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Sophomore Blues
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When my first year of bridge was over, so was my built-in excuse of being new. Having (barely) made it to Day 2 of my first two NABC+ events, I now expected myself to play well, or at least decently. This is the story of me trying, usually unsuccessfully and often spectacularly so, to live up my expectations of how I should play - and at the same time getting results far beyond my expectations.

I love bridge, but becoming a bridge player has been hard for me, both intellectually and emotionally. So much effort, and still so many mistakes; it was hard to continually disappoint myself and my partners.

I left Denver Nationals determined to get to the point where I would know what was going on at the end of the hand. I tried so hard to keep track of every card I saw and what I knew about the hand that I had no brainpower left to think about what to play. I would place most of the cards and get so lost in whatever suit I was thinking about that I would make an absurd play. I just didn't have the mental energy to do everything I was trying to do. I was driving myself crazy. My results were not often good, and when they were, I felt I had made so many errors, it was hard for me to feel proud of them.

I probably should have felt better about a 3rd place finish with Debbie in a 52-table regional in Monterey than I actually did, but my memory of that event is mostly of making a lot of terrible plays, and of having played awfully the day before. Debbie and I won a 41-table single-session pairs event at a sectional with a reasonably strong field (my first sectional win), but mostly what I remember from that session was feeling dizzy and sick to my stomach and barely able to stay in my chair, never mind follow suit and take actions in turn, for half a dozen boards.

My beginner's luck definitely didn't leave me after my first year. In another pairs event at that same sectional, I remember this hand where a misbid led me to a bad slam that made with a little luck:

Unlucky1
10
A32
QJ9542
743
Debbie
QJ8764
KQ97
107
J
Unlucky2
A9532
J10654
63
5
Max
K
8
AK8
AKQ109862
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
2
P
4NT
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
D
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

In retrospect I think a 4NT opening, asking for aces, would have been better, but by the time I realized that the aces were mostly the only cards I should care about, I was going to be too high (1430) if Debbie didn't have an ace. My hand was too strong not to explore slam opposite a hand that had shown decent values. If I had to guess the right contract after Debbie's 2 bid I would have said 6, but it was possible we could reach 7 after RKC and I didn't see a better way to explore, so I gave it a try. Thus we wound up in a terrible slam.

The full deal had the aces split and onside, with each opponent misled by my bidding about the other ace. I won the Q lead in hand with the ace and immediately led the 8. The correct defense is nearly impossible to find on the auction we had; winning the A seems normal, but a spade switch seems far less attractive than a diamond continuation if I have the A that is implied by my bidding. But if the defense doesn't find the spade shift immediately, my heart pitches take care of the spade and possible diamond loser in my hand. Opponents were fixed by my misbid.

During that same sectional (thankfully having recovered my equilibrium) Debbie and I, teaming with a strong local pair (our friends Will Watson and Geeske Joel), faced a very strong pro team in the 12-board final of the top-bracket compact knockout. But for being 4-handed I would have expected the team we faced to win a few matches in the Spingold, so despite strong teammates we were definitely big underdogs.

Early in the match, defending a slam that was aggressively bid, I made one of the worst defensive plays of all time.  I played second-hand-high with the King in a side suit early in the hand when only one card was unseen in that suit: the Queen. Either Debbie was about to follow with the Queen after declarer ruffed or else she was about to ruff declarer's Queen. Sure enough, I set up dummy's side suit and let an impossible slam make.  Our teammates had not bid it, so the play was a huge double swing. Not long after that I was again defending a slam and made another wrong decision to give it away. It turned out that on that board a world-class player at the other table made the same play, but until we compared I was feeling awful about my defense. Thanks to our teammates, we somehow managed to win the match, which was my first knockout match win against a really strong team (even if it was only 12 boards), but I hardly felt proud of my play.

Even that win was not my most undeserved good result. In an epic feat that I imagine to be unique in the history of bridge Debbie and I finished with an overall in a two-session pairs event at the Seaside regional in Oregon, during which I did not record a single positive score as declarer during either session. Down *every* time. Really. At least I was only doubled once.  And no, it wasn't the cards I held, my results were often not duplicated at the other tables.

