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Flin Flon 2: The North Remembers
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And... We're Back

Few things compare with the joy of the unexpected return of a favorite experience. At the end of my last trip to the Flin Flon sectional, the tournament organizers opined that the sectional might not happen again, as it’s a lot of work to put together. Buz and his cohorts try to create a complete experience with planned social gatherings, lots of food and drink, and housing arrangements for all travelers (which, given the tournament’s remote location, is the majority of participants). Doing all of this requires sponsorship from local businesses and considerable logistical efforts on Buz’s part. A year came and went without a Flin Flon sectional, and I had made peace with my understanding that this great tournament would be a treasured memory I would not repeat.

Therefore, when McKenzie told me that the tournament was going to happen again after a two-year hiatus, I nearly broke my keyboard and mouse trying to book plane tickets as quickly as possible. This time it was no longer a trip into the great unknown; it was a return to a personal favorite, and I was even happier to learn that McKenzie had convinced our mutual friends Max and Dee to join us. The three of them coordinated with several other friends from the Pacific Northwest to meet in Saskatoon and make the 600 kilometer (roughly 3 miles, at least based on my rudimentary understanding of the metric system) drive from Saskatoon to Flin Flon.

Life and work continue to interfere with my desires to spend many, many hours crammed into cars with friends, and I was eager to accumulate some sweet frequent flyer miles, so I booked the CHO-ATL-MSP-YWG-MSP-LGA-CHO round trip on Delta, and the YWG-YFO-YWG round trip on my favorite Manitoba-based airline, Calm Air.

Of course, arranging travel far in advance is not without its hazards. As it turned out, long after booking my flights, I found I had occasion to be in Horn Lake immediately before this trip, and when I tried to rearrange my Delta flight so I didn’t have to fly home MEM-ATL-CHO and immediately turn around and get back on another flight, the change fee proved exorbitant, so I was all set to pop in and out of the small Charlottesville airport, spending only a few hours at home in between. Then weather in Atlanta made my brief trip home delayed, delayed, and more delayed, and finally I asked Delta if they could just combine my trips out of pity. They did, so I flew to Atlanta after a four-hour delay and spent the night at the home of Tom and Jenni Carmichael. Although I was able to avail myself of their laundry facilities, I hadn’t packed nearly enough clothes for my brief trip to ACBL Headquarters to cover the full five days I would be in Canada, so I bought a bunch of new clothes at the PGA store in the Memphis airport, donned a kilt, and headed north.

Up In The Air

Nothing particularly noteworthy happened on my flights, except that I kept getting stopped at security checkpoints and having my bags searched, which is very rare for me (I fly a lot). It turned out that the culprit was the two large boxes of spare joker cards that I had swiped from ACBL Headquarters (they were just going to throw them away, and I’m sure I or my kids can find a good use for them). The TSA agents understandably didn’t recognize the X-ray signature of a couple thousand playing cards, and when they opened the boxes and looked through them, their curiosity was not immediately satisfied. Eventually they decided that it would be quite difficult to commandeer a plane using nothing but jokers, so they let me go.

When I arrived in Winnipeg and had to go through passport control, the Canadian border agent had a LOT of questions for me. Why was I wearing a kilt (because it’s awesome, duh)? What do I do for a living? Did I consider daily fantasy sports to be gambling (I am not making that question up)? What was I doing in Winnipeg (catching another flight to Flin Flon for a bridge tournament)? Where is my partner (driving 600km from Saskatoon to Flin Flon)? Where was my partner from? Why did I know the precise distance from Saskatoon to Flin Flon (because of Facebook). Did we have teammates? How did a team of such geographically dispersed people play bridge together? Did we play online? On what sites? Did I have any hobbies outside of bridge? Were we good bridge players (I wasn’t really sure how to handle this one)? Had I ever played bridge professionally? Poker? What kinds of prizes would the tournament be offering? Had I ever been to Flin Flon before? Would we be playing as a team of four the whole weekend or would there be pair or individual contests? Honestly, I thought this guy was going to ask me how to safety play A9xx opposite KJxx for three tricks before he believed that I wasn’t up to no good.

