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Phoenix Nationals, Final Day: Swish
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It was the last day of Nationals.  We woke up early, checked out of our rooms, and headed off to the playing area to enter the regional A/X Swiss.    We were all tired but in relatively good spirits, despite just missing out on qualifying for the final day of the NA Swiss the day before.  I gave the director money, and found our table.  It would be nice to be able to have a relatively relaxing day in a regional event... a good way to wind down the week.  

We won our first match by a little bit, and were sitting around waiting for our next assignment when one of the directors came to our table.  He told us that a team had withdrawn from the North American Swiss, and would we like to play upstairs in the finals?   Uh... YEAH we do!  He told us he'd take care of everything downstairs, and dutifully followed him upstairs and found our place.  Since the big event started an hour later than the regional event, there was plenty of time to get settled.

Mindy was a bit nervous about playing behind screens, but we assured her we’d show her what to do.  I had been in the same position the previous year, having never played behind screens.  Kevin gave her a short tutorial, but it turned out not to be necessary. There weren't enough screens to accommodate the number of teams, so the teams towards the bottom of the standings had to play at regular card tables located in the middle of the main room as well as in a side hallway.  

As we started out in last (46th) place with no carryover, we were seated at the card tables for our first match against the team with John Adams and Sylvia Shi.  Revenge match?  No, it was not to be.  They again got the better of us, beating us handily.  (We'll get our revenge next year!)

We moved out to the hall for the next match.  You pick up the following hand in third seat, everyone vulnerable:

West
A4
A85
10876532
J
W
N
E
S
P
P
?

Your bid?

West
A4
A85
10876532
J

At our table, West bid 3.  The full deal:
 
West
A4
A85
10876532
J
North
Q
KJ74
K9
AKQ1087
East
107632
Q106
A4
432
South
KJ985
932
QJ
965
W
N
E
S
P
P
3
X
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT North
NS: 0 EW: 0
 
I was sitting North, and hoping to find a 4-4 heart fit, I doubled.  When my partner bid 3, I placed the contract in 3NT.  Despite 6 HCP in diamonds, we only had one diamond stopper, which was knocked out after the lead of A and another.  With only 7 tricks before losing the lead, and West holding both side aces, the contract was doomed.  At the other table, West passed, and although N/S still reached 3NT, East led something other than a diamond, so 3NT was only down 1.  I don't know if I would have preempted with West's hand, but I thought it was a brilliant bid that worked out very well given the two outside entries.   We lost that match by 14, the biggest loss being on a game not bid at our table that was bid and made at theirs.
 
In match 3, I thought we had had a good round.  Kevin made a quantitative invite to 6NT, but I judged my hand to be too flat and didn't accept. Although the hand records indicate that 6NT makes, it really only makes double dummy.  We were in 4NT making 4, and glad to be out of the slam.  On the next board, EW had a slam in their direction.  6 makes, but 6NT does not.  Our opponents stopped in 4NT.   We made five in a minor-suit contract where we stopped in 4.  At the other table, both sides bid both slams, neither of which made, so our gain on one board was washed out by the loss on the next board. The minor-suit game was bid as a sacrifice in a competitive auction at the other table, and we wound up losing this match by 18 IMPs.  Things were not going well!

 

In between matches I had been trying to change my flight to Monday, since my flight was scheduled to take off before the event ended. So, as soon as a match was over, I would run out to the hallway, call United, and be put on hold for 15 minutes until play started again.  Hang up, rinse and repeat.  The third time was a charm, but even though I'd finally reached a real person, the agent kept putting me on hold,  which was now eating into actual playing time.  Finally, verging on tears from the stress, I gave her my credit-card info, told her I had to go and was sorry and hung up.  (Fortunately she did manage to complete the reservation, and my flight did get changed.)   What I didn’t realize until later, was that I also incurred a 5 VP cell-phone penalty for pulling my phone out in the side playing area. For some reason I had thought that it was okay since we were in the side hall, and I was using it in between sessions, but it was not.  Even so, the directors were incredibly nice and accommodating, which we all really appreciated.  By the start of match 4 I was finally calm.

As happened the day before, we finally won our last match before the break.  During the break, Kevin and Michael went out to get some chow, and Mindy and I stayed back, her to rest, and me to try to secure accommodations for the night, which took me most of the break. 

In match 5, we met up against a team which included some players from our area.  There were a number of competitive auctions in that match, and for the most part, we all did the same thing.  Red versus white, I picked up the following hand, and the bidding proceeded as indicated below:

South
Q762
7
KQ872
K106
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
?

Your bid?

It was risky, but this was IMPs, so I ventured 2NT with my hand.  Partner raised to 3NT, and on the lead of the 6 (3rd and low), dummy came down as shown.

North
A10
AQ43
4
QJ9753
South
Q762
7
KQ872
K106
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
2NT
P
3NT
P
P
P

Plan the play.

 

 

North
A10
AQ43
4
QJ9753
South
Q762
7
KQ872
K106
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
2NT
P
3NT
P
P
P

I opted to take the finesse.  In hindsight, holding the 7 I think I should have played low to give East the lead, forcing him to shift.  The way the cards lay, he would have shifted to a diamond, which I would have won in hand with the K.  I could then drive out the A, and hope to set up an endplay for my ninth trick.  At the other table, they weren't in game, and we wound up losing 8 IMPs on that board.  
 
All four hands are shown below:

West
J9543
J1062
J95
A
North
A10
AQ43
4
QJ9753
East
K8
K985
A1063
842
South
Q762
7
KQ872
K106
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
2N
P
3N
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0

Was I right to bid 2NT?  Perhaps not.  Regardless, I could have played it better and we might have made it which would have allowed us to win the match. Instead, we lost that match too, despite tying 5 out of the 7 boards.  
 
We wound up losing our next match, and were consigned to a shuffle-and-deal round robin for our last two rounds.  (Since the fact that we were in a round robin meant that someone withdrew from the event early, why weren't we moved up a place? ;-)  Even though we faced teams who were drinking at the table, we lost both our round-robin matches as well (even one where we bid and made a grand slam).
 
In hindsight, we all realized afterwards that we weren’t mentally prepared to play in the NA Swiss finals, having been planning to play in the A/X.  We were all tired, and had gotten up an hour earlier than everyone else, and had started out planning to have a relaxing day.  The stresses of having to play in the big event while also trying to juggle travel arrangements definitely affected our play.  Still, we were delighted to get the chance to be in the finals, and happy to place in the overalls, earning 17.45 Platinum just for making it to day 3.
 
Someone later asked me what happened to us in the A/X.  I was a bit puzzled by that.  As it turned out, rather than withdrawing us from the event, they kept our team on the scoresheet, and kept putting 11 VPs next to our team number for round after round. My friend were surprised we were doing so poorly.  (That's because they didn’t realize how tired we were!)  So, at the end of the day, we executed a rare feat:  we finished last in two concurrent events: the Regional A/X Swiss and the NABC+ North American Swiss.  I think this accomplishment should carry the same sort of prestige as earning the Lantern Rouge in the Tour de France!
 
All in all, it was a good tournament.  We did really well in the NABC+ LM Pairs event, turning in four consecutive 50+% games.  We had a couple of excellent sessions in the mini-Blue Ribbons, including a section top, which is difficult in such a large field.  We qualified for the finals of the North American Swiss, even if we did finish last on the third day.  I earned 31.43 points in total (good, but not great), of which 18.45 were Platinum.  This puts me 1.04 Platinum points short of being eligible to play in the Platinum Pairs in the spring. Can someone spot me a point?
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