Masterpoints

Much of my frustration with myself was because I thought I was disappointing my partners. I am still the weak link in my partnerships with Cadir and Bill. I would like to be an equal partner for them; I am making progress towards that but I am not there yet, and the progress is frustratingly slow. With Debbie, I don't expect to be an equal partner or anything close, but I wish I could just do half of what she tells me to do. I imagine that would make her teaching more fulfilling. 

Adding to my stress and frustration was my Mini-McKenney race. In my first year of play I had already concluded that masterpoints were not a reliable indicator of skill nor a valuable commodity. After all, other than the LM Pairs and Platinum Pairs, the only effect of me getting more masterpoints was that I would become ineligible to play in the games my son and my wife could comfortably play in. And yet I am competitive, and I saw that I was near the top of the nationwide 50-100 race. After thinking about the extent to which it was worth pursuing, I settled on a middle ground.  

I decided to add a few regionals, because playing some extra regionals would be good practice anyway. I wouldn't, however, materially change my event selection for the sake of winning masterpoints. (I did encourage the team to enter the NA Swiss in Orlando rather than the Reisinger in part because I thought we had better masterpoint prospects, but I also felt a bit uncomfortable randomizing the Reisinger.) With 3 kids at home, a wife who works full-time, and a part-time job, I couldn't add too many weekend or travel events, but the way the schedule worked out, I could add just enough to have a chance, though I expected it would take a breakthrough result or two for me to actually win on this schedule. This felt fine to me: if my play improved and I had better results, I could win; if not, I wouldn't. If I lost, I wouldn't be upset about that, but I hoped I would learn something along the way.

I worried about whether it was "fair" to be playing with a pro in the 50-100 race. In the end I decided that it was, because empirically I won master points faster in the small sample of limited events I played with Bill and Cadir (I played 6 sessions of limited events, bringing home 11 gold and 6 silver in those 3 days). Playing with Debbie allowed me to, for some financial cost, learn against stronger opposition and get feedback along the way while earning masterpoints almost as fast as I would in the events my Mini-McKenney competitors were playing. Anyway, I wasn't sure masterpoints were "fair", or that "fair" was relevant. Eventually it turned out I was not the only one in that race playing with a pro.

Along the way I learned two things about masterpoints: 

  - the awards often don't reflect the bridge accomplishment fairly

  - despite that, if you play better on average, you will win masterpoints faster than if you play worse  

And, playing badly for most of those extra regionals, despite some half-decent results I wasn't winning masterpoints fast enough to feel like I had much of a chance in the race, which only compounded my frustration with not playing better.   

I was behind by about 35 masterpoints going into Fall Nationals. The plan was for me to play the Blue Ribbons again with Debbie, then the NA Swiss with the whole team. With some luck I might make the second day of each but I really didn't think overalls were very likely, so my expected masterpoint total from nationals was very low, likely leaving me out of range to catch up at my one remaining regional. I had to face the reality that I just hadn't been playing well enough to win.

Progress?

I did have some stretches where I thought I played decently. 

After finishing +2 IMPs on the first day of the IMP Pairs in Reno but still failing to make day 2, it was exciting to make another NABC+ second day, playing in the Open Swiss with Debbie, Bill, and another partner of Bill's, Olivier Chapelle. That plus a good finish in a strong A/X pairs field and making a good play in the Zips made me feel good about Spring Nationals.

At the Sacramento Regional, Debbie, Cadir, Bill, and I placed 11th in the two-day Swiss, which was a strong field for a regional. I had a few bad matches, but played well enough in many of the matches to be happy overall. 

Cadir and I had a 47/46 in the Wernher Open Pairs. Again, despite some mistakes I was happy enough with my play overall, and while we weren't right on the cusp of qualifying, we weren't so far from it to not have some hope for the future.

Not all the games I felt good about were in major events. Bill and I had a number of games at the club and a few matches in the Sacramento Swiss where I felt like I had played well enough. I was happy to have a decent finish in the Unit Swiss partnering my 11-year-old daughter on a team with Bill and Olivier. In a club game with Lynn Shannon (yet another partner far better than I deserve) I wasn't sure we had any matchpoints during the first 5 boards, but we turned it around and wound up with a 59%, and I felt fine about how I played after the first 5 boards.

