The Buzz for October 2011
New England held its qualifying round of the North American Pairs October 15-16 2011 at the Sturbridge Host Hotel in Sturbridge MA. Attendance was fair - 21 tables in Flight A, 15 in B, 13 in C. The three Flight C qualifying pairs were selected in a two-session event ending Saturday. After Saturday's two-session semifinal, the top 28 of 42 pairs in Flight A and the top 20 of 30 pairs in Flight B fought it out for three slots each in a Sunday two-session final. The full results are all posted under the Grand National tab, and there's a link to them under tournament results also. Congrats to all nine pairs who qualified for Memphis in March 2012, and good luck to all.
If the players were to choose an adjective to characterize the deals the ACBL computer dished out to the contestants in this event, "aggravating" would be a popular choice. Consider Board 9 Sunday afternoon:
. Board 9 EW vul North N deals ♠Q95 ♥AK96 West ♦KJ1052 East ♠AKJ10864 ♣2 ♠ ♥J32 ♥Q754 ♦743 South ♦Q6 ♣ ♠732 ♣KQJ8543 ♥108 ♦A98 ♣A10976
This deal proved aggravating to East-West, and the only question was how much. At some tables, North-South bid to 3NT with only 22 high card points, and they just about always made it because there's no communication between the defensive hands, with each void in partner's suit. However, -400 or -430 was a good East-West score, because many other pairs went for 500, 800, and even 1100 in clubs or spades, some East-Wests dueling it out in their misfit suits to the three or four level, the North-Souths doubling them with increasing confidence after each petulant rescue. Only North-South could win this battle, as no East-West contract should make more than book, and 500 earned about average.
Or consider another layout from the same session:
. Board 23 Both vul North S deals ♠83 ♥AKQ10975 West ♦Q East ♠AKQ ♣KQ9 ♠J6 ♥J42 ♥ ♦A107653 South ♦KJ9842 ♣7 ♠1097542 ♣J6532 ♥863 ♦ ♣A1084
West bid diamonds, North hearts, and the auctions then exploded to the slam level. Tied for top East-West were 1540s in 6♦ doubled (it's cold), and tied for top North-South were 1660s in 6♥ doubled (no spade lead). Those who bid one more for safety fell into the middle ground. I suspect many pairs became frustrated with each other and life in general after this board!
A common contract bridge theme is the battle between hearts and spades, and there were numerous such contests in Sturbridge. An example from Saturday night:
. Board 1 Neither vul North N deals ♠743 ♥Q6 West ♦AKQ97 East ♠AQ6 ♣1032 ♠85 ♥K7543 ♥AJ10982 ♦63 South ♦J82 ♣K76 ♠KJ1092 ♣85 ♥ ♦1064 ♣AQJ94
The usual thing was for East-West to bid 4♥ (which makes with the spades and clubs nicely placed) and North-South to counter with 4♠, which can be defeated. ♥ ruffed, ♦ to dummy, losing ♠ finesse, ♥ ruffed. Now if declarer takes a losing ♣ finesse, give him a ruff-sluff with a third ♥. If instead declarer knocks out the ♠A, don't give him the tenth trick with that ruff-sluff. Just play back a trump and wait while he comes up a trick short. Not terribly difficult, but in fact, 4♠ was often made, and taking a save in 5♥ did OK in the scoring.
From the same session:
. Board 6 EW vul North E deals ♠J6532 ♥ West ♦87632 East ♠A8 ♣A94 ♠7 ♥AQJ1054 ♥76 ♦AKQ South ♦J1054 ♣K5 ♠KQ1094 ♣Q107632 ♥K9832 ♦9 ♣J8
Despite West's impressive holding, all he can make is 4♥, losing a club and two trumps. Once again, North-South usually countered with 4♠, the prudent Wests doubling instead of bidding on.
Or perhaps imprudent. Nothing can stop the 4♠ declarer from taking a trump, six ruffs, the ♣A, and the fifth diamond, for nine tricks. However, many Wests, after two rounds of diamonds, failed to win the first trump, or broke hearts, to their cost. There were 590s and 690s scored North-South. That's not good defense.
What would you open in third chair, vul against not, with ♠7 ♥KQJ8653 ♦98 ♣KJ7? My opinion, for what it's worth, is that this hand is about what partner should expect of a three-bid in this unfavorable position. The hand was dealt in Sunday's second session, and there were differing opinions.
. Board 6 EW vul North E deals ♠AKQJ3 ♥A942 West ♦Q4 East ♠7 ♣52 ♠1085 ♥KQJ8653 ♥107 ♦98 South ♦A65 ♣KJ7 ♠9642 ♣AQ1086 ♥ ♦KJ10732 ♣943
Those who passed or opened 2♥ wound up defending 4♠. Those who opened 1♥ induced a double of 4♠ by East, but it's cold by winning the heart lead, drawing trumps, and driving diamonds. The best result would be to take a difficult vul-against-not save in 5♥. But be careful! When North cashes a spade and switches to the ♦Q, you must duck to avoid a trump promotion for down 2. Minus 200 East-West was worth a good score. There were many more spades v. hearts deals in Sturbridge this year.
