The 2005 Grand National Teams

What a run!

My bridge team---Dan Barrett, Andy Caranicas, Sheila Kim and myself---recently won second place in the Flight C Grand National Teams in Atlanta. Andy and I have been playing together for two or three years now, and this was our last hurrah as a regular partnership before I start my new job at the University of Kansas. (I am starting to write this report during a break in Jenny's and my packing ordeal; the movers are supposed to come today to pack up our stuff.) It sure was a good one.

To get to Atlanta, we had to win the District 14 finals back in April. That wasn't as hard as it might have been, because only five Flight C teams showed up, three from Nebraska and two from Minnesota. The rest of District 14 (North and South Dakota and the host state of Iowa) was not represented. Part of the problem might have been the location; Fort Dodge is a depressing place and it isn't really near anything else. Anyway, the conditions of contest turned out to favor us: a round-robin on Saturday to eliminate one team, then knockouts on Sunday with full carryover. Well, we were up about 100 IMPs in the round robin (on 56 boards), making Sunday almost a formality. One team actually beat us by about 20, but they were down 50 to their semifinal opponents, who in turn were down 50 to us. We lost a little ground on Sunday, but not nearly enough to be in any danger. The Flight A and Flight B district winners were also Twin Cities teams, which was real nice: all of us were pulling for the others in Atlanta.

Andy and I flew to Atlanta Tuesday evening and had most of Wednesday off: the Championship Flight and Flight A started at 1:00, but Flights B and C not until 8:00. We kibitzed part of the Flight A team (Keith Connolly and Peg Waller) for a round or two, then took some time off from bridge before the first round. The NABC hadn't really gotten into full swing yet: only the GNTs were going on at this point.

There were 24 teams entered in Flight C. Eight three-team round-robins (32 boards against each other team, Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning), from which two teams would advance. Then knockouts: 32 boards in the first round, quarters and semis, 64 boards in the final.

The very first hand was a disaster. White on red, I held some nondescript 2=2=4=5 11-count. Andy opened 1D and RHO overcalled 4H. I chose to double, which ended the auction. Making six, -1170. Turns out we had a double fit in the minors.

After that start, things had to improve, and they did. The Seattle team was competent, but we still beat them by 5 IMPs. The match against the New Jersey team was easier, despite the -1170; the margin was 36 IMPs. I atoned for that board, sort of, when I was dealt
S K 10 8 x H Q 9 x D x x x C x x x.

With neither vulnerable, the bidding proceeded:

North (Andy) East South (Me) West
1H 1S 2H Pass
3C 3S Dbl (All pass)

Admittedly I didn't have much for my raise, but with my trump stack opposite a game-try in hearts, I thought this one was pretty clear. Andy had his values, and we collected +300. Not exactly a bonanza, but a nice pickup opposite the expected +50 opposite.

Here's an ethical question. Having overcalled 2D on your ace-king-sixth suit, you find yourself on defense against 3H. Partner leads a spade and dummy hits with, among other things, DQJT tripleton. You are in with the trump ace at trick three. You cash the DK, to which declarer follows. Partner thinks for a while and follows with the nine (upside-down). Now what?

Partner would have played low from a doubleton. If he had played the nine in tempo, I'd have had to guess whether he had one or three diamonds, but the hesitation marks him with a tripleton---presuming that partner himself is ethical! Since the hesitation clearly suggested a switch, I decided that I'd sleep better that night if I gritted my teeth, muttered something to myself about logical alternatives, and banged down the DA. At most I'd lose a tempo, since declarer would surely have the ruffing finesse if he needed it.

Was I bending over backwards to be ethical? Perhaps so. Virtue was sort of rewarded when it turned out not to matter: the discard on the third diamond was of no value to declarer and a switch wouldn't have done the defense any additional good.

In the round of sixteen, Andy and I had what we thought was a nice set against half of the Fort Lauderdale team. While waiting for Sheila and Dan to finish, I ran into Eric Hendrickson, one of the Minnesota Flight B players, in the hallway. "How are you guys doing?" he asked. "We haven't compared yet, but I'd guess we're up by 15 or so at the half," I responded.

Nope. Down by 39. Apparently Sheila and Dan had had a rough first half. That's a lot of IMPs to make up. As a rough estimate, I'd say four IMPs is about one run. So we were down ten runs in the middle of the fifth inning. Not usually a good thing.

Was this how it was going to end? We had seating rights for the second half and decided to switch the matchups---obviously the way we'd been doing it hadn't worked so well. Our opponents hadn't impressed Andy and me, but the Florida North player (who would be my LHO) was real strong, according to Dan. He also wasn't real friendly, spitting out his sentences and snapping out every card he played. Maybe he thought that that's how experts behave.

