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Year 3: Getting a Little Less Bad
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My second year of bridge had a fairy-tale ending, in which I made it to the finals of the Blue Ribbons and won a close masterpoint race in dramatic fashion on December 30th. While I finished my second year feeling like I could comfortably sit down and play bridge against anyone anywhere, I also knew that I would play badly by the standards of any serious event. I was a bridge player, but a bad one. I felt like I was now at the beginning of the long process of becoming a less bad bridge player.

If the bridge gods gave me plenty of success my first and second years to get me completely hooked, in my third year it seems they made a point of showering luck on me in random events while cursing me in the events I really cared about, leaving me in a year-end slump. Perhaps they were trying to keep me from getting too big for my britches? Well, if they are reading this article, let me be clear right up front: I have seen myself make way too many horrifying plays to be in any danger of thinking I am getting good at this game.

Theory of relativity

In real life I don't believe that long-term results are explained by luck, so I am forced to conclude that as awful as my play seems to me at the table, my steadily improving results on the scoresheet means that I must be improving relative to other players. This is consistent with my feeling at the table that I continue to play badly, but my opponents seem to have gotten a whole lot worse.

Bob Hamman said the best bridge players in the world play badly and everyone else plays a whole lot worse. Right now my badly is a "whole lot worse" squared or cubed, but I am happy to have graduated from following rules of thumb to attempting to figure out what is going on and what plays might be winning for the layouts that matter, even if I am getting it wrong an awful lot. I have lots of painful learning ahead but I hope that someday in the distant future my badly will be the kind of badly that might have some chance to win a major event - even if it's still a whole lot worse than Bob Hamman's badly.

So here is the story of my third year. I'll share everything from the awful plays that keep me humble to missed opportunities for good plays that keep me striving to improve to a few hands where I think I got something reasonably hard right. Even on the hands where I get something right my logic is imperfect; I will share it to the best of my recollection, including the misjudgments of a player who still has much to learn. In the first two years I didn't show you any squeezes because its hard to show good examples of what I mostly didn't see, but this year you'll see a few interesting squeeze situations - including one fun hand in the Reisinger that includes squeezes both found and missed. But we'll start with Spring Nationals.

Searching for Normal in Kansas City

Playing in the Vanderbilt - our first big knockout - was definitely a highlight. Cadir Lee, Bill Bailey, and I entered with Debbie Rosenberg, who coaches all 3 of us. Since the three of us had about 1000 masterpoints combined, even with Debbie we wound up seeded 60th of 63. This put us in a full day match with the #5 seed: Zagorin, Bertheau, Brink, and Drijver. I made plenty of mistakes and played far from my best, but I enjoyed playing all day against such great players. We wound up losing 185-63, but I would be happy to play matches like that every day, even if we won very few of them.

In the bar during the Silodor, someone asked Debbie how it was going. She said something to the effect that I had, as usual, made a mix of brilliant and terrible plays. I absolutely agree with the terrible plays, but I think "brilliant" was a huge overbid, perhaps required by politeness to balance out terrible. 

After making the finals of the Blue Ribbons, I finally had the nerve to check the "request seeding" box on BW when I bought my entry. I think that did add a little stress to the event for me. Debbie and I had a bad first session, but a decent second session got us to day two. We wound up slightly under average on day two. A slight disappointment, but a reasonable result.

One of my favorite hands in Kansas City occurred on the second day of the Silodor. It was an ordinary defense, the kind I try to avoid messing up. Debbie tells me to try to do the normal thing, but this was a hand where it wasn't obvious (at least to me) what "normal" was.

From my perspective (rotated):

Dummy
AJ5
AK987
AQ5
54
Me
Q6432
Q1063
J6
QJ
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
2NT
P
3NT
P
P
P

The 6 (4th best, standard honor leads) was led, to my Jack and declarer's Ace. The expert declarer played a small heart to the board and cashed two top diamonds, my partner playing high-low on the diamonds (upside down). Now it looks like I am going to have to make 3 pitches on diamonds. Giving up two spades seems clear, but the third pitch is painful.

I felt like I had three bad choices.

Could I pitch my club queen? With her club lead likely being from length, her failure to lead the 10 indicates that she is a huge favorite to hold the K but likely has no outside entry. I decide to keep the club. 

Pitching a third spade would, if declarer held the K, let him drop my Q. That didn't look good.

