To close the week of bridge the final event was the Open Pairs. I signed up to play with John Faben. In advance we'd agreed to play whichever system the winners of the main event used. When the Chairman's team prevailed this meant playing Hackett-Hackett, downloadable here. You might notice that the link there is for their 2005 system. We noticed this too but only after it was too late, so that's what we ended up playing.
The main features are:
|Four card majors, open them even with longer minor if weak|
|Three weak twos, could be five cards and 3-10 points|
|2/1 game forcing|
|Standard count and attitude|
There was also lots of other stuff that we quickly gleaned from the convention card, and agreed to play even though we didn't really know what we were doing. This included: four suit transfers, mini-splinters, South African Texas openings, Puppet Stayman, Kokish after 2♣, a funny defence to a 1♣ opening, various ways of showing two suited hands. It was foolish to try and play this unfamiliar system, of course it was, but we figured we might as well have a go, even if this was the highest standard I've played in for a long time and was costing us £40 each for the days play.
Besides, it couldn't go worse than last time me and John played together. That was at the New Melville Congess (report here) where we'd agreed to play a ridiculous mish-mash called Puppet Culbertson. I actually felt pretty confident with the Hackett's convention card. If it was good enough for the Hacketts (nine years ago), surely it was good enough for us?
The format was eight rounds of fix boards, matchpoint scored then converted to VPs. I'm not sure how they did the conversion, but you could to pretty terribly and still get 1 or 2 VPs, as we found out.
Round One - 14/20 VPs
I thought we played really well here, beating Norman Levitt and David Shenkin. I was sharp as a tack. On the first board defending 3NT declarer ducked the first Spade trick to me, and rather than just banging on with the Spades I shrewdly switched suits and we ended up with three tricks in defence and a very good score. Then John robbed them blind in 4♠, stealing a vital overtrick for a top board. Can you work out how he got 11 tricks here, declaring 4♠ as East?
South lead the ♦K, and his partner gave count. John cleverly ducked this, and when South continued with a low Diamond he was able to win in hand, draw two rounds of trumps, then finesse Diamonds and get his Heart away. Ducking the first trick is vital; if he wins then later tries to set up a Diamond winner it will be too obvious and the defence will switch to Hearts. I have to say if I was declarer I wouldn't have thought of ducking, I would just be thinking "Brilliant, 10 tricks".
That hand is also notable as it was my first ever 2/1 auction. After East opened 1♠ I had to reply 1NT, then when East rebid 2♣ I showed Spades and we were away.
For comparison, the Hacketts only made 4♠ there, and Jun Nakamura-Pinder and Phil Morrison got a gift when they sat North-South and their opponents only bid up to 3♠
Our only small losses in this set were when the opponents bid up to the normal contract and made the normal number of tricks, which always seems to get the declaring side about 60%. At the end of the round we scored 14/20 VPs, and moved up to Table 10. That proved to be our high water mark.
Round Two- 2/20 VPs
I didn't enjoy this match much. Our opponents, Tracy Capal and David Sherman, had their game faces on and beat us soundly. It was one way traffic, and I was standing in the middle of the road getting run over by it. I got hammered off three doubled in 3NT, then came the low point of the day:
When 2♣ got passed back to me I thought about coming back in with 2♠. I knew that South had denied four Spades and North wasn't bidding Spades, but I was too scared so I passed. Of course me and John had a massive Spade fit, and even if we play in 4♠-1 that's better than letting them make lots of tricks in Clubs. Declarer somehow made ten tricks, possibly due to me throwing the ♦9 in an over-enthusiastic signal, but it didn't really matter.
For comparison, the Hackett's were North-South and defended 3♠ making, and Jun & Phil were also North-South and defended 4♥-1 (I expect it was put in wrongly into the Bridgemate and it was actually 4♠-1. Some people can't cope with being North)
Despite averaging only 30% of the matchpoints we still bagged 2 VPs for our pitiful efforts.
Round Three - 8/20 VPs
I thought we'd won this match against John Large and Tadgh O'Mahony, but the scorecard disagrees. The opponents missed an easy slam by playing in 3NT, which is worth mentioning as in the bidding an opponent said "Never knowingly underbid" before making four overtricks. Then we missed a bad 6♠, because after John opened one of our very dodgy Weak Twos I didn't think slam was likely - I blame the system.
The crushing low point was this doozy. Our first absolute zero of the event. It's an interesting hand, as John blames me but I think it was entirely his fault:
My bidding was exemplary. John opened the South hand 1♦, and I replied 1♥. East then came in with 2NT, alerted as strong with the other two suits. West bid 3♠, and now I felt I was obliged to show Diamond support. East bid the obvious 4♠, then John with his flat 4333 hand with 12 points decided to press on to 5♦. This was doubled and to be fair to John he took all the tricks he could, scoring 5♦x-4 for minus 1100.
For comparison, the Hacketts played in 4♠+1, and Jun & Phil also defended 4♠+1. Out of 45 tables we were the only North-South pair declaring the contract.
We scored 8 VPs here to fall below average, and get catapulted into the second room, where we would remain for the rest of the day. Thanks John. My dream of getting to play against the top players was in tatters, and I now only dreamed of lunch.
