Tuesday, July 26, 2011

BRIDGE: When Is A Win Not A Win?

Danny Ioannidis, The Golden Macedonian, pulled me out of retirement for a day of pairs play at the North American Bridge Championships going on this week (and last) in Toronto at the Royal York and the Sheraton Hotels.

And, while the results showed we topped the C Flight in both the opening Open Pairs and the Education Foundation Pairs last Thursday, the fact is Danny and I had our first below average sessions this century. Now, that needs qualification. I've been largely retired through most of this decade and even at that, Danny and I tend only to play major events together. It's been a long time since we are regular partners. He now has a successful partnership going with Steve Young, who he partnered into the finals of the Life Master Pairs this past weekend.

The last time Danny and I even came close to finishing on the wrong side of average was our last session at the World Championships in Montreal nine years ago when a clear top on the last hand of the afternoon got us to a half-point over average, a 50.1 per cent effort. We promptly left town.

So it was a little disconcerting Thursday to turn in a 48 per cent afternoon in the Open Pairs single session event. The score was deserved. We didn't play well, including on a hand I will get to shortly. We scurried off to find the McDonalds down in the bowels under the Train Station (we were playing across the street at the Royal York), and then returned to gawk at the scores. And right there beside our names was a C-1, indicating our position in the flighted events.

Imagine how I felt. Unworthy at any first-place result, for sure. Surprised too. Sure, it was an opening event. But how could so few C Flight players show up? Afterall, that had to be the reason Danny and I placed so high. (For the unfamiliar, in flighted events, they throw all the flights into the same event. You play A's, B's and C's, supposedly in the same ratio. A's can only place in their flight, while the lower flights can place in their own flight AND in any higher flights. I have seen B's win the A AND B Flights. I can't ever remember a C winning the A Flight, but I'm sure it's happened).

While Danny and I grumbled about the afternoon and I had some sharp questions for a couple of plays, Danny gave me a pass. The shoulder was an issue, but the bigger problem was the fact I wasn't sharp. I hadn't faced real opponents at the table since the qualification round for the Canadian National Teams two years ago (which we won by the way). He went off wandering about and I retired with my Kindle to finish off Janet Evanovich's Smokin' Seventeen and to start Bill Carter's The War for Late Night (Both will get reviewed when I do a book review month in August. Here's a hint, if you like any one of the late night chat show hosts, GET CARTER's book).

The evening looked like a repeat of the afternoon. More mistakes on my part and a 46 per cent game at the finish line. But the same result, a C-1. In a field as big as that that played in the ACBL's charity game for the Education Foundation? Well, the same feelings manifested themselves. I hated 'winning' playing soooooo poorly. I did get a chance to see and talk to some old friends, some of whom had conventions named after them that graced my convention card. And, I did see Matt Granovetter and can confirm he's got three feet of beard now. That and that his wife Pam is still lustworthy. She's one of the nicest people I've ever dealt with.

After the game, the whole night continued to turn into a surreal nightmare. When we went to the car lot to retrieve Danny's car, we discovered the attendant had called it a night about ten minutes before we'd emerged from the Royal York to go home and lick our war wounds. We didn't even stop and gawk when we passed the Nikita television crew shooting an episode for the upcoming season in an alley-way between the Royal York and the car lot at the corner of Front and Simcoe (just so you NEVER EVER BLEEPIN' EVER USE THAT BLEEPIN' LOT). Danny talked to one of the crowd control officers, who called in a squad car to see what could be done. Not much, as it turned out. They (the officers) did inspect the booth as closely as one can inspect the booth, but no keys. They called the corp. number on the side of the mini-building and got the same voice mail Danny had gotten when borrowing a phone to make the call (Did I mention that Danny left his wallet AND cell phone in the car, too!).

The officers were all doing their absolute best. But it wasn't good enough. After two and a half hours, CAA finally showed up and broke into Danny's car to retrieve his wallet and keys (after a funny 20 questions to ascertain Danny was Danny).  I tried to hang in, but I eventually got into a taxi and paid 90 bucks to get home to my own bed. I assumed Danny would try for a room at the Intercontinental, but he actually stayed at the lot until the idiot showed up. At this point, I'm not confident I'll see the taxi money. One of the officers told me that this situation was NOT unusual and the matter was a civil one. Well, it wouldn't be as long if Danny exacted physical retribution. But not having my temper, he didn't. If I do see any money, it will be a long time coming. Did I mention the lot was at Front and Simcoe? And that it charges 20 bucks for parking and maybe you'll get your keys back if the operator feels like it? Front and Simcoe. You've been warned.

Okay, okay, a bridge hand for those that have stayed throughout (the hand comes from inputting it into JACK):

I held the South hand at all Vulnerable. I assure you both of the bids in front of me were legitimate, leaving me with a bit of a quandary. Either I negative doubled now, or forever held my peace. I 'could' bid a negative two diamonds, but that would lose hearts forever, if even a 5-4 fit existed. Or I could pass, since I was on the lightest edge of legitimacy for that bid. Even though I play the rock (disciplined bidder as adverse the shooter or aggressive bidder that is Danny's job), I opted for the negative double. Needless to say, the four heart call was a surprise. But there was Danny to affirm that he had a good hand with spades. And then the original overcaller thought he had enough cards to call five clubs, without support. I asked at that point if we were all playing with blue-backed cards. Didn't seem possible.

Having the worst hand at the table, I had an easy pass, the auction's first such call. It continued pass before Danny realized he had some diamonds and called five diamonds. Gulp. This was a bid I didn't really want to hear with my dearth of actual, you know, points. THEN, even more shockingly, I had to contend with a six club continuation by the original overcaller.

This started me thinking, an always dangerous thing. What hands could surround the table and produce the bidding I'd seen (not heard, we were all using bidding cards and the only noise had been my poor attempt at table humour).  Go ahead, decide for yourself. I'll be right here when you're finished ruminating.

First, there seemed to be something of a misfit, or conversely a double-fit for the opponents. Either they had long rounded suits each or a bit of support for each other while holding a semi-long suit. Danny had spades and diamonds, eleven minimum and more probably 12. It was barely possible he had 13 cards, split 8-5 between spades and diamonds. But I thought it rather more likely that he had 8-4 or 7-5 with a singleton. Surely, he had a couple of aces in that lot to explaining bidding while red. If so, six diamonds would be safe and the opponents would have to guess the right suit to lead and cash the one ace they did have coming to them. It was possible a heart over and a spade to ruff might set six diamonds, but that was tough defence. On the other hand, this WAS the North American championships. And what if I didn't continue this mad bidding. What if the same wacky distribution meant there was a slam their way too. Barring a Lightner Double, I was planning to lead my spade singleton. I finally broke in favour of the safety of being dummy. I bid six diamonds. Which was followed by three passes.

The play? The opening leader cashed the club ace and then led to his partner's ace for the setting trick. Had they not cashed out, Danny makes (He holds six spades to the AKQ and the AJxx of diamonds with his two singletons. The DUMMY's hearts all go away on spades on the 3-3 break. Or the clubs, depending on what wasn't cashed). Had I not bid and Danny passed, we beat their contract three tricks (three spades and a diamond). Had I not bid and Danny doubled and I had assumed it to be a Lightner Double, THEY would have made the hand on a heart lead, discarding spades and losing diamonds on the dummy's hearts.

And you wonder why I'm headed back into retirement!

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