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Philadelphia Nationals, Young LM Pairs
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I traveled to Philadelphia on Thursday for the Summer Nationals. My plan was to play the Young Life Master pairs (< 1500), the micro Spingold (< 1500), and the Roth Open Swiss. With any luck, we won't play in any regional events, but that's a big stretch as previous to this I've never made it to day 2 of any national event. Still, one can dream. Oh, and I wanted to make Silver Life Master, which is pretty much a gimme, since I was 8 points short the day I traveled to Philly.In all these events, I'll be playing with Randy Ryals, one of my most regular partners.

We started on on Friday in the LM pairs with a nice result, finishing a smidge under 60% to sit in 2nd overall. We then had a mediocre second session but were solidly placed to advance to day 2, a first!

The next day, we had a solid, but not stellar first session (53+%), and then another mediocre (~50%) session to leave us in 14th going into the finals. Sunday morning we had a nice first session (> 57%) to move us up to 7th.

But then disaster struck, and we had a horrible last session. We knew it was going to be a bad session, when on the first hand I bid out of turn playing for the first time against the young Jengs. My partner was barred from bidding and as opener had to pass. Righty bid 1 and I then had to guess at a contract with my minimum 1 opener. I chose the wrong bid, and we misseda cold game. On the next board, I made a horrible defensive error, and didn't hold onto the correct card in the end, having miscounted a suit. (Could you tell I was getting tired?) After deftly pushing the opponents into an unmakeable game, I let them make it! We recovered a bit, but were also beset by some bad luck, and wound up dropping down to 20th overall.

Regardless, it was a nice overall result, a first for both of us, and it was enough to get me my Silver Life Master!

One of the most interesting boards in the event came in the second session on day 1. The bidding started when my partner opened1NT, my RHOovercalled 3 and I doubled. Our agreement is that the first double is negative, but partner chose to leave it in. I led the J, and dummy came down as in the diagram below.

North
95
864
K1062
A873
East
Q6
KQJ
A9743
K94
W
N
E
S
1NT
3
X
P
P
P

Declarer played low. Before reading on, plan the defense. What's your next play?

My partner won the Aand then switched to the K. I discouraged with the 7,but he was worried that the hearts would go away. (In retrospect, I should have played the T to make it crystal clear... but I had some mistaken notion that I might need that card.) He played two more hearts, declarer ruffing the second. At this point they pulled trump and made their doubled contract for +630 and a bad board.

The whole hand is here:

West
432
A10752
J
QJ62
North
95
864
K1062
A873
East
Q6
KQJ
A9743
K94
South
AKJ1087
93
Q85
105
W
N
E
S
1NT
3
X
P
P
P
D
3X South
NS: 0 EW: 0

In fact, the J was a singleton, and the only defense to set the contract was to win the A as partner did, and then, after switching to a heart and getting discouragement, realize that the J was indeed a singleton, and shoot back a low diamond. I would then underlead my A to partner's Q to get another ruff for the setting trick.

It's certainly scary to send a diamond back at trick 2. Maybe it's a doubleton and I was stuck for a lead. However, if he considers that declarer played low to trick 1, it almost certainly marks declarer with the Q. Since that didn't appear on trick 1, it's likely that I have led a singleton. Still, it doesn't hurt to cash one heart first to see what's what before switching to the diamond if I discourage a heart continuation.

It was a difficult defense to find though. Our Mini-Spingold teammates were also playing in the same event, and their defense started with the same lead, but partner ducked the A when declarer played low. The result was the same.

The next morning, I talked to my teacher, Debbie Rosenberg about it, along with her husband Michael. Debbie then introduced me to Marty Fleisher and Barry Rigal, with whom we discussed the hand. They both considered that the J might be singleton from the opening lead, but said they'd probably try a heart switch first to see what I had to say, in case it was really a doubleton. We all walked out together, and met Eric Rodwell in the elevator and discussed the hand some more on the way down to the playing area.Where else but in this great sport can you discuss a thorny problem with the best of the best?

Wrapping up, I guess the moral is: it pays to think about unusual leads in these tricky situations where you're trying to find the killing defense. And listen carefully to what partner's signals are telling you before playing to the next trick.

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