There would be nine more rounds in the evening. After the first day, the field of 47 teams would be cut to twenty for the Semifinals. This created a new dilemma, as it appeared that we might actually make the cut. Marty's plane tickets had him leaving the next morning, and I had promised my wife that I would be back by lunchtime on Saturday. During dinner, Randy tried to convince Marty and I to stay an extra day, extolling the history of the Reisinger and the honor it would be to play in the Semifinals (neither Randy nor Mr. Reisinger have ever met my wife, or they would have known better). While reviewing the scores at dinner, I decided that Henk must be the Dutch God of Vowels and Board-a-Match Bridge. Often both tables would be in the same contract, and Stan and Henk's defense had led to a win for our team.
Randy took over for Stan during the evening session. That wasn't really the brightest thing we could have done, considering that Stan is ten times the player I am, and they left me at the table. However, it did free Stan up for Gin and Tonics during dinner. As it was Happy Hour, they were 2 for 1, a fact very pleasing to Captain Christie.
After dinner, Stan and Marty went back to our hotel to play Boggle. Extra points to anyone who managed to spell "Uijterwaal." I scoured International Drive for a decent wine store. I was planning on playing in the midnight swiss teams and thought a bottle of Shiraz would be a possible antidote to all of the coffee I was continuing to drink. I had not joined in the Happy Hour special, reasoning that I should probably make Life Master before drinking during a major.
Everyone seemed to play tighter during the evening session. We had some good boards, but there were no more gifts. A couple highlights stand out. We took two of three boards from Bobby Levin and Steve Weinstein when spirited competitive bidding caused our opponents to steer away from No Trump and play in a minor. Against Richard Schwartz and Ron Smith, Randy and Henk showed no such fear, bringing home 3NT both times.
Over the past year, Marty and I spent several months on our No Trump response system. We called it "K-Mart" as Marty claimed that "Every No Trump response system contains drawbacks. If there were a perfect one, you could walk into K-Mart and buy it off the shelf." K-Mart only came up once all day, but it won us a board when it did.
One of its changes from Standard is that 1NT - 2C (Stayman) - 2 of anything - 3 of a minor, is a drop-dead in that minor. Standard has that sequence as a game force in either 3N or 5 of the minor. We handle those types of game forces with direct bids of 3H (for Clubs) and 3S (for Diamonds) as in "Aces Scientific." This frees up that particular Stayman sequence for a sign-off, 2S for Minor Suit Stayman, and 2NT for use as a natural bid. The utility of that switch was shown by this hand:
The opponents at the other table could not afford to inquire about a four card Heart suit, and passed 1NT around. 1NT did not have the odds in its favor, nor did it succeed as the cards lay. Although Marty's hand should have had six clubs for his bid, he could afford to ask about a Heart suit knowing that he could sign off at 3C if I responded with 2D or 2S. 2H was an easy make, scoring a board in our favor.
One of the first bridge books I read when learning was Dorothy Truscott's "Bid Better, Play Better." Recently elected to the ACBL Hall of Fame, Dorothy chose to sit out the evening session while watching her teammates, Rene Mancuso and Jill Meyers. As we finished one of the evening rounds, Marty observed "Don't look now, but Dorothy Truscott is coming to kibitz you." The next three hands were fun, and I tried my best not to embarrass myself as Dorothy watched. Zia's gallery may have been larger than mine, but he couldn't have been any prouder.
A wild push occurred against Gavin Wolpert and Kent Mignocchi, two top juniors. Mignocchi is a lot of fun to play against as he is very passionate during the play of the hand. During 1998, Mignocchi had won the award for top bridge performance at the ACBL's Junior Bridge Camp. Wolpert was half of the youngest pairs team to ever make it to the Finals of the Blue Ribbon Pairs and had achieved notoriety a few years ago by becoming the youngest Life Master in Canadian history.
Wolpert opened 2S, passed to me. I balanced with a Double, which Marty converted to penalty. Off three, scoring 800 for the defense, identical to the results from the other table. When comparing scores with our teammates at the end of the day, Henk and Randy were very sheepish as they read that one. After Marty told them it was a push, mild cheers broke out. Marty couldn't understand why we were cheering a tie.
We faced an intersting preempt against Simon de Wijs and Ricco van Prooijen of Holland. This pair had made the semi-finals of the Dutch open teams this year and made it to the last qualifying stage for the Dutch team of the European championships.
