District 25
NEBridge - buzz0811

The Buzz for August 2011

It's the dog days of summer, I had neither the time nor the money to attend the summer Nats in Toronto, and our next D25 regional won't start till the week before Labor Day. So, I'm posting another Sturbridge column. My columns have had an Imp bias, so here I'll cover matchpoints.

To my knowledge, nobody's found a completely satisfactory way of reporting pair games. Some reporters play in the event themselves, then interview the winners for a few noteworthy but unrepresentative deals. Others kibitz a likely pair and report in depth on their progress. Still others follow not players, but boards, telling the whole story for a few of the deals. Here, I'll cover one whole session from my own perspective. Be warned, however, that all memoirs since Ceasar's Gallic Wars have been self-serving (Caesar was an A player in a Flight B event). Hopefully, this will give a realistic picture of bidding and play in our regional matchpoint events, at the risk of presenting numerous bread-and-butter deals which may not excite the reader the way the highlights can.

Long ago, I was mostly a matchpoint player, but nowadays my job doesn't permit weekday club games, and Saturday is usually a work day, so at sectionals I play only the Sunday Swiss. I take some of my annual leave to play the final weekend of each of our regionals, but usually that means the Friday night Knockouts, so I rarely play the pairs. However, for Sturbridge I had Wednesday and Thursday off. Better yet, my favorite partner did too, so we entered the Daylight Stratified Pairs both days, with sessions starting at 10AM and 2:30 PM.

Regional stratified pair games have changed over the years, I think mostly for the better. Gone are the days of massive events with six or more sections, gone are the qualifier-final games with humiliating consolations. Nowadays, our district holds competing team games for pure impers, I/N games for those not ready for stronger competition, and both one-session and two-session games with alternate starting times to fit anybody's schedule. Although we sell more entries, the fields for each event are smaller, so you don't necessarily need a massive lucky game to do well.

Players no longer prepare the boards, machines do. The tabulation and printing of scores is automated. Some other districts have implemented fully automated scoring, with an electronic box at each table, and hopefully New England will soon join them.

Another change from the old days is that most of our events are flighted, bracketed, or Swiss. The result of such conditions of contest is that you can play an entire regional without ever coming up against opponents outside your strat. The exception is the stratified pairs, and I hope the opportunity to play at least occasionally in fields of mixed ability doesn't disappear. What follows may read like a compendium of gross errors, but it will be as honest a journal of a typical session as I can make it. Playing in our stratified pair events can be as amusing as SJ Simon's wonderful books, "Why You Lose at Bridge" and "Cut For Partners".

The Thursday Daylight Pairs drew three 14-table sections, so there were 28 boards scored across the field with a 38 top and a 494 average. That's a fairer game for the players, but it's unwieldy for me to analyze. Wednesday, however, a competing 1PM/7 PM stratified pairs was held, so the field for the 10AM/2:30 PM Daylight game was only 23 tables in two sections, three-board rounds with an 8 top and 108 average. Second sessions are more exciting, since they determine overall places, so I'm choosing to analyze Wednesday afternoon. Since 36 boards were in play, each pair only saw 75% of them, or 27 deals, addng luck to the game when compared with 26-out of 28-deal sessions as on Thursday.

The strata were by masterpoints: A 3000+, B 750+, and C for the remainder of the field. After the first session ended around 1:45, my partner and I quickly checked the burner (scores after 8 rounds), saw we'd won our section, grabbed hand records, and crossed Route 20 to Friendly's for a hot sandwich and a quick discussion of salient boards from the morning's play.

When we returned, the full recaps had been posted on the wall. I transcribed the scores into my scorecard, noted our new table (J10 East-West), and scanned our upcoming opponents. Perfect for analysis, we would draw 3 A pairs, 3 B pairs, and 3 C pairs. Another sheet on the wall indicated we were slightly in the lead at the half (I've decided not to name names in this account):

                Us    137.81   63.80%
                (A)   137.44   63.63%
                (A)   133.00   61.57%
                (A)   132.81   61.49%
                (A)   129.50   59.95%
                (B)   128.00   59.26%
                (B)   125.81   58.25%

My partner and I play an imp-oriented system: big club, 12+-15 notrump, occasional 4-card majors. Surprisingly, this would matter on only a few boards. On defense, we use standard signals, and we're predominantly count players on defense. We started against an A-level North-South pair. I sat West.