After passing the most detailed and specific security screening I’ve ever encountered, I headed to the Calm Air desk to check in and go back through a metal detector. The buckles on my kilt set the thing off and I was asked if I had anything metal in my pockets. Instead of just saying no, I made the mistake of saying “I don’t have any pockets,” which started a whole barrage of new questions and a third round of bag searches, which included the priceless phrase “Sir, can you explain all these jokers?” I laughed, but the agent did not find any of this funny. Inside, I thought “Can you explain all these jokers” might be a good lead-in to an expert panel on the 2016 US Presidential election, but I decided not to bring that up, and I hear we’re not supposed to be discussing politics on Bridge Winners.

Calm Air proved to be just as delightful as I remembered. Plenty of room, smooth flying, great scenery. The flight attendant chatted me up for an hour about how much she “loved men in kilts,” and told me all about the Manitoba tartans, both hunting and formal. She said that the formal tartan had white in it to represent the snow, and I said (as a joke, I swear), “Oh, do you get a lot of snow up here?” The flight attendant and the nice lady next to me exchanged a glance and said, “You’re not from around here, are you?” I admitted that I was not. Then the flight attendant brought a tray of gigantic, fresh homemade cookies. This marked the first time in my life that I had turned down homemade cookies (I’m trying to be less corpulent), but the hospitality wasn’t unappreciated.

My flight landed in Flin Flon too late for me to make the Thursday club game, so only Dee picked me up at the airport, as Max and McKenzie elected to play the club game. We made it back to the club around the third round, and I kibitzed McKenzie paying with George Trevor (Buz’s son). They finished in the overalls!

McKenzie attempts to get in bed

As we drove back to our accommodations, I was informed that the place we were staying was “a little smaller” than last time and that, among other things, McKenzie and I would be sharing a bunk bed. They were not kidding. I thought about how much this would amuse my two kids, and called bottom bunk.

It was comforting to see that the eleven billion trillion skillion mosquitoes that were here in 2014 were still here, and armed with three cans of foul-smelling bug spray and a frustratingly difficult-to-light citronella candle, we fell asleep eager to unleash some good old fashioned USA whoop-ass on these poor unsuspecting Canucks.

Three Sessions on Friday? You Betcha

Because the tournament (and indeed everyone in Denare Beach) observes Central Time despite actually being in the Mountain time zone, I failed to set an alarm properly for the 9AM game, but fortunately my roommates were more astute and shook me awake with just enough time to cover myself in weapons-grade bug repellent and grab coffee. I was going to play with Max most of the weekend, as we needed some practice before our upcoming back-to-back wins in the LM Pairs and Spingold in DC. You heard it here first.

Our first test was a one-session IMP pairs. I’m not sure either of us realized that it was IMP pairs until a few rounds in! Not much happened in the IMP pairs, other than Max and I getting a bunch of system stuff wrong and generally making mistakes to finish well below zero.

A simple ethical test on an early hand:

Greg
A853
Q
K10753
J109

At favorable, my partner opened 1 strong, and my RHO overcalled 1. Given the colors, I should probably just pass and try to trap 1, but I decided to bid 1NT instead, intending it as natural. Max thought that we had agreed to play systems on over 1 overcalls, so he alerted 1NT and explained it as showing 5+ spades and 12+ HCP, neither of which I had. He then “raised” to 2. Since I have to ignore his alert and explanation, I raised HIS spades to 3, which got a 4 cue bid from partner. Our style is that we can cuebid first- or second-round controls below game, but I realized that I wasn’t sure if it was okay to cuebid king-fifth of a suit that had been overcalled by the opponents. I tried 4 and immediately regretted it, as if partner WAS staring at two losers in diamonds, that would almost surely mean that the opponents would be getting a diamond ruff on defense. Partner now bid 4 last-train-to-disaster, and I felt that I had nothing else to show, so I tried to sign off with 4, but partner bid 5NT pick-a-slam. As much as I wanted to pass this, I haven’t had a lot of success in the past passing pick-a-slam, and partner WAS unlimited, so I picked the “obvious” 6. Well, since I had nothing really resembling my bids, this didn’t make. My opponents thanked me for not just trying to drive to 3NT after the explanation, and I contemplated what a sad world it is where you have to compliment someone for not cheating.