Finally I could pitch a heart. Well, that didn't look any good either. This allows declarer to set up a long heart trick (having discarded one on the 5th diamond); if declarer has the K, that makes 11 tricks so protecting my Q could be irrelevant if they get to set up the hearts.

Nothing looked good, but whatever I was going to do it was better for me to plan it in advance and do it smoothly when the time comes.

Here was the full deal (rotated):

West
987
J4
983
K9763
North
AJ5
AK987
AQ5
54
East
Q6432
Q1063
J6
QJ
South
K10
52
K10742
A1082
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
2NT
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT North
NS: 0 EW: 0

I pitched the 6, 4, and 3 in tempo on the run of the diamonds, Debbie pitching the 3 and the J. 

Declarer then cashed the K.  He then guessed to finesse the J into my now bare Q. Holding the contract to 10 tricks was worth 84% of the matchpoints, which was twice what we would have gotten if they had made 11 tricks.

Maybe the "normal" play is obvious to experts, but it wasn't to me. Part of what I love about bridge is that there are challenges everywhere -- even when defending a contract that I know is making, it is a challenge to give our side the best chance to save an overtrick.

Training at altitude?

The time spent getting pummeled by top players seemed to help my results back home. 

Cadir and I teamed with Olivier Chapelle and Aravind Alwan and won District 21 GNT-C. To practice for the national final, we went to a sectional and entered the Swiss (with Bill Bailey substituting for Olivier). After giving our masterpoint total, and confirming that it was the total for the team and not the average, we were strongly encouraged to enter the BCD event, but we insisted we wanted to play A/X. We finished in second place, with the directors increasingly surprised each time we brought in a winning result slip.

The next local event was the Sacramento regional. My daughter has been playing bridge with John Miller's daughter. They get along well and enjoy it. I liked John and he is a strong player so I jumped at the offer when he suggested that we play a day together in Sacramento. After going through some things on email, I picked him up on my way to Sacramento and we finished our preparation in the car. We sat down to play our first hand of bridge together ever. We won the two-session A/X pairs that day. My next event was a compact knockout in Sacramento: Bill, Cadir, Debbie and I played in bracket 1 and came in second to Kit and Sally Woolsey, Karen McCallum, and Kevin Rosenberg. 

The streak continued through the end of the year: outside nationals and world championships, I played in only 9 multi-session events and wound up with three firsts, four seconds, and two thirds.

One that got away

Despite the good results there are so many hands I wish I had played differently.

Here is one near the top of that list. I was playing at a local sectional. My partner was Kevin Rosenberg, and our teammates were David Zheng and Stella Wan, two talented high school students who are improving rapidly. Much to our frustration - which was probably less than the frustration of our opponents - despite requesting top bracket we wound up in bracket 2. Across multiple matches Kevin and I had been piling up IMPs bidding slams that were not bid at the other table. It seemed that every slam we bid wound up making.

With that mindset, I picked up a nice hand and, perhaps aggressively, drove to slam over my partner's game invite:

North
9
AK109xx
K8xx
xx
South
AKQJ10xx
xx
A10
Kx
W
N
E
S
1
P
3
P
4NT
P
5
P
6
P
P
P

A small diamond was led. I shouldn't have put in the 8 but I did; it drove out the Q and I won the A.

Now I began drawing trump. LHO showed out on the second round, pitching the Q and then another club. With 11 top tricks, and the club finesse looking unlikely (LHO would have a desirable club sequence lead on many holdings without the A), I should have run some additional trumps to set up a squeeze in case the hearts didn't come in. Pitching a second heart might cost me an overtrick if the suit came in, but playing IMPs when the other table might not be in slam that shouldn't have been a consideration. But I played lazy bridge, pitching a club, a diamond, and a heart, then before squeezing dummy with a 5th trump I played a heart to the Ace and RHO dropped the Queen.

Now I had given myself a bigger problem than I should have had, but even so I probably could have gotten it right. At the table I was skeptical that my RHO would drop an honor from QJx, but not skeptical enough to back my intuition and make the play of K, ruff a diamond, and take the heart finesse. I just couldn't bear to go down against a normal break, and I am not trying to learn how to maximize my winning margin in bracket 2. I cashed another top heart and got the bad news with RHO showing out. LHO discarded correctly and I went down.