Round Four - 18/20 VPs
Despite my crushing hunger we came roaring back, against Sam Malkani and Ian McClure. There was one hand where I held five Spades and was secretly pleased when the opponents got up to 4♠, and even happier when they got up to 5♠ and went one off. This was the most interesting deal of the set:
I've got an easy 3♥ bid, then North looked at his running Clubs and bid 3NT. I might have bid 4♥ as East, but John was worried about losers in the minors so doubled instead. Against 3NTx he lead a top Spade, and I discouraged. He then lead the ♦J, which was ducked (I should have overtaken it). He then played a Club, which declarer won in dummy and decided to take full advantage of being in dummy to lead up to his ♥K, fully expecting me to have the ♥A. He was a bit surprised when John won this trick, and if John had somehow realised exactly what had happened we could have taken another six Heart tricks. Instead John cashed two Spades then exited with a Diamond and the end result was a normal 3NTx-2.
This turned out to be a good score for us. The Hacketts did even better by playing 4♥+2, and Jun & Phil defended 3NT very poorly to take it only one off. I believe that after cashing a Spade East continued weakly with the ♥6.
We scored a splendid 18 VPs in this match, to take us fractionally above half way at the break. There was a meagre 30 minutes allotted for lunch, barely enough time for a bean wrap.
Round Five - 1/20 VPs
After lunch we had a post-prandial slump that Jake Corry would be proud of.
Our opponents were Harry Smith and Bob McCall. They judged well to get to two games most people missed, then I went on the tilt and decided to bid one more and suffered 3♥x-3. The part of the Hacketts' system we were struggling the most with was not opening a weak 1NT; as it meant we ended up later overbidding all these weak balanced hands.
I tried to level my tilt and bid this next hand sensibly, but somehow things got worse as we missed the slam. Who should have done more?
Such was the high standard that we were one of only five pairs to miss the slam. The Hacketts bid to 6NT+1, Jun & Phil to 6♥=.
Round Six - 10/20 VPs
Like Alan Partridge we bounced back, slightly. To begin with I played 2NT-1 with a nine card Spade fit then we doubled them in 4♥ and misdefended, but got it all back with a tremendous slam auction. At least one third of John our system discussion had been about Kokish auctions (see here), so I was delighted to be able to open 2♣ on a monster hand. Unfortunately it all went haywire after that.
I opened 2♣ and North immediately got in with a 2♦ overcall. John doubled this, which maybe to him showed Diamonds but I didn't know what he meant. I bid 3♣. I could have bid 4♣ to set them as trumps but thought we might still play in a major. John bid a useless 3♦, then when I bid 4♣ a useless 4♦. By this point I was a bit worried he might actually want to play in Diamonds, so I was a bit nervous about bidding 5♦ myself. My thinking was that I wanted John to be able to cuebid in Hearts or Spades, so by bidding Diamonds that lets him cuebid. He thought that since I couldn't cuebid myself he'd sign off in 6♣. I thought he probably had ♦A and guessed I might have an entry into his hand so had a punt at 7♣.
After seeing dummy I claimed immediately. For my fragile ego this was a massive boost.
For comparison the Hacketts got a great score when their opponents (Alan Mould and John Matheson) overbid to 7NT, and Jun & Phil made 6♣ against the eventual winners Andrew McIntoch and David Bakhshi. Jun & Phil were obviously doing well by this point, but not well enough that Jun still took the unnecessary Heart finesse and only made 12 tricks!
Round Seven - 14/20 VPs
A more relaxed match against Steve Bailey and Frances McKeon. The best board was where I felt pretty pleased to make 3NT+1, then afterwards realised I had been dealt ten top tricks.
For comparison, at both the other tables Declarer made 11 tricks.
We won this match to take us up to 67 VPs, from seven matches. That means we needed to get 13/20 VPs from our last match to finish average.
Round Eight - 0/20 VPs
Unfortunately though, we got a drubbing and got zero. Many low points to choose from. I could mention the hand where John forgot what the contract was and tried to get a ruff against 3NT. "What an odd lead" said declarer as John rattled off his Ace doubleton.
But instead my featured hand is the final deal of the event, where I went for a mad punt and that backfired too.
John opened his hand 1NT and I've got the nice West hand. I could have bid a 2♥ transfer, 3♠ slam invite or 4♦ Texas transfer to Spades. But it was the last hand of the day and I was tired so went for an immediate 6♠. I like to bid this way with a void because if the opponents don't know your hand you might get a favourable lead and make a bad contract when you shouldn't. Also, my 6♠ bid cleverly shut North out of the auction. North lead the ♣K and when Hearts split I had 13 tricks without needing the Diamond finesse.
Although it was good that 6♠ made it was actually such a good contract that everyone was in it, and lots were bidding and making 7♠. I blame John for failing to find the obvious raise, especially as we had previously discussed that any slam auction where we weren't missing a keycard we would raise Six to Seven. We decided this during the afternoon as on this set of boards it seemed that the grand was always making, and it would have worked well here too.
On the other tables the Hacketts bid to only 6♥ and Jun & Phil
did something horrible and only got to 4♥ defended 4♥ [Edit - I missed they were North-South for this set]
And the overall positions? Me and John finished 66th= out of 90 pairs. Not a great effort. Jun & Phil were up to Table 2 at one point but fell away, still finishing in a decent 29th=. And the Hacketts? They were playing the same system as us, so (barring minor differences in quality of play and defence) ought to have about the same score. However, they finished in 4th and were close to an overall victory. But of course they were playing their 2014 system, me and John were lumbered with the defunct 2005 version so no wonder we did so poorly.