Throughout it all I knew I had been making progress. Here is one that I got right at the Modesto Regional that I almost certainly would have gotten wrong a year earlier:

West
987
1074
Q65
Q982
Debbie
K6
AQ5
10842
J1065
East
AJ532
K82
K97
74
Max
Q104
J963
AJ3
AK3
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0

Debbie and I were playing fast pairs (not my best event) against one of the strong pairs from the club, which probably added a little extra pressure for me.

LHO led the 9, to the 6, Jack, and Queen. I led a heart to the Queen (which may not have been right but it's what I did), which lost to the King. RHO cashed the A (again perhaps not right, but it's what happened) and a small spade to my 10, with my LHO playing the 8 and 7 (standard present count). I then played a low heart to the Ace, then a low heart which got the 8 on my right. Where is the 10? I know my LHO had started with either 3 or 5 spades.  With the 9 lead, I played her for 3, so I gave my RHO 5 spades. If that's the case it seemed more likely that LHO had the 10, so I put up the Jack and dropped the 10. When I cashed the 9 both defenders pitched clubs. Now I cashed the high clubs, and RHO showed out on the second round, so I knew LHO had the Q. As long as RHO didn't hold both diamond honors and I was right about the spades, I was home. I exited a club to my LHO, who made a good play and returned the Q, trying to create an entry to her partner's hand for the setting spade trick.  However, I knew what was going on, so I ducked and took the last two diamond tricks.

It wasn't rocket science, but it felt good to know what was going on. I had made progress.

Back to the Blues

As I got ready to leave for Orlando I was gathering my thoughts about my bridge "career" so far. As the year was coming to a close I was imagining writing about it: the frustrations along the way, a masterpoint race lost, and not many good results to show for a year of hard work, despite what I thought was significant improvement. I was beginning to make peace with my poor results and my poor play, and at least I had great memories of the fun and follies along the way. I knew that I was making progress even if it was unsteady. I looked back at the Blue Ribbons last year and remembered so many hands where I didn't know what was going on at the end. I knew I would have less of that this year. I also knew that I loved playing bridge even if I play it badly, that I was playing bridge because I loved it, and that I couldn't let my competitiveness and ego ruin a good thing.

I looked forward to a second crack at the Blue Ribbons. I knew that making the second day on my first try was a highly improbable gift from the bridge gods. This year I thought we were still underdogs to make day 2, but more reasonable underdogs. At least making it back to day 2 would be something. I gave us 40% odds to advance there.

First session of the Blues. We finished with a 51.59%. I declared 6 boards, scoring 62, 22, 62, 32, 64, and 95%. A good start; another session like that and we could make day 2. I certainly was far from perfect, but the mistakes I made were not as frequent or costly as they could have been.

Second session 52.83%, we made day 2! Again, I made some mistakes, gave us a few awful boards - but not so many as to be unrecoverable - and I made a lot of "normal" plays, which was still quite an accomplishment for me at this level.  

That night I was so excited I could barely sleep. I managed to get 3 or 4 hours. We were back in the second day, and we had a good chance to improve on last year's results. I just wanted two more sessions like yesterday. I tried to remember that I could afford to make a few mistakes each session, just not too many. If I made a mistake I would just try to move on. First session, 53.61%. Again, just a few awful boards.

Here is a defensive situation I got right that session:

Debbie
J5
QJ10
AQJ104
862
North
K1043
A532
86
AJ5
Max
Q98
K986
K75
Q43
South
A762
74
932
K1097
W
N
E
S
P
P
2
X
3
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

Debbie led the Q.  Declarer won the A, played two rounds of spades, then A, J (covered) and two more high clubs, pitching a diamond from dummy. Debbie pitched the 4, and I had an opportunity to ruff which I declined. On the next trick, when declarer played a diamond from hand, I overtook Debbie's 10 with my K and cashed the Q, leaving declarer to lose both a diamond and a heart, holding them to +140.