I had a tough decision on the very first board. Red on white, I was dealt
S x x H A Q 10 x x x D K J x x C x
and heard the following auction:

North East (Andy) South West (Me)
1S 2C Dbl 2H
3S 4H Pass Pass
4S Pass Pass

Not fun. I decided to bid 5H. I certainly had offensive extras, and for all I knew both 4H and 4S were making. LHO immediately smacked down the ace of clubs, and dummy resembled
S x H J x x x D A x C K Q J x x x.
All followed. LHO immediately smacked down the ace of spades (oh well; didn't take a genius to figure that one out) and RHO encouraged. He continued with a low spade; RHO played the queen and I ruffed. This looked like one of those hands straight out of a book: RHO looked like he had the KQ of spades, so LHO ought to have the king of hearts for his opening bid, so I should drop it singleton. Muttering a prayer, I laid down the ace of hearts.

Nothing happened. Down one. At least the king was doubleton offside. Sometimes the books lie.

The rest of the third quarter was much better, thanks to RHo electing to go down in 3NT with a void, vulnerable, rather than bidding the obvious suit game that Sheila and Dan found easily. Still, we knew we'd need an incredible fourth quarter. (As it turned out, we had picked up only five IMPs that set.)

The fourth quarter did not start well. RHO opened 1NT, LHO invited game with a 4=1=2=6 7-count, and RHO accepted with a 15-count. 3NT was unbreakable.

This is it, I thought. If we're out, we're out. But if the situation is hopeless, there's nothing to worry about, right?

On board 2, red on white, I opened 1S in third seat on a minimum including king-nine-fifth of spades. LHO overcalled 1NT, Andy doubled for penalty, and there the matter rested. Andy led the SQ and dummy hit with J8x of spades. This could be very good or very bad. I encouraged... and declarer ducked, enabling me to read the entire suit. Still, my card reading is not so flawless that I was able to keep a big grin off my face when Andy continued with the S10 at trick two. What a partner! We collected a much-needed +500.

Board 3 was boring---an utterly trivial 3NT with about 30 HCP in the combined East/West hands. It did, however, reveal North's true colors. South had already taken nine tricks, and the lead was in dummy at trick twelve. Dummy's cards were the HT and CA. Declarer called for the CA. To save time, Andy showed his last two cards, one of which was the HK (the ace was already gone), and said, "Making four."

"Making five," said North. "You discarded your heart on the ace of clubs."

"No, I'm just showing my hand." Technically, it was true that Andy's heart had hit the table before his other (non-club) card, but it was completely obvious that he wasn't intending to pitch it.

"You played the heart king first. Making five." North wrote down +460 and shoved his hand back in the board. I couldn't believe it. Andy was livid.

On board 4, both vul., I stepped out a little by opening a weak 2H as dealer with
S x x x H J 10 8 x x x D A Q x C x.
After two passes, South reopened with a double, which North converted to penalty. Ordinarily, this is the last thing you'd want to have happen on this auction. Here, though, down by 39 IMPs at the half, I was happy to be doubled.

LHO led the SJ, and Andy laid down a super dummy:
S Q x H A x x D K x x C K x x x x.
Two more rounds of spades followed. I ruffed low in dummy, came back to the DA, and led a club up: king, ace. RHO returned a club, which I ruffed. I then led the H10, to which LHO followed low.

Did RHO have a singleton honor? It seemed unlikely on the auction. As against that, might LHO have covered from KQ9x? I decided to let the ten ride, and was rewarded when RHO showed out. I continued with queen of diamonds, diamond to the king, and a club ruff. The HA was the fulfilling trick for +670. You'd think LHO, up by lots of IMPs, would have taken out the double out (presumably to 2NT), to avoid a big swing.

On Board 5, Andy and I found a game that was not obvious to bid, but easy to play once you got there. Ditto for Board 7. On board 8, Andy jumped to 4H over LHO's one-of-a-minor opening. RHO saw fit to double on something like four hearts to the seven-spot and a side ace-king (didn't he know what had happened to me on the first board of the tournament?) My dummy contained a lot of trash, but some of it, particularly the SQJxx opposite Andy's Kx, was good trash, and RHO forgot to cash one of the high cards he'd doubled on. Making five for the good kind of +690. (Andy was especially happy about the overtrick after what had happened on Board 3. Someone should have warned North not to tick off the big guy.)

