Thursday, September 24, 2015

Adventures at the Greek Bridge Festival

At the end of the Chicago NABC and for a few days after returning home, I was mainly trying to figure out Atlanta Labor Day regional plans. Nothing was too appealing, so I asked Irma if she'd like to go with me to the Greek Bridge Festival in Athens going on at the same time. Irma was one bright spot from an otherwise annoying Chicago trip, so I thought this could be fun. I wasn’t entirely sure how serious I was about this since I had only known her about a week, but she was very interested in the trip so we made it happen.

It has been five years since I had been outside the U.S./Canada (by far the longest I’ve ever gone without a Europe trip). Each summer I toy with the idea of going to a bridge festival in Greece or France, but I’ve just never had anyone I like enough who also wants to go. The day after I made my plans, my aunt and uncle and cousin made arrangements to come from Berlin for a couple of days so it was nice to get to see them too. Yay.

As with any long trip to an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people there are some problems, but it was basically fun – a steady routine of daytime visits around Athens, one session of bridge each night, and bars until the wee hours.

Irma and I didn't play so well the first 5 days in open and mixed pairs, and by the end of day 5, I think we were both ready to go home. However, we stuck it out and played the Swiss team event with a very nice and decent Greek pair - Thanos and Stefanos.

We needed something good to happen to feel good about the trip, our bridge play, and our friendship. The final two days were much better on all counts.  

Non-bridge players stop here. Bridge players, please read on.

Going into the last round of the Swiss we were in 9th place and up against our friends Tom Paske, Jason Hackett, Giannis Oikonomopoulos and his dad. With a close match we would both make the overalls but with a big win one of us could sneak into the top 5. Here are a few interesting boards from that round.

On the second board (#22), Tom had this defensive problem against my 4NT, knowing I have a weak NT with 4 hearts.

Dummy (on your left): 8643  K7  AKJ862  A
Your hand: A52  JT982  5  9642

The J lead was won in dummy with partner playing the 6 (upside down). A, K, a diamond to partner, assume you discard a discouraging club and a low heart. Then partner leads the 5 to declarer's A, A, then 3 more diamonds. What are your three discards? Partner throws the clubs starting with the Q.
You know 9 of declarer's points (AQ, K) and can count eight tricks for him (5 diamonds AK and A) so if you get in with the spade and lead a heart or club, that gives declarer the entry to score the Q and K he can't otherwise get to. So there's no reason to keep any clubs. Yes, if I held QJx or KJ(x) or KQ(x), all fairly reasonable holdings for this auction, there is nothing that can be done, but on the actual deal I help QJ-doubleton, and Tom didn’t work out the position.

On board 24 in third seat none vul I picked up AQ98  KJ4  9  Q7653 and opened 1. It proceeded: 2-2-P; P-X-P-P. I seriously considered running to 3 – spades are almost certainly 5-1 or 6-0 and we probably have a club fit that will split nicer. Fortunately I passed out 2X and this is what Irma produced: 743  QT53  A7654  K. Tom led K. I won and knocked out the A. Now a trump and I was able to score two minor suit tricks, four trumps in hand, and two club ruffs to bring in 470. Leading trumps on opening lead wouldn’t help because Tom couldn’t lead a second trump when in with the club. He could get to Jason by playing A and a heart so Jason could lead a second trump, but then they lose trump control and I could just ruff one club, draw trumps and have heart winners.

The next board (#17) they tried too hard to make up for the previous bad scores. Tom held KQJ KQT2 AJ642 J. I opened on his right: 3-X-4-X; P-? He opted to pass this and hope for 500 on pure power or that 4 wouldn’t make. Nothing to the play. We went down 1 and 4 makes exactly 4.
Board 19 put the nail in the coffin. At my table Jason, in third seat favorable, tried responding to 1 with 1 holding J64 T86 KT853 Q6. I like this tactical bid in this state of the match. The whole auction: 1-P-1-1; 2-2-P-4; P-P-5; X-P-P-P. This was a good sac (down 3 for 500). Oikonomopoulos bid ambitiously on our cards to 6.

AT32 AQ74 7642 3
KQ987 KJ6 AJ T98

A diamond lead kills the slam off the bat, but our teammates understandably led a big club. Now the contract can be made by finding the jack of spades: ruff one club low, ruff another club high, then finesse for the jack. I don't know the bidding at their table, but it’s not so clear to take that line of play. Knowing clubs are 7-2 swings the percentage in favor that line over one of the others (ruff the third round of clubs with the ten and be sure to pick up trumps, or ruff third round of clubs high and play for the J to drop doubleton, or draw two rounds of trumps before ruffing the third round of clubs), but it’s still not clear.

The final tally was 38-6 in our favor. We moved all the way to 4th for a decent payout, just .09 VP behind the high-powered Milner team.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

4 or 7 Hand but I was in 5

I faced a brutal play problem last night at the club. It was a 4 or 7 hand and I was in the worst possible level – 5!
AQ  AK9xxx  Qxxx
KJTxxx  J8x  AK  Jx
First let's start with the auction. That was pretty interesting too. My RHO opened 3Din first seat, both vul. I overcalled 3, what do you do with the north hand? He bid 4, in theory a slam try in spades but not necessarily a diamond control. I tried 4, my only semi-cooperating bid available even though I don't have a heart control. I didn't think the hand was strong enough to commit to the five-level by cuebidding 5 - it probably isn't good enough to cooperate at all. I figured partner might cue 5 and then I could cue 5.
The auction took a strange turn when partner bid 5 over my 4. Is he now trying to suggest hearts or is he making another slam move with no minor suit control? Regardless, no club cue so I sign off and play 5.
LHO leads the 10 and I basically have to get hearts right to make the contract, and getting hearts right likely means taking all of the tricks because if I get hearts wrong (or if the preemptor had Qxx and there is no right play), they will surely cash their two club tricks.
The non-high club lead suggests the club honors are split because he likely would have led a big club from AK so RHO has a club honor and QJ. LHO rates to have three hearts so if I go with that, I have a couple of options on how to play.
A)      Draw trumps, then cash the A, taking all the tricks when RHO has stiff Q and making 5 when RHO has stiff ten, and going down when he has one of the two small singletons.
B)      Draw trumps and lead the J, planning to double finesse. This makes 7 when RHO has stiff ten and 5 in all other cases (only way back to hand to lead hearts a second time is by losing two clubs and ruffing a club).
C)      Lead the J now, then draw trumps and take a second heart finesse. This makes 7 when LHO has QT(x) but goes down when LHO has QTxx.
Given that I was in 5 (not 4), I probably should take the safest line to make 5, which is definitely B. However, table feel and just the desire to take all the tricks led me to the slightly inferior line that risks a 4-0 heart split.
So the J was covered with the Q and no ten appeared. Then LHO showed up with four spades so the count no longer is much in favor of a 3-1 heart split – LHO has 7 pointed cards, RHO 8. So do I go back to playing for hearts to be 2-2 or continue with the double finesse. Is the good club player on my right equally likely to preempt with x, Qx, QJxxxxx, Hxx and x, x, QJxxxxx, Hxxx? I don't know but the latter is certainly a more attractive 1st seat vulnerable preempt.
So I tanked and played a heart to the nine, won all the tricks, and all the matchpoints.