   Board 28
   NS vul      North
   W deals     K1062
     West      Q7          East
     Q        K7          A7
     4                     AKQ106
     KJ9862   South        A10543
     98632    J98543      J

    South West  North  East
    -     Pass  Pass   1*
    1    Dbl*  Pass   2
    Pass  Pass  Pass 


I correctly alerted partner's 1 as strong, artificial, and forcing, and he correctly alerted my double as indicating a semi-positive, 6-9 points. Partner said nothing till after the play. North-South  misdefended, and he made five, +200 (they can hold him to two, +110). The play made no difference to our matchpoint score on this board however. The nine EW results were: one +1090 (6 doubled), two +920s, one +800 (6 doubled NS), one +650(5 doubled), 3 +420s(5), and our lonely +200. We'd started with a zero, and we both knew it.

"Didn't we agree that my 2 is forcing?" asked partner. "Oops," I said, mentally reviewing our agreements, "You're right." This disaster was 100% my fault for forgetting the system. Thank goodness for this partner. He said nothing more. Remember his forbearance - it's one of the keys to winning at duplicate bridge, and it's hard. Many experienced players fail on this count. They browbeat their partners, and the session goes to pieces, and sometimes the partnership does too.

After the game, seeing the scores, I gave myself a 6-matchpoint chuck. Had I bid 3 over 2, my partner would have gotten us to 6. I judged that these A-stratum opponents would have neither saved nor doubled, so we would have had six matchpoints without my gross error, instead of the actual zero.

This first board was one of many in the session on which a single player took an action in the bidding or play that swung most of the matchpoints, with the other three players acting as little more than spectators.

   Board 29
   Both vul    North
   N deals     10
     West      Q1074       East
     K98432   10852       Q76
     AQ1052                73
              South        AJ865
     93       AJ5         AJ6

    South West  North  East
    -     -     Pass   1
    1NT   2    Pass   Pass

North led a club against 2. I won dummy's A, discarded my other club on the A, finessed the Q, cashed my A, and ruffed a with dummy's 6. South overruffed with his J, and played A, 5. I had to lose a heart, making 4 for +170. That was good for only 2 out of 8 matchpoints.

When I'm doing well, I find good scores come in bunches. When I go astray, the opposite happens, and it happened here - rattled from the previous deal, I bid and played this hand like a putz. In the first place, I should double South's 1NT. If he stayed there, he'd go for a telephone number on the normal spade lead. More likely, North would have redoubled and South would run to 2, which is cold double-dummy and will usually make with an A player declaring. That's irrelevant because I would surely then have bid either 2, which partner might have been inspired to raise since I'd have then shown both some strength and some shape, or I might try a more aggressive Michaels-cuebid-type 3, raising partner's 3 to 4.

Aside from bidding too weakly, my play was awful. I should ruff the third heart with the Q, leading to 11 tricks. Yes, South's K would be normal from KJ6, but so what? Ruffing with dummy's Q would cost nothing in that case - ruffing low could only gain if North had the A, very unlikely on the bidding. I was still in the hangover fog from the first disaster, and failed to think about this one. This time, partner said nothing at all. +200 would have scored 4 out of 8, +620 6, and +650 would have been a 7. (I refuse to give myself 800 for 1NT doubled, which one EW pair got - I doubt an A-level North would sit, although you never know). So I chucked about 2.5 points in the bidding, and about 2.5 more in the play.

