Eleven Consecutive Days of Duplicate Bridge
by Single Session Swiss
I never intended to play duplicate bridge on eleven consecutive days; it just worked out that way. The Presidential Regional in Cromwell was set for Wednesday February 14 through Monday February 19, and I always play in this event. Last December I committed to play with Joan Brault on every Tuesday in February. That made eight days. I have a standing game with Felix Springer on Mondays and with Ken Leopold on Wednesday evenings. That made ten. The eleventh came when the Hartford Bridge Club scheduled a special event honoring the six active members of the club who had won NABC championships on Sunday February 11. I don't think that I have ever missed a team game at the HBC.
The festivities started at 11:30. Lunch, which was catered by Panera Bread, consisted of a variety of sandwiches, salad, chips, and soda. The club was packed. Twenty-four teams signed up to play in the Open Swiss. Twelve teams were in the Under-500 event. Five five-board matches were scheduled.
Between lunch and the first round the five champions in attendance gave short bridge tips. Geof Brod explained that he appended “most of the time” when announcing his 1NT range because he likes to open 14-point hands with good five-card suits or lots of tens. He also bids one of a suit if he has 17 HCP with a five-card suit. Susan Smith endorsed aggressive bidding in the passout seat after a strong 1NT opener. Her husband Mike explained the differences in bidding strategy required for teams games. Frank Merblum emphasized the importance of concentration. Doug Doub said that the most important element for him was relentless counting to assess the remaining points and distribution of the other players.
I played opposite Paul Burnham; our teammates were Ken and Felix. In round 1 we were matched against Bunny Kliman and Ausra Geaski for the umpteenth time. They made a defensive error against a doubled 3♦ contract that allowed us to win by a large margin. In round 2 we got a very lucky draw and scored another one-sided victory. In round 3 we defeated Geof Brod's team by 4 IMPs when the opponents overbid at the other table. Round 4 and 5 were both ties. In the end we won this very prestigious event with 70 Victory Points. Nevertheless, no one on our team thought that we had played exceptionally well. Our mistakes just seemed less costly than our opponents'.
On Monday (Lincoln's birthday) I played in the morning pairs game with Felix. We managed to score about 55%. It would have been much higher if I had not opened a two-card suit at the three-level. I meant to bid 3♦, but I lay down the 3♣ card instead and never noticed. When Felix set down the dummy, I even reprimanded him for having the trumps in the wrong place. I played the hand brilliantly to only go down two, but we still got a 0. Nobody bid 6♦.
February 13 was Mardi Gras. The Tuesday pairs game at the HBC generally draws enough pairs for two sections, but there were only sixteen tables on this occasion. Joan Brault and I had a 52% game. We missed three slams, but none of them were obvious. On the first one we had a combined 26 points and eight trump. On the second one we had 27 points and nine trump. Although we were dealt only 31 points and only eight trump on the last, a grand slam was possible.
That evening I received an unexpected phone call from Randy Johnson. He told me that his wife, Ann Hudson, my putative partner for the first five days of Cromwell, was sick with a 101° fever. She was in Cromwell, but she obviously could not commit to play on Wednesday. So, I would be faced with the daunting prospect of finding partners for one, two, three, four, or five days. I sent an email to David Rock, who runs this tournament, asking for help.
The first day of the Presidential Regional was both Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday. Sue and I drove down to Cromwell together. I quickly learned that David had not seen my email. I was nevertheless able to hook up with James Lee, with whom I had played once or twice at the HBC. We had a very bad morning in the Mid-Flight Pairs, garnering just 42%. I was generally frustrated with my cards. I did have a chance to make a balancing jump overcall on one hand, but I eschewed it in favor of a double because I was (rightly) worried that James would think it was weak and pass. We missed game anyway.
I ate lunch and listened to the analysis of the morning's hands led by Mark Aquino. Paula Najarian and Lois DeBlois were my companions. I had my camera case out, but I forgot to snap any photos.
I got much better cards in the afternoon, and James and I upped our score to 55%, which was enough for us to claim second E-W for the session. Sue and I then drove back home, and she cooked some delicious steaks for supper. The best part of the day was when Ann called and said that she felt much better. She insisted that she would be ready to play the next morning.
Thursday was Andrew Jackson Day at the Presidential Regional. Sue and I commuted again. This time we picked up her partner, Marianne Hope, who lives in Windsor.
Ann and I were scheduled to play with Phil Olschefski and Gene Coppa, friends from the HBC in the first edition of the Presidential Knockout. It only had three brackets, which was a little disappointing. I need to emphasize the value of playing in knockouts every time that we schedule them.
