Saturday, 24 January 2015

Winter Fours 2015

Last weekend was the Winter Foursomes in Falkirk. Probably still the strongest event in Scottish bridge (although I guess National League first division comes close), and certainly the longest day, with 72 boards played on the Saturday. I was once again in a team with Jake Corry, but this time we were partnering each other, and playing with Yvonne and David Wiseman at the other table.

Jake and I stayed in the Antonine Hotel in Falkirk, which was significantly cheaper than the conference venue, and also much more exciting late at night... on the way home on Friday, we encountered about 50 what I can only describe as "young people", several of whom were literally falling down the stairs drunk. One gentleman kindly invited us to join them at the local night club, but we declined, and got a relatively early night in preparation for the next day's bridge. Saturday night was even more exciting. On the Saturday, Adam and Andrew Murphy (Paul's and Alex's team-mates) were staying in the same hotel, and I went out with them for a quick drink after we got back from the bridge. When we returned, we narrowly avoided being right in the middle of a huge brawl, which seemed to spark from nowhere, and just as quickly defuse a couple of minutes later... Falkirk is an exciting place at the weekend!

As Paul mentions on his blog (which also includes details of what happened in the competition overall, won by the team of Matheson, Sime, Short and Goodman), we somehow stumbled into the quarter final on the Saturday night despite having lost to 2 different teams, one of them twice - a feature (or a bug, if you prefer) of the fact that there were only 19 teams in the competition, so several triads were required to ensure that the numbers worked out to have the correct number of teams left in the competition on Sunday.

We won the second triad thanks mostly to David making 2♠XX + 1 for 1240 (not a score I've seen before, or really expect to see again...) on a hand where most of us would have opened 1♠ (and I think Yvonne was confidently expecting to concede a double figure IMP swing when she put down the dummy). Overall though, I didn't play particularly well all weekend, and as a team, I think we were lucky not to be in the Swiss Teams on the Sunday, even if we did find our way into the quarter final.

The penultimate board of the subsidiary final brought my highlight of the weekend at the table, making 6♦ on a squeeze - the first time I think I've ever actually made a slam on a squeeze both successfully and deliberately:

We had a nearly textbook auction to the slam. I opened 1NT, and Jake transferred to ♦, I showed support by breaking the transfer, and he went through keycard (safe, as if I only have 1, we can stop in 5♦) to bid 6. I'm not quite sure why, but I denied the ♦Q in the auction..., I'm also not quite sure why I decided the North hand was a strong no trump, although I'm pretty sure I do have the hand right... luckily Jake wasn't interested in a grand slam anyway, so that didn't have any negative consequences, other than perhaps on partnership trust.

The lead was a small ♦ (which I ran to my Q, just to reveal to everyone at the table that I was incapable of bidding blackwood). This is almost literally a textbook hand on squeeze play - you have 11 top tricks, and need to find a 12th from somewhere, there are potential menaces in all the suits, so it seems like it's time to rectify the count. I drew trumps and played a ♣ to the 10. Peter returned a ♥.

The ending is now luckily unambiguous. You can just unblock the ♠s, run all the trumps, and if the ♠J and if neither of the major suit jacks is now good, you have to hope they are in different hands, and so the clubs will drop. You'll end up with an ending like this. If either defend has 5♣s and the ♠Q, then you have a squeeze in those suits, while if West has the ♥Q and his partner the ♠Q, then you have a textbook double squeeze regardless of the ♣ position.

Notice that you lose most of these chances if East returns a ♣ when you duck one to rectify the count, as now you don't have an entry in that suit. However, as it happens you can still make the contract as the cards lie, because East did have 5♣s and the ♠Q, so you get down to the above ending instead, and as East has to discard before dummy, as long as you're paying attention, you can still make it. Although it's worth noting that you do actually have a decision to make earlier in the play now, as you have to decide whether to keep the ♣6 or the ♥J as the second threat for your positional squeeze in dummy... as it happens, I think either would have worked, but I have to say I'm glad I wasn't put to the test.

All in all, an enjoyable weekend, and a good opportunity to play against the best players in Scotland, and we gave a reasonable account of ourselves, even if we didn't exactly set the world alight. Hopefully we can give a better showing next year.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Happy New Year!