As usual, I had more than my share of lucky boards. Here is one we defended against Michael Rosenberg and Richard Zeckhauser, and my good luck took a more subtle form, as luck can against a world-class declarer:

Max
Q73
J764
QJ2
1094
Richard
A52
KQ9
A74
Q652
Debbie
64
A10852
1065
J87
Michael
KJ1098
3
K983
AK3
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
2
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3N
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

I led a heart to the King and Ace, and when a heart came back I inexplicably didn't put up the J (my best attempt at an explanation is that I forgot I had it). Afterwards Debbie and I discussed the hand with Michael. He had been strongly considering playing me for the Q, but having scored the 9, he felt that he might be ahead of the game. So he made the normal spade play, guessing spades wrong as most declarers probably did. But since clubs were 3-3, declarer had no side-suit losers after trick 1 anyway, so my misplay hadn't cost, and might have steered Michael from the winning line.

After our morning session I realized that we had a real chance to make day 3. I began to feel pressure. Lynn had great advice for managing the stress: she said to smile. I went into the 4th session smiling, knowing that I could afford 1 or 2 mistakes more than I had been making and still qualify for the finals. Just one more session like the first 3 is all it would take.

That turned out to be easier said than done. I did make more mistakes than I had been making and it showed in our results. After one mistake-filled round, as we left the table, I overheard one of our dumbstruck opponents mumble something like, "obviously a client." Yes, it was quite obvious that round, and I too would have been dumbstruck to see that level of play on day 2 of any national event.

We had 4 terrible boards that session and a 48.18%. Bad, but not bad enough to keep us out of the finals. Obviously the bridge gods wanted to send me some encouragement.

Saying I was ecstatic would be a huge underbid. I would get to play behind screens for the first time. I was in the final of a premier national championship. As I looked at the list of qualifiers some of the names below us stunned me: Passell/Compton, Fleisher/Martel, Justin Lall/Brad Moss. Heck, there's a Bermuda Bowl team already and I could go on.

This was my first result playing with Debbie that I couldn't write off entirely to "of course, any moron could do that with Debbie as a partner." I had been far from perfect and luck had been on our side but I had made progress.

Day 3

Here I was. Now all the pressure was gone. I was playing with house money. Again Lynn told me to smile but this time I couldn't have wiped the grin off my face if I had tried. What could be better than day 3 of the Blue Ribbons?

First session among others we played Passell/Compton, Brogeland/Lindqvist and Stansby/Stansby. Somehow we emerged with a 52.41%, putting us right in the middle of the field. Despite the lack of sleep, being a bit starstruck, and playing behind screens for the first time, I still managed to come up with the trick I needed on this hand against Stephen and Kerri Sanborn:

Stephen
653
Q972
K75
KJ3
Debbie
Q1092
84
QJ62
1062
Kerri
AK8
A
A109843
A95
Max
J74
KJ10653
Q874
W
N
E
S
2
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
2X South
NS: 0 EW: 0

After a spade lead and 3 rounds of clubs, RHO continued with the A. Taking stock of the situation, it didn't look great. I had a shortage of winners, starting trumps from my hand didn't look very appetizing, nor did -800 if I couldn't find a 6th trick. I ruffed the A and played back a spade to the 10; my RHO won and played back another diamond which I ruffed. I then played a spade to the Queen and used my only entry to dummy to play a trump through my RHO, who played the Ace. Now I can take a 6th trick if I guess hearts correctly; surely I should play LHO for having started with queen-fourth for his penalty pass. RHO played another diamond, which I ruffed, dropping the K. LHO was down to all trumps, so I led my last club to force LHO on lead to play away from the Q for -500 and a very good board.

The second session brought us Meckstroth and Rodwell. That round was very stressful for me, because Debbie's husband Michael, playing with Richard Zeckhauser, was in 2nd place after the 5th session. I knew going into the final session that we were due to play Meckwell who were in 4th, only about a quarter of a board behind Richard and Michael. I worried that I would do something absurd that would give Meckwell a top, vaulting them above Michael for the win and creating strife in the Rosenberg household (if I hadn't already damaged Michael enough through poor play the day before). As it turned out we were one of the few pairs that had an above-average round against Meckwell, though that round turned out to be irrelevant to Michael and Richard's finish in the event.