Our very low good-things-happening to bad-things-happening ratio resulted in a final score of -15.15 which, unsurprisingly, wasn’t in the overalls, but we had renewed confidence in our system understandings. Max received this SWEET Calm Air hat as a door prize:

Domestic Match Points

The local eatery provided a really nice catered lunch for the entire tournament, and Max and I sat down for the second pair game, now a matchpoint event. We made sure to check the form of scoring before we started the first round.

On our second round, I picked up this promising hand:

Greg
Kx
AKQJxxxx
x
Kx
W
N
E
S
2
3
4
P
P
P

A club got led and my RHO cashed two minor-suit aces for +450, which turned out to be a pretty bad score as many players didn’t overcall 3 and received a diamond lead, which caused at least some Easts to try to cash the Ace-King of diamonds first, giving up 12 tricks.

Long, solid suits quickly became the theme of the tournament. A few rounds later:

Greg
A1083
9
AKQ9874
10
W
N
E
S
1
1
2
2
3
P
3NT
P
?

Well, I really stuck it to myself here by not bidding 2 (or possibly 3) on the previous round (or just opening a strong club?). Obviously I hadn’t done justice to the trick-taking potential of this hand yet, so I tried 4NT, hoping that Max would reason that a limited hand wouldn’t make a move towards slam in this auction without a significant source of tricks. Max now produced the unexpected bid of 5, which I was not able to decipher at the table. It turned out that Max thought I had a long diamond suit and club tolerance, and I wanted him to pick a minor, which is probably a reasonable guess, and I certainly can’t blame partner for not being psychic. Still, I didn’t know what was going on, so I just guessed to bid 6, which was doomed except that my LHO decided to lead a spade away from Kxx, and I caught QJ xxx Jx AJxxxx in dummy, so I was able to ruff my spades good and claim.

The XCBL

I’ve long had a fantasy of starting the Xtreme Contract Bridge League, a full-contact, no-rules version of tournament bridge. While this is just a thought experiment, the Friday evening zip Swiss is the closest I’ve seen. It follows the normal midnight knockout format found at most NABCs, except it’s at 9pm, and it’s a Swiss. 5 minutes a board, ZERO restrictions on conventions. Max became my teammate (with his wife Dee), and McKenzie and I resurrected the Please Lord Let Me Hold Balanced Hands system that we unleashed on Flin Flon two years prior:

1: 8-10 balanced

1: 11-13 balanced

1: 14-16 balanced

1: 17-19 balanced

1NT: Any one-suiter

2: 20-22 balanced

2: 23+ balanced

2NT: Any two-suited

Most responses are either transfers or pass/correct in nature. There’s almost no way to find 4-4 fits, but this isn’t really about getting to the right contract as much as it is about “horseshit,” to quote our third-round opponent.

Our teammates were playing “Phantom Club,” one of my personal favorites, where you pretend that your RHO has opened 1 and bid accordingly, using a 1 opener as a “takeout double” to show either any big hand or an opening hand with support for both majors (playing equal-level conversion, of course). Normally it takes a little tweaking to make Phantom Club GCC legal*but this was of no concern in this event.

