Gatlinburg 2008 Report


Author: Larry Cohen
Date of publish: 01/01/2008
Level: Intermediate to Advanced

The largest regional on the ACBL calendar takes place every April in the mountain town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. What's the attraction? Certainly not the food (unless you want to gain 10 pounds eating fried coatings and sugar). Not the hotels (unless you like "dank"). Not the playing area (unless you like concrete).

So, it must be the proximity (a day's drive from almost every major city in the Mid?Atlantic states), the price (cheap hotels, food, entry fees), the masterpoints (just look at the list), and the many brackets of knockouts (so you can face players your own level).

Many professional teams attend each year. They beat each other's brains out in the top masterpoint bracket. Sometimes a team with 20,000 total masterpoints doesn't even make the cut—they have to play in Bracket #2. Each bracket has 16 teams grouped with similar masterpoint holdings. The large events have more than 30 brackets!

I usually think of regionals as a chance to relax against lesser competition than I face in the National Championship events. Not so in Gatlinburg Bracket 1. Our first?night draw was Polish champions Balicki?Zmudzinski for 24 boards. We won and had to face Meckstroth?Rodwell the next day. So much for relaxing.

To Preempt or not to Preempt?

Here's a deal from the first knockout event. Take these West cards with both vulnerable:

?5
?A 10 8 7 6 4 2
?J 3 2
?Q 8

The dealer on your right passes. And you? I like to preempt to the 3?level with a 7?card suit, but not here. Second seat (especially vulnerable) calls for sound actions. In third seat, I preempt aggressively. Even in third seat, though, with this so?so suit, I'd be afraid to open a vulnerable 3?. Aside from the bad suit, those side cards (?J and ?Q) argue for defense.

Would I ever open this hand 3?? Yes. Not vul, as dealer or in third seat I'd give it a try. What about a compromise of 2??

Usually, a 2?level preempt is 6 cards. However, with a hand such as this, which looks like a preempt (not a pass), but is wrong for a 3?level preempt, I don't mind a 2?level opening. So, I would (and did) open 2?.

This was passed around to the dealer who balanced with 2?. I passed and next thing I knew, my opponents were in game. LHO cue?bid 3? and RHO jumped to 4?. Your lead.

A singleton trump is usually unappealing, and I see no reason to lead it here. Laying down the ?A could work, but if partner needs a heart ruff, there is a chance he'll get it later. Even if you do give him a ruff, it is likely at the expense of either his natural trump trick, or setting up an extra heart winner for the opponents.

So, it is between clubs and diamonds. I don't like poking out doubleton queens (it is putting the board up for grabs–it might be a homerun, but is usually a strikeout). So, that leaves the ?2. (Don't think I love leading from jacks, either—but here, it was only because I liked everything else less. This is often the reasoning behind my opening leads).

Here is what you see:

Vul: Both
Dlr: South
?A Q J 3
?Q 9 5 3
?K 6
?10 5 3
 
?5
?A 10 8 7 6 4 2
?J 3 2
?Q 8
  ? 
? 
? 
? 
  ? 
? 
? 
? 
 

Your diamond lead goes to the 6,7 and 9. What does it mean? It's possible partner has the ?A and didn't want to waste it on air, but more likely is that declarer has ?AQ109 (and maybe the 8, too).

Declarer plays a spade to the ace (partner follows with the deuce), then the ?Q to partner's king. You throw a discouraging heart. Why? Because if partner has a low singleton, you'd rather he not play it to declarer's king and your ace. That will set up dummy's ?Q as a winner. A heart play from partner can't help. You'd rather he try clubs. He does. He lays down the ?A and the jack drops from declarer.

What's going on? It looks as if declarer has a diamond?spade two?suiter. Partner now plays the ?K and declarer drops another jack. Do you have any idea how to set this contract?

When you have a solution (or give up), look at the full deal:

 

 
Vul: Both
Dlr: South
?A Q J 3
?Q 9 5 3
?K 6
?10 5 3
 
?5
?A 10 8 7 6 4 2
?J 3 2
?Q 8
  ?K 10 2
?K
?8 7
?A K 9 7 6 4 2
  ?9 8 7 6 4
?J
?A Q 10 9 5 4
?J
 
 
WestNorthEastSouth
       
-- -- -- Pass
2? Pass Pass 2?
Pass 3? Pass 4?
Pass Pass Pass  

Did you work it out? Partner gave you a nudge in the right direction with his brilliant ?A play. He figured only one club would cash (you would have led a singleton club if you had it, so declarer had only one club). By laying down the ace, (ostensibly denying the king), he was telling you there was no future in clubs. You knew there was nothing in diamonds (he would have taken the ace if he had it). There were no more heart tricks available. The only chance to set the contract was to play partner for the ?10. Overtake the ?K and play another heart and partner scores his ?10 for down 1. This earns your team 12 IMPs as the same contract made at the other table.