Andy and I knew we'd had a great set. Dan and Sheila were still playing. Dan's brother Joe (now on the Colorado B team) had come over to our end of the room to provide moral support: "You guys did great, whatever happens in this match." Dan and Sheila were still playing. Eric and Sam from the Minnesota Flight B team were duly impressed by our card. Dan and Sheila were still playing. Dan and Sheila were STILL PLAYING! My nervous pacing was wearing a groove in the floor. Were we going to fall just short? What was it going to feel like to lose the match by three IMPs?

Finally Dan and Sheila finished. The entire Minnesota contingent huddled around the comparison. Win 8 IMPs for 1NT-X. Win 13 for my +670. Win 11 and 12 for those two games. Win six---only six?---for Andy's +690. Eric, who'd been keeping a running count, said we'd won. No way. We added up the score. We had picked up 46 IMPs in the half, including 41 in the last quarter and 40 on the last five boards, to win the match by seven. We exchanged high-fives with each other and all of our friends. It probably wasn't the most sportsmanlike thing to do, but we were so pumped up that we couldn't help it. The Florida team disappeared without shaking hands; I really can't blame them.

The quarterfinal and semifinal matches on Friday were nail-biters. In the quarterfinals, we were down by 2 IMPs to the NYC team at the half and came back to win by 7. I don't have hand records, and can't remember much from looking at the scoresheet.

Our semifinal opponents were a team of graduate students from Los Angeles. The first quarter was a disaster, the second quarter just the opposite (Dan and Sheila found an excellent minor-suit slam, and one of our opponents volunteered for 800). The match was tied at the half; when I reported the score, director Chris Patrias told me that a tie after 16 more boards would necessitate a six-board playoff. "Therefore," he intoned, "don't tie."

The most exciting board featured a good practical move by East, which backfired.

Board 19
E/W vulnerable

S K Q 9 7
H 2
D 10 9 7 6 4
C Q J 6
S J 5 2
H K Q J 10 9 7 6 3
D 5 2
C --
S A 4
H --
D A K Q 8 3
C A 10 8 5 4 3 2
S 10 8 6 3
H A 8 5 4
C K 9 7 2

South (Me) West North (Andy) East
Pass 4H Pass 6H
(All pass)

East was faced with a tough decision, but gambled that West would have seven tricks for his vulnerable preempt. He did; he just couldn't get to them. Andy's natural spade-king lead was a killer: declarer won and tried to throw spades on the club ace and top diamonds, but I ruffed the second diamond and led a spade for down two. At the other table, Sheila passed Dan's 4H opening; 13 IMPs to us.

Usually, discussing a rare bidding sequence is a sure way to ensure that it never happens until you and your partner have forgotten the discussion. But Andy and I had hashed out our responses to Astro on the plane to Atlanta, and....

Board 22
E/W vulnerable

North (Andy) South (Jeremy)
S K Q 10 5 S J 8 6 4 2
H 10 3 2 H K Q 7
D 7 D K 10 4
C A K J 10 4 C 9 5
(1NT) 2D (a) (Pass) 2NT (b)
(Pass) 4S (c) (All pass)

(a) Spades and another suit
(b) Limit raise or better in spades
(c) Really?

I wasn't sure if my outside stuff was working, but if Andy had invitational strength, then he could have bid his other suit at the 3-level. 4S rolled home when opening bidder showed up with queen-third of clubs, and we picked up a game swing.

We won the semifinal match by 6 IMPs. Certainly there were any number of decisions that could have swung the match the other way. All eight of our opponents that day were extremely friendly and polite, and a pleasure to play with. On Saturday morning at breakfast, Andy and I ran into our semifinal opponents, who complimented us on the match and wished us luck in the finals---a classy gesture.

Our opponents in the finals were the original number-2 seed, from Toronto. The pair that Andy and I faced were serious, intense competitors, but civil and friendly nonetheless. All four GNT final matches were in the same room; while waiting to compare scores at the end of the quarter, I could saunter over to kibitz Meckstroth and Rodwell in the Championship Flight finals. Director Patrias delivered a stack of thirty-two premade, preduplicated boards to our table, and someone said jokingly, "Shuffle, deal and play?" Without missing a beat, Patrias deadpanned, "Shuffle, deal, and DIE."

