Sunday, 15 May 2016

Buchanan Congress Pairs 2016

This is the third year in a row I've entered this event. In the last two years, with Anna, we narrowly failed to qualify for the final, and I narrowly failed to arrive on time (report here). This year I was playing with John Faben, who in previous years had done very well playing with Norman McGeagh, finishing 2nd overall and 1st overall.

Things started well when we both arrived thirty minutes before the start time, to fill out our System Cards. The main point of interest is that we play Puppet Stayman in all situations when it's appropriate, and many when it's not. Therefore, in the section on the bidding card for General System, I'd just written Puppet Stayman, which I regretted when somebody picked up our card and asked what system we play. It was like the time in the University Championships when my partner Jake and I wrote Post-Prandial Slump on our System Card, and an opponent asked what it was and when it applies (after lunch).

With the Puppet Stayman agreed the rest of the system fell into place. John made me agree that "2NT in competition is never natural" which is perhaps a good idea, but since we hadn't agreed what it was (only that it wasn't natural) this caused some confusion during the day, when 2NT bids were alerted, asked about, then explained only as "not natural".

On the very first board, at favourable vulnerability, I was dealer with this rotten 11 point hand:

♠ K ♥ 92 ♦ KJ86 ♣ A97643

I opened 1♣, and regretted it 30 seconds later when John leaped to 6NT, doubled and off two. But on the very next board he played a quiet 2♦ with two unexpected overtricks for a top score, so in the strange world of Matchpoints we broke even on the round.

We bid Puppet Stayman wherever possible, and scored a triumph here:


John opened the South hand 1NT (12-14, may contain a singleton) and I had the weak North hand. I bid 2♣ which asks for a 5-card Major. I knew that if John had one, ideally Spades, we'd be in at least a 5-2 fit, which is no worse than a transfer, and if he didn't have a five card Major we'd play in 2♦, as happened here.

2♦ went well as with the perfect layout of trumps declarer lost just one Diamond, two Spades and two Clubs. It scored 80%, just losing to the couple of North-South pairs making made more tricks than they should have in 1NT.

John was declarer most of the time, which suited me fine. The first time I was declarer I overbid my strong hand, trusted my ♥Kx was a stoppper and ended up in a dicey 3NT. My stopper was not a stopper and it went four off vulnerable. This turned out to be a reasonable score when we realised they could make 4♥ there way, on limited points. We were all a bit surprised when we saw the traveller for that one.

The hand I regret the most is one where we got 60% and bid a Grand Slam. My bidding is somewhat embarrassing here but I'll show it anyway:

-7♠- -

I had the nice North hand and when John reached for the Stop card I expected him to be bidding a weak 2♦. Instead out came 2♣! West wasted no time bidding 4♥, an excellent bid. My ♥A is a massive card and I thought about just bidding 7NT, but I was keenly aware that John might only have 16 points and a very distributional hand following his comments on my previous post here. So I bid a very confusing 5♥. John did what he could to make sense of this and bid 6♦, then I threw him again by bidding 6♥. He got that I was looking for another suit and bid 6♠ which I raised to 7♠.

7♠ made when the trumps were 3-1 (it can go down if they are 4-0) but of course 7NT makes too. The 4♥ bid helped me know that John had virtually all of the missing high cards (as West has at least ♥KQ) but still worried that John could have a hand like he does but missing the ♦Q or ♦J, in which case 7♠ makes and 7NT goes down.

Of the 14 North-South pairs 3 were in 7NT, 2 in 7♠ and the rest in small slam (and one in 5♦).

With the top half of the pairs qualifying for the final we knew it was going to be close. We finished on 52%, but that was only good enough for the top runner-up spot, and a place in the Consolation Final. Worse than that, in the final round before the break the pair we were playing defended incredibly slowly (and accurately) so we were last in the queue for lunch. We had some sandwiches then went to Kelvingrove park to look at the hands.

The top qualifiers were John Di Mambro and Ronald Gaffin with 62%.

In the Consolation Final we had a few good results, but also seemed to get a lot of things wrong. Once I opened 2♥ with a poor suit and John had a void. I lost five trump tricks and went two off. The hand below shows a notable bodge:

4♠--- -

This time North opened a weak 2♥ before me and I had the 20 point East hand. I considered a light 3NT or a heavy 2NT but decided for a double. When it came back to me in 3♥ I doubled again, and this time John bid 3♠. I should be able to tell he's got a very weak hand as he would have voluntarily bid 3♠ the round before if at all possible. But I bid 3NT anyway, and he wisely corrected to 4♠, which still went two off. I've read somewhere that novice players tend to overvalue good hands and undervalue weak hands; that was certainly me here.

