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A Different World
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Last week, I played in the United States Bridge Championships for the firsttime. I hadn't originally planned on going, but with my first child due toarrive next month, I realized that this might be my last opportunity to playserious high-level bridge for a while. The Trials were even in the same timezone (Pacific) this year, so I owed it to myself to try. I sent out feelers tobridge friends, and managed to recruit fellow Bridge Winner Jason Feldman,JoAnna Stansby, and local expert Will Watson to be on my team. None of us hadever played much together before, but we all respected each other's games andthought we would be competitive. We determined that Jason would play with Will, and JoAnna would play with me. We used the short prep time to make some partnership agreements, and then it was off to Phoenix!

When entries closed, 17 teams had entered, so the opening Round Robin wouldeliminate 3 of the 14 teams that did not have a bye. Then one team withdrewfor personal reasons, creating a BYE team that would be eliminated as oneof the three. While I felt our team was pretty good, the US Team Trials isfull of elite teams and players. The pundits in the Daily Bulletin singled usout as one of the two teams that would be going home early. And after thefirst day of the round robin, it did indeed look that way, as we went 1-4-1 tofinish 11th out of 14. However, our opening draw had been incredibly tough,playing five of the top six teams, so we could look forward to an easier schedule on the 2nd day.

As a NABC regular but a Trials newbie, the first day felt like I had entered a different world. For example, take this hand fromthe match vs.FIREMAN:

West
Dummy
Q873
K102
KJ
A832
East
Declarer
J10642
QJ9
A43
Q5
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
P
1
1
1
X
2
P
P
3
P
P
3
P
P
P
D
3 East
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
10
3
1

The hand doesn't look too difficult on the surface, once the 4 is led.The contract has 3 top losers and an eventual club loser. The only possible5th trick for the defense might come from a heart ruff. With RHO presumablyholding Ax of hearts, and the only potential fast defensive entries in trumps, it looks like the defense won't be able to get LHO in todeliver a heart ruff. Looks like a draw trumps and claim hand, right? However,when you play the 10 from dummy, RHO follows with the 3. What's going on?

The full hand:

West
K9
A8764
982
J76
Dummy
Q873
K102
KJ
A832
East
A5
53
Q10765
K1094
Declarer
J10642
QJ9
A43
Q5
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
P
1
1
1
X
2
P
P
3
P
P
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
1

As it turns out, the defense candeliver the heart ruff because LHO hadunderled his A! As long as RHO wins the first round of trumps,preserving his small trump, he can lead a heart back to partner and score aruff that way. I could have countered this defense by eliminating diamondsbefore leading trumps, but I was not up to that. However, I did decide to letthe 10 win in dummy to lead a trump through RHO. He was not wise to the situation andducked the ace, and the hand was over. After the hand,LHO informed me that if I had won trick 1 in hand to lead a trump, he wasmentally prepared to duck his trump king, because he knew the heart situation,so at least I had done one thing right.

Although we were losing almost every match, we were at least losing by smallmargins. This deal helped us keep a match vs. BRAMLEYclose:

West
Dummy
Q
K1085
AKJ72
1052
East
Declarer
K10652
AQ93
Q3
96
W
N
E
S
1
1
2
X
P
2
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
Q
2
K
9
2
0
1
A
5
9
Q
2
0
2
A
6
8
5
2
0
3
3
3
J
10
3
1
3
4

You arrive in 4 on the auction shown and the defense cashes two clubs and a spade, LHO showing up with QJ and RHO showing up with A, AK. They play a third round of clubs and you are in. The position is:

Dummy
K1085
AKJ72
Declarer
K1052
AQ9
Q3
W
N
E
S
1
1
2
X
P
2
P
4
P
P
P

The opponents are playing standard 2/1 (1 promises 3), upside-down attitude,and standard remaining count. A jump raise to 3 by LHO would have been amixed raise. How would you play?