   Board 30
   None vul    North
   E deals     763
     West      AK4         East
     AQJ1095  932         K4
     KQ83                  J1092
     5        South        1042
     106      82          KJ75

    South West  North  East
    -     -     -      Pass
    Pass  1    Pass   1NT
    2    2    3     3
    Pass  Pass  Pass 

There were no errors in the play: K, A ruffed, K ducked, Q ducked, K, ruff, A, 9 pitching 5, 10 ruffed and overruffed, K to A, Q, J ruffed with A, and dummy's J scored the last trick for +140. No defense can beat this contract. I think our 5 out of 8 matchpoints on this board was unlucky to be so low. We had stayed out of an unmakeable game, and out of spades, where a heart ruff (or even two) can be found by the defense. Besides, 4 NS is cold. On this deal, the Law of Total Tricks predicts 17 tricks, but it's off by 2 - there are 19. The move was called. We had 7 matchpoints, with average so far being 12. I was glad that our next opponents would be a C-stratum pair.

   Board 34
   NS vul      North
   E deals     AKQ7643
     West      Q           East
     10982    Q10         J5
     A87                   KQ1092
     64       South        10932
     AJ85                 K3

    South West  North  East
    -     -     -      Pass
    Pass  Pass  1     2
    Dbl   3    3     Pass
    Pass  Pass 

A matchpoint talent, less important at teams, is to maximize undertricks defending hopeless contracts, and a complementary skill is going down less than other declarers. Such deals rarely make headlines either way, but they can divide good sessions from bad ones. On this deal, every single North played spades, and only one went plus on misdefense. For EW, there was one +400 (4 down 4), one +300, three +200s, and three +100s. The only question at our table was whether North would go down 2 or 3 tricks in 3. Partner led the K, and I played the 8. 2 to A, 5 to K, 3 to A, J. Had declarer ruffed low, or discarded his last heart, he would have gone down three. But I give this C-strat declarer credit. He ruffed high, cashed two more high trumps, and overtook his Q to pitch the J on a diamond. He ruffed heart and played a trump, hoping for down one on a 3-3 split. His prayers weren't answered, but all I got was two more trumps for down two, +200, and 5 out of 8 matchpoints. Obviously, if partner cashed his Q after winning the K, we would score +300 for 6.5 matchpoints. It's my fault however. Remember how I said we're count players? My 8 is wrong. If  I'd played the 7 instead, partner might have known the winning sequence. Give me a chuck of 1.5.

   Board 35
   EW vul      North
   N deals     AK
     West      Q82         East
     9864     109876      Q107
     KQ952                 J106
     94       South        K105
     54       J532        AJ32

    South West  North  East
    -     -     Pass   Pass
    1NT   Pass  2NT    Pass
    Pass  Pass 

This South hand is wrong for a 15-17 1NT at matchpoints. 5422 is doubtful in any case, but it's particularly bad when holding four spades. You may miss your fit, there's never a rebid problem if you start with 1, and if the deal turns competitive, partner may be able to contest in diamonds with quite modest values, or lead a diamond through dummy. Besides that, on this deal the poor diamond intermediates and doubleton KQ devalue the hand, and there's little positional advantage in making South declarer. Indeed, if partner has Qxx, South should rather be dummy. Nevertheless, the recap sheet suggests that this South had company, although not a majority.

I led an attitude 2, and we can see declarer must fail. Were he to cross to dummy and call for the Q, partner knows enough to cover and I know enough not to signal with the 9. Nor does playing on clubs do better. The best declarer can do is concede a diamond and go down one for a bad score. At other tables, where South opened 1, North often responded 1NT, and made either +90 on a heart lead or +120 on a club lead. One NS scored a brilliant +130 in diamonds.

Our declarer decided to go for his contract by playing East for Kx. He crossed to the A, partner farsightedly signalling with his 10. Declarer finessed J, and cashed the A. When that didn't fell the K, he exited in diamonds as I let go my 5. We ran our hearts, partner discarding two clubs, declarer a diamond and two spades. Now when I led a spade, partner fell from grace by not unblocking his Q. We scored 7.5 matchpoints for down two +100 instead of 8 for down three +150. Give partner a chuck of 0.5.