This setup proved absolutely unstoppable. The bar had opened around 1pm (yes, unlimited wine and beer available at the playing site starting at the beginning of the afternoon game), and while at dinner at the local lodge I had also discovered the life-changing “Caesar” drink which I believe is basically a Bloody Mary made with Clamato instead of tomato juice. My weight-loss plans were sliding backwards, and I had had way too much to drink to record any hands, but this one stands out in my memory to illustrate just how unstoppable our team was:

Drunk Greg
109xxx
xxxx
Axx
A

Well, I like bidding more than I like passing, so I slipped a spade into my club suit and opened 1, 8-10 balanced. My LHO bid 1, and McKenzie bid a natural 1 (relieved to be able to show a 4 card suit for once!). Well I didn’t open this hand to play a 9 card fit in a part score, so I produced the systemically impossible 4 rebid as a (very) limited passed hand, and McKenzie had this play “problem”:

Sad Mac
AQxx
xx
xxx
QJxx
Drunk Greg
109xxx
xxxx
Axx
A
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
1
P
4
P
P
P

After thanking me politely for the dummy, McKenzie won the diamond lead with the ace, unblocked the A,finessed a spade, took a successful ruffing finesse in clubs, cashed the A (drawing trump), pitched a diamond on the club winner, and claimed. Shockingly, our counterparts at the other table took no calls with our cards, so our teammates declared 2 and drifted one off for a highly unexpected win.

When all was said and done, we won all four matches and ran away with the event, proving once again you don’t need to play good bridge, have good agreements, or have any sober team members to win. You are, however, required to place the contract card on your forehead when you hold it:

* In the GCC,2 opening asMichaelsis a no-no, so we would usually play weak 2, and using 1M-2 as a “cue bid” amounts toDruryby an us passed hand, another no-no, so we would usually use 1M-2m as “better minor limit raise+” so it’s natural-ish.

Okay, Let's Get Serious

Saturday is the main event: a two-session pairs game, typically followed by a boat ride on the lake. Sadly the operator of the large boat had unexpectedly canceled at the last minute, but the staff at the lodge had graciously agreed to host the entire tournament for a second night in a row for all-you-can-eat pickerel and chips, so we had that to look forward to.

Max and I buckled down for some serious practice. On our second board, I was declaring 4, and my LHO faced this defensive problem (rotated -- click Next until you're at trick 3):

Lho
AKQ64
J85
K72
103
Max
108
7
Q954
AKQJ84
Rho
Greg
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
2
2
P
P
3
P
4
P
P
P
D
2
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
A
8
2
7
0
0
1
K
10
3
9
0
0
2
2

West is now at the critical point in the hand. She chose to shift to a club, which was not the winning defense; my hand was xx AKQTxx Jxx xx. This is actually a pretty complex defensive problem; a club shift could easily be right if I have a singleton club, or if she's somehow able to get a trump promotion with the Jxx of trumps. Perhaps a pair with good defensive agreements might have even been able to suggest or dissuade the club shift with their carding to the first two tricks.

What my LHO said, though, was very telling. She wondered, to the whole table:

How could I know that my partner had the ace of diamonds?

Bridge, like life, rarely has certainties. Sure, sometimes you can claim, or sometimes your partner gives you a signal that solves all your problems, but a lot of the time, you have to deal with unknowns. You always want to choose the play that will work most often. (A corollary of this is a mantra I keep trying to teach my kids: You should always do something that MIGHT work, as opposed to something that CAN’T). I haven't analyzed this deal to figure out what the most profitable trick-three switch is, but I do know that there's no magic fairy that will tell me if my partner holds the diamond ace, so there's no avoiding the messy subject of probability.

This sort of thinking is very hard for lots of people, and it leads them to make serious mistakes in the name of caution. It pays great dividends to practice expected-value-based logic. I've often seen beginners lead low towards an ace-queen, and then play the ace because "they know it will win." For the same reason that defenders often cash their tricks early, newer players prefer certainty to uncertainty, even when the uncertainty is never worse than the certainty.