What I really needed to do was run two more trumps before touching the hearts; on the 6th spade LHO would have had to discard from:

West
Jxxx
J
AJ

It's not an easy hand from there if LHO pitches the J. At the table I can probably safely exit a club at that point, but there is a line I like better (though I very much doubt I would have found it at the table). I can give up my diamond threat in dummy on the 6th spade to keep a club, play two rounds of hearts and when I get the bad news, I can duck the club around to the Ace, with a trump left in hand to get back to my now good club King. 

If a tree falls in the forest...

As that hand demonstrated, I am still not reliably seeing and executing complex squeezes. Despite missing some of them, I was happy to pull off this non-simultaneous double squeeze at the club, though the accomplishment requires an unusual caveat.

Here is the 5-card ending I reached in a 3NT contract, having lost 3 tricks so far with the lead in dummy:

Dummy
AQ8
8
3
Declarer
6
AK6
5

Dummy's diamond is good. I know by showout that LHO has two good clubs. RHO has J109 of hearts, and there are 5 spades remaining including KJ10; I don't know who has the missing spade honors.  I play dummy's last diamond and RHO pitches a spade. I pitch a heart and LHO also pitches a spade. Now I cross to my hand in hearts, RHO follows, and LHO pitches a club. I cash my last heart and LHO pitches the last club to protect spades, but now my club is good and no spade finesse is needed.

Kind of nicely done, but I'm not sure it counts. Why? Besides the spade finesse being on all along, 3 tricks earlier when LHO got in with the A I was hoping was with RHO, he could have beaten me if he had cashed his two clubs, so - especially because he could never expect to get in again - I am pretty sure he didn't know they were good.   It turns out the overtrick was only worth half a matchpoint.

So, the big question: is it still a squeeze if your opponent doesn't think the cards they are forced to pitch are guarding anything? 

Toronto

After some waffling among our GNT team about whether we wanted to play all the boards or not, we decided to augment the team. Thankfully Michael Hu and Arthur Zhou, two local middle-school students who had played on the U16 team in Salsomaggiore, were available. Adding them to the team proved to be a great decision; not only did they play well, but having the flexibility to rest players who were tired or not focusing well at the time was a great benefit. We got to play behind screens for most of the event, and we wound up winning. District 21 also won B and Open GNTs, so it was nice to be a part of a rare GNT trifecta.

I was particularly excited for Debbie, who won Open as a player and C as a coach, having coached/mentored at various times and to varying degrees all 6 players on the C team. Perhaps they should change the rules for C to require fewer than 500 masterpoints, non-life-master status, and never coached by Debbie Rosenberg? One nice detail - both our opponents in the final and Debbie's conceded after 3 quarters, so we were able to celebrate together in the bar a little early. 

It was good that we were able to get a little extra sleep that night. Cadir and I went straight from GNT-C to the Spingold. We played with regular teammates Bill Bailey (who became a life master a few months too early to be eligible for GNT C) and Randal Burns (who doesn't live in our district); Debbie kibitzed and gave us feedback afterwards. We had the fewest seeding points in the event, and as the 104 seed wound up playing LAVAZZA (the 3 seed). On the second board of the match I sat West for the following deal:

West
8
654
103
AKJ10752
North
K953
K8
AQ86542
East
J742
QJ1093
KJ7
9
South
AQ106
A72
9
Q8643
W
N
E
S
P
1
3
3
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0

I was initially tempted to lead a club with such an excellent holding, but it would be so much better to get a club through declarer. With both majors unbid, I led my 3-card heart suit. I led the 6 to my partner's 9 and declarer's A. When my partner got in with a diamond and returned the 9, declarer played low.

Do I overtake? I need declarer to have a stiff diamond if we are going to set the contract. He can have at most 4 cards in each major; I need to decide between playing him for 14 minors and ducking, which will beat the contract when partner continues, or 15 minors and overtaking. Either seems possible, but if declarer is 4414, the diamond is a risky play and it was possible declarer would have had another line. I am far from being able to work things like this out at the table with certainty but I played for the 9 being stiff and overtook; at least at this point we would be better off than had I led clubs, though of course if declarer was 4414 that will be minimal comfort.  I then cashed a top club to find out that I had guessed correctly.

