a sprinter is? (Yes, even in writing.) But we’ll worry about that when the time comes. Ironically, Cab, with the fewest MPs on the squad, was the only one of us who had ever played behind screens, having made it to the finals of the “C” strat of the GNT with his father a previous year. We were also told to report all the scores after each quarter, so they could be posted online. How exciting! I’m used to following such matches from home, but I must say, to be on the other side was pretty cool. On the flip side, after each session, I was unable to surprise my wife with our success -- when I called my wife to tell her how we did, she had already seen what happened! She was sitting at home, rooting for us, hitting the refresh button.

Our first full-day match was against the “nice” pair from the first round. I think both teams were happy with the draw, since we had a good time during the first round and could start the main draw relatively stress free, at least in terms of fun opponents. We were ahead 123 to 35 at the break, and our senior member again went for his afternoon nap. The rest of us went to Max Lager’s for a mediocre, overpriced dinner. I was really wanting to make that trip to the Marietta diner, but I know all too well the nightmare traffic stories of Atlanta and didn’t want to be late for the second half. Not the optimum way to get eliminated from a tournament. Stuck in traffic!

Thankfully, the score in rest of the match got no closer, as half-way through the 3rd quarter, I could barely keep my eyes open. I really needed to start sleeping later. I’ve always been one to say that teams should never withdraw, since most of the time people paid to play, and you are really cheating them if you drop out early. But I must admit I was so tired that I was hoping they would withdraw so I could go to bed early. The match was pretty much decided at the half though, so we survived this match, and we were happy to be in the round of 8. I also noticed that all of my other district-9 compatriots had also managed their way through. Is there some “District Title” for the district that does the best overall? Apparently not, but I think there should be. It would be a nice way for the "B and “C” players to be in a small way on the same team with the Champions.

We were also told that if anyone needed them, there would be lessons before tomorrow's play on how to use the screens. After the match, much to my surprise, I discovered that each match had its own private hand records! When they said there would be hand records, I figured that there would be one for the room, or maybe one for each stratification – but no, one set per table! We had arrived at the big time.

For day 3, the round of 8, I am once again up at the crack of 7:30. Crap! After trying to fall back asleep for a while, I showered and headed to the diner, letting my team know where I’ll be if anyone wanted to join me (for the latter, not the former). I figured I’d go back to the diner for breakfast, since they found my key card. I owed them. After a bad omelet and undercooked home fries, I called it even. Lance met up with me there, and we went over a couple of hands from the previous night. We had exceeded my modest expectations. Everything from here on in would be gravy.

So we get there early for our lesson in screens, and I’m still worried about some sort of penalty when our opponents don’t understand Ping-lish (I wish I could take credit for this expression, but Ping told me that his non-bridge friends use this term regularly). I was wondering if we could write everything conventional down in advance for him and just have him hand them over as they come up during the auction. I can’t help but think that this is less than ethical, as it becomes a way for you to look at your own convention card indirectly, even though the director said it would be OK. I was also intimidated by the thought of using screens myself. I learned that as North, I would be responsible for picking up the bidding board before each hand, sliding our bids across when the time came, taking the board down before play began, and repeating the process after every hand. I eventually developed a nice sort of flip and had no problems with the process and my style was even complimented by an opponent who thinks he developed carpal tunnel as a result of sitting North earlier. As a matter of fact, I loved playing with screens. I’d been afraid it would be cold and antisocial, but I got very nice screenmates who, like me, over-explained everything. I also didn’t realize how much I regularly worried about taking unfair advantage of unauthorized information from my partner either via hesitations or other mannerisms. It was so much easier to relax and focus on bridge than it had been without screens. I miss them.