Full Disclosure

About halfway through the session, as East, I picked up:

Greg
986542
95
94
J106
W
N
E
S
P
1
X
1
P
1
2
P
P
P

Since partner didn’t alert, I had a feeling that he might have real spades (normally 1 would show three-card support), but I certainly can’t act on that information, and I’m okay defending 2 when I have a 1-count opposite a limited partner. I can’t inform the opponents of the failure to alert until after the hand, since I’m defending. I led a spade, and the declarer very quickly took all 13 tricks. I tried to tell my RHO (and partner) that my 1 bid was artificial and showed spades, but RHO was upset about playing his grand slam in a part score, and seemed not to really be processing what I was saying (they also had a big heart fit). He was mostly concerned with his partner’s pass of his power double holding three controls and a 9-count, and although he acknowledged my statement that there had been a failure to alert, he didn’t really want to do anything but talk to his partner about bidding over power doubles. McKenzie told me later that I’m required to call the director in addition to informing the opponents, but I didn’t know that. Live and learn. I did feel bad about “stealing” this result somehow, but mostly I think the damage was caused by my LHO’s failure to bid with 9 points over a power double, so I didn’t feel too bad.

The Most Important Round Of All

This was the only session in which our teammates sat a different direction from us in a pair game, so we got to play against them for two boards only. On the first board, this happened:

Greg
109754
Q9
KJ10973
W
N
E
S
P
1
2
2
P
3
P
4
X
4
P
5
X
5
P
P
X
P
P
XX
P
P
P

Partner had doubled two club cue-bids (did the second one cancel the lead-directing nature of the first?), so I led a club. Dummy was huge:

Dee
6
K10732
AK10963
Q
But my partner won the club ace and couldn’t help but come to the AJ as well for down one and a very sad +400 (double sad, really, because it’s not enough of a calamity to get the Cat’s Ass trophy). We noticed, though, that 5 is cold! We lose no clubs (partner has Ace FIFTH and never mentioned that), the heart finesse is on, I have no diamonds, and so we only have two spades to lose. So in a strange way it was a good save against our unbiddable +600, maybe.

Our opponents for the remainder of the day were far from perfect, and we ended up with 63%; not quite enough to lead the field but with lots more bridge to play it felt pretty good.

Don't Fight With Partner

After more fantastic catered food from the lodge, we continued fighting for the coveted two-session pair trophies. In just our second round, a valuable and often repeated lesson reared its head:

Greg
AKJ53
AKJ742
4
9

I don’t like starting two-suited hands with a strong club, but I felt that this hand was just too good to do much else. Max and I aren’t a regular partnership and we don’t have solid agreements about reverses and/or jump shifts by opener, so I didn’t relish the idea of starting this hand with 1 and trying to catch up. Max’s response was both good and bad news: 2 showing 12+ HCP and 5+ clubs. 2 is clear now, and Max, not unexpectedly, produced 3. Misfits are awful to deal with, and there is almost no chance we have a spade fit. I probably should have slammed on the brakes and just bid 3NT now, even though there’s little chance Max will pass it. At the table, though, I showed my spades, and Max bid 4, suggesting pretty strongly that his shape is 1=1=5=6 (his clubs must be longer, and if were only 4-6, he probably would have picked one of my suits.). Now I can either bid 4 and let Max think I’m 6-4 in the majors, or bid 4, completing my shape, but passing 4 as a possible final spot forever. I chose 4, cursing myself for digging this hole in the first place, and Max leapt precipitously to 5NT (pick-a-slam). Again fighting the urge to pass this, I picked 6, and there we were. The contract didn’t have NO play, but in practice it drifted two off.

Normally one doesn’t expect to get a good result for bidding a slam and going down two, but -100 was actually 7 out of 15 match points, proving that misfits are terribly hard for most partnerships to handle, as each partner keeps trying to insist on one of their two suits. It’s important to combine the desire to fully describe your hand with the need to re-evaluate the playing strength of your hand as the auction progresses, and both of us had failed that test here.

Here you can see that even a few boards later, Max was still unhappy with that result.

Just A Wee Swing

As promised, solid suits would become a theme of the week. Two rounds later I held:

Greg
A1097
AKQ109843
2
W
N
E
S
1
1NT
2
P
3
P
5NT
P
?