   Board 36
   Both vul    North
   W deals     KJ532
     West      AQJ         East
     4        A75         Q6
     KJ2                   A865
     K9872    South        1054
     10863    A10987      KQJ9

    South West  North  East
    -     Pass  1     Pass
    2    Pass  Pass   Pass

This deal is basically a 50-50 game. Half the field bid it, and half didn't. Even with the diamond finesse failing, there's some chance the defense won't lead clubs quickly enough (although not here), but that's offset by the chance trumps will be 3-0 wrong (also not here). With the diamond finesse working, we were lucky our opponents stopped short. Move the K to East, and we'd have been unlucky. There is no moral to this sort of board, only the luck of the cards. North, who played well this round by my lights, made no mistake in the play and made five. We scored 5.5 out of 8, giving us 18 for the round against an average of 12, and 25 against an average of 24 after two rounds. Our third set of opponents were another C pair.

   Board 4
   Both vul    North
   W deals     A98
     West      Q9          East
     J532     AQJ76       K10764
     Q7                    AJ642
     1074     South        K85
     K985     Q           

    South West  North  East
    -     Pass  1NT    2*
    Pass  2    Pass   Pass

I alerted partner's 2 as showing the majors. My 2 showed a preference for spades and no game interest. I think South ought to compete somehow, but if pushed, I'd compete to 3♠ as West. North-South would make 3 or 4. Notrump their way depends on the lead. The lead of the K would hold North to book. On a low spade lead, however, declarer can come to 9 tricks by leading the 10 to K and A, then the Q. East must cover lest declarer run the suit, so declarer has the entries to pick up clubs for nine tricks. My guess is my partner would lead a heart against notrump, after which declarer can at best score 8 tricks.

Our convention worked well.

In practice, North led the Q against 2 for three rounds and a ruff, then switched to the A. I ruffed in dummy and called for the K, making +140 by smothering South's Q. There's a double-dummy way to hold spades to two, but it would never be found, particularly by a C-stratum pair. Ours was the only plus score East-West, scoring 8 out of 8, so obviously there are no chucks by us here.

   Board 5
   NS vul      North
   N deals     6
     West      A53         East
     KQJ4     K86         1095
     A62                   7
     87       South        QJ1062
     A1052    A8732       J973

    South West  North  East
    -     -     Pass   Pass
    1    Pass  1NT    Pass
    Pass  Pass

Our opponent's methods didn't work well here, as their best contract is 4. Partner led the Q. The play went Q to K, K to A,  to 10,  to A, Q, J. Declarer was all right up to here, and a low club to the king would have resulted in +150, but now he called for dummy's Q, which I ducked smoothly. He didn't overtake and looked aggrieved when the Q won. I won my A next and switched to spades. Declarer could have salvaged +90 for a zero, but won the A and exited with another. Partner got in to run diamonds for down one and the same zero. Once again, we had the only East-West plus score in our section, for 8 out of 8. The lowest North-South score was +140.

   Board 6
   EW vul      North
   E deals     Q8643
     West      76          East
     AJ7      853         9
     Q943                  AJ1052
     KQ8      South        A952
     1042     K1052       KQ9

    South West  North  East
    -     -     -      1
    Pass  3    Pass   4
    Pass  Pass  Pass

I'm unsure exactly how the play went here. With an ugly lead choice, I think South tried a trump, then discarded a club and a spade as my partner drew three rounds. A club to the king fetched the ace, and South, after some thought, returned the suit so we scored 680 and 6 out of 8. A few tried an anti-percentage slam here and one declarer made it. We had scored 22 matchpoints for the round against 12 average, and at the one third mark, we had 47 matchpoints against 36 average and were back on track. Our next North-South pair came from stratum B.

   Board 10
   Both vul    North
   E deals     Q53
     West      K1072       East
     J106     Q9          K982
     97                    A1054
     AJ96     South        Q4
     A1076    A74         K52

    South West  North  East
    -     -     -      1
    Pass  1NT   Pass   Pass

My partner went fishing by opening the East hand 1, and that was just enough to talk North into leading a diamond. I won the 9, ran the J to the A, ducked the diamond return to North's K, and had 9 tricks for +150. The nine EW scores were one +300, three +150s, four +120s, and a -100, so we received 6 matchpoints out of 8.