When the match started, we were once again matched up against a team we had played on the Day-one Swiss. This was the team that had beaten us by 16 in the 4th segment in the morning. The scores on the first set of 14 boards were high, with 7 boards swinging more than 9 points. The one I’d still be kicking myself for if we’d lost this match was board 9, where I was so thrilled with myself for finding the killing lead, then got lazy. I fell asleep and instead of cashing the setting trick, wrongly assumed Cab had a card he didn't, allowing 3NT to make. Idiot!The rest of our round didn’t give me any reason to expect us to be any closer, and I anticipated being down about 20 after the quarter. I was thrilled when our teammates came back with a pretty good card and we were only down 4. It felt like we were ahead now. The second set was also high-scoring, and we dropped another 5 IMPS largely because of a slam bid by our table opponents and found ourselves down 77-86 at the break. I would have loved to have dinner and go over hands, which is my favorite part of National and Regional events, but I knew that if I didn’t want to let my team down, I would have to nap between sessions and eat later. So I checked in with my wife as I took the habitrail back towards my condo. She’d hurt her knee and was talking about going to the hospital, but there was nothing I could do for her from here, and thinking about it wasn’t going to help me either sleep or play better. I don’t usually have the Gift of Nap, but I was able to sleep for about 45 minutes, which figured to be enough to get me comfortably through the evening bridge.

The second set started with fireworks. Right out of the gate, none vul, I hold as N, dealer:

A3

QJ7

KJ8754

Q6

And partner holds

 

KJ42

A6

Q

AKJ873

Our auction was 1-3 (strong jump shift)-3N-4 (ace ask)-4-6

With the K with West, 6 and 6N both fail from the N. The other table played 6NT from the north, down 1. Cab wisely refused the heart finesse after forcing out the DA, and set up diamonds, overcoming the 4-1 heart split, and we proceeded to have our best set of the tournament to this point, bidding 2 games missed at the other table and with our partners coming back with “sticks and wheels” (1100) against a vul game bid by our opponents. We won that set 59-7, and after a close final set where the Southern California team won 34-28, we won by a pretty comfortable 163-125, despite losing 3 of the 4 segments (and the Swiss round) to this team. Score one for the power nap.

So we wouldn’t have to go too far to review the hands; we went to the bar/restaurant at the Marriot, and I got a pretzel the size of a Buick for us to share. It came with a mustard seed sauce and a cheese sauce, and it was pretty good, but I was hungry enough at this point that the actual Buick would have been pretty good. Making it to the Final Four was pretty good as well. I did my regular check-in with my wife, who told me that she had read that the finals of all strats would be on Vue-Graph so people could watch on BBO (Bridge Base Online). Who would want to watch us other than our families? (And even most of them wouldn’t.)

I was so drained after that excitement that I was able to sleep in until…yes, 7:30. So it was deja vu all over again. I stopped at the scoreboard long enough to notice 2 things: First, that district 9 , the only team with more than one team in the final, had 3 teams in the final 4. Whereas I never felt like the District 9 team that went to these events represented me, I somehow felt like I represented district 9. And second, the #1 seed seemed to be killing everyone. They’d won 7 out of 8 rounds in the Swiss and won their first two matches comfortably. Who the heck were these district 12 guys from Michigan!?

I killed time for a while and alerted the team that I was heading back to the diner for breakfast. Eventually we all met up there. I’m OK with having breakfast for dinner, but just as OK with having dinner for breakfast, and since the diner had a limited “weekend” menu because they are so busy, I did just that. I had another patty melt, but this time I forgot to tell them how to make one, and ended up with American cheese.

So it’s time for KO round 3, and we find ourselves in another rematch. This time against The Smoker, which doesn’t thrill me. And he’s at my table, but not my screenmate, so at least I didn’t smell anything. Midway through the first board, my screenmate runs out of the playing area as if the building were on fire. I asked my screenmate’s teammate if there were any medical issues we should be worried about, and he suggested that maybe he’d forgotten to turn his phone off. With friends like that…

Our first quarter was shaky; partner took a pessimistic view of a hand, we missed a slam bid by our opponents at the other table, and on the next hand we bid a nice slam they’d missed; but the finesse lost, so we dropped a quick 25 IMPs. A few smaller swings our way had the 1st-quarter deficit at 14. The second quarter was more fun. It’s always nice when you have a lot of plus scores in competitive auctions and see your partners do the same. Yes, we bid 2 games missed at the other table, but our teammates came back with plus 110, 200, 200, 50, and 100 on 5 boards where we went plus as well. One swing their way when our teammates failed in 5 when 3NT couldn’t be touched made it a little closer. We ended up +19 at the half.

