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USBF 2018 Team Trials: You Lose Some and You Win Some
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Allow me to begin by saying Jan (Martel), you are the true champion of the 2018 Team Trials!  The trials would definitely not have been the success it was without your arduous efforts and unwavering commitment.  I cannot imagine how the USBF will rise to your level of achievement whenever it is you choose to step away.  You truly are a blessing to all of us!

Also allow me to commend the excellence of the directing crew of Mackenzie, Joan and Saul who insured the smooth running of the event. You taught me a great deal about the professionalism of tournament direction.

Lastly, thanks to the many volunteers of the Houston Bridge community that stepped up to make this a congenial and relaxing event for all the participants.

As a Houston resident, the trials being here gave me the opportunity to observe the very best US bridge competition has to offer.  Although not perfect, I soon recognized as a vugraph operator that it is far easier to assess the right plays when all 52 cards can be seen.

The finals were close, but what I realized was it was far closer than even the score implied.  There were 21 double digit imp swings in the 120 boards.  Eleven were in favor of Lall and 10 in favor of Nickell.

Two hands I found interesting as a 'spectator' were: Board 6 in Segment 1 where Nickell jumped out to an early 50-15 imp lead and Board 26 of Segment 6 where Lall regained momentum and brought the Nickell lead to 1 with a 60-6 imp exchange.

The first was an opportunity to test a variation of the Grosvenor Gambit. Neither defender found the gambit and only one of the defenders actually made the Diamond continuation that ultimately led to a 10 imp gain for Nickell. The key was to entice Declarer to rise with the Diamond K. The final contract at both tables was the same and the hand was:

West
4
A1084
AQJ642
J5
North
AQ105
32
K1098
AK10
East
J82
Q976
3
Q9873
South
K9763
KJ5
75
642
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 North
NS: 0 EW: 0

Both East players led their singleton diamond 3. On analysis from the Defender's perspective, it seems obvious that the lead was a singleton or from an odd number as both pairs used standard leads (not low from a doubleton). One player returned the Diamond J (Rusinow), the other switched to the CJ. I wondered at the time if either would find the Grosvenor Gambit to entice Declarer to rise with the Diamond K, the losing play, however the DJ did the work at one table, but shouldn't have (imo) and at the other table the declarer wasn't tested.

It would appear that playing low in either case by declarer risks little and gains a great deal as declarer always needs to make the H guess.

As the vugrapph operator, I commented that a duck of the diamond return would guarantee the contract if the Heart guess was correctly made. Unfortunately, we''ll never know if the other declarer would have found the ducking play.

The second hand occurred as Lall surged to level the match in the 6th segment. In the closed room Nickell played 3H making and in the open room, Lall had the opportunity to close the gap in 4H doubled.

West
532
652
92
J7653
North
AQ7
J73
KQ7
Q1092
East
KJ1096
K
AJ53
AK4
South
84
AQ10984
10864
8
W
N
E
S
 
1
P
1N
P
2
2
P
3N
X
4
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
4X South
NS: 0 EW: 0

A high diamond was led covered with an Honor and ducked only delaying the inevitable and ultimately making 4. Would you choose to defend or declare? As it turns out, no lead will beat the contract assuming declarer plays for the layout. This led to a 12 imp pickup by Lall and a 60-6 segment.

I must say that as a perfectionist that struggles to accept that we all make mistakes in this game we 'love', participating even as a vugraph operator, gave me a new and more realistic perspective of the very best this game has to offer.

To close, to all my present and past partners, this experience confirms in my mind that each of you were always trying to do your very best and never were purposely choosing the wrong bids or plays. This is a difficult and complex game, but how we love the challenge!

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