Our team was, as expected, assigned to Bracket 2. We got a terrible draw in the first round, a head-to-head match against a team with a lot more points and experience than we had. Nevertheless, we won the match rather easily. In the afternoon we found ourselves in a three-way. We were behind in one match at the half, and we never came close in the second half of that match. The other match was tied at the half. We won on the very last hand. Ann made 5♠ at our table. Gene chanced 6♥ at the other table, and the opponents competed to 6♠. They fell one trick short, and so we made it through to the semifinals by the skin of our teeth.
I was in a very good mood as we drove back to Enfield. Sue and I ate leftovers and then packed for our two-night stay at the Radisson. We also made sure that Giacomo and Bob, our two black cats, had enough food and water for two days.
I was pretty excited about playing in the semifinals of the knockout on Friday, Theodore Roosevelt Day. Our teammates had played well on Thursday. We found ourselves facing a foursome from the HBC whom we knew very well. Unfortunately, we made a lot of little mistakes in the morning, and they left us behind by 21 at the break. We were not discouraged, but for the most part the afternoon hands seemed uneventful. However, there were two hands on which we could have made up some ground if we had bid more aggressively. It did not seem to manner until we picked up the last hand.
I saw a lot of numbers surrounding only one female face card. However, seven of the cards were diamonds, we were not vulnerable, and we were desperate. I confidently bid 3♦. Jeanne Striefler, who was on my left, hesitated for a long time and then bid 3NT. Everyone passed. Thirteen tricks were easy, and at the other table Phil and Gene bid a small slam. That swing brought us within seven points of victory.
Jeanne's team went on to win the final round against the team that had defeated us in the second round.
I was in a blue funk. There was no team event for us to play in on Friday afternoon, and I had no interest in joining the second session of the Open Pairs. So, I begged off and spent the afternoon resting and reading Rodwell's new book in my hotel room. I figured that Ann, who had played very well both days, could use the time off, too.
In the evening Sue and I ate supper at the Baci Grill. The Veal Parmigiana was great, but there was too much of it for me. I am not sure why so many restaurants serve such enormous portions. I guess that I would have been more appreciative forty or fifty years ago.
On Saturday morning I held the Communication Committee meeting. I learned there that Sally Kirtley, whom I have known for ten years or so, will be the new tournament manager. I also tried to explain the things required to do my job.
The Monster Knockout was scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. There were five brackets this time. Ann and I teamed up with Ken and Felix to compete in the middle bracket. The assigned us to a three-way in the morning. We split the matches, but we had enough net IMPs to move on.
In the afternoon Ann and I again played in a three-way. Bill Nason's team easily won both matches. Our other match was again against Jeanne and her partner, Jim Macomber. This time we had a twelve-point lead at the half. Our opponents picked up a few IMPs on a couple of hands in the second half, but the match came down to a hand that would haunt me for the rest of the tournament and beyond.
Everyone opens the hand that I held (♠ K Q 10 x x x ♥ K ♦ K x ♣ A x x x) with 1♠. Jeanne overcalled 3♦. Ann, who was looking at ♠ A J ♥ A Q J x x x x x ♦ x ♣ x x, paused for a long time before bidding 4♥. I also paused a long time. Her bid should have been a splinter, but I only had one heart, and so I was nearly certain that it was not. I felt compelled to pass. Twelve tricks were easy to find.
At the other table they bid the slam. Felix only overcalled 2♦, which allowed the person with Ann's hand to bid 2♥. Ken bid 4♦. That puzzled the person with my hand. She did the one thing that I never would have considered; she passed. This allowed the player with all the hearts to bid 4NT asking for key cards in hearts. With the ♣A and ♥K the right answer was therefore 5♥, but her partner either misinterpreted or ignored the 4NT bid. Instead she rebid spades at the five level. The lady with Ann's hand judged that hearts would be better, and so she boldly bid the slam in her own suit.
Both of the teams that we faced in the second round swept through the semifinals on Sunday. In the finals Jeanne's team prevailed again. Jeanne and Jim won two knockouts in this tournament! The good news for me was that they were scheduled to be my teammates on Monday.
On Saturday evening I did not pay very close attention to the discussions at the Executive Committee meeting, the first presided over by Lois. There was a 6-5 vote (with a recount) about something.