By now I know the routine. It was barely 4:30, too early to eat anyway. Ping went back to his hotel for his daily nap. I went back to my condo for what has turned into my daily nap. If there are any highlights when going over the hands, I trust my teammates will share them with me later. I sleep for an hour and call my teammates to see where they are. They haven’t left for dinner yet – meet them downstairs. We went to a Burger/Tex-Mex restaurant a couple of blocks from the Marriott. Cab testified that they were not the best burgers in town, despite a recommendation to the contrary, and I can tell you that the fajitas were fair. I’d go back if invited, but it wouldn’t be my idea.

We had some drama at the start of the third set: Ping never came back from his nap. We started calling him at 6:30 to make sure he was up but he never answered. Now it was 7 and it was time to panic. If he wasn’t hurt, I was going to kill him. This is not the way we wanted to get eliminated. Better, perhaps than being stuck in traffic, but still not good. Also, we could forget about starting a key segment relaxed with this going on. Fortunately our opponents were cool about it, and at just about seven he woke up, realized that our game was not scheduled for 7:30 (as it had been the first 2 days), and quickly made it to the playing site.

In the third quarter we got a bit of a gift when our opponents stopped in 3 with a 3-loser hand opposite a hand that did respond. Our teammates got to 4 instead of a good 6 contract, but I’ll take the 10 IMPS. Our opponents had a disconnect that got them too high on another hand, while their teammates mis-defended against our teammates for another swing our way. We extended the lead to 105-68. I was growing to like these 3rd quarters!

The fourth quarter presented us with one of our favorite boards. Favorable vul and E dealer, you hold as North:

 4

 A9

 AT854

 J9764

The bidding has been (1)-P-(2)-? They are playing 2/1, so they are going to Game, probably in a major. With 2 aces, I’m hoping that, if they bid on, maybe they get to slam, so I decide to take Blackwood away and jump to 4NT. Partner gets doubled in 5, and with a rather pedestrian

 9853

765

 J7

 KT32

he could only be beaten 2 tricks for –300. The opponents chose well to double, as 4 of either major is the limit, but our teammates were hampered at a lower level and were allowed to play 4.

 

A big double-swing their way gave them the win for the segment:

E dealer All Vul I held:

 4

K9875432

 974

 6

My LHO bid 1 and at the other table, South overcalled 1NT with a 3-3-3-4 14 count. Maybe the right call, maybe they were shooting at this point, but in any event it struck gold and North had an easy 4 call over 4. This was a swing of 15 their way.

I thought we had a very good segment and thought we might have doubled our lead. I knew we couldn’t have lost the 40 IMPs it would have taken to lose this match. Our opponents congratulated us before leaving the table.

One of the great thrills of a team game is when you can pick up your teammates. When they come back with what they think is a bad card – only to find out you have won the match. Lance looked a little green when he came back, thinking there was an excellent chance we had lost, so it was gratifying to go over this last segment with confidence. We did lose some of our lead, but we won 119-91 and made it to the finals.

And the boys from Michigan kept rolling along. 140-54 in the quarters. 167-106 in the semis. The price of poker was going up.