I spent three of the first 7 nights of 2014 playing bridge, and on one of those I was double-booked and had to turn down a game with Jake's Merchiston team as I was already playing in a match against Bearsden in the West District League. We started on Monday with a defeat in the final of the Manning Foster (Buchanan teams championship). Neither of our pairs had a very good card in the first half, and we couldn't quite do enough to catch up in the second.

What do you open this hand, first in, red vs green? Does the scoring matter? Does it matter if you were 50 IMPs down at half time in a 24 board match, and haven't really done enough to get that back yet this half? We ended up in a disastrous 6♣ contract, which was galling when 3NT making would have been enough for more than 10 IMPs in, as they played in an only-slightly-better 5♣ at the other table.

Congratulations to Fergus and Lina Kerr and Peggy and John Donaldson (John was filing in for Betty Bell, who had played with Peggy in the earlier rounds). I think that's the second Buchanan teams competition they've won so far this year. 

Tuesday and Wednesday went a little better... 

2N shows a balanced 16+ raise in ♠s, 3♦ was a cue bid (I think I probably also had 4♥ available as a void splinter here). Norman didn't have a ♥ cue, and my hand improved immensely. When I found out he had the ♦K, I figured that the grand was very likely to be better than 2:1 odds (note that at aggregate scoring what happens at the other tables is irrelevant, so you should be in the grand exactly when you gain 1510-980 enough times to justify the occasions on which you lose 980+50 - ie, almost exactly when grand is 2:1), and bid it. As it happens, the grand is something over 90%, I think. As long as ♠s and ♦s are no worse than 3-1 and 4-1 respectively it's completely cold, and you can pick up a lot of the layouts where one or other suit breaks badly.

I didn't really expect anyone else to have bid the grand on a combined 27 count, but the scores from the other tables still managed to surprise me. Both of the opposition pairs had stopped in game, making all 13 tricks, and our other EW pair had managed to a bid a 6♠... and then go off. I didn't quite manage to get the story of what happened during the play, but clearly a Cow Flew By, as in the small slam, I think you can actually just claim at trick one... 

There was an interesting play problem for our opposition on a later board:

South played in 5♦. Interestingly, this is actually a pretty good contract, but you have to be really careful. Note that it's not good enough to duck a ♦ early - you end up losing trump control. Instead, you have to use the ♥ ruff at trick 1 as a entry ruff a ♣, and later give up the 4th round of clubs, avoid getting forced. It's probably hard to envision losing trump control with KQJ8xx, and none of the declarers managed to make it. 

It turns out the 7hand was a microcosm of the entire match, as we were the only one of the three pairs in our team who managed to end up with a positive score (+3770), and yet we managed to win the match 10-6. I think we probably realistically needed a bigger victory to be in with a good chance of winning the 2nd division, but we'll see as the results of the other matches continue to come in. 

Finally, last night was the 5th round of the Winter Pairs. Norman and I finally managed to get a genuinely big score - with 66%, which I think now means we're leading the competition overall. We had a much harder grand slam decision as a part of this match:

The auction went - 1♥ - 2♣ - 2♦ - 4♠ - 4N - 5♣ - 7♦. 

My final decision was tricky. I was pretty sure that there was a > 50% chance that we were making 13 tricks, but really wasn't sure if there was a >50% chance that the rest of the field would be in 6♦... the odds get complicated here, and trying to work them out at the table, as it turns out, doesn't make you popular with the opposition. In the end, as you can see, I was right to assume that most people would manage to find a small slam with what looks like an enormous hand opposite my opening bid. Note that this time I'd actually need odds of 22:9 for the grand to be worth bidding (although it's actually more complicated than that, since the interesting case is where there are only 12 tricks available, in which case I think it's safe to assume some of the pairs would have gone off in the small slam...), which is even stricter than when we were playing aggregate! I wasn't put to the test in the play when the opposition led a ♥... 

I'll be busy bridge-wise in January, with Winter Fours coming up, and then I'll potentially be playing some of the Clyde Congress in Irvine.