We had a great round against Ola and Mikael Rimstedt who were on their way to 8th. It was hard to believe this was really happening. Despite some good rounds I was running out of gas - or perhaps running low on extraordinary luck - and I made way too many errors, including an awful pull of Debbie's double. The pull, as you might expect given my luck, turned out to be a winning decision at the table, but too many of my mistakes cost. We had 5 really bad boards that evening and our worst score of the event, 45.05%.

We finished 55th of 78. Just making the final was more than I expected and I would have been happy to be 78th; finishing closer to the middle of the final field was more than I could have hoped for.

Throughout it all, Debbie was incredible. She took my mistakes in stride and she played brilliantly, though as usual she found flaws with her own play.

I must say that Debbie's accomplishment of a decent overall in the Blue Ribbons with me as a partner is really quite special - just ask anyone who has seen me play! If power ratings are to be believed, had Debbie been playing with an equal partner, her scores in the Blues would have been 60, 60, 62, 58, 61, 52. Whether that's exactly correct or not (and she argues that it isn't), she played 3 spectacular days of bridge which is nowhere near reflected in a 55th-place finish. I hope that I played well enough that she is also proud of her teaching.

Fighting for every trick

One thing Debbie consistently stresses is to never concede tricks you might not have to lose. Make a play that gives you a chance to win the trick. Sometimes that chance is legitimate and sometimes it requires a little help. When the extra trick needs help, sometimes you have to play just so to make it possible for your opponents to err. Here's one where Debbie cleverly gave her opponents a chance to err in a cool ending:

West
J87653
Q62
864
K
Max
Q2
A1083
972
A753
East
4
954
KJ1053
QJ96
Debbie
AK109
KJ7
AQ
10842
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0

The 8 was led. Debbie played low from dummy and won the Queen, then took a winning guess in hearts by running the J, which wasn't covered. Debbie cashed two hearts ending in dummy, then led the last heart. East pitched the K, Debbie pitched a club, and West pitched the 7. 

Debbie now thought that West didn't have Jxxx of spades, and might be 3334. Debbie played the Q and another spade, intending to finesse the 10 if East followed. When East showed out, Debbie felt that she knew the whole hand apart from the division of the club honors, and saw no legitimate opportunity for 11 tricks. Rather than giving up and settling for 10 tricks, Debbie won and exited the 10. When West won the J and continued another spade, she had the position she hoped for - a criss-cross squeeze without the count. She pitched a club from dummy, and when East, having pitched a club and a diamond on the 2nd and 3rd spade tricks, pitched another club, she was able to play A and another club to set up a club trick. Had East pitched a 3rd diamond, Debbie would have been able to cash the A, cross to the A and cash the 9.

Aftermath

I muddled through the rest of Nationals, overtired and elated. I made plenty of mistakes and probably cost Cadir, Bill, and Randal a second day in the Swiss. But I also had some good moments; after

W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3NT
P
?

I held a 2254 slam drive and earlier hadn't wanted to mislead my partner into thinking I had 3-card spade support, so I now I bid 4. Routine for an expert, but finding it at the table was a Eureka! moment for me. 

Back home, in my very first session at the club after Nationals, I follow up my great success with imagining my LHO to have the 14th trump. That'll keep my head from getting too big.

Despite my continued blundering, I left the Nationals feeling like I had become a bridge player. My second bridge year had been challenging but I had learned so much, gotten to play behind screens for the first time, had a far better result than I had hoped for, and had a few good plays and a bunch of normal ones to go with my many mistakes. 

But while my second year of bridge was over, the calendar year had a few weeks remaining and there was still a Mini-McKenney going on.

It turned out the Blue Ribbon Pairs was the largest masterpoint win I'd had to date, nearly 18 platinum points. While intellectually I felt like the masterpoint race paled in significance next to having made the finals of the Blue Ribbons, somehow I couldn't stop checking the results of a few competitors in that race. I had one more regional to play, and went into the last week of the year behind by around 25 masterpoints.

The last regional I had scheduled was New York. New York with family over the holidays worked better than being gone for another week somewhere away from them; I would be gone during the day but being with family during dinner and at night was marginally acceptable. But who could play bridge with me over the holidays? There was an obvious solution, since Debbie had a couple pretty good bridge players in her family. Debbie and I would team with Michael and their son Kevin. We would play Swisses for four days; If I played well, the team would be very competitive, and if not, I would only have myself to blame.