   Board 11
   None vul    North
   S deals     42
     West      A84         East
     KJ106    KJ743       AQ8753
     52                    9873
     KJ9      South        107
     A1096    9           5

    South West  North  East
    Pass  1    2     4
    5    Dbl   Pass   5
    Pass  Pass  Pass

"Sorry," said partner. I said nothing. I surely would have made a 4 contract with enough information from the opposing bids to get diamonds right for 420. South's save in 5 was going for 300 on a major suit lead, or 500 on either minor suit lead. As the bidding at other tables went, however, only one East-West pair bid game, and they were doubled for +590. All the rest made partscores or small pluses on defense. So 300, 420, and 500 were all going to be worth 7 out of 8. 5, however, was down 1 for -50 and a zero. Remember how partner said nothing when I chucked the first two boards? Well, I returned the favor. Do it! Partner knew he did the wrong thing by pulling my double. He felt bad enough without me dumping on him.

   Board 12
   NS vul      North
   W deals     A742
     West      Q654        East
     K8       K83         QJ95
     Q73                   106
     10932    South        KJ87
     AQ74     1063        J106

    South West  North  East
    -     Pass  1     Pass
    1    Pass  1     Pass
    3    Pass  4     Pass
    Pass  Pass

I have noticed that B-stratum players are more likely to be overbidders than either A or C players.On Board 12, our opponents, perhaps emboldened by their top on Board 11, overbid egregiously. So far as I can tell, nobody in our section guessed to play hearts backwards (which is substantially anti-percentage). There were five +110s, three -100s (3 down 1), and just this pair in 4 down 2. We scored a top, 8 out of 8, 14 for the round against a 12 average, and had 61 on a 48 average so far. Our next opponents would be our third and last C-stratum opponents.

   Board 16
   EW vul      North
   W deals     87
     West      42          East
     J1092    AJ7543      A65
     AJ10763               8
     87       South        AKQ96
     K        KQ43        Q1092

    South West  North  East
    -     Pass  4(!)  Pass
    Pass  Pass

Why do C players make such bids as North's 4? I think their experience in the lower strats is that they can induce overbids by overbidding themselves, but it's less likely to work against more seasoned opponents. The play: K, A, A, ruff, A, 6 ruffed with my K, for down five, +250, worth 6 matchpoints out 8 (two EW pairs made games on subpar defense). There are three ways to get a good score on a board: do something good, get lucky, or receive gifts like this one. Amazing how many gifts are given in a session.

   Board 17
   None vul    North
   N deals     53
     West      AJ72        East
     A4       J85         KQ102
     K973                  Q2
     K108     South        9653
     Q942     J9876       AK3

    South West  North  East
    -     -     Pass   1
    Pass  1    Pass   1
    Pass  3NT   Pass   Pass

The play: J to Q and A, 6 to 7 and 8, spade to K,  to 4-10-J,  to A, to A, to Q-K-A, claim nine tricks. This line will make 3NT so long as South holds the J or Q. +400 was worth 4 out of 8 matchpoints, as some rebid 1NT as East and made an overtrick on a spade lead from South. We don't conceal four card majors with a 1NT rebid, however, and this result won't change our minds.

   Board 18
   NS vul      North
   E deals     J5
     West      J7          East
     Q108432  K108642     AK76
     K2                    75
     K843     South        Q102
     3        9           AJ95

    South West  North  East
    -     -     -      1NT(12+-15)
    2    2    3     3
    Pass  4    Pass   Pass

My free 2 showed some values as we play, so East was raising to 3 whether or not North competed to 3.  South had stuck in a busy 2 overcall, causing North to lead his A for +450 our way and 7.5 out of 8 matchpoints. Quite a few East-Wests didn't bid this game. We garnered 17.5 on a 12 average for the round, and had 78.5 total against 60 average so far. The director called a skip, and we moved to the table of a North-South from the B stratum.