Another theme much in evidence was whether to double a game or slam in hopes of getting partner to lead dummy's first bid suit. This is a high risk tactic, particularly at matchpoints. The cases from Sturbridge illustrate the advantages and disadvantages.
Suppose you, South, hold ♠KQ7 ♥10982 ♦J8654 ♣4, and hear
. South West North East - - - Pass Pass 1♣ Pass 1♠ Pass 2♥ Pass 3NT Pass 6♣ Pass Pass ?
You have good reason to suspect that a spade lead is best, but it comes with no guarantees - the contract may be normal and cold. At imps, the double is probably worth it. At matchpoints, it's tougher to figure. In practice, the double would have been a winner In the Saturday evening session:
. Board 10 Both vul North E deals ♠J86 ♥Q76 West ♦A1072 East ♠A4 ♣872 ♠109532 ♥AKJ4 ♥53 ♦3 South ♦KQ9 ♣AK10983 ♠KQ7 ♣QJ5 ♥10982 ♦J8654 ♣4
More than half the field stopped in 3NT by East, and was split between 630 and 660, depending on whether South led a diamond, the ♥10, or the ♠K. I don't think much of the diamond lead, particularly at matchpoints. I've had little luck leading against 3NT from bad long suits with bad hands. If you don't double 6♣, don't blame partner for not leading a spade. Another example, also from Saturday evening:
Suppose you, North, hold ♠KQJ9 ♥6532 ♦1097 ♣A8, and hear
. South West North East - - - 1♣ Pass 1♠ Pass 1NT Pass 3NT ?
It seems unlikely the opponents can make 3NT without the clubs, so if you get a spade lead, there won't be overtricks, since no matter who has the ♠10, you have four tricks. The fifth would have to come from partner, and there's no guarantee he has it. On the other hand, a bad score looms with a red suit lead. The full deal was:
. Board 22 EW vul North E deals ♠KQJ9 ♥6532 West ♦1097 East ♠A1073 ♣A8 ♠864 ♥J98 ♥AQ74 ♦K South ♦AQ3 ♣KQ1074 ♠53 ♣632 ♥K10 ♦J86542 ♣J95
3NT can be made even with a spade lead, but takes difficult and risky declarer play. Declarer ducks twice and wins the third spade. He needs the clubs, and the double strongly suggests North has the ♣A. The key is to realize you don't need the heart finesse unless North can duck twice in clubs, which strands his winning spade. However, lest North win the ♣A, cash a spade, and put a heart through, you need to have nine tricks ready. So, cash ♦K (stranding the clubs), followed by the ♣K. If North ducks, you have to guess the lie of the suit to make, but North is the more likely to be short. Perhaps not hard in theory, but many declarers would fail.
The danger of not doubling was illustrated by the prevalance of 660s. A diamond lead was normal (although I still don't think much of long bad suit leads against 3NT unless you have several possible entries), and the declarers often took a heart finesse (Somewhat greedy, but declarer is awkwardly placed in dummy). Now shouldn't South find the spade switch, instead of woodenly continuing his worthless diamonds? But few did.
My final example of possible Sturbridge lead-directing doubles came when I played a round Sunday afternoon against Haven Sharaf and Bill Irvine, the eventual winners in Flight A. Suppose you, West, hold ♠1043 ♥KQ95 ♦Q32 ♣853, and hear
. South West North East - - - Pass 1♥ Pass 1♠ Pass 3♥ Pass 3♠ Pass 4♠ Pass 4NT Pass 5♦ Pass 5♥ Pass 5♠ Pass 6NT Pass Pass ?
South showed three key cards for spades, and denied the ♠Q. If the bidding is to be believed, North has the other two key cards, but is missing the ♠Q also. That means the opponents must be loaded for bear in the minors to be bidding like this, so without a heart lead, 6NT is likely to make. If you double for a heart lead, declarer will have to rise dummy's ace, and if partner gets in, another heart will set the contract.
There are several things that could go wrong with this double, however. Partner may have no second heart to play. Declarer could be on a two-way guess for the queen in spades, and he may reason you don't have it. And then there's the danger on the actual deal:
. Board 18 NS vul North E deals ♠AKJ92 ♥10 West ♦98 East ♠1043 ♣KQJ94 ♠Q87 ♥KQ95 ♥87 ♦Q32 South ♦J107654 ♣853 ♠65 ♣72 ♥AJ6432 ♦AK ♣A106
What might this North think if I'd doubled 6NT? He knows his partner has the three aces and I have the hearts bottled up. I'm not sure the reasoning is sound, but might not North come up with a 7♣ bid if I double 6NT? By the way, I'm appalled that not one pair in either flight found the cold 7♣ contract - the scoring was littered with 1390s for 6♣ making 7. I didn't double, partner led ♦J, and our -1440 was a low score. Partner suggested the situation was desperate and I should have doubled. What do you think?
Sure, bridge can be aggravating, but that's part of the fun. Have fun along with the aggravation yourself by attending our Masters Regional in Mansfield MA in November.