How to Scramble

This next deal is important.

Why? It is a battle in the every?day trenches of bridge. As South, you hold:

?A 10
?A Q 6 4
?Q 10 9 6 3
?Q 10

With neither side vulnerable, LHO opens 1? and RHO raises to 2?. And you?

I am a big believer in "getting" in—especially so when the opponents bid and raise a major. My worst nightmare is that I pass and everyone passes and we defend 2?. (You must think I have a pretty good life if this is my worst dream). What should I bid? I suppose 3? is possible, but I think double is more flexible.

What if partner takes out to clubs? One, don't play with such partners. Two, if he does bid clubs, he should have five or more. How is this? Because, you should play the "scrambling 2NT." Any time they bid and raise a major, you should never use 2NT as natural in response to a takeout double. It's unlikely that 2NT will ever be the right contract. A 2NT response says: Partner, I have no 5?card suit to bid—let's scramble and try to find a 4?4 fit. Please pull to your cheapest 4?card suit and let's go from there." So, if you double with this hand and partner is say, 3=3=3=4 (with 4 clubs), he will bid 2NT scrambling. If you had 4 clubs, you would bid 3? and find the 4?4 fit. If you don't have 4 clubs, you try the next 4?card (or longer) suit. In this case it would land you in a 5?3 diamond fit. On a bad day, it is possible there are only 4?3 fits to be reached.

So, let's say you double. Indeed, partner scrambles with 2NT (had he chosen clubs, you'd have passed and played a 5?2 fit; had he chosen a red suit, you'd be content). You try 3? and everyone passes.

Vul: None
Dlr: West
?J 5 2
?J 2
?A 8 4 2
?8 4 3 2
 
? 
? 
? 
? 
  ? 
? 
? 
? 
  ?A 10
?A Q 6 4
?Q 10 9 6 3
?Q 10
 

Notice how convenient it was for partner to scramble with 2NT instead of guessing to choose a minor. West leads the ?K and I ask you for a plan. My regular readers are tired of hearing me say it, but: Count losers in trump contracts. If you are tired of it, then maybe you are doing it. Here, you have to lose 1?, 2? for sure. Barring a miracle (like singleton ?K with West) in trumps, you can expect a trump loser. So, to make your contract you will need East to have the ?K. Does that help with your plan?

You will have to decide how to play the trump suit for only one loser. If West has ?KJx, you have to lead a high one from hand for a finesse. If East has ?KJx, you need to play low to dummy's ace and a low one back.

Assuming East has the ?K (which you will need), how do you place the cards? You should also assign East a top club honor. Why? Because West would have preferred a club lead from AK instead of a spade from K?Q?empty. With East expected to have a high club and the ?K, he won't also hold the ?K.

Accordingly, you should win the first trick and play the trump queen. West covers with the king and East follow low as you win dummy's ace. The rest is easy.

You can afford to draw more trump. Even if they are 3?1, you have enough tricks. But, be careful to use your dummy entry for a heart finesse. So, after the ?A, play a heart to the queen (it wins). Then another trump is taken by West's Jack (East shows out). West can play another trump (or cash the 3 black defensive tricks), but you are home free. Eventually, you play the ?10 to set up the ?J in dummy. On the ?J you throw a heart, and the other heart gets ruffed in dummy. This was the full deal:

Vul: None
Dlr: West
?J 5 2
?J 2
?A 8 4 2
?8 4 3 2
 
?K Q 8 4 3
?8 7
?K J 7
?K J 6
  ?9 7 6
?K 10 9 5 3
?5
?A 9 7 5
  ?A 10
?A Q 6 4
?Q 10 9 6 3
?Q 10
 
WestNorthEastSouth
       
1? Pass 2? Double
Pass 2NT* Pass 3?
Pass Pass Pass  

*Scrambling

Notice that playing the ?A and another diamond would have led to down one. Once you realized you needed the ?K right, the rest of the play worked itself out. For 110 you win 7 IMPs. Why so many? The other table started with the same auction, but North didn't know whether his partnership used the scrambling 2NT. He took out the double to 3? and South passed. This was not pretty. 3? was down 4 tricks.


Are you all up to date on your Eddie Kantar RKC articles/books? Do you use 1430? If so, then 5?=1 or 4, 5?=0 or 3, 5?/5? = 2 (with and without the queen, respectively).

What if you happen to have all 5 keycards? It's a little known fact (since it is so rare), but technically, the 5? and 5? responses show "2 or 5" key cards (5? = 2 or 5 without the trump queen, 5? = 2 or 5 with the trump queen).