It was also cool to see that 3 district 9 teams were still alive in the semifinals. Winners were told to arrive early the next day so that team photos could be taken for the Bridge Bulletin. Lucky I had saved one of my classier Red Sox shirts for the occasion. I checked in with my wife on my way back to the room and was trying to stay up a little later so I’d have a better shot at sleeping late and not needing that mid-afternoon nap. It would have been nice to get on a more normal food schedule as well. My phone charger had been acting up all week, and my phone died completely while I was talking to my wife. I plugged in my phone to charge and we switched to Facetime. Around 2:00 AM I went to sleep. In the middle of the night when I had to use the bathroom, I turned the phone on to make sure it was charging and to see what time it was. I also wanted to make sure my alarm was on. I could just imagine it now. Finally able to sleep in – and sleeping past game time. I didn’t want to pull a Ping.

I’m finally sleeping past 7:30 only to be awakened by my ringing phone. It was my father wishing me luck and congratulating us on still being alive in the tournament. Thanks. Usually I have my ringer off so this can’t happen, but with the phone dying while in use, I didn’t even consider shutting off the ringer again when I woke up in the middle of the night.

So up early again and having no desire to go to the diner, I asked at the concierge for a breakfast recommendation. He handed me a map and told me if I didn’t mind a 15 minute walk, the Atlanta Breakfast Club is highly recommended. So I alert my team that I’m off to breakfast if anyone is interested, but Lance was in need of my Advil more than a breakfast companion, although he did join me for breakfast. If I had played with Ping for 4 days, I’m sure I would have been out of Advil by now as well.

Lance tried to convince me to eat breakfast at the hotel, but a $26 breakfast buffet did not excite me in the least, and I was able to convince him to take the walk with me. It was a longer walk than I had expected. Several blocks downhill and across from the Aquarium, it turned out to be 1.1 miles away. And we get there and there are 20 people outside waiting. After all this walking, I wasn’t sure we had time to wait, and I hate being late, so I was waffling (breakfast pun intended) about waiting. But the host told us it would be only 20 minutes, and, although I didn’t believe him, we waited. He was spot on, however, and we were seated in 20 minutes exactly. I had chicken and waffles and we both thought it was an excellent breakfast. And I didn’t mind the walk back after eating, as we now knew we had plenty of time. . On the way back, Lance asked me if anyone back home thought we’d get this far. I chuckled and told him that even I didn’t think we’d get this far, so why would I expect anyone else to? Lance assured me that if he didn’t think we could win, he wouldn’t have invested the time in coming. So I guess maybe I was too pessimistic after all. By the time we got back, I had worked up a pretty good sweat before the game (and team photo), which didn’t make me excessively happy.

Rumors about our being on Vuegraph may have been bad information, or maybe saner heads had prevailed. Or maybe they couldn’t find anyone willing to waste a day commenting on the B strat. But there were no umpires chairs or laptops set up at our assigned tables. I was just as happy that my misplays were not going to be transmitted worldwide and logged into the annals of BBO, and I don’t think the added pressure would have helped anyone, at least on our team.

So we gather for the team picture and make sure we line up in age order, to make sure we get in one last age dig at Ping. We told the editor to make sure she pointed that out in the Bridge Bulletin, but I doubt she will. We then proceeded to look like tourists who don’t belong by taking photos of us at our tables for posterity.

As the final match started, I realize why the Michigan team is blowing everyone away. We were met by two players who barely said hello before asking about details to our defense of their precision system. We apparently were supposed to know in advance they had a precision system. Our non-playing captain forgot to warn us about this. Oh, I forgot, we don't have one. My screenmate is originally from Turkey, and his partner is Asian. I think this is a general problem with these ACBL stratifications. I believe that these players were clearly “A” players based on their skill and system, but, because their experience was likely overseas, there is no way the ACBL would or could know or do anything about this. Going purely by masterpoints and nothing else, they certainly qualify as a “B” team. Fortunately, in our local Wednesday night game there are some very strong players, one in particular who plays a strong club, so we do happen to have a defensive system in place against a strong club. In any event (well, in this event), we spent a good 15 minutes explaining our systems to each other, including our variable 10-12 NT (while everyone else in the room was playing bridge).

