Back from New Orleans to the “real” world. This NABC was the best ever bridge tournament for me. For those that weren’t following, I was on the team that won the Mini-Spingold (0-5000 MP’s). The masterpoint award for that was 100.00, which is the first time I’ve ever won 100 masterpoints at an entire tournament, let alone a single event. For those that read this blog who are not bridge players, I have been describing this win as roughly the equivalent of winning the AAA World Series. It’s not the highest level, but it is an important marker on the way to the Major League.
As I have documented here before, I have come close to winning a national level 5000 MP event on several occasions and I was starting to wonder if I was ever going to make it across the finish line. But now, thanks to Morrie, Rob and John, I have. However, instead of just being a sense of relief and accomplishment, it has fed a desire to win again at the next higher level. Typically after a big tournament, either a nationals or a regional where I play for an extended period of time, I am happy not to talk, think or play bridge for a few days afterward. On the return from New Orleans, I have been going over hands, studying old Bridge World issues, playing and discussing bridge with friends and partners. I want to continue to improve and make myself suitable for competing at the higher levels now.
The event started with a smaller number of teams than usual with 38. We were the sixth seed, so we were scheduled to get teams seeded lower for the first few days. However, in the 0-5000 events the seed is only marginally predictive of the strength of the team. With 38 being an awkward number for reducing to a power of two for bracketing, the directors set up four head-to-head matches with the top four and bottom four seeds. The remaining 30 teams were put into three-way matches that would have two advancing to the next round. This would reduce the field to 24. On the second day, those teams were put into eight three-way matches to cut to sixteen teams, who were then put into the bracket that was in the Daily Bulletin or on the ACBL website.
We cruised through the first day, winning both matches handily. On the second day, we did lose one of the matches by 22, but since we were in the process of beating the other team by 93, it was not a situation where we were ever in danger of not advancing.
We did get our first break in the round of sixteen. We played a team of gentlemen, who were extremely pleasant but who were obviously outclassed. Fortunately for us, after we won each of the first two quarters by 38, the other team decided to give up. We all got to take the evening off to rest and be ready for the quarterfinal. Withdrawals are not uncommon in these team events. However, it usually happens after the third quarter. Giving up at halftime is much rarer.
The quarterfinal saw a mother-son Platnick partnership facing Morrie and me. (Another Platnick, son and brother to this partnership, respectively, was on the open Spingold winning team.) The quarterfinal also saw the introduction of screens to the event. Screens are used towards the end of national-type events. The card table has a five-foot wall added to it that splits the table diagonally. It extends down to the floor, so that there is no visible or physical contact possible with your partner (and one of your opponents). There is a small opening in the middle at table-level to allow a tray, which carries your bids, to slide back and forth between the two sides of the table. Once the bidding is done, a flap in the middle is raised, so that the other side of the table can be seen for the cardplay. Once the play is complete, the flap is lowered again and the next hand repeats the process. This is, of course, for security purposes to help prevent the transmission of unauthorized information in almost any way. (If anyone is interested, perhaps I’ll post something about the history of cheating in high-level bridge one day.)
Our team had a rough first quarter with a couple of big swings against us, but we fought back hard on the part score boards to only trail by thirteen. Fortunately, we righted the ship quickly to win the next two quarters by 41 and 14. We cruised through the fourth quarter, giving back four IMPs to advance comfortably.
The semifinals brought even more security to the event. Our event was moved to one of the conference room floors of the hotel. Our two tables were now in completely separate rooms on opposite sides of the hotel. The large room we were in was divided into smaller rooms. We shared our smaller room with one table from one of the open Spingold semifinals. Instead of one set of board for the match where each table would play half of the boards and then switch with the other table, each table was now given a complete set of boards, so that each room was playing the same boards in the same order now, to ensure even more fairness.
We did get another break in the semifinals. After winning the first quarter by 53, we added another 21 to that lead in the second. We were all ready to head to dinner, thinking that one more strong set where we added another 20 or so to the lead would convince the other team to withdraw without playing the fourth quarter. However, just as we were about to leave, the other team asked us to stick around for a minute. They had a quick discussion amongst themselves and then came over to withdraw and congratulate us in advancing to the final. Our second withdrawal at halftime was greatly welcomed by our team.
Let me take a short digression on why the withdrawals are so helpful, besides the fact that the other team is conceding victory to you. In this event, we were playing 56 hands of bridge a day, split into 14 board quarters (the open Spingold plays 64 hands a day, which is four 16 board quarters). In the first three days of the event (pre-screens), we would play two quarters per session, with the sessions starting at 1:00 and 7:30. These sessions usually take between 4 and 4 1/2 hours each. Once screens are introduced, the combination of the screen mechanics and just the pressure of being in a later round slow the game down to 4 1/2 to 5 hours. To still allow time for players to get dinner, these sessions start at 1:00 and 8:00. So, once screens are in play, it is not unusual for a team to still be playing bridge at 1:00 a.m. Doing this over the course of several days means that stamina does come into play for the teams that are in the late rounds (Yes, believe it or not, physical fitness is a part of bridge. You can’t always tell from looking at the players at the table, but for me, I do play better bridge when I have been regularly working out.) Therefore, if a team withdraws, especially at halftime, you can relax and get out of “bridge mode” at dinner, have an early evening and get a good night’s rest. I do believe this was a contributing factor to our win.