4♠-2 was worth 17%, as John outplayed the pair in 4♠-3.

Looking at the hands now maybe I can blame John for not bidding 4♣ over 3NT, which certainly would have worked here.

In general I was guilty of not bidding directly enough, and we both made mistakes in the play, such as playing to give partner a ruff even though you know he has no trumps. This is only marginally better than playing to get a ruff yourself when you have no trumps. We did manage to generate a few positive swings, such as when John supported my Spades (at the four level) with ♠84 which lead to the opponent reaching a hopeless 6♥.

My final featured hand is a seemingly routine 3NT, played by South.

John was on lead and found the normal Club lead, which gives declarer time to set up the Hearts and after a Club finesse come to nine tricks. However, whenever 3NT was played by North it went down, as East found a Diamond lead. This seems reasonable enough, and it's just a swing based on luck of who is declarer. But the hand record shows that 3NT makes on any lead. How do you make 3NT on a Diamond lead? It looks like the defence have four Diamonds and a Heart.

The answer, which I worked out while walking home, is that declarer must play Diamonds herself. The defence do get their four Diamond tricks but West is squeezed so much that if she wants to keep her Heart guard she has to give up an extra tricks in Spades and Clubs, letting declarer get to nine tricks with only two from Hearts.

Overall, I estimated we got 55%, which turned out to be accurate. We were the East-West pair due to sit out on the final round, so went home early, after waiting for the Tournament Director to inform of us a ruling from earlier. The top pair in the Consolation Final were Kathleen Craig and Bob Innes with 62%. In the main final, the top three were:

1Horst Kopleck & Ricky Finlason 68%
2Jim McMenemy & Paul Maiolani 65%
3Iain Taylor & Andrew Symons 58%

So, curiously, after his success of the last two years John was unable to repeat that when playing with me. I can only think that's because he played a lot worse this time :)

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Danny misses out

Last Monday Anna went to play at Buchanan Bridge Club with Heather, while I dutifully stayed at home with the baby. Afterwards Anna brought home a copy of the hand records "so Danny could point out what I did wrong".

As I looked pored over the scores, one immediately stood out. I've never seen a hand before where declarer took zero tricks!

Anna had the monster South hand. She said that she considered opening 2♣, but the hand isn't strong enough (I think you're supposed to have 16+ HCP). The other option is 1♠, which is very unlikely to be passed out, but you'd be upset if that did happen when you've ten top tricks. She opened 4♠, which is a wide ranging, though not normally this strong. West overcalled 4NT, showing minors (for us it's any two-suiter). North was very disciplined and passed, but so did East! I guess she thought that since 4♠ could be weak the 4NT was natural. When it got back round to Anna she of course passed 4NT too, expecting to make loads of Spades tricks.

In fact, North lead out nine top Hearts, then found the Club switch so Anna took the last four. None for declarer. 4NT-10, vulnerable, was a great score for the defence. However, as you can imagine, this deal produced a wide variety of scores and +1000 was not the top score. One pair (Norman) go to 7♥, which made when East didn't know what to lead. Everyone playing in Spades made 11 tricks as West was able to cash two Diamonds.

Overall, Anna and Heather did very well, finishing 2nd out of 12 pairs. But with careful scrutiny I did manage to find one hand where they could have done better. How would you play 3NT here, when East leads a top Club?

You have eight top tricks, and are looking for a ninth, without letting East back in. After winning the third Club declarer made the natural play of a Heart finesse, leading up to the ♥J. When that lost West played a top Spade, which declarer won and now it's crunch time. You've already lost three tricks (two Clubs and a Heart) and if you finesse Hearts again by leading the ♥9 and that loses to West that's four tricks lost already, with the ♠Q still to come. So declarer played Hearts from the top, hoping they were 3-3 or the ten dropped, and when that failed she was doomed.

In fact, a better line after winning the ♣A is to play on Spades immediately. You finesse twice, and even if it loses twice (as it does here) you have still set up an extra Spade winner, which along with your eight top tricks gives you the contract. This is aggregate scoring, so no prizes for overtricks. The only thing that could go wrong with this line is if East has both the missing top Spades (which is unlikely since she didn't overcall 2♣) in which case you can decide to switch back to taking the Heart finesse.

So a missed opportunity. I like to think if I was playing we would have made this contract, and kept all of the other good results so came 1st overall (I'm assuming of course I wouldn't add any bodges, which is unlikely).