The field was star-studded as advertised. Alan Truscott, Bridge Editor of the New York Times and creator of many popular bridge conventions had a team which included his wife Dorothy, also a famous author. Eddie Kantar had a team, as did George Rosenkrantz, creator of the Rosenkrantz Double and Two Diamond bids. Rosenkrantz's team, which included three Polish champions, had won the Spingold at the 1997 Summer Nationals while placing second at both the 1997 Reisenger and 1998 Spingold.
While in high school, I had read "The Bridge Bum" by Alan Sontag, an account of the first American team to defeat the Lancia team (Omar Sharif, Georgio Belladonna, Benito Garazzo and Pietro Forquet) as well as his other bridge adventures. I didn't know how to play at the time and wouldn't learn for another ten years, but the stories in the book stayed with me. Sontag was playing, reunited with his former partner, Peter Weischel.
Larry Cohen (author of To Bid or Not to Bid: The Law of Total Tricks) and David Berkowitz were on the Cayne team with Michael Seamon and Mike Passell. To my mind, Cohen's work has revolutionized competitive bidding. Other authors included Bill Root and Richard Pavlicek, each on different teams. Members of the famed Dallas Aces were also spread among several teams, including Bobby Wolff, Bob Hamman, Billy Eisenberg and Paul Soloway.
By 1 p.m., my lack of sleep had caught up with me and multiple cups of coffee were the only reason I was still awake. Of course, that did not help my nervousness one bit. As we sat, we noted our table number and calculated the skip round. We had a one in three chance of skipping a seeded team, which might make our final score a little less embarrassing. As the seeds' had team numbers divisible by three, it was easy to predict when one would be coming by. Unfortunately, we determined that would not skip a seed. Fortunately, we would begin with an unseeded team, so I would not be thrown into the fire immediately. Perhaps after a few hands, my nervousness would go away and I may be in a bit of a groove before we faced our first seed.
Naturally, Tony Forrester (a top British player and author of the bridge column for The Daily Telegraph) promptly sat down with Geir Helgemo of Norway. Helgemo, either with Forrester or his Norweigen partner, has won or finished near the top of every major international event this year, even setting a record at the Macallan. The first auction went 1NT by Forrester - Pass by Marty - 6NT by Helgemo. So much for finding a groove.
Here was the hand:
Marty began with the Ace of Clubs, noted my discouraging signal
and switched to a Spade, knocking out dummy's Ace. My King of
Spades looked very pretty, but never saw the light of day as
Forrester ran the rest of the hand. Bam! Within moments we had
already lost our first board. Helgemo and Forrester played all
three hands, putting our defense to test right away. We managed
to pick up a board from them and the third hand. Helgemo played
this hand at 1D making two, while Stan and Henk found their way
to 2H making four.
Helgemo opened East's hand with 1D, passed around. Sitting South, my hand had values, but I saw several things which suggested defense and very few which said offense unless my partner had a hand worthy of a balancing double, so I passed. At the other table, the auction went:
The redouble? According to Henk, Rita claims she missorted her bidding-box
The second round was against another unseeded team. By now, I had decided that unseeded didn't mean much in this event except, perhaps, as it applied to us. We played a little better, and I felt that we had a good shot of picking up a board or two. The Reisinger has an unusual movement, with our teammates only playing our opponent's teammates during the first and last rounds. As a result, interim results are not available until right before the last round of a session.
The first seeds we faced were were Marcin Lesniewski and Marek Symanowski. I have since learned that Lesniewski and Symanowski are recent pairs world champions. Fortunately, I was blissfully unaware of this fact. They were on the Rosenkrantz team and were one of the favorites for this event. I was similarly unaware of this. Mostly, I was aware of how badly I needed to go to the bathroom as a result of all of coffee I had been drinking.
I felt like Marty and I played them tight. Marty prides himself
on defense more than any other aspect of bridge and has tried
to instill the same philosophy in me. On the first hand, Lesniewski
and Symanowski landed in an aggressive 4S contract. West's line
of play allowed me to put him up to a tough guess:
Marty started with a club, Declarer winning the Ace in dummy. Declarer next ruffed a club, and lead a Spade towards the board. After winning the King of Spades, I underled my Ace of Diamonds. East played small, guessing me for the Queen. Marty took the Queen, leading his last Diamond to my Ace for a Diamond return and ruff. Marty's Spade Ace put the contract down two.
