Berkowitz, Strul, Stansby, Martel, Cohen, Becker
Last month, I played in one of the most pressure?packed events on the calendar: the U.S. Team Trials. The winning team would earn the right to represent our country in Beijing to try to win the world championship. My team (see photo) made it all the way to the final match against the vaunted Nickell team (featuring the world's best: Meckstroth?Rodwell). We led after 75 deals (of 120) but Nickell took the lead and held on to win by 26. It was a heart?breaking loss for our team. (Second place gets nothing). Thousands of people (maybe you?) were watching every day on BBO. The pressure is hard to describe. Unless you've been there (playing for a world championship with thousands watching), you can't imagine the tension. I wrote a complete report on the finals for Bridge World Magazine. Here, I present three interesting deals from the quarterfinals and semifinals.
First, we examine a deal from the quarterfinals:
|A Q 7 6 5 3
10 9 2
|J 10 3
A J 7 6 5 4
10 9 8
|K 9 8 2
Q 10 6 2
K Q 8 3
A K J 9 7 5
K Q 7 6 5 3 2
In one quarterfinal match, this board wasn't played because the losing team had withdrawn, conceding defeat before it was played. In NICKELL versus MAHAFFEY, Freeman?Nickell stopped real low with the North?South cards. They bid:
The diamond?ace was led. Declarer ruffed and cashed two high hearts and made 450. This looked like a 10?imp loss, because their counterparts reached six clubs. The diamond ace was led, ruffed by declarer. He cashed a high heart, crossed in clubs and played a heart to the jack as a safety play. Not safe enough. West ruffed and returned a trump: down one and 11 imps for NICKELL. Safer would have been to ruff the diamond, stay off clubs altogether, cash a high heart and then exit from hand with a low heart. I am very familiar with this type of safety play because it is essentially described in the first deal of "My Favorite 52". (You can download and play that famous deal with the appropriate safety play.)
In JACOBS versus SPECTOR, another expert player also failed in six clubs on the same not?safe?enough safety play. However, they won imps. The other table played in seven clubs! Declarer ruffed the diamond lead, cashed a high heart, tested trumps (if they were 4?0 he would take a heart finesse next). When all followed to the first club, he could claim on any 3?2 heart break. He played to his other top heart, getting the bad news. West ruffed and should have returned a trump for down three. He didn't, but down two was still an unlucky 2?imp loss for the pair who bid seven. In our match, my partner and I also reached the ill?fated seven clubs. This was our auction:
*Exclusion Keycard Blackwood
That 5 bid needs explanation. At the point where David raised my clubs, I knew I wanted to be in seven if he had the A. How bad could seven be? At worst, I would need to ruff a heart or two in dummy. How should I find out about the A? There was no perfect method (not even the Grand?Slam force, if we used it, would work). So, I jumped to 5. Such unusual jumps above the trump suit are used as a specialized form of Blackwood. It says, "Partner, I am void in the suit I jumped in—I don't care about that ace. Please tell me how many aces (or keycards, counting the trump king) you have outside of the suit I jumped in." This bid comes up maybe once a year. Here, it wasn't perfect as I wanted to really know how many aces he had outside of diamonds and spades! I was going to take a chance that if he had only one ace, that it was the spade ace and I would have settled for 6. But, once he showed 2 aces outside diamonds, I knew he had to have the A, so I bid 7.
A trump was led. I won and laid down the top hearts. West ruffed and played another trump so I had to go down 3. It turns out we didn't lose much, because the player with my cards at the other table played 6 down one (he laid down the ace?king of hearts—not the best play). We lost only 3 IMPs and won the match easily
For experts: The real test in seven clubs would have come on a different layout. Say declarer lays down the heart ace and sees a devilish queen on his left. Should he take it at face value? He could draw two trumps, and if LHO is out of trumps, play a heart to the nine. This would lose to a crafty West player who dropped the queen from Q10, or even more diabolically, from Q10x!
Here is my worst deal of the year. I held:
7 6 4
A 7 2
A K Q 9 4
My LHO (he was vulnerable against not) opened 1. My RHO bid 3, alerted. I asked and was told it was artificial, showing a 3? or 4?card spade raise and 10?12 points in support (a limit raise). What should I do?
First of all, if you play tournament bridge, you will run into such conventions. This one was a form of Bergen raises. What does it mean if you double such an artificial bid? Is it a takeout double of spades? Or, does it show diamonds? I prefer the latter. I want to be able to double such artificial raises to get the right opening lead. I would double, with say: xx Jxx KQJ9x 10xx. Instead of watching partner blow a trick against four spades, I'd have the pleasure of receiving a diamond lead. I think that hand?type (only diamonds) is more likely than a good hand—such as this 19?count I happened to hold. It seems impossible to have so much when an opening bid is on my left and a limit?raise on my right. Anyway, I couldn't double (that would show diamonds). Probably, I should have bid 4, but I had a better plan. Surely LHO would have a minimum and sign off in 3. Then, when that came back to me, I could double for takeout. This would get hearts into the picture in case partner had five or six cards there. So I passed, but LHO ruined my plan by jumping to 4! Was this a Pinochle deck? When 4 came back to me, I could have guessed to double—or maybe bid 5, but I decided to pass and try to beat them. Why should I take a phantom sacrifice? Well, like I said, this was not my shining moment. This was the full deal:
9 8 6 3
K 10 8 7 5
10 8 3 2
|K J 10 5 3 2
K Q J 5 4
|A Q 9 8
J 9 6 4 3
J 6 5
|7 6 4
A 7 2
A K Q 9 4
As you can see, 4 made easily. All we took was our 3 aces, minus 620. Meanwhile, at the other table the auction began 1?Pass?3. Now, my hand had an easy takeout double, and ended up declarer in 6 doubled! The K was led and declarer played brilliantly. He won, drew only one trump, then played the top diamonds. (LHO, as declarer suspected from the wild auction, had no trumps left). Now declarer was home. He was able to ruff all three little spades in dummy, and throw a heart loser on the K. He made six for a score of 1090 and our team lost 17 IMPS! You'd think I'd be smart enough to not publish this deal—but I believe in full disclosure for my valued readers. You get the good, bad, and in this case, really bad and ugly (and embarrassing).
In spite of this double?disaster, we led JACOBS (a team that included the world?famous Zia) by 75 going into the final 15 deals. In the final 15 deals, Zia was swinging like crazy (he enjoys such challenges). The wildest one was:
|A 9 7 5 2
J 9 3
A J 9
|K Q J 10 8 6
A K 5
K 6 4 3
My partner and I reached six spades. I ruffed the heart lead, drew trump, ruffed the last heart, then played A, K and exited in diamonds. When RHO won the queen, I claimed (he had to give a ruff?sluff or break clubs).
Zia's partner opened the North hand very light (they were swinging). Eventually, Zia got to use Exclusion Keycard Blackwood (maybe it comes up more than once a year). He was able to jump to 5 with the South hand and opposite the answer (2 keycards outside of hearts) he bid 7. Clubs were 3?3 with the queen onside so they made it and won a big swing (but lost the match). At one table in the other match, there was also a need to swing. North opened a light 1 and his partner directly bid 5 (intending it as Exclusion). Opener passed, thinking it was natural! The 2?0 fit was down 6 tricks. I hope that serves as a warning that Exclusion Keycard Blackwood is a very dangerous convention to try at home. But, it sure can be fun!