Sunday, 12 May 2013

Buchanan Congress - Part One

After our poor performance at the Melville congress in Edinburgh, this time it was Jake's turn to come through to Glasgow for the Buchanan Congress. He got a £7 return ticket on the bus, and arrived half an hour early.

As we settled in, I got out a box of rock cakes. In a bold variation I'd triple-sieved the flour for a smoother biscuit. Me and Jake set about our system discussion. I suggested my favourite defence to Multi 2♦, double shows Diamonds, but he flatly refused. We settled on playing 5 Card Majors, and a saucy 11-14 1NT opening. As we left the table and headed up the stairs there was a flurry of conversation, and we rapidly also agreed that strong jump shifts were invitational, except for passed hand with a fit jump, and something else too which I've now forgotten, and forgot at the time too.

As an unfamiliar partnership we should have been keeping it simple. Zia Mahmood says that new partnerships benefit from having fewer misunderstandings, as they have fewer understandings. But we unfortunately now had so much going on I was now struggling to keep up, and wrote down everything I was likely to forget on the convention card and put a big ring round it.

The Congress was small, with only eight teams, so the format was rearranged. Or, to put it another way, we automatically qualified for the final! In the first session we played a three board match against every team, then after a break another four board match against the same teams. Horst informed us it was to be a familiar Thurner movement, which meant nothing to me, but with Jake's assistance I avoided ever playing against my team-mates. These esteemed team-mates were John Faben and Neil Wylie, and of course an unofficial mascot sheep, doubling up as non-playing captain.

On the very first board Jake impressed me with his defence.

Board 20Q
Both vul
W deal
♠ A T 9 8
♥ A 7 3
♦ 5 3
♣ J 9 6 2
♠ 5 4 3 2
♥ T 2
♦ T 7 2
♣ Q T 7 5
♠ K Q J 7
♥ 8 6 5
♦ A K 9
♣ K 8 3
♠ 6
♥ K Q J 9 4
♦ Q J 8 6 4
♣ A 5

On our table Jake had the East cards. With our weak NT and five card Majors it's not a good hand for us, and he was forced to open 1♣ with only three of them. South overcalled 1♥m and Norman sitting North bid 2♣ as a Heart raise. When South only bid 2♥ that was passed out.

I was slightly tempted to come back in with 3♣, but decided that since this was IMP scoring there was no need to be that competitive on the part score. I'm glad I didn't bid again, as actually Jake only had three clubs, something I'd forgotten was possible. Later in the day (Board 18F) when Jake again opened 1♣ I had a poor five count with only three clubs. I passed, leaving him in a very bad 3-3 fit when almost any other contract would have been better.

On the above hand I led a my fourth highest ♣5, and Anne played the ♣6 from dummy. Jake inserted his ♣8, and I was impressed when declarer was forced to play the ♣A. Jake's defence was really good all day, and that wasn't the only time his frugal low card forced a high card from declarer. Afterwards in the pub though we noticed that Jake's ♣8 might have been a bit foolish if declarer started with ♣AT.

Declarer twice lead Diamonds through East, and so lost only one Club and two Diamonds, for 2♥+2. On the other table Jake and Neil bid the game, so we made 10 IMPs. In general there were a lot of flat boards and not many game swings, so this one was very welcome.

I was playing quite well, except that whenever I had a big decision to make I seemed to get it wrong. At the interval I mentioned that I'd made three or four blunders. "Only three?" Jake said. Here was an unfortunate one. In a bold 4♠ contract (Board 12Q) I need to pick up this trump suit for no losers:

A K 7 2 J T 5 4

North had previously made a takeout double so I was already thinking about finessing. I cashed the Ace and saw North drop the ♠9. Hmm. I gave it a bit of a think, then finessed and lost to North's doubleton Queen. I said to Jake that I could have made it if I dropped the doubleton Queen. Jake agreed, and said I probably should have got it right, as North dropping the ♠9 is most likely to have been from ♠Q9 (if it's ♠9 there's no way to play trumps for no losers). A missed opportunity then.