I played the next board in 4S making, while Rosenkrantz was in 5S at the other table due to a bidding misunderstanding. Four was the limit for the hand, so 5S fared poorly. The third board was an obvious part score contract in No Trump contract making two, so it seemed like it would be a push. Although we did not realize it at the time, we had just taken 2.5 out of 3 from the Rosenkrantz team.
Next we played Wang (Wang, Chen, Wu and Sun). The pair we faced was a man and a woman. Evidently, something must have gone wrong at their previous table as the young woman (East) was critiquing the gentleman as they sat. The apparent discord prompted Marty to choose something gambling everytime West had a decision to make. West seemed to always make the wrong decision and East's temperature escalated exponentially. By the third board, West was so flummoxed that Marty doubled an easy part score contract on principle. West managed to find the only losing line, attempting to place enough cards in Marty's hand to justify his double.
By this point, I had noticed how the movement was running. That was just enough information to be dangerous, as I spent the next three hands noticing that Larry Cohen and David Berkowitz were on deck. I had spent the previous few rounds following the rotation of a pair of very attractive young ladies, a diversion much more suitable for intelligent bridge play than fretting about how Cohen and Berkowitz would thrash us.
Not only have I read Larry's books, I especially enjoy when
he and David sit as moderators for the Master Solver's Club in
Bridge World. They were the friendliest and most outgoing of
the opponents we faced that day with Bobby Levin as a strong
runner-up. On Board 17, Berkowitz joked that he should have alerted
the fact that Cohen would be on lead after I declined a 2NT invitation
from Marty. Berkowitz opined that I should have pushed on to
3NT, as Cohen's opening leads invariably give up a trick.
It turns out that Berkowitz was mildly mistaken. Cohen's lead of the Jack of Hearts gave up two tricks, allowing me an overtrick (in hand w/the Q, Spade finesse failing, caught the Spade return in dummy, Club finesse failing, Cohen cashed his two red Aces and placed his hand back in the board).
Certain that their teammates would bid the game in No Trump, Cohen and Berkowitz were not too concerned with the result. Actually, their teammates played the hand in 1NT. Stan got off the the lead of the 3 of Hearts. Henk's 8 forced declarer's Queen. After the Spade finesse failed, Henk fired back his last Heart. Stan stuck in the Ten of Hearts, establishing the rest of his suit. When the dust settled, Stan and Henk had taken a Spade, a Club, three Hearts and the Ace of Diamonds, holding South to 1NT making 1.
Two more rounds against unseeded teams seemed to go well. At this point, there was one round remaining in the afternoon session and interim results were posted. Randy had managed to make it back from the airport (or wherever he had been) and decided to check on his teammates' performance. Of the combined 24 teams in Sections B and D, we were in second place with 15.5 of a possible 24 points. Unfortunately, our feet were still under the table and the ninth round was against Chip Martel and Lew Stansby. After the ninth round, we still had our 15.5 points, tumbling into a tie for seventh place.
The last board of the afternoon was a good test for a partnership's
slam bidding. Reach 7S and you'll get a push; anything else is
Our auction went:
The bids, as I understood them, meant:
1. I cordially invite you to slam, and proudly show you my
I knew that showing the Spade control was not without risk of being interpreted as a sign-off. However, as I had previously cooperated in the slam invite, I did not believe it would be construed that way, especially after we had shown controls in all the other suits. I believed that a 5C bid would deny a first round Spade control and possibly cause partner to misevaluate the hand if a decision were up to him.
At the other table, Silverman and Wolffson bid 1D-1S; 4D- 4NT; 3 keycard reply, specific king ask and response showing the DK. The 4D bid was an impossible splinter, showing 6 good Diamonds and four Spades. This bid wasn't in my repertoire; it is now. Around this point, I told myself never to play KOs against Martel and Stansby, as my 1500 point error would have cost 17 IMPs.