Their 2D preempt promised 4 to 6 hcp with at least four spades and five plus hearts. East had apparently fibbed a little:
As this was an unusual method under ACBL rules, the opponents had brought a prepared defense. My initial thought was that unusual/unusual would apply, and wanted to double to show a desire to punish one of the implied suits. However, the prepared defense had Double as a three-suited takeout for Hearts. 2S was natural in the prepared defense as preempter's spades may be as short as four, so that was the bid I chose.
West bid 3H and Marty made a double. Ask him whether it was Negative or penalty, I wasn't sitting for either. I pulled the double to 5D and Marty had a pretty clear picture of my hand, prompting a raise to 6D. I should have made 7, except that I played West for the Queen of Diamonds after both opponents followed suit on the first round of Diamonds. I realize that the percentage play is for the drop with a combined nine card fit, but believed that the fact that East had shown nine cards in the majors shifted the odds back in favor of finessing West. So much for ingenuity.
Heading into the final round, we were sitting in 18th place overall, with the top twenty advancing. We had plenty of company close behind, so it seemed a split was necessary to hold position. As usual, out final round was against a seed; the Baze team. Marty and I faced Brad Moss and Fred Gitelman at our table. The first hand was flat. Marty made a gambling double of the second, but the gamble didn't pay off. This left the last hand of the first day:
Moss opened 1NT, Marty overcalled 2D. We were using the Suction defense to NT openers. We had not played Suction in a while but decided to dust it off for the Reisenger.
The 2D overcall showed either a hand with 6+ Hearts, or a 5/5 in Clubs and Spades. It calls for a relay from me to 2H, which gets passed with the Heart one-suiter or pulled to 2S to show the blacks. Moss passed, as did Marty, confirming the Heart one-suiter. Gitelman balanced with a Double. Rather than have Moss describe his hand further, I raised to 3H. Moss doubled, passed around.
The play was not terribly exciting, as Moss was forced to lead away from strength each time he won a trick. If psychic, Moss could get off to the lead of the Ace of Spades and set the contract one. If careless, cashing the top two diamonds would yield a doubled overtrick. Moss was neither. 3H Doubled, making, gave us a win for the board and ensured a place in the Semi-Finals.
It took a while for the results to be posted. As it turned out, we hadn't needed that last board, as we cleared 17th, 1.9 boards ahead of the 21st place team. Cutting over half of any field that talented was bound to leave some talented teams as spectators. Even with that caveat, the results were so surprising that the ACBL Daily Bulletin's headline the next day chronicled the upsets.
Gone from the field were several favorites, including the champions of the Open Board-a-Match Teams earlier in the NABC, Baze (Baze, Gitelman, Moss, Mittleman, and Whitman) and last year's champions, Bramley (Bramley, Lazard, H. Weinstein and Garner). Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern were dead. Other surprises included perennial powerhouse Cayne (Cayne, Burger, Passell, Seamon, L. Cohen, Berkowitz) and notables Truscott (Truscott, Truscott, Barbour, Myers, Mancuso and Sanders) as well as Kantar (Kantar, M. Cohen, Goldfein and Rotman) and Pavlicek (Pavlicek, Pavlicek, Gerard and Feldman).
The successes that the Shugart team (Shugart, Robson, Forrester, and Helgemo) and Chip Martel's team (Wolfson, Silverman, Stansby, Martel, Mahmood, and Rosenberg) had enjoyed against us were not isolated incidents, as the two teams occupied 1st and 2nd place in the standings. Of the other teams we faced, Wang made the cut as well as Verhees (Verhees, Hoogencamp, van Prooyen, and de Wys), but the junior team did not. Wang made a particularly strong showing, finishing the event in 11th place, only one-half of a board away from qualifying for the finals. Adding to the sting of the near miss, the tenth place team received 60 gold points per member, while eleventh received no award.
As the players milled about, I was off to midnight swiss. This was my last day at the Nationals and I planned to fit in as much bridge as possible. Henk and Randy had to call it a night, so Marty and I played with a pair we had met at the partnership desk. My memories of the Swiss team event are not quite as sharp, probably due to the wine program and the two-liter bottle of White Russians brought by Captain Stan to cheer us onward.
I was told that we were able to augment our Reisinger team by adding Jason Meyer the next day. Marty flew back to Chicago, and I drove home to Naples. Shugart held form wire to wire to win the Reisinger. Sontag's team began a charge, ultimately finishing second by a whisker. Our intrepid team evidently played well during the second day, finishing in 18th place. I helped make lunch for my daughters and took a desperately needed nap, dreaming I was playing Bobby Wolff during the finals of the Reisinger. Perhaps one day.