Then against Sheila Macdonald and Maida Grant I was declarer again in 3♠ (Board 2Q), and was feeling quite pleased with myself for staying out of game. I still had to make 3♠ though, and it all came down to a two way finesse position in Clubs. I played the whole hand slowly, then thought for ages at the end before finessing the wrong person and going down one. Later against the same pair I was also in 3♠ and also went down one. "I could probably have put it down two," said one opponent, "but lost the will to live a bit.".

But in case you're thinking I'm always slow, witness this. On the three Boards we played against Horst I was declarer every time, and we finished the round early. The second of those Boards was a good one - we had a riotous auction to 5♥x.

Board 5Q
NS vul
N deal
♠ A J T 7 4
♥ 7 4
♦ J 7 5
♣ 9 7 4
♠ 5 3 2
♥ Q J T 8 3 2
♦ K Q 3 2
♠ Q 8 6
♥ A K 6 5
♦ 6 4
♣ J 8 6 5
♠ K 9
♥ 9
♦ A T 9 8
♣ A K Q T 3 2

After two passes, Horst sitting South has an excellent 1♣ opener. I have the West hand, and it's ideal conditions to pre-empt. Favourable vulnerability, partner has already passed, and I've got a nice solid suit. So although it's only a six card suit I go for a bold 3♥. I know that's probably a routine bid for lots of people, but for me that's the first time I've stretched to bid at the three level like that. North passed, and East passed too. South looked a bit uncomfortable, but bid a very reasonable 4♣ (the highest making contract in fact). North corrected this to 4♠, and now Jake woke up and bid 5♥, doubled by South.

In the play South lead a top Club, which I ruffed. I cashed one top trump by crossing to dummy to lead a Diamond up. South took his ♦A and started on Spades. I was now convinced I was going to lose three Spade tricks, and wished I'd drawn more trumps. But the nice layout meant I ended up losing just two Spades and one Diamond for 5♥x-1. To get the full two down South needs to find the not lead of the ♠K, which is quite reasonable when partner has bid Spades. On the ♣A lead I should maybe have drawn two rounds of trumps to avoid any possibility of a ruff, but was worried I'd need to use all my dummy entries to lead Diamonds up to my ♦KQ32 twice in case South ducked his Ace.

Jake called this hand his worst blunder of the day (trust me it's nothing), as he really should have raised me to 4♥ the first time round, which actually has a great chance of making. Once they've got to 4♠ though he could do well by passing, as 4♠ is hopeless.

My worst hand of the day was much worse. It came at the end of a torturous competitive auction against a very slow and angry pair in the corner of the room (Board 9Q). Sitting West I decided to make one more push to 4♣, over which the opponents bid a mad 4♦. Even though it was unfavourable vulnerability I now fancied another go, and since I hadn't shown my sixth heart yet weighed in again with 4♥. I initially didn't notice the double and was getting ready to play the contract, then I noticed people were waiting for me to bid. I retreated to 5♣, also doubled, and Jake sitting East had to play it.

This was his trump suit.

T 7 5 4 A Q J 9 6 2

Jake not unreasonably finessed. This lost and when the defence were later able to play another round of trumps we ended up two down. 5♣x-2 was -500. As it happens South has a singleton King, and if it had of been dropped there was a two trick swing and the contract could have made for 5♣x= and +750. On the other table East-West were also playing 5♣, undoubled. John sitting North made his own blunder, and when he could have taken the contract down instead lead a low Club from the North hand. I think this makes it pretty clear for declarer to not finesse and go up with the Ace, but he didn't and went one off. -500 and +100 still didn't lead to a good score though.

Traditionally me and Jake like to open 1NT whenever possible, so have agreed to play an 11-14 1NT. We also now officially allow a singleton. I think this bigger range makes invitational bids useful again, as partner has a genuine four point range. I though this 11-14 1NT was a totally original idea, and have never seen anyone else play it. I was surprised then to find several other pairs in the event playing it too. A real test of the system came when Jake got dealt this horrible 11 count when vulnerable, but forced himself to follow the system and open it anyway (Board 16Q):

♠ 9 8 6 5
♥ A 8 4
♦ A 8 4
♣ K 4 2

I had a ten count opposite and passed. With the cards well placed 1NT made exactly. And here's a hand where Jake actually upgraded what he called an "excellent ten count" and also opened 1NT:

♠ T 3
♥ A 6 5
♦ 4 3 2
♣ K Q J 6 3

I had a two count opposite and passed. Perhaps due to our pre-emptive bidding the opponents, with a combined 27 count and 4-4 spade fit, missed their game, so that was a good one for us.