Dummy
K1085
AKJ72
Expert
K1052
AQ9
Q3
W
N
E
S
1
1
2
X
P
2
P
4
P
P
P

The expert declarer holding these cards reasoned as follows. Clubs appearto be 5-3, because LHO has raised to 2 with not much besides the QJ (andthe 8, standard present count, seems to confirm this). If that's the case, then RHO must have atleast one 4-card major. If RHO has 4 spades and not 4 hearts, then both trumpsand diamonds are breaking and the hand is easy. But if RHO has 4 hearts, caremust be taken.

Declarer realized it was safe to play two rounds of spades, ruffing a spade,so he did so. On the third round, the J fell from RHO. With declarer holding the 10, this looked like an honest card, so it looked likeRHO's initial pattern was 3433. With this in mind, Declarer then played 3 rounds of diamonds. If all followed, he could then pick up all 4-1 breaks by leading to a hightrump in hand and then ruff his last spade high as an entry to take the markedfinesse at trick 12.

West
Dummy
Q
K1085
AKJ72
1052
East
Expert
K10652
AQ93
Q3
96
W
N
E
S
1
1
2
X
P
2
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
Q
2
K
9
2
0
1
A
5
9
Q
2
0
2
A
6
8
5
2
0
3
3
3
J
10
3
1
3
K
3
2
7
3
2
3
2
4
10
J
1
3
3
7
5
Q
4
3
4
3
3
6
J
9
1
5
3
K
10
5
8
1
6
3
5
2
A
6
3
7
3
10
8
K
4
1
8
3
8
7
9
4
3
9
3
10 tricks claimed
N/S +620
12

Even if RHO had found a nice falsecard from 4423, he would be fine. If RHO ruffed the third diamond, hecould overruff, cash one high trump, then cash a winning spade before takingthe last two tricks with a high cross ruff. And if RHO discarded thelast spade, then he could also discard a spade, and then lead another diamondto score all his trumps. A beautiful line, one that would almost certainly get him into the Daily Bulletin!

Unfortunately for declarer, on the third round of diamonds, his LHOruffed in! The full deal:

Eugene
9843
J6
86
QJ874
Dummy
Q
K1085
AKJ72
1052
Joanna
Unlucky Expert
W
N
E
S
1
1
2
X
P
2
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
Q
2
K
9
2
0
1
A
5
9
Q
2
0
2
A
6
8
5
2
0
3
3
3
J
10
3
1
3
K
3
2
7
3
2
3
2
4
10
J
1
3
3
7
5
Q
6
3
4
3
3
8
J
4
1
5
3
K
9
5
6
0
5
4
9

Despite her 4-3 shape in the minors, my partner JoAnna had chosen to open the East cards with 1 for lead-directingpurposes. Consequently, declarer went down in a contract that most players would have made, giving our team 12 badly needed IMPs.

The second day saw us playing against mostly the bottom half of the field. We bore down and started grinding for IMPs. We kept winning, and slowlymoving up the ranks. Neither vulnerable, I faced this interesting bidding problem vs. the youngand hungry BERKOWITZ team.

East
A10863
J6
Q108
985
W
N
E
S
P
1
X
1
2
P
P
?

Knowing that we didn't have an 8-card spade fit from the failure to support double, I guessed to balance with 3. Partner could be 2443 or 2344, but that seemedagainst the odds with LHO's free bid of 2 and RHO's takeout double, and with neither vulnerable, the cost of bidding on witha misfit would be small. When the tray came back with 3NT, I wondered what mess Ihad gotten us into.

I needn't have worried. The full deal:

Joanna
Q
A75
K96543
AK10
North
KJ74
1082
AJ
QJ32
Eugene
A10863
J6
Q108
985
South
952
KQ943
72
764
D

With the heart length not having an entry (not surprising based on theauction), the defense was doomed. Best defense would have been to cashtwo hearts then shift to a spade, to give declarer a guess when in with the A. But at the table, the defense cashed two hearts and then shiftedto a club instead, which caused my partner no problems. The other table didn't bid their 23-HCP "game". We were able touse this board plus some other good positions to blitzBERKOWITZfor thefull 20 VP.