We missed an opportunity right at the start:

Board 2
N/S vulnerable

S A 10 4
H K J 8 4 3 2
D K 10
C 8 3
S 8 7 5
H 7 6 5
D 9 6 5
C J T 9 7
S K Q J 9 6
H --
D 8 7 2
C K Q 6 5 2
S 3 2
H A Q 10 9
D A Q J 4 3
C A 4

East South (Me) West North (Andy)
1S 2D Pass 2H
Pass 4H (All pass)

There are thirteen top tricks; obviously I underbid grossly. I dislike the too-strong-for-an-overcall takeout double; it seems to me that the reuslting auctions are always confused. Hence the very heavy 2D. But I really should have done something more exciting than leap to game after Andy's constructive 2H call. Perhaps I should have tortured partner with a cue-bid or two, hoping he'd confess to a spade control. Or should I jump to 5H? It's not easy to bid a slam, let alone a laydown 7NT, when your opponents open the bidding. Fortunately, our opponents didn't find it either, so our +710 was a push.

Andy and I did not have a good first quarter, but Sheila and Dan did some nice things and we were only down by 17 IMPs at the break. It could have been much worse.

I've heard strong players refer to a 2NT opening bid as "the slam killer". Here's why.

Board 21
N/S vulnerable

North (Andy) South (Jeremy)
S A 9 S K 10 4 2
H A 9 H K 7 6 5 4
D A Q 10 5 4 3 D 9 7
C A K 5 C 10 2
2C 2H (a)
3D 3H
4D 4S
5C 5D
6D Pass

(a) One ace or two kings.

Maybe it was a little bit aggressive for us to get there, but 6D is unbeatable. Andy won the SQ lead in hand, overtook the S9 with the ten, and led a diamond to the ten and jack. East returned another spade to dummy's king, ruffed and overruffed. Declarer played the ace-king of clubs, ruffed a club, crossed to the HA, drew the trumps, and claimed. Our counterparts went down in something, and we picked up 16 IMPs on the board.

Here's the hand I was the proudest of, from the second quarter of the finals. It did require an opponent's error, but I think I played it okay.

Board 18
N/S vulnerable

S Q 10 8
H K 5 2
D K 8 4 3
C J T 7
S K 7 5 2
H J 9
D Q 10 6 2
C 5 4 3
S 6 4
H A 8 6 4
D J 9 5
C A 9 6 2
S A J 9 3
H Q 10 7 3
D A 7
C K Q 8

The auction was pedestrian: 1NT - 2NT - 3NT. West led the S2 and I considered my options. The whole world would be in 3NT, but where were my tricks going to come from? On the lead, the spades were not likely to provide four tricks, so I'd have to hope for something good to happen in hearts. Trying to confuse West, I played the SQ from dummy at trick one and dropped the nine from my hand. Maybe he'd read me for A9 doubleton and continue the suit.

I led a heart to my ten at trick two. Bad news: West won with the jack. Good news: he returned another spade, which I won with the ten in dummy. I led a club to my hand and a heart to the king and ace. East won, cashed the CA, and played another club, which I won in hand. I hopefully laid down the HQ. Bad news again: West discarded a diamond. The position was now as follows:

S 8
H --
D K 8 4 3
C --
S K 7
H --
D Q 10 6
C --
S --
H 8
D J 9 5
C 9
H 7
D A 7
C -

That only left one last gasp: ace of diamonds, king of diamonds, and a third diamond, throwing my losing heart. West erred by hanging on to his queen, and he was on lead at trick twelve. He stewed for a moment before I cut his agony short by showing my hand.

By the way, we lost an overtrick IMP on the board. That's the kind of match it was.

For some reason, I just like executing endplays. Perhaps it's the feeling of mathematical precision they evoke. I had another opportunity a few boards later.

Board 30
None vulnerable

S 10 8 7 6 3
H 8 5 4
D 10 3
C A J 5
S Q 4
H K 3
D A 9 7 6 5
C Q 9 6 2
S A J 9 5 2
H Q 7 6
D Q J 8
C 7 4
H A J 10 9 2
D K 4 2
C K 10 8 3

East South (Me) West North (Andy)
Pass 1H Pass Pass
1S Dbl Rdbl 2H
(All pass)

I was surprised to buy the contract, but I wasn't complaining. West led the SQ; East won and returned another spade, which I ruffed. Since spades were presumably 5-2, I led a club to the jack (getting a two-way finesse right for once). For some reason pessimistic about ruffing a diamond, I led a trump to the jack and West's king. West returned a trump; I won cheaply and drew the last trump. Aha! I played the ace of clubs, a club to the king, and my last club, endplaying West. My play would have cost the contract if East had had the DA and spades were 4-3, but the latter seemed unlikely.

We lost two more IMPs in the quarter, to be down by 19 at the break. The third quarter was worse; we were down by 29. "You can come back," Joe advised us. "You need to win four big boards. Each of you two pairs needs to win two more boards, then pull up."