   Board 25
   EW vul      North
   N deals     K32
     West      AQ975       East
     Q762     932        98
     J75                  KQ43
     63       South       104
     QJ74     AJ103      A10865

    South West  North  East
    -     -     Pass   Pass
    1    Pass  1NT    Pass
    2NT   Pass  3NT    Pass
    Pass  Pass

Partner led the 5, and declarer ran his 9 tricks. Along the way, he led the J from dummy, but of course I didn't cover, and he wasn't about to risk his good score with a finesse. As expected, -400 was worth only 2.5 matchpoints. I refuse to assign a chuck for partner's normal opening lead. I don't know anyone who would lead the A, and if partner had led a heart, declarer might well take the spade finesse the right way and make the same score. Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you.

   Board 26
   Both vul    North
   E deals     5
     West      KQ106       East
     Q92      QJ83       AJ10764
     J6                   AK52
     975432   South       8
     54       K83        52

    South West  North  East
    -     -     -      1
    1NT   Pass  2*    2
    3    Pass  Pass   Pass

Why on earth did North transfer with only four hearts? Three hearts had to go down one on repeated spade leads, with 3NT cold, and probably making four. (actually, partner could have beat this contract two tricks, but the second undertrick would have scored no more matchpoints). +100 was worth 7 out of 8.

   Board 27
   None vul    North
   S deals     J873
     West      AJ7        East
     K2       -          Q965
     J4                   Q5
     K109832  South       64
     974      A104       K8652

    South West  North  East
    1    Pass  1     Pass
    1NT   Pass  4     Pass
    Pass  Pass

The play: 6 to J, A, K, A,  ruff, A and Q, pitching spades. Making 6. Given this lucky lie of cards, declarer can always make six on correct play, but there's no field protection in stratified pairs, and we scored only 2 out of 8, for a round of 11.5 against 12 average. I was glad to leave this somewhat erratic North-South pair behind. We had accumulated 90 matchpoints against a 72 average, two thirds of the way through the session. Our next opponents were an A pair. Their demeanor suggested that they weren't having a good game.

   Board 31
   NS vul      North
   S deals     K10
     West      763        East
     AJ842    KJ52       93
     J65                  AKQ1094
     J10842   South       K9
              Q765       874

    South West  North  East
    1    1    2     4
    5    5    Pass   Pass

The NS 5 contract is cold, so 5 down 1 was cheap at -50 (there's a double-dummy way to beat it two). We scored 6.5 out of 8. North-South would have done only a little better if they'd doubled 5.

   Board 32
   EW vul      North
   W deals     52
     West      Q32        East
     AQ93     962        J864
     AK107    South       854
     103      K107       AQJ854

    South West  North  East
    -     1    Pass   1
    Pass  2    Pass   Pass

The play: A ruffed, J to K and A, 10 to K,  ruffed,  to 9, Q, clubs, making six. The opponents sort of chuckled over our missing game, but I knew this result would matchpoint well. +230 was worth 5 out of 8. Partner had played well, and the defense was soft. Return a club after winning the CK, and best defense holds it to five at most.

   Board 33
   None vul    North
   N deals     8
     West      9          East
     AQ764    AKJ8432    1052
     962                  J108
     K762     South       J108
     6        KJ93       Q1095

    South West  North  East
    -     Pass  1     Pass
    1    1    2     Pass
    3NT   Pass  Pass   Pass

3NT is the normal spot and it can be made, but South played it for the maximum and paid the price: 4 to 10 and J, finesse J to Q, 5 to 9 and Q with dummy discarding 4,  to dummy's A, A pitching , K pitching pitching  (error),  through, run spades, endplay South with the K to score the K at trick 13 for down 3, +150, and 7.5 matchpoints. Consider a more prudent line: win the first spade and cash the two top clubs. When the clubs don't split, run four hearts, and cross to the A (playing the overcaller for the K), and exit 9 to Q.  Now with four cards left, you have K3 and Q5. No matter what cards West has kept, he must give you the ninth trick. We scored 19 matchpoints against 12 average for the round, and already had 109 against 84 average, so with six boards to play, we were already assured of a final score over average. At this point, we both knew we were in the hunt for an overall finish. For the next-to-last round, we'd face our last pair from the B strat.