Hand One out of the box, I open a 10-12 and they fail to double or find 3NT their way, so we did start off plus 8. It turns out that most of the boards in our stack were fouled by the computer: On these boards, half of each hand was from a different color deck of card. We called the director, who apologized profusely and became a caddy thereafter, bringing us boards from the other table to ensure that we played the same hands as our teammates. He also told us that he would confirm that this issue would be corrected for the second quarter. All in all, he did a nice job with an annoying situation. After 7 boards, our opponents called a time out and left the room. They apparently used the time to discuss methods and came back announcing what they had changed, including defense over the 10-12 NT. They did little wrong in the remainder of this set. They found the perfect defense to a game that made at the other table and stopped on a dime at 4 clubs when that was the limit. We also had one hand where I thought I had enough defense to possibly beat 4H, and technically I was correct, but it would have taken repeated a trump lead from trick one from QJ tight, and I'm not good enough to find that. Our teammates took the push to 5H. We made the wrong decision at both tables, and found ourselves down 23-31 after a quarter. It could have been better, but could have been worse.

For the second quarter, the opponents switched tables and rotated their 5th man in, so the precision team was now playing my teammates. I was declarer on the first hand of the set.NS Vul, South as dealer, North holds:

 AT6543

 T9

 Q2

 AJ9

Partner opens and the auction proceeds: 1-1-(3)-3-4. Partner comes down with:

 KQ92

 AKJ

 J8

 T864

E cashes the AK of and switches to a trump. How are you playing It?

At first I’m thinking that I need one of two club honors to be with West, likely on the auction, but then it hits me. This was a hand right out of the textbook on declarer play! Draw trump, eliminate hearts, cross to dummy with trump, and finesse a club. E is endplayed. Sweet. Turned out to be a good thing too, since he’s got KQ tight in clubs, so finessing twice would have been a losing action. I was pretty sure this would be a push, but it was still pretty satisfying to recognize in real time. The J added to the mirage, since if that finesse works, I only have one club loser as well. It would have been easier to spot if that was a low heart rather than the jack, oddly enough.

There were a few partscore hands, but the big swings were two slams our side bid at my table. Fortunately we were one for two on these. I made a mess on board 16:

 AKQT

 AQJ

AKT43

9

I probably should have opened a strong 2. And I’m honestly not sure why I didn’t, except that I didn’t really have a self-sufficient suit, which would be nice to have if I can’t bid NT. As it turns out, I would have been better off if it got passed out. Instead, I spent the rest of the auction overbidding.

1-1-2-3*-6

We play Lebensohl over reverses, so my partner showed some values. Partner had his bid, with:

 Void

 8532

 65

 AKT8652

 I imagined that even with a sub-minimum holding such as:

Xx

Kxxxx

Xx

 xxxx

…there would be a reasonable play and no way for partner to know it, and his hearts could have been better. They were not.

But while the K was onside, the split was 5-1, so 5 was the limit. Our cowardly opponents stopped in 4 with their 4-3 fit and picked up 10 IMPS. With an honor dropping in clubs, that was the only slam that could be made, but very difficult to find.

We got it back on Board 21, however, when as dealer, VUL, I had:

 void

 KQ94

 QT

 AK98763

…and opened 1. Partner responded 1, which made me think I had enough to make a strong jump shift to 2, with probably no diamond wastage now and a void. After rebidding clubs, partner eventually put me in 6 with:

AK53

T6

AK974

 JT

And with clubs both behaving and the Q onside, there was no way even I could screw it up.

A few part-scores went their way, and we lost 4 more IMPs in the quarter, ending the half at 42-54.

I wasn’t going to change things up now, yet I’d still never made it to the Marietta Diner. Cab had agreed that he’d go to the diner with me at the end of the game, however, unless we were too distraught with how the match ended to enjoy it. So I went back to my condo for my nap.

