Boston Part I

Author: Larry Cohen
Date of publish: 12/28/2008
Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Boston Nationals (2008)

Eric Rodwell

My friend Eric Rodwell had the best tournament in the history of bridge. In the 4 major open National Championship events, he finished 2nd, 1st, 1st, and 1st overall to win a whopping 623.75 masterpoints. I suppose this record could be broken, but I doubt it ever will be.

My 7th, 2nd, 31st, and 4th in the same events (267.48 Masterpoints) pales in comparison. Still, I did have a good week of gathering interesting bridge deals. The most spectacular was this one:


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

Surely, this would have been an interesting deal to follow around the room (on the first day of the Blue Ribbon Pairs).

North's hand is strange enough with its 5?7 shape in the majors. East's hand is not only a 1 in 100,000 shot, but a newspaper?editor's headache (deal diagrams aren't designed to hold that diamond suit).

When we played this deal, I held the South hand as dealer. Our systemic opening bid is 2? to show 11?15 HCP and a 3?suiter with 0?1 diamond. Holding the North hand, David was amused to see me make such a call. If he didn't have 20 years of history and trust, he might have thought I had forgotten our system and had opened a natural weak?two in diamonds.

After West passed, David decided to jump to 4? with the North hand. This certainly didn't silent East. He entered with a bid of 5?. I doubled (I had two aces, and the maximum number of diamonds and minimum number of hearts I could hold). David was having none of this. He pulled to 5?, passed around to West, who doubled.

Before we discuss the play in 5?, let's examine what happens when East plays in diamonds. It looks like he has to lose three club tricks, but at some tables South led the ?A and declarer had 11 tricks. At one table, South led the ?3 against 5?X. Declarer smartly played low, and North failed to work it out. He put up the ace and declarer had his two discards to make 11 tricks.

Many North players failed in 5? (usually doubled). They ruffed the diamond opening lead and naively laid down the ?A with disastrous results. They not only had to lose two heart tricks, but a spade as well (there wasn't time to discard all the spades on the clubs).

David fared better. Much better, in fact. On any lead, declarer can make 12 (yes 12!) tricks in hearts. After ruffing the diamond lead, declarer led the ?10 from hand. This guarded against the likely 3?0 break. What can West do when she wins her ?K? At our table she played the ?K. David won dummy's ace and played the ?J. He was able to draw trumps with only one loser, and then he received an unexpected bonus of an overtrick. Instead of conceding a spade trick, he first tried the clubs. He played the ?K and had to overtake (there was no more entry to dummy since the ?A had been dislodged). He continued clubs from the top and when the 10?9 fell, all the clubs were good for 4 spade discards. Making 6 for +1050 was not a top board. Some people were in 4?X making 6 (1190) and a few were in 6?X making 6 (1630). On the flip side, some North?South pairs were ?750 (against 5?X as discussed above). It was quite a freaky deal!

Another freak deal with a less happy ending for us started when I picked up:

?8 7
?9 7 6
?K Q 9 8 5 3 2

Vulnerable against not, I was wondering if I would be able to preempt in clubs. I was in third seat and never got the chance. My partner, David Berkowitz, opened 1?. RHO, Zia Mahmood, overcalled 2?. I was too weak to enter, so I passed. LHO, Chip Martel, bid 2NT.

At this point, things started to get uncomfortable. My partner wasn't done bidding. He made a strange 3? bid—their suit! What could this be? It is not in our "notes," but by logic, it couldn't be natural. Furthermore, since we play a strong?club system, David was limited to at most 15 HCP. So, he must have a freaky distributional hand. More specifically, he must have some spades with his hearts. Why not bid spades? By bidding 3?, he could say that he has spades, but still keep us at the 3?level if I preferred hearts. RHO doubled.

This was nice for me, as I wasn't looking forward to choosing between the majors. Now, I could pass and see what happened. At worst, partner would choose a major. I knew we were on the hook for a huge minus score, so was delighted when LHO took out the double to 3NT—without even trying to collect a penalty.