Got it? Now, along come Bobby Levin and Steve Weinstein, my teammates at the Gatlinburg, 2008 regional. Levin picks up:

?Q J 9 2
?Q 8 7 5 3
?K 5 4
?3

and hears partner open 2? strong. Over Levin's waiting bid of 2?, opener bids 2NT showing 22?24 balanced. Levin uses a form of Puppet Stayman whereby partner announces a four?card major (either major). Levin bids 4? to say that he has BOTH majors. Weinstein now counters with 4? to say he has a good hand for slam.

This pair uses "double?keycard" Blackwood. What's this? When there are 2 suits in play, there are the 4 aces and the key kings in both suits. On this auction, where responder has shown both majors and opener is balanced, Levin decided that double?keycard applied. Hearts and spades had to be the key suits and the king of each would be a keycard. So, he wheeled out 4NT, double?barrel RKC. In such a scenario, there are not five, but SIX keycards!

Levin could envision a spade grand slam opposite:

?A K 7 5
?A K 6
?A 6 2
?A 9 4

A club is ruffed in the weak hand and with good splits there are 13 tricks. One little problem. Over the 4NT ask, how does opener show SIX keycards? Yes, he has all six??the four aces and the two key kings!

The partnership had never discussed it. It turns out that opener had only 5 keycards, and the pair bid and made 6?. But, ever searching to improve the methods, they are ready for this deal next time. If opener actually is dealt the hand shown above, his response to Blackwood will be 5?. The pair has agreed that 5? is 1 or 4, and 5? is 0 or 3 or 6. Heaven help us all.

If you add this to your arsenal, good luck waiting for it to ever come up. I asked Eddie Kantar: Will this be in your revised version of RKC? He told me: "First of all, I am done with revisions. Second, the current version says that if you ever have 5 keycards in response, 'just bid 8 and expect to make 11.'" So, with 6 keycards, I suppose Eddie would bid to the 9?level and expect to make 18 tricks.


Red?Faced Writer

We close out our tour of Gatlinburg with this slam decision:

?K J 10 9 7
?8 4
?K 2
?A K 9 7

Both vulnerable, the dealer on my left opened 2?. My partner doubled and RHO raised to 3?. It is annoying that opponents are making and raising preempts so often. I would have liked more room. I felt this hand was too good to bid only 4?. So, I tried 5?.

There is confusion about jumps to five of a major. When the opponents are bidding a suit, 5?level jumps are slam invitational, looking for a control (ace, king, singleton or void). My hand (with two low hearts) was typical. Partner put me in 6? and this turned out to be a good spot:

Vul: 
Dlr: 
?A Q 8 2
?2
?A 8 7 5
?Q 5 4 3
 
? 
? 
? 
? 
  ? 
? 
? 
? 
  ?K J 10 9 7
?8 4
?K 2
?A K 9 7
 

LHO led the ?K and switched to a trump. Your thoughts?

Aside from the heart loser, the only other potential trick to be lost is in clubs. (Your other little heart will be ruffed in dummy, of course). If clubs are 3?2 there will be no problem. You can also survive a 4?1 club break if LHO's singleton is the jack or ten (you will end up with a marked finesse against East on the fourth round).

Before touching clubs, it can't hurt to follow general principles. In an effort to learn about the lie of the cards, I drew trump (2?2), ruffed my heart in dummy and in the process, ruffed out the diamonds (4?3, with opener having 4) to leave:

Vul: 
Dlr: 
?Q
?--
?--
?Q 5 4 3
 
? 
? 
? 
? 
  ? 
? 
? 
? 
  ?J
?--
?--
?A K 9 7
 

Notice that I was careful to keep the higher trump in dummy, where it might be needed. Watch. I played the ?7 to the queen and all followed low. Now another club from dummy, East played low, and ...

Were you counting? LHO started with 4 diamonds, 2 spades, and from the auction, 6 hearts. The club he played on the first round should be his only one. RHO started with jack?ten?fourth. I triumphantly put in the ?9 (had RHO split, I had that crucial re?entry to dummy to finesse later) and...

 

This was the full deal:

Vul: None
Dlr: West
?A Q 8 2
?2
?A 8 7 5
?Q 5 4 3
 
?6 5
?A K J 5 3
?10 9 6 4
?J 8
  ?4 3
?Q 10 9 7 6
?Q J 3
?10 6 2
  ?K J 10 9 7
?8 4
?K 2
?A K 9 7
 
WestNorthEastSouth
2? Double 3? 5?
Pass 6? All Pass  

Shock and embarrassment. LHO won the?J, down one in a "cold" contract. LHO had only five hearts, and RHO had raised only to three with five?card support. They got me! My teammates were surprised that their ?680 was a loss (not a gain) of 13 IMPs. Sorry guys??but if I had to do it all over again, I'd make the same losing play.