   Board 1
   None vul    North
   N deals     KJ10932
     West      Q9         East
     A7       K4         85
     KQ102                A863
     1082     South       J653
     AQ85     Q64        J107

    South West  North  East
    -     -     2     Pass
    3    Pass  Pass   Pass

This 3 contract was cold - we scored a spade, two hearts and a club - and -140 was worth only 1.5 matchpoints. I guess I was a weenie for not doubling. Partner would bid 4, a contract with some chances, although it doesn't make today with the club finesse losing. I'll never know what the result would have been. Since all East-Wests were minus, I'd score a top if South went on to 4. Assuming he defends, he'd beat us two with a spade lead (-100 would have been a 4), or one after three rounds of diamonds (-50 would have been 6.5). If South doubled 4 and led a spade, we'd be -300 for a zero, but I doubt that would have happened. On average, I think I chucked about 2 or 2.5 by not doubling for takeout.

   Board 2
   None vul    North
   E deals     J92
     West      AKQ85      East
     KQ853    5          A7
     1064                 A75
              South       10764
     Q10983   1064       KJ42

    South West  North  East
    -     -     -      1NT(12+-15)
    Pass  2*   Dbl    Pass
    2    3    3     Pass
    Pass  Pass

My 2 was a transfer and South's 2 was a punt. Partner made a Law-of-Total-Tricks pass of 3, but the contract was cold once again, losing 3 spades and a heart. LOTT says that with 18 trumps there should be 18 tricks, but 5 can be made our way so there are 20 (if I were in 4 and got a heart lead, however, I wouldn't risk my contract for the overtrick, and would be +130. On a diamond lead, I'd make +150 on best defense, or maybe even 170 if South won the first club.) LOTT wasn't a very good guide on many deals in Sturbridge this year, and we have the scars to prove it. -110 was another 1.5, but either +130 or +150 would have been worth only 3, as the common contracts were spade partials and no North-South in our section  found their club ruff to hold East-West to 140. Personally I'd raise to 4 as East despite LOTT, with that very offense-oriented honor dispersion opposite a probable light black 5-5. When 3 came back to me, I found it too hard to bid 3 knowing partner had only two.

   Board 3
   EW vul      North
   S deals     
     West      KJ9862     East
     K109632  764        AQJ4
     943                  AKJ
     A73      South       Q105
     5        875        AJ5

    South West  North  East
    Pass  Pass  2     Dbl
    Pass  3    Pass   4
    Pass  Pass  Pass

With both the K and Q onside, our 4 contract scored +680 for 4 matchpoints. Three pairs bid an anti-percentage 6 for 1430, balanced by three pairs who played 4 by East against silent opposition, ducked a diamond lead, and suffered a ruff for 650. We had scored only 7 matchpoints this round, so our total was only up to 116 (average so far was 96). We would finish against another A pair.

   Board 7
   Both vul    North
   S deals     1082
     West      AK83       East
     AJ       10         KQ7654
     K1085                2
     J1054    South       97
     KJ9      93         AQ86

    South West  North  East
    Pass  1    1     1
    Pass  1NT   Pass   4
    Pass  Pass  Pass

South led the 3 to North's Q. North cashed two diamonds. Although we bid to the best contract, +620 was worth only 3 out of 8 matchpoints. Various Norths didn't get their tricks, giving up 650 by switching to their singleton club at trick three, or laying down the A.

   Board 8
   None vul    North
   W deals     764
     West      K108       East
     J85      KQ10632    AK103
     AKQ8632              104
              South       AQ762
     974      Q92        A5

    South West  North  East
    -     4    Pass   6
    Pass  Pass  Pass

North led the K. I tried line (A): ruff my third club with dummy's 10. I suffered an overruff with the J for down one. Line (B) would succeed: A,  ruff, AKQ, J to A, A pitching a club,  ruff, and forego the spade finesse for a risky overtrick when the K drops.

