Last Hurrah in Houston -- Part 2

Author: Larry Cohen
Date of publish: 04/23/2009
Level: Intermediate to Advanced

After winning the Open Pairs on the first weekend, the tournament went downhill for me.

We lost early (Round of 32) in the Vanderbilt to a young French team. Then we appeared headed towards a second National title in the tournament-ending NABC Swiss Teams.

On the first day of qualifying we had this deal:



Vul: Both
Dir: East
?A K 8 6
?10 8 5 3
?J 9 8 2
?5 3 2
?J 9 7
?K Q J 9 4 3
  ?10 9 7 4
?Q 6 4 2
?10 8
?K 10 3
  ?Q J
?A K
?A 7 6 2
?A Q 7 6 5
  David   Larry

At one table, South opened 2NT and North Staymaned into 3NT. Diamonds were led, but West had no side entry. After a hold-up play in diamonds, declarer took 10 tricks for 630.

At our table, I opened the South hand 1? (Precision). West overcalled only 1? (I like it when they don't preempt). David had a specialized bid to show a 4-4-1-4 hand. I used Keycard Blackwood to reach the excellent 6?.

However, there was a small hurdle in the play. West led the ?K which I won with the ace. Looking at all four hands, you can see that there are many ways to succeed. But, in real life it is normal to lay down the ?A at trick two.

Declarer is willing to lose to the ?K. On anything other than a 4-0 trump break, you can knock out the ?K, draw trump and then ruff a diamond in dummy. The other two little diamonds go on dummy's ?AK.

So, what is the trap? Suppose that after the ?A, declarer plays a low club. Dummy plays the jack and East wins the King. Then East taps dummy with a diamond. Do you see the problem? The spades are blocked. Declarer can take the ?QJ, but can't get back to dummy for the ?AK. He can't ruff another diamond in dummy because it will get overruffed.

So, if you win the ?A and then play a low club, you are down! Unblocking the ?QJ first also has some danger.

A much easier solution is to play the ?Q after the ?A. Now, nothing can go wrong. If clubs are 2-2, you claim. If clubs are 3-1, you still have the ?J as a late entry to dummy. On the actual layout, East can win the ?Q and tap dummy, but now you play the ?QJ, and then cross to the ?J to draw the last trump and take your two discards on the high spades to claim 1370. For bidding and making 6? (the play went as described), our team won 12 IMPs.

We ended the qualifying day in second place and things went really well in the finals. We were leading the event when these back-to-back deals occurred:


Vul: East-West
Dir: East
?K 3
?10 7 6 3 2
?Q J 10 5 3
?A Q J 6 5 2
?8 6
?J 8 4
?A 6
  ?10 9 8 7 4
?J 10 9
?Q 5
?K 7 2
?A Q 7 5 4 3 2
?A K 9
?9 8 4
David   Larry  

 South opened 1? and David overcalled 1?. North made a negative double and I raised only to 3?. Normally I follow the LAW and bid to the 4-level with 10 trumps. However, with 5-3-3-2 distribution, all my points outside of spades, and unfavorable vulnerability, I adjusted and toned things down a bit. Part of using the Law of Total Tricks is realizing when factors exist (such as those described) to make you downgrade or upgrade the number of trumps/tricks. Over my 3?, South bid 4? and everyone passed.

We are not big on laying down unsupported aces, but this time David happened to hit on the excellent lead of the ?A. He continued clubs to my king and I gave him his club ruff. With three tricks in, most defenders would next attempt to cash the setting trick. They would lay down the ?A - with disastrous consequences. Declarer would ruff, cross to the ?K and throw his ?9 on the ?K.

However, a good player who is concentrating will see that there is no need to lay down the ?A. Where could it go? There is no entry to dummy's good clubs (because after only the ?K is played, trumps won't be drawn). The diamonds can't possibly run (declarer would need to have ?AKQx-he can't have 4 diamonds, 3 clubs, and 1 spade for his 4? bid). So, David exited passively with a red suit. Declarer eventually had to lose a diamond trick for down one. Well done, David. Of course, if declarer runs all his trumps, West must discard his ?A and keep all three of his diamonds. Careful defensive signaling would accomplish the job.

At the other table, E-W sacrificed in 4?, doubled down 500, so our team won 11 IMPs.

On the very next deal: 

Vul: Both
Dir: East
?A Q 9 8 6 3
?K Q J 6
?Q 3
?J 8 7 6
?9 8 7 5 3 2
?10 5
  ?K J 10 5 4
?A K 10 4 2
?9 8 7
?Q 9 3
?A 10 4
?A K J 6 4 2
   Larry    David

No, we didn't switch seats. I am a big believer in always rotating the deal so that South declares.

East opened 1? and David overcalled 2?. I cue-bid 2? and David, with extras, tried 3?. This made me think of slam. I cue-bid again (3?) and David jumped to 5?. He had shown me enough interest, so I put him in 6?.

This is a great slam, but you can see that bad breaks are looming. West led his singleton spade, won with dummy's ace. David had 11 top tricks and needed to ruff a heart in dummy for his 12th. He played a heart at trick two. If East wins and plays a (low) spade, what is declarer to do? He'd ruff high, ruff a heart in dummy, cash the ?Q, but then would try to get to his hand with a diamond. East would ruff for down 1.

But, East had a different plan in mind. He played low at trick 2 when the heart came off dummy. He hoped his partner could win the trick. Then, West would figure out what was going on and issue a diamond ruff. East's plan was foiled when David put up the ?Q to win the trick. Now, David simply drew trumps and claimed 1370.

Probably, East should have made a Lightner double. This would have gotten the message across to West to lead a diamond. East could ruff, and cash the ?A for down one.

At the other table, N-S reached the dangerous contract of 3NT, but with both hearts right, this made for 660, but our team won 12 IMPs.

I thought we were going to win the event. We were leading with one match to go. On the way to the lead we had all those sensational deals. I was ready to give them to the press at our victory conference. Going into the last match we had a decent Victory-point lead against the powerhouse team of Zia-Hamman, Meckstroth-Rodwell. We had already played them, so we drew a different team for our final 7-board match. All we had to do was win our match to win the event.

Things were going well for us when I picked up this hand: 

?K J 9 8 6
?9 6
?A Q J 8 6

I was vulnerable against not and my RHO dealt and opened 3?. That wasn’t the suit I was expecting him to preempt in, but such things happen in modern bridge. What should I do?

Usually, with length in the opponent's suit, you should pass, but I thought my hand was too good. What if partner had, say ?Axxx and not much else? It might go all pass and we'd collect 50 a trick instead of 620.

So, I overcalled 3?. Partner raised to 4? and this was the full deal:

Vul: North-South
Dir: East
?A Q
?J 10 8 7 6 4
?J 4 3
?5 4
?5 4 3
?K Q 9 2
?A 10 8 7 5 2
  ?10 7 2
?5 3
?K Q
?K 10 9 7 3 2
  ?K J 9 8 6
?9 6
?A Q J 8 6
  David   Larry
    ? ?
Pass ? All Pass  

West led the ?K and I won the ace. With the known club situation, there wasn't much I could do. I had to lose two diamonds and eventually lost two clubs for down one.

At the other table, East also opened 3?, but South and West Passed. North reopened aggressively with 3? and South tried 3NT. 


The diamonds were blocked, so South was able to take 5 spades, 3 clubs and the ?A for a nifty 600. Our team lost 12 IMPs and the match. Not only did this prevent us from winning the event, but we dropped to 3rd overall.

It was a disappointing way to end my career at the Nationals.