Well, I DO only have a 15 count, but with 9 tricks in hand, and partner blasting slam not knowing that, I decided to just bid a grand, and I picked 7 (who knows, maybe he would have to ruff a round of hearts in his hand). This immediately got doubled by my LHO, and my partner started to think. Eventually being unwilling to try 7NT, partner just took his chances in 7 doubled.

Of course, my LHO is void in hearts, but how is my poor RHO supposed to figure that out looking at three small? Why would we have a 10-card heart fit? She led from her 6-card club suit, and partner quickly claimed. +2470 was a good result, and the lead on this hand was a 2670 point swing. We submitted the score to the selection committee for the Cat’s Ass, but they felt that while the result was a disaster, no one did anything unreasonable on the hand, so it didn’t qualify.

A bunch of good things happened after that (opponents balancing when we tried to play a partscore and going for 500, opponents playing their cold slam in a partial, etc.), and a smaller number of bad things happened (a system mix-up making us freely bid to 3NT with 12 opposite 8 and no fit, which didn’t make), so when all the smoke cleared we had a 65% in the evening and won the event by a little over half a board.

I was hoping for more of those incredible solid nickel trophies that Buz had made last time, but sadly those were nowhere to be found. Sensing my disappointment, though, Buz gave Max and me two beautiful polished rocks from his own collection (Buz’s background is in the mining industry): two matching semi-circles cut from a core of copper and zinc extracted by a very large drill. They’re quite heavy.

A combination of insufficient sleep and several more of those Caesar drinks at the lodge to go with the fantastic fish made me take a short nap around 8pm, and next thing I knew it was game time on Sunday. I gather that my teammates went to Buz’s house to hang out and drink more moonshine, but I was getting the most out of my bottom bunk.

Road to Victory

Sunday was a Swiss: 6 rounds of 9 boards each. Max returned to play with his wife at the other table, and McKenzie and I agreed to play two systems: Precision when the opponents are vulnerable, and 2/1 when they’re not (the theory being that opponents love to bid over a strong club, so we want to make it less safe for them to do so). Of course, it turns out that the opponents at this tournament just bid over a strong club all the time, so I don’t think this approach was particularly effective, but it certainly raised my blood pressure a fair amount. Opening 2 in this structure is especially stressful as the bid has such disparate meanings in the two systems, there’s really no recovering. I’m glad to report that we had zero which-system-are-we-playing mixups in 54 boards.

Whenever I play bridge, I feel like about once a day I say, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that auction before.” On our second board, this:

Mac
J8542
A8
K74
432
Greg
AQ95
KJ732
Q2
87
W
N
E
S
1
2
X
2NT
3
P
P
3NT
P
P
4
P
P
P

My LHO led two top clubs, with RHO having a singleton (clubs are 7-1). It seemed odd that LHO, holding 7 solid clubs, didn't bid 3NT himself. LHO now shifted to a diamond, which went to the ten and my queen. Having three guaranteed minor-suit losers, I had to make sure I could play trumps for 5 tricks. I crossed to the ace of hearts and led the jack of spades, with RHO covering (the king is known to be onside from RHO’s notrump bids) and LHO following small. Now I have to decide if the trumps are 2-2, in which case I can basically claim, or whether I need to re-enter dummy to pick up RHO’s remaining 10x. I decided on the latter, because I felt that K10x was a more attractive stopper, and also with clubs being 7-1 LHO seemed more likely to have a stiff spade. Unfortunately when I now played the king of hearts and a heart, trying to ruff in dummy, LHO ruffed the heart with the ten and played another diamond for down one.

The other table got to 4 as well, and the defense was card-for-card the same until the third round of hearts. My teammate, holding the stiff ten of spades, lost concentration and discarded on the heart. Of course, this is a pure Grosvenor, as now declarer was 100% convinced that spades were 3-1, so he finessed into the singleton ten and we pushed the board in somewhat spectacular fashion.

Later in this match I tried an Ogust bid with few HCP but four-card support for partner’s preempt, which caused the opponents to defend 5-X for 300 instead of bidding their cold grand. We had won by 13.

In our second match, despite doubling an unbeatable 3 for -530, we also won by 13, putting us out in front of the field but with lots of bridge to play.