We got our first big pickup right away, when I finally did something right in the slam zone:

Board 49
None vulnerable

S 5
H A 10 7 2
D A Q 9 7 3
S K Q J 10 8 7 4 3
H 5 4
D 5
C Q 6
S 2
H K 9
D J 10 8 6 4
C 10 9 5 4 3
S A 9 6
H Q J 8 6 3
D K 2
C 8 7 2

North (Andy) East South (Me) West
1D Pass 1H 3S
4S Pass 4NT Pass
5C Pass 6H (All pass)

Of course I had no idea what Andy had for his 4S bid, but I managed to remember the appropriate expert advice---instead of going nuts trying to figure out what partner has, ask how good your own hand is for your previous bidding. I had ten good HCP and a fifth heart, so I checked on key-cards and shot out 6H when Andy confessed to one or four (which had to be four). Andy still doesn't know what he would have done if LHO had bid 4S; he might have just leaped to 6H considering the state of the match. Indeed, at the other table, Dan did bid 4S, keeping the opponents out of the good slam. After winning the spade lead in hand, running the HQ to RHO's king and winning the diamond return in my hand, I remembered to ruff my second spade with the H10, which turned out to be a wise precaution. I came back to hand with a low trump, noted the good break, ruffed the last spade with the HA, and pitched a club on the DQ to land the slam.

A wild deal from late in the second half:

Board 59
None vulnerable

S 6
H 4 3
D A Q 10 8 7 6
C 7 6 5 4
S 4 2
D J 5 4 3 2
C A K J 10 8
S A K Q 9 3
H A K Q 10 5 2
D 9
C 2
S J 10 8 7 5
H 9 8 7 6
C Q 9 3

North (Andy) East South (Me) West
2D 3D (a) Pass 3S
Pass 4NT Pass 5C (b)
Pass 6S Pass (c) (All pass)

(a) Majors.
(b) One or four key cards for spades.
(c) Trying not to drool or double.

There wasn't much to the play: Andy led the ace of diamonds and a second diamond, which I ruffed to save everyone from thinking too hard. Sheila, sitting East at the other table, settled for a game.

This was followed by a very unusual auction.

Board 60
N/S vulnerable

S 10 6 3
D A 7
C A K Q 4 3
H K 10 9 6 5 3 2
D K Q 4 2
C 6
S K 9 8 5 2
H 8 7
D 8 3
C 9 7 5 2
S Q J 7 4
H 4
D J 10 9 6 5
C J 10 8

East South (Me) West North (Andy)
Pass Pass 1H Dbl
Pass 1S 3H 3NT
(All pass)

All I could figure out at the time was that East was broke; it sounded like Andy had something like seven solid clubs and the ace-queen of hearts. Well, not exactly; he was just being aggressive, knowing we were desperate. But my collection of quacks was just what he needed, making five when East led a heart and (correctly, we all thought) rose with the king on the first round of spades, in order to lead a second heart while preserving his partner's entry.

Had we known it, we were down by only 12 IMPs with four boards to go. But we lost a game swing on Board 61. On 62, Dan and Sheila ended up in a good diamond slam with a trump suit of AK8432 opposite T9 doubleton, and no outside losers. We had a long argument about the right way to play the suit, and I finally worked out the exact probabilities (yes, this is what I do for a living). If you cash a top honor, it doesn't matter what you do on the second round; you will pick up all 3-2 breaks and stiff honors, a 79% chance. Running the ten on the first round is a little better; it loses to singleton honor offside but picks up low singleton offside (which is one and a half times as likely), for an 82% chance of success. Assuming, that is, that the danger of a ruff is negligible. By the way, if the long suit were AK8732 or AK8652, then the first-round finesse picks up the 5=0 break, raising the chance of success to 84%. With AK8632 or AK8542 (or even AK8532), running the ten preserves the chance of a trump coup or endplay against a 5=0 break. All of this nitpicking about the four of trumps turned out to be unimportant; as you can guess from the fact that we had a long argument, our declarer played for a 3-2 break and went down when LHO had QJxx. Meanwhile, at our table, the opponents stopped in 3NT, so we lost about 10 IMPs when we could have picked up the same number. It was just that kind of day.

Another game swing the wrong way on Board 63 sealed the match for good; the final margin was 44 IMPs. The Toronto team played great bridge and well deserved their victory. But as I said before, we had a heck of a run. We didn't lose---we won second place in a national championship, and that isn't something that happens every day. My teammates did a super job, and all of our friends from Minnesota (and Colorado and elsewhere) provided amazing moral support. Since I have now moved to Kansas, Andy and I won't be able to play nearly as regularly anymore, so the GNTs were a fitting way to cap a great partnership.

Last updated Wed 8/10/05 8:00 PM