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Tales from the New England Individual
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Once upon a time, there were 170+ tables in play at the New England Individual Tournament (the Bill and Ethel Keohane Individuals to give them their proper titles). This year, the last, we had 47 and, I think, 43 tables in play.

I really had a lot of fun. Much more, to be honest, than I really expected. Many Bridge Winners contributors were there and it was a pleasure to meet them and all the other very well-behaved competitors. Twice in one session I had the pleasure of sitting across from Peter Matthews. No, this was not the fault of the bridge-mates. We have two good bridge players and directors in our area, both with that name.

It's well known that the results in an Indy are hard to estimate. You just cannot tell what foolishness is going to happen at the other tables. On each day, I over-estimated my first session score by about 10% and under-estimated my second by the same amount. So, it all worked out. I would note, however, that the craziness is simply not in the same league as in online individual tournaments. Or maybe I just got lucky and didn't meet too many center-hand-opponents that were sabotage artists.

One story I heard (twice) was that a player opened 4NT (Blackwood). The partner of this person thought that transfers were in effect and, with five hearts, bid 5 (showing one ace). Opener bid the slam and went down.

Here's one of my favorites from my own experience. My RHO opened 1NT and after two passes, it went 1 by my partner (who hadn't seen the 1NT card). The director was called and, to cut a long story short, my partner passed and declarer forbade a diamond lead from me. I led a spade and at trick two, declarer played a diamond herself to my singleton Jack! Partner, with only one outside entry, had AKQx, declarer and dummy each having four. We ended up setting the contract, which should have made, for a good board.

My own record was not perfect, by any means. After 3 and 3/4 sessions of bridge in two days, I was declarer after this auction: 1 p 2 p 3 p 3NT. Dummy's spades were AKJxx and I had a void. Maybe I could establish dummy's J. I therefore called for a small spade and "ruffed" it with one of my six clubs. Oops! I made 9 tricks when of course most others else made 10. Like Mollo's Rabbit, I blame my partner for putting the clubs on the right!

Here's a tricky carding situation. You are seated across from someone you don't know but, given the clues from your discussion of conventions, you conclude is probably not a strong player. You also conclude, BTW, from your antennae listening to their discussion that your opponents are not the strongest either. Your LHO deals and opens 1, partner passes and RHO bids 1NT, swish. Your holding is Axx xxx xx KQT94. What do you lead? For better or worse, I decided to lead the K. Dummy comes down with Jxxx AKJx Axx 75. Yes, you read that correctly. Partner plays the 2 and declarer the 6. Now what? Am I headed for a self-inflicted Bath coup? Maybe. But my table feel says continue clubs. Undaunted, therefore, I lead the four to partner's Ace, declarer following with the 8. Partner now returns the 3 and declarer shows out. Yes, partner has not only discouraged me from leading my suit but she's done her level best to block it too! At this point, we are destined for +100 and a top. But partner mis-defends at the end and we get 50 for a 63% board.

For one round, I was sitting across from Steve Paxhia, one of our BW community. BWer Abraham Fisher was on my left, BTW. Here's one of those "what's this double?" type of auctions (none vul): p p 1 2; p 2 X 2; p 2 3 p; p X? I was the club/heart bidder and had I had the guts to leap to 6, I probably would have made it for a top with 920. But we got the same top for 500 when I passed out the double. Crazy hands. Now, on the second board, put yourself in Steve's unenviable shoes. Abe (now on your right) opens 1NT after three passes. After a transfer, they end up in 2. Your hand is Axxx KQ92 xx QTx and you decide to lead a small club. Dummy comes down with T JTxxx KJxx xxx. Partner wins the ace and returns a club won by declarer. The 8 now lands on the table. Do you pop ace? Steve didn't and who could really blame him? But I couldn't beat the ten :( and 2 made instead of going down one. Most other tables would likely have been playing 1 making two so we ended up with an average score. We had a good laugh about that!

There was one other close decision I had to make. Facing someone you barely know but judge to be an average club player, and at favorable vulnerability, you pick up in second seat 9x 8xxx Jxx 8xxx. Beautiful! RHO and you pass. LHO opens 1 and partner bids 2. It then goes 4 on your right which partner doubles. Your call? Answer below.

Finally, how do you handle this situation? AJT2 A9 A KQT875, second seat, R/W. You are facing me but you don't know anything about me other than that we've agreed to play 2/1. You open 1 and hear my response of 1. What now? My partner bid a somewhat optimistic 4NT to which I responded 5 (nada) (my hand was xxxx QTx, KQxx xx). One thing I've learned from playing individuals online is that sometimes you can get a good result when a contract is bad just by holding your loss to one trick when others might just give up and concede down two. I ended up going down one in 5 after some very careful play. This earned 5/11 because even 4 doesn't make against good defense.

On the previous hand I (outwardly) confidently bid 5 which they forgot to double. Our -150 was a top but -500 would I'm sure have been a very good board too. This is how crazy results occur.

It's a pity that the Individual has been retired. For the record, let me state some of the things that I think contributed to its demise (all my personal opinion of course):

  • When the KO (which earns far more masterpoints to the victors) was added, most of the really good players migrated to that; I don't know exactly when that event was added but I'm guessing it happened some time after the peak attendance which was somewhere in the 70s or early 80s I think.
  • Not making the event a qualifying event; apparently in the old days it was a qualifying event--again I don't know exactly when that changed. In a qualifying event, you would at least know that in the final session(s) you'd be partnering people who were reasonable players.
  • Given that there is no thinning of the field with qualification, the event could have been split into two events along A/X and B/C/D lines.
  • Not defining a standard convention card; bridge has plenty of scope for making errors already--why add to those opportunities things like people not playing transfers or using the wrong type of Blackwood, etc. (yes, you are allowed to look at partner's card in this event but that is so weird that most people never do it).
  • The general discouragement of individual events by the ACBL(see In the "No-one thought this mattered" department).
  • Of course, the aging and dwindling of the general bridge population has contributed its share.
  • And there were minor issues with the playing site but which apparently also were a factor.

One of these days perhaps there will be an NABC individual with everyone required to play a simple card as in the Cavendish events. If and when that happens, count me in!

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