More Solid Suits

In the middle of round 3, I picked up this lovely hand:

Greg
Q6
K
94
AKQJ8754

I opened a strong club and heard the rare response of 2, which shows 14+ HCP balanced. After contemplating what to do for a while (my only descriptive bid available here would be 3 showing 5+ clubs), I eventually decided to bid 4 as 1430 Gerber. McKenzie stared at this for a while (we are not a regular partnership so our agreements are pretty flimsy), and bid 4, presumably showing one ace. Well, that’s definitely not enough, so I tried to sign off in 4NT. Now McKenzie bid 5, and I had no idea what that meant, but I did feel like now was the time to get around to mentioning my solid suit, so I bid 6, which passed out. Partner had both red aces and the king of spades (and some jacks), so this was also cold. Between our counterparts stopping in 3NT on this hand, our teammates getting 800 against a white game, and a couple of smaller swings, we had an almost blitz going into lunchtime.

The Cat's Ass Lifetime Achievement Award

After three rounds, an announcement was made about the 2016 Cat's Ass trophy. Ordinarily, this would be given to the pair who had the biggest disaster at the tournament, but it was decided that there had been no sufficiently large accidents over the weekend to justify awarding the trophy for anything that had happened. Instead, the committee had determined that Buz Trevor should be given an "Honorary Lifetime Cat's Ass Achievement Award" for a long, storied life of messing stuff up at the bridge table.

In addition to being a tremendous host, Buz is a fascinating guy. He was born in what was then North Rhodesia (now Zambia) in the city of Mbala, and learned to play bridge as a young boy at boarding school. Buz's academic training is in geology, which brought him and his wife Sarah to Flin Flon in 1981 to work for the Hudson Bay Mining Company. In 2003, he retired as Hudbay's chief geologist, but not wanting to settle down, he moved to Mongolia to help the locals set up and operate a number of old abandoned Soviet mines. Like ya do.

The Trevor family is a force in the northern Manitoba bridge scene; his mother Betty was a fine player, and (as discussed earlier) his son George managed to drag McKenzie into the overalls at the local club game.

Since Flin Flon is a little less hospitable in the winter, Buz and Sarah are about to head down to Mexico for the tenth year in a row, where Buz will be chairing the Mazatlan Sectional January 19-22, 2017.

After the award presentation, we were able to capture this rare photograph of many of the past Cat's Ass winners. I'm very proud to be part of this elite group.

If you take a close look at the existing trophy, you can see that the placeholder for the plaque commemoratingmy misadventure from last time has a nonsense "swing" value, which I think is pretty great. It's like the trophy is having its own little accident:

Finishing Strong

As we were pre-alerting our multiple systems to the opponents in round 4, McKenzie said that we hadn’t yet had a strong-club auction. I reminded him that in fact I had opened a strong club with 8 solid clubs earlier in the day, and he said, “Oh yeah, right,” and then I fanned my cards to see:

Greg
A94
64
AKQJ9864
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
1
2
2
3
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

Yikes! I promise I hadn’t peeked. This auction went a little more simply than last time (I gave some thought to passing this hand initially and trying to walk it into 4-X or something, but last time I did that Ida told me to cut it out, so I’m trying to be good.) This proved to be a nice win when 10 tricks was the limit of the hand (partner has a doubleton spade and 10xx) and our counterparts couldn’t stop bidding.

We also bid a couple of games that our opponents didn’t, which was enough to make up for this:

Greg
96
K942
10986
1092
W
N
E
S
1
P
?

I decided to just pass 1 before things got out of hand, and McKenzie stole a trick to only go -200. Of course he had opened some substandard balanced 11, so our teammates had the auction to themselves and, finding a major suit fit and 26 combined high card points, couldn’t stay out of an unmakable game. Whoops. Still, we were now 4-0 and well ahead of the field.