Next, we played theSHERMANteam, the last top seed we had yet to play. The pivotal hand of the match involved an opening bid decision:

South
KQJ1052
AQ1064
32
W
N
E
S
P
P
?

I chose to open the hand 1, because holding both majors, it felt that letting the enemy in wasn't as important as getting partner's cooperation in picking the best trump suit. LHO overcalled 2 and it was passed back to me. I now got the hearts on the table with 2, and was surprised to hear partner jump in diamonds:

South
KQJ1052
AQ1064
32
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
P
P
2
P
4
P
?

What's this? A diamond splinter by my passed-hand partner? Did the opponents really hold 12 diamonds between them? I found that hard to believe.

I eventually decided that whatever 4 was, it wasn't good for my hand. So I signed off in 4. The K was led, and partner tabled:

Dummy
K9832
AJ1032
J108
Eugene
KQJ1052
AQ1064
32
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
P
P
2
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

A good spot! I won the A, pitching a club, drew trump in 2 rounds ending in hand, and then ruffed out the A. I was then able to ruff back to hand to discard 3 clubs on the spades. Even though spades broke 2-5, I had enough trump to get to 13 tricks (4 spade winners, 8 tricks from hearts, and 1 diamond). At the other table, a top expert opened 4 with my hand and played it there. The 2-5 spade break resulted in spades playing 6 tricks worse than hearts -- down 3, +150 vs. +510 for 12 surprising IMPs that helped us to another solid win worth 15 VP. JoAnna later explained to me that 4 had to be something like this, a hand with good hearts and short spades. She didn't bid initially because she was hoping for a reopening double which she could convert for penalties.

In the last match, we played our fellow Bridge Winners admins Greg Humphreysand Adam Parrish. Despite their team being clearly out of contention, in away, they were the worst possible draw for us, as they would be sure to play ushard for internal company bragging rights. As we sat down, Adam was excitedly telling me how he had psyched a cue-bid of 4 on the 6-5 majors hand. This allowed them to reach 6 and score up +1010 when the defense didn't cash their top clubs. Then the boards arrived and Ifaced the following problem:

East
KQJ97
J108
Q
AKQ10
W
N
E
S
1
?

Adam, on my right, opened 1 at favorable. With Adam's psych story fresh in my head, I smelled a rat, but luckily, JoAnna and I haddiscussed this situation. I passed, and saw Gregrespond 1NTsemi-forcing. Two passes to me, and I doubled for penalty. The auctioncontinued:

East
KQJ97
J108
Q
AKQ10
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
P
X
2
P
P
?

What would double by me be? What would double by partner have been? Alas,nobody discusses second-round competitive auctions when forming a pickup partnership.

I guessed to double, figuring that partner would probably be able to tellwhat was up from her hand. All passed.

Luckily for me, the full deal was:

Joanna
54
AK7
86432
J82
Adam
A10862
Q4
A10
9753
Eugene
KQJ97
J108
Q
AKQ10
Greg
3
96532
KJ975
64
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
P
P
X
2
P
P
X
P
P
P
D
2X South
NS: 0 EW: 0

On the trump lead, declarer took 6 tricks (4 top diamonds, spade ace, and aspade ruff) for -300. This proved to be worth an 11-IMP pickup when my teammate Jason passed the North cards and the othertable reached 4 doubled, down 1. While 4-X is makable, it would require dropping the doubleton Q. (Editor's note: as pointed out in the comments, some other matches were able to scramble ten tricks in spades by testing clubs after discovering the foul trump break.)

We were able to ride that result to a solid 14 VP win. Having won 5 of the6 matches on the second day, all by nice margins, we ended up 3rd in the RoundRobin, a nice comeback from 11th. Sadly, our good performance rewarded us withjust a small move up the seeding charts to become the #11 seed. When DIAMOND, the winner of the Round Robin, reshuffled to get out of the half of the bracket containing the dangerous NICKELLteam, they ended up reshuffling with the #6 seed, and we had to play original #4 DIAMONDin the Round of 16. Wewould be in for the fight of our lives.

(to be continued)

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