Now what? If I cash another club I am setting up a trick for declarer. But I have no entry, so if I don't cash, will I ever get my third club winner? If declarer was going to run dummy's diamonds, then I'd never get my club, but then they would be making the contract anyway. It looked like our best hope was for me to continue hearts. I played another heart and declarer only had 7 tricks. Our preempt had kept them out of their cold spade game, and we'd taken maximum tricks on defense. It was nice to have a good board early in a match against such a strong team. Unfortunately at the other table a preempt showing both majors kept our teammates out of 4 as well, but their making partial won IMPs.

Despite some good boards, it turned out that no matter which lineup Lavazza played from Bilde/Duboin, Sementa/Bocchi, and Madala/Bianchedi we wound up losing more IMPs than we won. The final score was 222-100, but we had a blast. The margin turned out to be exactly the same as our Vanderbilt match against Zagorin, but we scored more IMPs, and we had done it without Debbie playing and against a team that went on to come within one board of winning the whole event, so it felt like progress. 

In a way, playing in both the Spingold and GNT-C was a nice way to calibrate. We won a little over one IMP per board in GNT-C matches over 5 days, and over two days against top teams (here and Kansas City) we lost a hair over two IMPs per board. I guess that means that in some sense we are about a third of the way there. Something tells me that the second third will be harder than the first, and that final third will be really really hard.

If you don't see a sucker at the table...

Bill and I played in the Wernher. Although our scores were a disappointment (two rounds in the mid-40's, which not too long ago I would have thought a decent result in a national field), I was starting to feel like we belonged. In part I was seeing more mistakes by our opponents. Amarillo Slim's advice about poker probably applies to bridge as well, and for a while in national events I have been forced to conclude that I was the sucker. Now I am still among the weaker players, but I can see that I'm far from the only one screwing up.

One deal in the Wernher reminded me of my first Blue Ribbons, when I quite often didn't know what card to keep at the end. But this time, it was my LHO who, not paying attention to partner's having discarded the 13th diamond, allowed me to take two tricks from A3 of spades in dummy on a pseudo squeeze: RHO being truly squeezed in the majors, and LHO thinking he was squeezed in spades and diamonds.  

Lyon

After winning a North American Championship in Flight C, some would think Flight B is the obvious next step. It would be for a sane person; for me it felt like after winning a "national championship" of any flavor, the obvious next step was to play in a world championship. Thankfully my teammates were equally crazy, so Bill, Cadir, Debbie, and I headed to Lyon for the Transnational Teams. Screens the whole event, pre-duplicated boards with hand records, and a strong field. Or at least the potential for a strong field if we earned enough victory points not to be relegated to the bottom of the Swiss.

It didn't start well. The first two matches were preset. Both of our opponents were strong, and our matches went poorly. After losing our first match by 34 and our second match by 25, I was beginning to think we had gotten in over our heads. But with fewer than 5 victory points after two rounds, we drew a very different team in round 3. The blitz still wasn't enough to get us back to average, but another blitz in round 4 was. A combined margin of 115-3 over those 20 boards helped rebuild our confidence. 

It seems that Bill often gets to declare far less than his share of the boards. His declarer play is strong and he enjoys it, so he definitely isn't avoiding declaring on purpose. In the second match I remember feeling guilty stealing the board from Bill's after he endured two cancelled flights, eventually getting to Paris by plane and taking a train to Lyon to arrive with little time to spare, but it felt like the right decision:

East
AQ2
A32
Q1063
K83
W
N
E
S
3
P
?

4 was the "obvious" bid with a 10-card fit, but I imagined partner with KQ-7th of hearts and not much else and on the lead of a black suit I could claim 9 tricks while not knowing where my 10th was coming from. Yes, 4 could be better on some layouts, but it felt percentage at IMPs to play 3NT. The full deal:

West
96
KQJ8765
84
J6
North
KJ54
104
J972
Q75
East
AQ2
A32
Q1063
K83
South
10873
9
AK5
A10942
W
N
E
S
3
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT East
NS: 0 EW: 0

They led a top diamond and I eventually made 10 tricks.  The other table reached 4.  Declarer got a small spade lead and also took 10 tricks, but 3NT feels a lot safer. If only the J had been switched 3NT would still be just fine but the defense would have had a good chance against 4...