While waiting to start the second half, we were talking to one of our opponents, and he was telling us that the senior member of his team was battling illness and had been given a few months to live a few years ago. He came up short in this event in the past and was too unwell to go to the North American Pairs, for which he qualified, so this was possibly his last chance. If nothing else, this would make me feel less bad if we lost.

In any event, we had them right where we wanted them. We were losing going into the 3rd quarter, which is all ours. Once again, we were playing the Precision guys, and once again, we had a good 3rd quarter. We made a tricky game, and our opponents got one level too high on a couple of hands, whereas we seemed to be competing to the right level. Twice in the middle of the match, our opponents left the table to bicker or discuss their agreements. Is this even legal? I don’t know, but If the opponents are fighting with each other, I’m not going to step in with a director call and give them a common enemy. This felt like our best quarter of the tournament.

There was a long wait for our teammates’ table to finish after this round, but I was confident we had taken the lead. And if our teammates had a good set as well, possibly a big lead. It turned out a little tighter than I had hoped, but we won the set 35-14; and with one set to go had taken our first lead in the match 77-68. I also noticed that, of the 3 finals where District 9 was still alive, we were now ahead in 2 out of the 3 strats. “A” and “B” were now ahead. It was just those Meckwell guys losing. I hope they don’t embarrass the District.

For the first time all week, I entertained thoughts that we might actually win this thing. As expected, the precision players stayed together and switched tables again, rotating their 5th man back in for the last match. I was screenmates with the misdiagnosed gentleman mentioned earlier, and if he was playing in his last event he was certainly going to make it count. The first 6 boards of the set all featured making games. One our way, 5 their way. The most troubling in my view was the first, as they eschewed a 4/4 heart fit to play 3NT, which was the right choice on these cards. Following this was a part-score our way and a slam bid and made their way. Eight boards in out of 14, and there were 5 making games and a slam their way. Not how you want the final quarter of a long match like this decided…at least not at our table. While there was nothing remarkable about the play on any of these at our table, it seems our teammates would have also had to do almost everything right in order to still be in this match.

On the 9th board of the set, I opened light; 3rd seat and partner finds himself in 2, vul. He would have needed to use a dummy reversal and take a finesse that you would have expected to lose based on the auction in order to make it and instead went down 3. A bad risk on my part for a couple of potential IMPs. The remaining boards were unremarkable it seemed. We finished before the other table, as usual, but I was not optimistic. Unfortunately our teammates were in the 4-4 heart fit rather than 3NT, were in a good diamond slam on a losing finesse rather than the making heart game, and didn’t bid the slam. The final set wasn’t close, and we lost 9-51. The final match score was 86-119.

The good news – and there was a lot of good news – was that we lost by enough that none of us could kick ourselves for any one stupid play. We also got along well and had a really good time. We also got farther than I thought we would. We also will now be forever etched in the annals of Wikipedia when someone gets around to putting in the winners and runners-up for the 2018 GNT.

And, last but not least, we finally went at midnight, as a team, to the Marietta Diner and had my favorite meal of the week.

Of course the Open Championship Flight was won by the Meckwell team (Spector, Becker, Rodwell, Meckstroth, Berkowitz, and Cohler, to give everyone proper credit), the only district 9 team to win. But if there was an overall district award, District 9 would have run away with it! And I never used my $3 souvenir mug again.

Going to these events with a team you think might win is always great, but it’s even better to go with teammates you truly like – and to do better than you expected is icing on the cake. Winning would have been great, and getting so close you could taste it hurts, but it makes you eager to come back and try again. And after 280 boards in 5 days, I would have expected to be bridged-out, but, since all the bridge was exciting and meaningful, I would have happily continued playing. Actually, I drove back to Orlando the following morning (and slept all the way until 8:15) and my wife (who had gone a whole week without bridge in my absence) and I went to play that night at a local club, where I was congratulated as if my team had won.

In many ways we had.

50 Comments
Getting Comments... loading...
.

Bottom Home Top