With eight clubs outstanding, they will split 6-2 17.14% of the time, and even when they do, the player with two clubs will hold the J only 11/18ths of the time, so Line (A) is over 80%. Line (B) has extra chances besides the spade finesse. The J or K can drop, and you might even make with trumps 4-0. However, Line (A) is clearly better on the information I had. By the way, it doesn't improve Line (A) to try to ruff out the K along the way - you go down on most 6-2 diamond breaks.

The field didn't bid slam, and I got only 0.5 out of 8. Only one player managed twelve tricks. I believe he opened 1 with the West hand and received a busy and very informative club overcall from North, after which Line (B) is clearly preferred. Our chances had slipped away during these last two rounds.

   Board 9
   EW vul      North
   N deals     AQJ873
     West      A7         East
     K        5          9654
     AQ75                 KJ94
     1062     South       K5
     QJ743    102        1092

    South West  North  East
    -     -     1     Pass
    1NT   Pass  2     Pass
    3    Pass  Pass   Pass

And then we received a gift. Partner led his 10 against 3. On this lie of cards, it's easy to make this contract- A, to A, K to A,  ruff, A to pitch another , and take a diamond finesse trying for an overtrick, which loses. You lose a trump, two hearts, and a diamond.

I suspect this declarer was tired. This was the 54th board of the event. The actual play began: A, K pitching , Q to K, third club. Declarer erred by pitching a heart as I won the J, and another heart on my Q. Partner discarded his remaining diamond, and I gave him a ruff.  to A, and the third diamond put declarer away. He ruffed with the J, cashed his A dropping my K, and went to the 10. But dummy had only diamonds left, so partner's 9 was promoted for down two and 7.5 matchpoints. Our last round was worth 11 on a 12 average, for a final score of 127 over 108.

It was only a bit after 6 PM, and we weren't going to play any more bridge for the day, so we stuck around to see how we finished. Our total of 127, or 58%,  was only third in our section, but lo and behold the overall results were:

     Us     264.81
     (B)    260.27
     (A)    259.94
     (A)    252.90
     (A)    252.81
     (B)    251.50
     (A)    250.69

Winning produces the wonderful feeling of having your bridge sins washed away. A 23-table stratified pairs pays 11.55 masterpoints for first place, and they don't give you any more for winning big.

It's perhaps worthwhile to consider how we did in these four sessions of matchpoints against A, B, and C stratum opponents:


     Wed 10AM    Wed 2PM     Thu 10AM     Thu 2PM

 %       63.8%     58.8%       59.4%        58.0%
 vs A    46.4%     45.8%       63.9%        70.4%
 vs B    63.2%     54.9%       33.0%        64.2%
 vs C    70.8%     79.8%       62.6%        46.4%

If you got the impression in this account that we drilled the C pairs, you're right, but that pattern didn't hold up on Thursday. I can find no strong correlation between our scores and the stratum of our opponents. Those fair scores Thursday gave us a second overall, but we were far behind the winners, the B strat pair of Steve Kruger and Rolly Jacob, who had 1270.69 vs. our 1161.06. We finished almost three full boards (38 top) behind. They won 17.50 masterpoints to our 13.13. As it happened in this 42-table event, we never met them. Steve and Rolly, congrats on your big game!

Did you notice how few boards during this session featured difficult auctions or plays? There were no director calls, no unpleasantness, and no slow play. Not a single doubled contract was played either way. There were no squeezes or fancy endings, and no long, complex auctions. The alternative way of reporting pair games, showing only the noteworthy deals, distorts the importance of special skills. Most of matchpoints is about undramatic overtricks and undertricks, or close bidding decisions. Anybody from any stratum can win these games, if they pay attention throughout, get a little lucky, and receive gifts.

We played the last three days of Sturbridge in Imp games. However, if I can find the time, I'd like to play more pairs at our regionals. It's an enjoyable day of bridge. Buy an entry yourself at our upcoming regionals. You can't win if you don't enter.