New York

I had only once in my bridge career felt like a strong favorite going into an event: Bill, Cadir, Bill's occasional partner Aravind, and I entered the Swiss at a local non-life-master sectional early in 2016. There are a number of strong newer players in our area, including some very talented youth players, but anything less than a win would have been a big disappointment. We won all our matches, most of them quite comfortably (except of course the one against the high schoolers!), to win the event. Winning was nice, but I have to say I didn't love the pressure of my own winning expectations.  

Arriving at a regional with a Hall of Famer, a world champion, and a top junior as teammates definitely stressed me out. If we didn't do well, it was obvious who would be to blame for the bulk of our mistakes. Because I was such a weak link, I didn't feel like we were favorites in the same way as at that NLM Swiss, but I felt similar pressure.  

I was mostly past worrying about fairness in the Mini-McKenney. My main competition in the race was playing in a lot of regional side games with a pro and getting excellent results. At least I would be playing my share of the hands and facing stronger competition.   

The first day in NY had its ups and downs, I cost us a handful of big swings but should have cost us more the way I played. We finished 4th, winning almost 9 masterpoints, closing about a third of the gap between me and the current leader. The second day was similar, another 8 masterpoints for 5th. But our results were headed in the wrong direction, and any dreams I had of domination were starting to slip away. 

The next day I woke feeling fresh, well-rested, and optimistic that this would be our day. Nope. After the first 5 matches, we were just above-average, but out of position for the overalls. If we missed the overalls, as seemed likely, my Mini-McKenney hopes would likely fail as well, barring a spectacular result on the last day.  

Nadir

We have never worried much about seating, but in the 6th match we were up against Zach Grossack's team and Debbie thought it would be better to have Kevin and Michael play against Zach. If you've seen Zach play you would understand. I have played against a lot of strong opponents, but Zach is aggressive and unpredictable, and at that moment a bad loss would cost us any remaining shot at an overall, and likely the Mini-McKenney race with it. I normally like playing against strong opponents, but I was willing to just this once to forgo an interesting opponent to improve my odds of winning a yearlong masterpoint race. Well, the bridge gods might have been on my side so far, but they wouldn't let me take the easy road: the other team wanted to play sitting the other way. We tossed for seating rights, and we lost. We also lost the match - but by a narrow enough margin to leave us with the faintest glimmer of hope. We were now 15 VP out of the overalls with one match to play, and still well behind in my race. Well, if I wound up having lost the Mini-McKenney in that match, at least it was better than losing it in a 299er. But it wasn't quite over yet.

The tide turns

In the final Thursday match I declared 4 of the 7 boards. I missed a trump coup to blow a game contract, but I thought the rest of them were at least okay. When we compared it turned out our opponents missed the same trump coup, and we had actually won 22 IMPs on the other 3 boards I declared. We blitzed the match, and one of the teams ahead of us got blitzed, so we grabbed 3rd place after all. That earned us 9 masterpoints and gave me a razor-thin Mini-McKenney lead. The best part is that I finally felt like I had contributed meaningfully to our win, even if it was by just getting normal results when our teammates had great boards.

Storybook ending

I had one day of bridge remaining and we needed one more good result to clinch the Mini-McKenney. If I were writing a fictional bridge story I would not find this ending believable, but here's what happened on my final bridge day of the year.

First match, win by 18 IMPs. Second match blitz. Third match win by 9 IMPs. We had 51 VPs in the first 3 matches and it just got better from there. We blitzed the last match of the first session and went to lunch already guaranteed above-average VPs for the day.

