Buzz for May 2009

First, some good news and bad news about our demographics, a snapshot from the ACBL as of March 31, 2009. As of that date, ACBL membership was 158,199. New England (District 25) had 7440 members, making us the sixth largest of the 25 districts. The largest district was Florida (District 9), with 17508 members, and the second largest was Georgia and the Carolinas (District 7), with 11522. America is an aging country, life expectancy is increasing, and bridge is doing well among seniors. Even with increases in table fees and other costs, bridge remains an inexpensive form of entertainment. The result is the good news that membership and attendance have been slowly increasing for several years, after prior years of decline.

The bad news is that the average age of ACBL members has risen to 68. District 25 is younger, averaging 67, and Florida is older, averaging 72. We're attracting retirees, but we aren't doing as well among the young. Beginner classes and top flight knockout fields are both filled with gray-haired people.

New England's 7440 members were distributed as follows among our eight units:

  Eastern MA    2982
  CT            2044
  ME             531
  RI             501
  NH             497
  VT             423
  Western MA     257
  Central MA     205

Here's a breakdown of our 7440 members by masterpoints:

  Rookie                    0-4    1247
  Junior Master            5-19     795
  Club Master             20-49    1093
  Sectional Master        50-99     919
  Regional Master       100-199     840
  NABC Master           200-299     461
  Life Master           300-499     281
  Bronze Life Master    500-999     819
  Silver Life Master  1000-2499     747
  Gold Life Master    2500-4999     171
  Diamond Life Master 5000-7499      42
  Emerald Life Master 7500-9999       7
  Platinum Life Master   10000+       6
  Grand Life Master      10000+      12
  (Grand Life Masters have won at least
  one national championship)
Note that 2083 of our District's members have attained life master status, and 5357 haven't yet.

I hope these facts dispel some myths. Contrary to gloomsters, bridge isn't going away any time soon. It remains a fascinating game, with endless variations unearthed by each shuffle, but it's time-consuming, so perhaps we are doomed to be most popular among retirees. Bridge is for those who play it, and I hope decision makers don't lose sight of the main goal - providing attractive entertainment for the players.

Buzz from North Falmouth

As usual, New England held its five-day Senior Regional at the excellent Seacrest Resort in North Falmouth, from April 29 through May 3, 2009. Also as usual, the two four-session knockouts drew the strongest fields. I had the pleasure of losing the final of the first one by eight imps. Both teams had opening lead chances here:

 West      H-104     East
 S-QJ6     D-KQ63    S-943
 H-K83     C-1052    H-J97652
 D-1092              D-975
 C-J863    South     C-9

 South    West       North    East
 -        -          -        P
 2C       P          2S       P
 3C       P          4C       P
 6C       P          P        P

 -        -          -        1H
 Double   2C         3S       P
 6S       P          P        P
At table one, 2S was a control response showing an ace and a king. West had a tough lead - a heart or club would be immediately fatal. West tried the spade queen, which looks OK, but wasn't. Declarer won his SK, cashed the CAKQ and DKAJ, then tossed West back in with the CJ, forcing him to either lead away from either the HK or SJ. Only a diamond opening lead defeats 6C - there's no squeeze.

At the other table, after East's feeble psychic 1H, West's 2C showed a constructive raise to 2H. East led his singleton club, but declarer won in dummy and played three rounds of trump. When they broke three-three, the last trump was available to ruff the clubs good. Only a heart lead would defeat 6S.

In the second knockout, my team lost in the semis. The winners were Bob Casey and Harris Jacobs of Worcester MA and Burton and Janet Gischner of Niantic CT. The Gischners won a big swing with this auction:


 South    West       North    East
 -        1H         Double   3H
 Double   P          4S       P
 5C       P          6C       P
 6S       P          P        P
South did well to use a responsive double and then make a slam try over 4S. Declarer scored 4 spades, 5 diamonds, a club, and two heart ruffs in dummy for 12 tricks. There was no defense with the trumps three-two. The other table stopped in game.

The majority of bridge deals require bread and butter good bids and plays, but during almost any session, there is a hidden gem. Ever the squeeze hound, I'll conclude with two deals from Falmouth I didn't play, both featuring variations of the trump squeeze. The key technique in trump squeezes is to run all the trumps but one, and very carefully count the cards, then decide which suit the defenders have left open to attack. Sometimes there's a guess at the end. The first deal was reported to me from an early round of one of the knockouts. Both sides were vul.


 South    West       North    East
 -        -          -        P
 1S       3D         3H       P
 4S       P          6S       P
 P        P
West led the DQ, East playing the D6, and declarer won her DA. Without a diamond ruff in dummy, there appear to be only 11 tricks even if the the trumps can be picked up. South could hope the diamonds were 6-2 and try ruffing one low in dummy. Or, she could try ruffing a diamond with the SA, then finessing the SJ. Both those lines are exceedingly risky. Nobody bid clubs, suggesting that West has secondary clubs along with six or seven diamonds, giving East most of the major suit cards. Suppose that any diamond ruff in dummy must fail, because West holds something like S-Q H- D-QJ109xxx C-Kxxxx. Can you see the trump squeeze?

Don't risk that diamond ruff. Instead, try to run all the trumps but one (if all follow low on the first and second spades, I recommend finessing the SJ), cash the DK, and keep top hearts and one club in dummy. Note the spade and diamond splits, and count the cards very carefully. Your last five cards are S-2 H-62 D-73 C-, and dummy has S- H-AKJ9 D- C-8. If East has kept only three hearts, duck a heart, ruff the club return, and run hearts. If East has kept four or more hearts, cross the the HA, ruff the club, and duck a heart, endplaying East. In most cases, this final guess will be easy to judge from the bidding and your careful counting. It's a much better line than any diamond ruff in dummy.

The second deal was from the Thursday morning pair game.


 South    West       North    East
 -        -          P        2D
 3C       3H         4C       4H
 5C       P          P        P
East's 2D was Flannery, showing five hearts and four spades. The opponents' bidding was revealing, but so was yours, and West gets off to a good trump lead. You win and duck a spade. Your RHO wins and returns a second trump, West discarding a diamond. It looks as if East has 4513 shape with the singleton DA. If so, it can't work to take a spade ruff before knocking out the DA, as then East will cash the fourth spade when he wins the DA, before you can pitch it on dummy's fourth diamond. So you knock out the DA first, but East wins and plays his last trump, denying you any spade ruff.

You're a trick short, but can you see the possible trump squeeze? Run all your trumps but one, then three diamonds ending in dummy, counting the cards very carefully. When you lead dummy's fourth diamond, discarding a spade, you hope the position will be something like:

 S-J10 D-10   S-KQ
 H-QJ  C-     H-A9
 D-           D-
 C-    S-654  C-
You know the opposing shapes, and if the heart honors are as shown, as they actually were, the opponents have no winning defense. If East throws a heart, you can trump out his HA. If West throws a heart, you can call for dummy's HK. If both throw spades, cash the SA, ruff a heart, and your spade will be good.

Now don't go looking for trump squeezes on every bread and butter deal, or you'll descend to the depths of squeeze hound depravity like me. Just tuck the technique in your bag, for when it comes up, as it did on these two deals from Falmouth. Run all the trumps but one, and count the cards.