I was still trying to imagine how we could have reached 6♥ on that fateful hand. Randy Johnson suggested to Ann that she could have tried 5♥ to see if I had a high trump. I am not sure that I would have had the temerity to bid slam based on my singleton king. On the other hand, if she had bid 3♥ instead of 4♥, I would have had some room. I think that I would have been afraid to bid 3♠, which could be passed. Suppose that I bid 4♠ instead. Ann could then bid 5♥, but I think that 5♦ would be better. It denies a control in clubs but claims one in diamonds. If I then bid 5♥ to show a control in both clubs and hearts, Ann could perhaps bid 6♥ with some confidence. I don't know if this approach would have worked, but I can think of nothing better.
What about 6♠? If the opponents don't see the necessity of leading a heart, it will also work. However, after a heart lead or a heart switch after taking the ♦A, my hand is left with club losers and no way to use Ann's hearts.
On Sunday morning Sue and I ate at the Cromwell Diner. We both ordered Country-fried Steak and eggs. One order would have easily been enough for both of us to share.
Our knockout team played in the Mid-Flight Swiss. In the first round we drew the winners, Lee Herdle's team. We lost, and then a weird thing happened. Lee turned in the result on a card that showed that our team won. It wasn't corrected until the third round. By then they had played two teams with records that did not qualify them for those matches. We, on the other hand, faced two teams with better records than we had. We won both rounds, and so we did not have much to complain about. Lee's team ran up such a big lead that no one could catch them. Our team ended up tied for third. We really should have done a little better; we faltered badly in the last two matches.
The highlight of the day was my very first Lightner Double. I held another motley assortment of spot cards, but I did have seven spades including the Queen. Here was the auction:
Ann dutifully led the Ace and another club for me to ruff. QED.
I drove back home and found two confused cats. Sue and I ate leftovers while we watched episodes of Monk and Psych. We also got to bed early.
Sue drove us back to Cromwell on Monday. I met up with my partner, Buz Kohn, in the Grand Ballroom. We had not played together for several years. Fortunately, Felix was nearby, and he had a copy of the card that he played with Buz. I vetoed odd-even discards, but I was unsuccessful at convincing Buz of the wisdom of playing non-forcing constructive advances.
Buz, Jeanne, Jim, and I got off to a good start in the Open Swiss. We were 3-1 at the lunch break, and after we decisively won the fifth match we were in a good position. However, we lost badly to two good teams and then we lost in the last round by one point to the same team that we had defeated in the very first match eight days earlier.
I took a lot of photos after the last round. Then Sue and I met our friend, Tom Corcoran, for supper at Puerto Vallarta. I made the mistake of ordering a chicken dish instead of my usual Tacos al Carbon. It wasn't bad, but my disappointment was only slightly eased by the margarita.
I did not sleep too well, and my mental state was not too good when Joan Brault and I started playing on Tuesday. Nothing went right, but I did set a standard that no one that I know has equaled. On two consecutive hands I was in a doubled 5♦ contract down four. In both cases we were not vulnerable, and so the damage was only -800. Incredible as it may seem, I was potentially in the same doubled contract on a third hand, but one of the opponents saved me by bidding 5♠.
I cannot explain the last two because Joan bid them. Here was my reasoning on the first one, which was played against the best team in the field. At favorable vulnerability, I dealt and opened 1♦ with ♠ 10 ♥ K 6 4 ♦ A K Q J 9 4 ♣ Q 3. LHO bid 2♣, and RHO bid 2♥. I bid 3♦, which occasioned four-level rebids by both opponents. I figured that Joan had nothing, and I had at most three tricks on defense, a sure -620. It appeared like I had eight tricks if diamonds were trump, -500 at worst. So, I essayed 5♦. LHO doubled, and Joan tabled a hand with five points that were worthless on offense but valuable on defense. To make matters worse, she had three hearts, which meant that our opponents captured the first six tricks.
My reasoning was unLAWful. I had seven trump. I should have put two in my partner's hand. The opponents had given no indication of a fit in either suit. Even if they had eight or nine hearts, there was no way that the LAW lets me bid at the five-level. I committed the mortal sin of masterminding. Even if the hearts had split 2-2 between Joan and LHO, I would have been down 2, and we still would have received a 0.
I spent most of Wednesday February 21 getting out emails asking winners from Cromwell for their photos. I managed to get in a four-mile walk before driving to the evening game at the Simsbury Bridge Club. We only had two tables, and so we played three eight-board matches using IMP scoring. Ken and I won all three rounds. So, the eleven-day bridge binge ended almost as sublimely as it started.