So, now we had made it to the finals. Waiting for us there was the team that I had suspected we would have to beat somewhere along the way if we were to win. I emotionally girded myself for a tough fight. The first quarter was very tight. The match was tied as late as the sixth board. Although we never trailed, our lead was only one IMP after the first 14 boards.
The tide started to turn our way early in the second quarter. The first board of the quarter was this:
|Vul: N/S||♠ 4|
|♠ 8752||♠ J106|
|♥ KQ73||♥ 10854|
|♦ 9||♦ Q73|
|♣ A1096||♣ Q42|
If West had led the ♣A at trick one, Morrie would have been forced to find the ♦Q. However, West led the ♥K. That allowed Morrie to test spades and seeing the J10 fall, to draw two rounds of trump, cash the remaining spades and crossruff the hand, waiting for the defense to take the high trump. At the other table the 1♠ opening bid was passed out and made 5 for a 15 IMP gain for us.
Two boards later, we also bid a slam that was exactly 50% on a finesse for the trump king. We had a nine card trump fit with QJ97 facing A10832 so trumps could be repeatedly led from dummy to pick up the K even if trumps were 4-0. The finesse was on, so that was worth 11 IMPs versus the game bid at the other table. The rest of the quarter was very close, with a game swing going against us on the last hand of the half, to let us have a thirteen IMP lead as we went to dinner.
The third quarter made us all feel a little more comfortable, with us winning 30-6. Rob and John bid two white games that our opponents did not. But, the big hand of the quarter was a distributional hand where Morrie was 4=2=6=1 opposite my 4=4=1=4. Both tables played in 4♠. Morrie rightly started to establish his side diamond suit while keeping control of spades and made 5. At the other table, the opponent started spades and then later lost control of the hand to go down 3. 14 big IMPs went our way.
The fourth quarter was just what you would hope to get when you have a 37 IMP lead in a final. There were few swingy hands, so the opponents started to try to create swings later in the half which were unsuccessful. We added another seven IMPs to our lead to win the title by 44.
Without a doubt, I must thank my partner, Morrie Kleinplatz, and teammates, Rob Stayman and John Boyer. Morrie has worked very hard with me to create a solid and through bidding system. We did not have a bidding misunderstanding throughout the entire event. Rob and John were rock solid as well. It was very reassuring to know that when comparison time came, our teammates were never coming back with a total mis-defense or some kind of bidding disaster. And, as for myself, I was very happy with how I played and the state of my game in general. Of course, none of us were perfect, and I know that I have a long way to go before I can compete on a regular basis in the open level. But together, we brought this win home and we will always have that. Thanks again, guys.
I also need to say a special thanks to Dede Pochos, Rob’s wife, and Ellen Plato, John’s wife. They were our unofficial coaches, cheerleaders, psychologists, holders of phones and concierges. Whenever we finished an afternoon session, they were there to take the temperature of our moods, and then tells us the arrangements that had been made for us. Whatever they could do to be supportive and allow the four of us to focus solely on the bridge, they did. It would have been much more difficult to accomplish this without them there, and on behalf of the entire team, I’d like to thank them for that.
Finally, thanks also to my significant other, Scott McClure. Scott wasn’t with us physically in New Orleans. (I think he rightly decided that late July in New Orleans at a national bridge tournament wasn’t going to be much fun for a non-bridge player.) However, I could feel his support from all the way back in Michigan. He has been so very patient and understanding of all this bridge silliness, and was as genuinely as happy as anyone upon finding out that we had won. Thank you, honey.
I did get to take Sunday off to see the city. You can see the pictures I took here.
So now, the bridge questions. Feel free to answer in the comments. Assume IMP scoring for all the problems.
1. r/w, fourth, ♠ x ♥ AKJ9xxx ♦ xxx ♣ 109
2. ♠ Kxx ♥ Q10 ♦ AKQJ10xxx ♣ —
3. all white, third, ♠ K109 ♥ J8xxx ♦ Qx ♣ AJx
4. ♠ Ax ♥ AKQJx ♦ Qxx ♣ Kxx
* = Puppet Stayman
^ = five hearts
You are in 4♠ from the South with no opposition bidding. The lead is the ♣10, which you win with the ace. The next four tricks are ♠K, ♦A, diamond ruff, ♠A to which RHO discards a diamond. The first time you lead a heart towards the board, LHO will play the Q. Your plan?
At the table, the bidding went:
I was shy about showing a big raise because of the poor trumps and badly placed ♣Q. However, let’s say that I did get frisky and South is now playing 6♥ on the lead of the ♦K. You win the ace, ruff a diamond, lead a heart with the queen popping up on your right. You ruff your last diamond and lead a small club. LHO takes the ace and plays a second club and you ruff away RHO’s 9. How do you plan to take twelve tricks?
7. r/w, first, ♠ — ♥ J1095 ♦ 108 ♣ QJ98763
The lead is the ♥3 to the J, Q and K. What’s your plan?
9. all red, ♠ AQ98 ♥ AJ9 ♦ K62 ♣ 1043
* = natural 6+ clubs, invitational
10. all white, ♠ — ♥ Q10 ♦ AQ93 ♣ AQJ9732
a) Is pass forcing?
b) What’s your bid?
11. r/w, ♠ 42 ♥ AKQJ85 ♦ K6 ♣ KQ6
12. all red, ♠ J106 ♥ Q ♦ J1097432 ♣ 52
* = weak jump shift
13. r/w, ♠ 43 ♥ AKQ10 ♦ AQ83 ♣ 532