Old Rivals

In round 5, we played against the pair that handed us the -2800 that had won us the Cat’s Ass two years ago. After two games and a slam, this:

Greg
AJ
KQ84
KQJxxx
x
W
N
E
S
1
1
3NT
P
?

After a while I decided that this hand was just way too good to pass, and rather than just limp around with 4NT I decided to bid 5NT pick-a-slam, because it had been working so well all weekend (I know this is an awful bid). Partner tried 6NT, which got doubled on my left.

A spade got led, and McKenzie couldn’t avoid the loss of the two minor-suit aces. Amazingly, a club lead actually beats 3NT, since all we have is Kxx opposite my singleton club! We truthfully weren’t trying to repeat our disaster, especially since the Cat’s Ass was already spoken for.

In spite of this calamity, we held on to win our 5th match in a row (9th if you count the drunk zip Swiss!) by 9, and we almost had the Swiss locked up. When we looked at the leaderboard with one to go, and the masterpoint list, Max and I realized that if we won the Swiss, and the pair that was ahead of us on the masterpoint list came fourth or worse, that we would win the tournament. We could only control the former outcome, so we went into round 6 looking for blood.

Bridge Winners

I must have been nervous, because I did something very dumb on the first board:

Greg
7
J83
AK43
J6543
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
X
3
P
4
4
?

Partner is showing a hand that is substantially improved by my spade splinter and is suitable for slam. Having already forced to game with an absolute minimum with no spots, it’s mandatory for me to double here to let partner know that we should probably just take a piece of 4 instead of trying to take 11 tricks. Stupidly I passed, not thinking about the fact that this was forcing and probably was a slam try of my own, and partner finally showed his hand with 5. This went down one and we were going to destroy 4.

So, with my partner already on edge, I made sure he had a heart attack on the very next board:

Greg
KQ7
952
1095
AKQ3
W
N
E
S
1
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
4NT
P
5
P
5
P
5
P
?

I wasn’t really thinking about not bidding a slam here, but which one? If partner’s hearts are AKxxx he might just be at the mercy of 3-2 hearts while we have 12 tricks on power, and I’m really not ruffing anything, so I bid 6NT. The opponents led a diamond, and it turns out that partner’s diamonds are just Axx. His hearts were AKJxx, so he closed his eyes and took the heart finesse, which held. He also had a singleton club opposite my AKQx, so 6 was in no danger even if the finesse lost. A very, very nervous +1470 for a push. I promised to tone it down a little.

We then started picking up 6 IMPs or so on every single board (except for our phantom save on the final one), so we won the last round as well to go undefeated and finish with 88 victory points out of a possible 120, about 12 VPs ahead of second place. More importantly, though, the pair that was leading us in masterpoints had a miserable day and finished 6th, so Max and I had won the tournament! Our team was given these delicious bottles of wine as prizes:

We shared our bounty with the other players at Buz’s house after the Swiss during a homemade feast of chicken skewers, salad, two kinds of pie, ice cream, homemade beer, apple pie moonshine stuff that’s just incredible, and countless stories about bridge up north. We couldn’t stay as late as we would have liked because we had to get up quite early for the crew to be able to make the drive back to Saskatoon to catch their flight. I hung out at the Flin Flon airport for a couple of hours writing this article, and so far have had no hiccups in my return trip (as of this writing I’ve only made it to Minneapolis, so I still have two flights to go).

Requiem

Buz swears that this is going to be the last Flin Flon sectional, but he said that last time, and I remain hopeful that we’ll be able to come back and defend our championship in a couple of years. The only other tournament I’ve ever attended that really compares with this one is the Bermuda Regional, which is full of fun-loving people and lots of free-flowing rum, black-tie events, and really nice prizes. This one, though, has an extra sense of community that I haven’t found anywhere else; I’d imagine that if ten years from now we ran into anyone we met here, we’d have a place to stay, unlimited food and drink, and an infinity of stories. We all know more than a few tournament bridge players who are grumpy, self-centered, condescending jerks. I haven’t met any of those people at the Flin Flon tournament; maybe they tried to come once and the mosquitoes ate them alive.

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