Out with a Whimper

Author: Larry Cohen
Date of publish: 02/01/2011
Level: All Levels

Late in 2010, I drove a few hours to Orlando, Florida.


Even though "semi-retired" from the National scene, I decided to play in 2 events so close to home.

First came the 3-day Blue Ribbon Pairs with a long-time friend, Steve Weinstein. I thought we had a big game in the finals, but it was good enough for only 6th overall.

Then I played with another long-time friend, Jeff Wolfson, in the North American Swiss Teams. This 3-day event (opposite the Reisinger) seems to get stronger every year--with tons of international stars participating.



 Larry & Jeff at Thanksgiving (2010)



We reached the finals and were leading the event early during the final day. Then 3 things happened and we finished 5th overcall. Let's call them the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The "Good" was more "amusing" than good. In the second match of the final day, I held:

?J 10 6 4 3
?9 8 4
?J 3 2
?K 4

Both vulnerable, my partner opened 1? and RHO overcalled 1?.  Should I take action? This is a so-so 5-count. It's nice to have a 5-card suit, but a holding of xxx in RHO's suit is a deterrent. Bidding 1? here shows 5 or more spades while a negative double shows exactly four. I didn't really want to play it from my side (with LHO leading a heart, potentially through partner's honors), but I reluctantly decided to stick in a 1? bid. LHO bid 2? and my partner raised me to 2?. Since we were using Support Doubles, the direct raise promised 4 trumps. RHO passed as did I, but LHO now came back in with 3? passed around to me. Should I compete to 3?? The LAW of Total Tricks says: "With nine trumps, compete to the three level." However, there were extenuating circumstances (I call this "adjusting."). Here were the reasons NOT to bid 3?:


1) We were vulnerable

2) I had flat shape (5-3-3-2)

3) My partner knew we had 9 trumps (since 1? promised 5) and he saw no reason to go to 3?.

4) My three small hearts behind the heart bidder looked poor.

5) My ?Kx looked poor for offense (but might be worth something on defense).


This process of reasoning to "adjust" the LAW of Total Tricks is similar to using "Hand Evaluation" to adjust your HCP valuations. I passed and defended 3?.  This was the full deal:


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

There were 10 easy tricks and E-W scored 130.


Had we gone to 3?, we'd have been down at least two (-200). Maybe down 500 or 800 if West doubled (not that unlikely).


Now, for the amusing part of the story.


At the other table, the auction went the exact same way. After the deal, the South player (Sheri Winestock) remarked to her table: "Larry Cohen wouldn't approve of my not bidding to the 3-level with 9 trumps." She had no idea that I was the one holding her cards at the other table!


Anyway, Sheri--I do approve. Part of using the LAW of Total Tricks is not blindly counting trumps, but knowing how to adjust and evaluate. After the match, she was amused to find out that I was her counterpart and also passed.


The "Bad" was the turning point in the event. In the 3rd match we were leading the event and playing against the 2nd-place team made up of four Polish stars. Here is the deal I will have to think about throughout 2011 (since I plan no bridge playing all year):


Vul: N-S
Dir: East
?9 4
?Q 10
?9 8 7 6 5
?K 8 6 2
 ?A 2
?A K 6 5 4
?A Q 3 2
?J 4

I opened the South hand 1? and my partner, Jeff Wolfson, responded 1NT (semi-forcing). I had a choice of rebids: 2?, 3? or 2NT. All three have flaws (one is an underbid, one an overbid and the last is misdescriptive of the shape). I chose 3? and ended in 5?. The best game is probably 4?, but at least this was better than 3NT.


West led the ?6 (fourth best). I won the ace and had to decide if I should play trumps or hearts first. 


I compromised with the ?A then three rounds of hearts. Everyone followed as I pitched a spade from dummy. I then ruffed a spade and led a diamond to East's jack and West's doubleton king to leave:







?9 8
?K 8 6 2
?6 5
?3 2
?J 4

West was in and had nothing but black suits left. He couldn't afford to issue a ruff-sluff, so had to play a club. He exited with a low club and the moment of truth had arrived. Should I play the KING or LOW?  Here were the cases for the KING:


If I hadn't started the hand this way, I would always have had to lead up to the ?K on my own. Maybe at the other table they would take an early diamond finesse and West would exit in diamonds. That declarer would need to rely on the ?K onside.  Also, 4? requires the ?K to be onside. West seems to have led from the ?Q (since East played the ?K at trick one). With both black queens, he might have led a club (restricted choice), so assume he doesn't have both queens.


Here are the cases for LOW:


It is fun to execute an endplay (this would be the only way to make the hand if West started with the ?Q and East the ?A). We were probably trailing in the match (it turns out we were) and this was a good way to pick up a swing. Also, West could easily have had five spades to the queen. He had shown up with the ?K10. With the ?A as well, he would have overcalled 1? not vulnerable. Would West be good enough to underlead the ?A if he held it? (Yes, he was a world champion).


Which should it be?  I agonized for 3-4 minutes and couldn't come up with anything conclusive. I guessed wrong (I'll tell you in a minute). At the other table, our teammates were -100 in 3? the other way, so we lost 5 IMPs. Had I guessed correctly, we would have won 11 IMPs. We lost the match by 8 and would have won by 8. This knocked us out of first place and we never recovered. Painful.

So, what did I play from dummy? Low. LHO held: ?Q 8 7 6
?9 7 3
?K 10
?A 9 5 3
. I plan no more such costly misguesses as I go back into hibernation.

Now, the "Ugly."

In our final match, with the event slipping away, this was the final board for me of 2010.  I held:


?A J 5
?J 6 2
?10 9 4
?Q J 9 7
. I was South, on lead against 3NT, after this auction:


 2? Pass2?

Would it be a relatively safe ?10 or a more "normal" ?Q?  With my golden arm, I thrust the ?Q onto the table and the first thing I saw in dummy was ?K 10 8 2.  Declarer won his ?A and at trick two (why must he show me up right away?) played a club and put in the eight from dummy. Back to hand and a club to the 10--four club tricks in all. Thank you very much.


Fortunately, this lead cost only overtricks, but it let's me slink back into retirement with no second-thoughts. My next brilliant lead will have to wait until at least 2012.