My favourite thing in bidding is to agree trumps, then bid a second suit to look for a double fit. It can occasionally confuse partner, but the idea is that partner knows to bid on if you have a double fit, and pass or double them if you don't. Here's a good example, perhaps my highlight from the first half of the Congress:

Board 20Q
EW vul
S deal
♠ T 5 3
♥ T
♦ J T 9 6 3
♣ A T 7 3
♠ 4
♥ A K Q 8 6
♦ K Q 8 7 5 2
♣ 5
♠ 9 7 6 2
♥ J 5 3 2
♦ A
♣ J 9 6 4
♠ A K Q J 8
♥ 9 7 4
♦ 4
♣ K Q 8 2

South opened 1♠, and I was ready for business in the West seat. Our rock-cake based system discussion included that Michaels could be any strength, and also that it was non-specific suits (so here just Hearts and a minor). So I gladly bid 2♠, and Jake alerted it. I would have had a think in the North hand, and probably raised, but North decided to pass. Jake raised to 4♥ and I had a bit of a think. I didn't know what sort of strength the 4♥ bid showed, and was pondering whether or not to bid on, when South came back in with 4♠. Looking at the South hand now that seems pretty bold. I decided with my four loser hand (I'd miscounted, it's actually three losers), I was worth another bid. Rather than just bidding 5♥ I made a highly descriptive 5♦ bid, to show Jake my second suit. North now bid 5♠, and since Jake knew we didn't have a double fit he swiftly doubled, which was passed out.

I was considering my opening lead, when to my surprise South produced the ♠K. This was highly irregular, as South was in fact the declarer. Not sure what she was thinking. But, as John pointed out later, declarer can do what she wants as there's no one to give unauthorised information to. So South bashfully put her ♠K away, and I had another think.

The solid ♥AKQ looked mighty tempting. According to matchpoint legend Barry Crane "If God deals you an AK, say thank you for not having to think about what to lead". But a trump could be right, to cut down ruffs. I'd also just noticed I had six Diamonds, and not only five like I'd previously thought. Partner is known to have Diamond shortage, maybe a lead from ♦KQxxxx is right? Finally there's the very decent option of my singleton Club. But, according to Bridge News (News for Serious Duplicate Bridge Players), August 2010 Volume 5 Issue 8, "Don’t lead a singleton when you have a better alternative." Did I have a better alternative?

That's a window into my head before I make a killer opening lead. I went for the singleton Club. Declarer won in hand, and lead a low Heart. I had another mini crisis as West. I really want partner to win this trick, so I can get my club ruff (Jake will know for sure it was a singleton from the bidding). But dare I play a low Heart? What if declarer actually has the ♥J in hand? I'll feel like a muppet if I let dummy's ♥T win. I wish I had something like ♥AQxxx so I could play the Queen and give partner the choice of whether to overtake. I decided to win the Heart trick, and switched to a Diamond. The ♦Q in fact, to make sure partner overtook if he had the Ace. Jake won and gave me my ruff, for one down.

Notice that this time I actually did find the killer lead. If I play a Heart declarer can in theory make the contract, by ruffing two hearts in dummy and guessing Clubs.

On Board 19Q I had another critical opening lead. Against the auction 1♥-4♥ I had the following:

♠ K 8 5
♥ 5 3 2
♦ J 8 5 3
♣ K 8 5

I pulled out the ♠5, and declarer made an easy ten tricks. Maybe leading away from the King is a bad idea, as the only other lead to give away the contract easily is a Club. So I got this one wrong. Sorry partner. Anna if you're reading, and have noticed I've got a problem, here's some advice from bridge teacher Brent Manley

When you find that your partner is consistently making leads that you know are counterproductive, you will have to be tactful.

At the end of the first half we rushed down for some delightful sandwiches. Mandy had been to M & S, and there were meringues too. We were in joint third out of eight teams. Can we turn it around in the second half?

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