We played a lot of local teams on day 2, many of whom somehow after a full day of play still didn't have convention cards, but I will save that rant for another article. On day 3 we played a very international round: the Pakistani and Japanese teams from seniors, two Danish teams, and a very strong British team (Paul Hackett, David Price, Alex Hydes, David Mossop). We had a solid win against Pakistan, then 3 very close matches: we beat the first Danish team by 1, lost to Japan by 3, and narrowly beat the British by 2. We then lost badly in the last round to the second Danish team, dropping to below average in the event. Despite losing big in the last match, I was happy that we hung in there with some strong teams.

Being nowhere near the top 8 we were eliminated, so we played two more days in the board-a-match, while cheering on Debbie's family members and their teams in the U26 and the Bermuda Bowl. It was nice to see that every Rosenberg who had expert teammates won a world championship in Lyon.

Back at home

The week after Lyon there was a regional in Santa Clara.

I had cut back my regional schedule to catch up on family life. I was playing just two events: one pairs event with Debbie, and one team event with Cadir, Lynn Shannon, and Barbara Weber. Barbara had 14 gold and needed 11 more to make Life Master. Lynn had said she would help Barbara; I thought of all the players who had helped me in so many ways and immediately decided I should help too if I could. I told Lynn that if she and Barbara were interested, I would find a partner and we could team up and hopefully do well in a low bracket or strat. Cadir was available and Lynn and Barbara were happy to give it a try.

The first match of a Swiss tends not to matter so much, but we started well with a blitz. The second match was a little harder but we won. For the third match Cadir and I sat down against Kit Woolsey and Karen McCallum, with Mitch Dunitz and Mark Perlmutter facing our teammates. Surely this match would knock us back towards the middle of the standings, but at least we would have time to recover. Nope, we won by 24 IMPs. It was one of those crazy matches where everything we did, correct or not, turned out to be winning, and many of their reasonable actions didn't work out. 

The event continued the next morning. We had a huge lead on the field and were sure to place if we had half-decent results. I sat down a the table and Billy Miller sat down to my left. I felt sure our streak would end. Somehow we won (well, I guess bidding a pushy slam that happens to make might have been part of it...) The next match our magical run of victories finally ended - but we were still leading the event! We tied our last match, and our opponents from the previous match had a big win and edged ahead of us. We finished second, having played all the top teams. We won 7.88 Gold, bringing Barbara within 3 gold of Life Master. In Strat B, we were 19 VPs ahead of second. Again it felt like the practice against strong competition was helping.

You're welcome, Steve

In San Diego, going into the Blues, I felt like I had been a little bit out of sorts and hoped to break my slump in the event in which I had previously had such great results, but I recognized that slump or no, we were underdogs to make day 3 again. Even with the slump I felt the odds weren't nearly as long as last year. After playing poorly on day 1 and still qualifying with carryover near the middle of the field, I felt like our chances were about even - pretty good if only I could summon a day of reasonable play on Wednesday. I think I had the odds right, but I didn't bring my A game or my B game on day 2. Nevertheless, we still would have made it if only I could have avoided perpetrating an awful misdefense - my most painful blunder of the year, mostly because it is the type of thing I am trying so hard not to do anymore but also in part it because it was so costly - on this board:

West
AKJ983
1094
J952
North
102
KJ
Q107
K87652
East
Q54
AQ72
AK3
A93
South
76
8653
864
QJ104
D

LHO opened a spade and East corrected 6 to 6NT after a keycard auction. 

I led the Q, dummy pitched a heart, and Debbie encouraged. It looked like I was going to having nothing to do but guard clubs this hand, so I decided to lead small to Debbie's King, dummy pitching another heart. Of course in retrospect it would have been better to play the ten. leaving us both with club guards, but that was not my fatal mistake.

When my RHO won the A, cashed two top diamonds and shifted to spades, Debbie's first 3 discards were the J, then K, then a club. What a great partner making it easy for me. At this point she might as well have hired a plane to fly around the playing area with a banner announcing "Max: declarer began with AQ72 of hearts" but I am not sure I would have noticed that either. Somehow, despite the fact that I thought we were somewhere near the middle and qualification might be close, and that this board could be a huge swing, I was not awake at the table. I held on to a club and unguarded hearts. -1440. 