David started to think again. Where was a muzzle? "Partner, please shut up! They already wanted a penalty on the 3?level and we escaped. Doesn't your table presence warn you to keep quiet?" No such luck. David came again with 4?! He was begging me to choose a major. He must have some very freaky distribution. This time, RHO passed, so I had to choose a suit.

I chose hearts. If nothing else, he would have to play it. Had I chosen spades, I'd be declarer. We got doubled of course, and I had to table my horrible dummy in 4?X. This was the full deal:


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

North (unhappy Larry)


As you can see, David had quite a freaky hand. For the second time this tournament, somebody was dealt two voids (can you actually be dealt a void?).

I think David should have bid 3? at his second turn, but that is beside the point.

Even opposite my two little spades and one little heart, his contract had play. In fact, 4?X can be made. The lead was the ?A, ruffed. The key to the hand is the spade suit. If declarer plays the ?A then the ?Q, he loses only one spade trick (the jack gets smothered). There are also timing issues, but the simplest of all lines works: Ruff the diamond lead and draw trump, then guess spades. It goes like this:

Trick 1: Diamond lead ruffed
Trick 2: ?K to drive out the ace
Trick 3: Diamond ruffed (no other defense is better)
Trick 4: ?J to drive out the queen
Trick 5: Diamond ruffed
Trick 6: ?10 to draw the last trump.

At this point, declarer has played a trump to all 6 tricks, but trumps are drawn. Now he can play the ?A and ?Q to make the contract.

However, the problem with this "all?out" line is the potential loss of control. If you don't guess spades at the key moment, you go down multiple tricks.

So, David embarked on a safer line of play. At trick 2, he played on spades—but guessed incorrectly. He played ?A then a low spade. West won the ?J and tapped David in diamonds. Another spade was played and West ruffed with the ?9 (dummy shedding the last diamond). The ?A tapped declarer and now David misguessed the other major—hearts. He played the ?K to the now?bare ?A. He got tapped and continued hearts. Now he did get tapped out and ended up down 3, ?800 for a bottom.

Please: Don't anyone tell David this deal is in print. He didn't do anything too stupid. Or, let's put it another way: this won't be his worst deal ever. Meanwhile, my reason for writing it up (aside from the amusement value) is to tell you how annoying bridge can be at times. I had the misfortune of holding that North hand, getting consistently abused in the bidding, and then getting more torture trick?by?trick as the dummy when we went from +790 to ?200 to ?500 to ?800 and a bottom. Oh well.

Next time your partner mangles a deal, remember this one. If a 25?time National champion like David Berkowitz can do it, have some compassion when your partner screws up.

I was able to add a deal to a collection I am keeping. I love it when the defender knows everyone's shape at trick one. This is my latest from Boston:

Vul: North-South
Dlr: East
?A 10 5
?9 5 3
?K 9 4 3
?9 5 2
?K 9 6 3
?J 6
?J 7 6 5
?10 6 4
  ?Q J 7
?Q 7 4 2
?A Q 10 8
?Q 3
  ?8 4 2
?A K 10 8
?A K J 8 7
1? X 1? 1NT
X* 2? 2? 3?
Pass Pass Pass  

* Support Double


West leads a diamond to the queen and knows everyone's shape.

How is this?

Let's review the bidding (from West's point of view). He knows that East has exactly three spades (from the support double). When declarer follows to the first trick, he knows that East has exactly 4 diamonds (he can't have only 3 diamonds, because the only shape to open 1? with 3 is 4=4=3=2 with 4?4 in the majors). East can't have as many as 3 clubs, because declarer's 2? bid showed at least 5. East can't have fewer than 2 clubs, because that would leave him 5 hearts—not possible for a 1? opening. Voilà, East must have 3 spades, 4 hearts, 4 diamonds, and 2 clubs. Subtracting from 13, which means South is exactly 3=4=1=5. It makes it easier to defend when you know everyone's shape (not that it made any difference on this deal; 9 tricks were always there).

Next month, I'll present the rest of my "Boston collection."