Last Hurrah in Houston

Author: Larry Cohen
Date of publish: 03/01/2009
Level: Intermediate to Advanced

In March, 2009 I played in my last full nationals. That is the plan, anyway—you never know what life will bring. But for now, I am retiring from top-level bridge to focus more on teaching and writing (the parts of the game I love most). To read my full reason for leaving, please click here.

Enough with the sappy stuff—on to the bridge. We (my long-time partner David Berkowitz and I) started the tournament in the 2-Day National Open Pairs Championship (called the Silodor Open Pairs). Everything went right. Our opponents seemed to want me to win my last National Matchpoint Game. They did a good job. It was as if we had a big open bushel basket on our table, into which they dumped parting gifts. We averaged well over 60% and won by almost 3 boards.

On this deal from our victory, David made a thoughtful play:

Vul: None
Dlr: North
?J 5 4
?A 9 2
?Q 8 7
?K Q J 10
?8 2
?K Q J 10 8 5 4 3
?7 6
  ?A 10 9 6
?J 9 5 4 3 2
?9 8 3
  ?K Q 7 3
?7 6
?A 10 6
?A 5 4 2

North opened 1? and South responded 1?. David bid only 3? with the West hand (many of his counterparts bid 4? and played there, doubled, down two). David often preempts a trick less than the field (he is stodgy). North passed the 3? preempt and South reopened with a double (card-showing). North pulled to 3? and South raised to 4?.

As you can see, the perfect N-S contract on the layout is 3NT—West can never get in to take his hearts. Against 4?, David led the ?K. Dummy's ace was played and I ruffed. At trick two I played a diamond.

Declarer eyed this suspiciously (would I lead away from the king?), but eventually played low. David won his singleton ?K. Wanting a diamond ruff, he found a clever way to obtain one. Instead of playing a high heart, he played the ?8. This forced me to ruff—and it was easy to conclude why he had underled his known high hearts. I duly issued the diamond ruff and we had a second undertrick. Down two gave us 67 matchpoints on a 77 top on our way to victory. The rest of the week didn't have such a "happy ending." We lost early in the Vanderbilt Knockout teams to a French team that didn't seem to want me to go out with a victory. They did everything right, had all the luck, and our team did the opposite. This is a formula for losing, and that we did. This peculiar Vanderbilt deal occurred later in the week in the final match, but caught my interest:

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

At one table, South opened 1? and West doubled. East drove to 4? and easily scored 11 tricks for +650. This cost East-West 2 Imps. How? The East?West at the other table collected the very unusual score of +700. The auction was very simple:

1NT (14-16) Pass Pass Pass


South upgraded for his 5-card suit and opened a 14-16 point notrump. Everyone passed and West led a 4th-best heart. The defense ran 4 hearts and then 5 spades ending in the East hand. Declarer carelessly discarded one diamond from dummy and one diamond from hand. Now, when East poked through the ?J, the defense was able to take 4 diamond tricks. That's 4+5+4 for all 13 tricks! Declarer should have discarded better and "held" it to down 5 (or at worst down 6) for an actual profit against 650. I don't recall ever seeing a 1NT contract down 7.

In the final event, the 2-day National Swiss, it looked like my week would end with a second National Championship. The mixed-emotions report (with several "newspaper" deals) will appear next month.