After the session I was initially relieved to see that the 70.5 matchpoints I blew on that board would have left us just a fraction of a matchpoint short of the 78th and final qualifying spot. Then I noticed that the second-to-last qualifiers sat our direction and had a normal result that board. If I had defended correctly they would have received one matchpoint fewer and finished 79th, while we would have qualified. That pair was Steve Weinstein and Dennis Bilde. (Yes, Dennis would still win Player of the Year if I had kept my 8 guarded, though by a much smaller margin.)

Against the odds we had a good round earlier in the event against Steve and Dennis, so it felt appropriate that my blunder gave our qualifying spot back to a much stronger pair that might otherwise have lost out to us after an unlucky round. Certainly, based on my decisions over the last two days, I didn't feel that I deserved to be playing on day 3, even if as usual Debbie did. I give her huge credit for us coming anywhere near qualifying when I played so poorly.

While I was disappointed in my play in the Blues, I was excited that two of my regular partners, Bill Bailey and Cadir Lee, played together and had a great first day including a 60% second session and made it to day two. They also had a bad second day, so the four of us spent Thursday doing detailed post-mortems and rested up a little bit for the Reisinger - my first, and an event I was very excited about. I didn't want to think too much about my slump but really hoped to have a decent day in the Reisinger.

Dummy and a half

Bridge is hard. At least for me, it turns out that knowing where the cards are doesn't always mean I know what's going on.

This hand I played in the Reisinger illustrates the distance I have come in 3 years - and that I still have some distance to go.

North
A73
A87
QJ982
Q3
South
J95
J64
A103
AJ105
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
2NT
P
3NT
P
P
P

My left hand opponent led the 6, which went to the Queen. My right hand opponent returned the 2; I played low and let the 9 win the trick. Now a club came back. At this point I felt like I had a pretty good picture of the hand:

- East has 6 clubs for an overcall on such a bad suit, leaving West with a stiff

- Likely East has a stiff spade, having shifted to a heart on what looks like a middling suit with the honors split rather than continuing spades

I put up the Q, which was covered by the King, and won the Ace in hand.   Taking stock of the situation, I now had to figure out how to play the diamonds. The obvious play in the diamond suit was to cross to dummy and try to pick up the King onside. The problem with that play is whichever way I crossed, one suit would be left wide open and I would be down if the K was wrong. I didn't know what was going on at the other table, but we had bid game with a combined 24 HCP, so +400 could win the board even if the finesse was on.  I thought from the bidding and play so far that the diamond finesse rated to be on -- else RHO would have overcalled 2 on at best Q K10xx xx K987xx  -- but at the table I wasn't willing to bet the hand on it when we might already be getting a good result.  So I led the 10 out of my hand, confident of a good score if West won and hopeful of a decent score if East won.  

The diamond was on my right, so I was playing catchup. Perhaps caught in a bit of a Grosvenor (who would expect me to have the A when I led the 10 out of my hand?), my RHO returned a heart, which went to the Queen and Ace. Now it seemed quite clear that my RHO should have the K, so I played a diamond to the Ace, both following. Now I paused; "don't claim on a double squeeze at a club game" came into my mind and since neither half fit and time to play the next board could matter I overcame my natural reluctance to claim on a squeeze. I laid down the small diamond from my hand, and turned to my national champion RHO and said that I thought he was going to be squeezed in hearts and clubs, showing the rest of my hand. He put his cards back in the board: +430.

I had salvaged what I thought was a good score, and I felt good about having had an accurate picture of where most of the cards were throughout, and having seen two squeezes, choosing the correct opponent to squeeze the moment the opportunity arose.

And yet even when I get it relatively right, I still get it wrong. I knew where the cards were, but not how many tricks the hand was making.

At trick 4 the play for maximum tricks with more than even odds to succeed is to cross in spades to play diamonds, and if the K is right, take 11 tricks on a non-simultaneous double squeeze where on the run of the diamonds in a four-card ending, East has to come down to a stiff heart to guard the clubs.  Then, after I cash two more clubs, West has to come down to a stiff heart to keep a spade, letting me score dummy's "long" heart. At the table I was making a decision based on thinking +430 was the result to shoot for when the diamond is onside, when actually +460 is available from the trick 3 position and could realistically be achieved at the table. All of this would have argued against conceding the diamond. Far more importantly I think I should have had much more confidence that the K was right - mostly because I think I should have realized that 2 vulnerable without it was just too big a stretch. I can't yet judge what is unlikely here vs what is nearly impossible.