I definitely needed the lunch break. In the final session before lunch I was all mixed up for the first 6 tricks of this deal but managed to pull it together to make the contract:

Debbie
KQxxx
10xx
KJ8
10x
Max
Axx
AJ
Axx
Q98xx
W
N
E
S
P
P
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
P
P
 

K led. I saw two club losers, a heart loser, and a diamond loser if the Q was wrong, but I could set up a heart for a diamond pitch. No problem. I won the A, drew trump, knocked out the Q then won the heart return and pitched...ugh, from the short trump hand. Oops. If I wanted the diamond pitch to count, I needed to have played hearts before drawing trump, which was not without risk. Time for a new plan. I kept my composure and saw there was still no need to hook the diamond if I could set up a club trick. I was going to lose two clubs anyway so it was free to test. Low club to the 9 drove out the Ace, I ruffed the heart return, and played the 10 through RHO's KJ to set up my 10th trick in clubs. The full deal:

West
9x
KQxxx
976xx
A
Debbie
KQxxx
10xx
KJ8
10x
East
J10x
xxx
Q10
KJ742
Max
Axx
AJ
Axx
Q98xx
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
P
1N
P
2
P
2
P
2N
P
3
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

It turns out I got back from outer space just in time, as avoiding the diamond finesse was worth 11 IMPs.

When we came back from lunch we had another blitz, putting us 34 VPs ahead of second with two matches to play. The sixth match we didn't want swings. A close loss would guarantee first place, with another match still to play. We won by 5 IMPs and went into the final match with a 36 VP lead and the event locked up. We switched partners for the last match. I had never played with Michael before and he had about 3 minutes to read the card. New partnership or not, we were on a roll and recorded blitz number 5 in our last 8 matches.  

The year's final favor from the bridge gods came early in the last match; Michael opened 1NT and holding a 4=1=4=4 with 7 HCP I bid Stayman, thinking that the huge upside of finding Michael with 4 spades would outweigh the more likely but less severe downside of finding him with 4 hearts and less than 4 spades. Well, not only did he bid 2, but of course he raised my 2NT to 3NT. He made 5. It was that kind of day.  

Totals

We ended the final event of my bridge year with 124 out of 140 possible VPs; second place was 76. For the day, we won 203 IMPs and lost 45. We earned 18 masterpoints and I effectively clinched the 50-100 bracket Mini-McKenney by winning (by a mile) my first top-bracket regional event.

In the masterpoint race, I ended with a total of 267, with second at 249. On the year I had 25 platinum, 121 gold, 31 red, 41 silver, and 49 black.

Goals

I am relieved to be done with masterpoint goals.  I'm glad I did the Mini-McKenney this once because I think I learned something in the extra regionals, but the need to earn masterpoints felt like a chore: it made it harder for me to put results aside and stay focused on making the right play.

People have asked about year-by-year goals. Mostly I just want to improve (a lot!), and to enjoy bridge. I don't think I will ever stop making mistakes, or stop making bad ones, but I hope they will become less severe and less frequent. I want to make lots of normal plays and an occasional good one.

I need to figure out what's going on more consistently and earlier in the hand, and better take advantage of it when I do know what's going on. I often miss inferences from my opponents' play and fail to place high cards based on known point counts; I'd like to get those more consistently. I too often settle for a plan that has needless risks. Probably more than anything I need to make far fewer stupid mistakes. I'd like to make better opening leads. Not very exciting to talk about but I think that is the nature of progress.

Result-wise, there are lots of things that would be nice: playing in the Platinum Pairs, making it to day 2 or day 3; winning a full-day match in the Vanderbilt or Spingold (which will surely be a hard match given our seeding); making it to day 2 or day 3 of the Reisinger. I'd like to make day 2, and eventually day 3, of an NABC+ event with each of Bill and Cadir. I'd like to make it out of the round-robin stage of the Team Trials. I'm not really focused on doing any of those things in any particular order, and all of them are hard enough that they may take a few years, so I won't be disappointed if I don't make any "progress" on these next year - or in any particular year. 

I do have two big (crazy?) goals for the long term: I would like to win an NABC+ event, and I would like to win a trials and represent the US in a World Championship. As you may have guessed, I'd like to do those things with our team, not with a bunch of hired pros (yes, we will have one). Cadir, Bill, Debbie, and I are getting ready for the Senior Trials. We are all about the same age; the last of us will be eligible in 2031, which gives us time to practice.

I don't know if we will achieve these goals, but I know we'll enjoy the journey. I'll give updates along the way - just don't expect them all to end as happily as this one!

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