At the same time, I should have realized that Cadir was sitting West, and unless my balanced 11 was opened by South at the other table or West held 4 hearts (both of which felt unlikely but not impossible), I should have been able to predict a 2 preempt given that I believed spades were 6-1. I know Cadir well and I don't think he flew to San Diego to pass a 6331 hand with K10 of spades and another card, even second seat red on white. This would have argued for playing the way I did and guaranteeing the contract. On the other hand if Debbie had sat West I would have bet against 2 second seat unfavorable with a marginal suit and a hand that could make a good dummy in hearts, so it would have been more likely that our opponents reached 3NT at the other table, which would argue for playing for maximum tricks.

As it turns out, Cadir's 2 opening at the other table made overtricks irrelevant, as he bought it there and went down 2. My decision to forgo the diamond finesse didn't matter on the actual deal, but for all the correct inferences I made, I still ended up making a bad decision based on the wrong idea of what could be scored in 3NT with the K onside, underestimating the odds of that, and not incorporating critical information about my teammate's bidding style.

The full deal, just as I had envisioned it:

West
K108642
Q93
764
6
North
A73
A87
QJ982
Q3
East
Q
K1052
K5
K98742
South
J95
J64
A103
AJ105
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
2NT
P
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0

In the Reisinger, despite not getting that board quite right and a few real blunders, I thought overall I played decently that day. Bill and I had matchpoint results slightly below average both sessions, and when we compared with our teammates we had a 14 in the first session and a 10.5 in the second session to finish just below average on the day. While it may seem odd to be happy about below average, I rank it among our team's better results, and the one platinum masterpoint we earned that first session is my new favorite masterpoint.

What's in a slump?

It is hard for me to know exactly what is going on during slumps, but I suspect they relate to mental overload as I assimilate new thinking. Late in the year I began to feel like I could sometimes put myself in other positions at the table and see the hand from those perspectives. That's a valuable skill, but regaining my own perspective isn't always reliable and I make way too many insane plays. I need to have a much more solid grasp on what's going on from my own seat before I can effectively view the hand from other perspectives. That will take time, and probably a few more cycles of confusion with attendant slumps.

After a brief pause for the Reisinger, it felt like my slump was back in full force for my last event of the year, our unit NAP qualifier. My focus was in and out; often during the session it felt like I could barely follow suit. Right now I feel like I am in a bit of a bridge fog: my thinking isn't clear and I am making way too many mistakes.

I am an optimist so I will point out that slumps do have an important silver lining: they end. Hopefully this slump will follow the pattern of my previous slumps and when it ends, my rate of terrible mistakes will come down but some of the new thinking will remain. The other silver lining is that with each slump, the lows are generally not as low as last time. In the surprisingly strong two-session Unit NAP qualifier, despite my playing in a stupor, Debbie and I finished 3rd of 34 pairs, a board behind event winners Li-Chung Chen and Howard Liu. Even playing with a partner as strong as Debbie at my current level of skill, I am fine to finish behind a board behind Li-Chung and Howard over two sessions or average 51% through two days of Blue Ribbons if I weren't in a slump, so I can't complain too much. Anyway the slump is bound to end - or so I keep telling myself!

Looking forward

My main goal for next year is very simple. I'd like to have a few days against strong opposition on which I can feel good about how I played, at least relative to my ability. Since I have high standards for myself that I rarely live up to, that won't be easy. Certainly with one fewer error in the Blues I could have made day 3 and not felt at all good about my play. But this year, despite some terrible errors in each, on the whole I felt okay about the Spingold, the Reisinger, and some of the Swiss matches in Lyon. That made it a good year. 

As far as learning goals, I know what will have by far the biggest impact on my results is fewer blunders. If I can get from 2 or 3 bonehead mistakes per session (or more) down to 1, I would take a huge leap forward. I know this would make a much bigger difference than spotting a few more complex squeezes or finding every useful inference based on which teammate is sitting where at the other table. But that's not how I learn; I constantly assimilate new things, which mix up the old along the way. It's bad short-term; it may or may not be good long-term, but it's who I am.

While the blunders remain, I do feel like I am a completely different bridge player than I was a year ago. Since I am nowhere near satisfied with this year's bridge player, I simply hope that in another year I am again a different bridge player - probably still a bad one, but a little less bad.

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