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A Bart Bramley Story
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While contacting Bart Bramley regarding his availability to be the next guest on The Setting Trick podcast, John Mcallister and I surreptitiously chanced upon a story of Bart Bramley’s experience in the 1998 Par Contest.

 

The Par contest is a prestigious competition, where the best of the best duke it out to see who is the greatest declarer. It was in the 1998 Par Contest where my bridge idol, Michael Rosenberg, took first place and earned himself the title of “the expert’s expert.” But this is the story of the second-place finisher, Bart Bramley, whom Michael Rosenberg himself declared as the true winner of the event, as although Bart was slower in solving the puzzles, he made one fewer mistake than Michael did. 

 

On the next page, you will find an enthralling reminiscence of the Par Contest from Bart Bramley. I hope the story evokes as much excitement in you as it did in me.

Adapted from bridge champion, Bart Bramley

 

 

[The Par Contest] was in 1998, at the World Championships in Lille, France. I had weaseled my way in at the suggestion of George Mittelman. After George mentioned that he thought I’d be good at it, I asked Bobby Wolff to help get me in, and he did. At the time I had a little international recognition (played in 1991 Bermuda Bowl, captained 1996 U.S. team), but not enough to get invited directly. However, I realized that my credentials had never been better. I was coming off the best year of my career, 1997, in which I won two nationals, including the Reisinger, had several other very high finishes, and, most importantly, I was ACBL Player of the Year. Wolff agreed that that was plenty enough to get invited; besides, he liked me.

 

Another thing I had going for me was a deep understanding of Pietro Bernasconi, author of the par hands. This was the second set of par hands he had constructed. The first was for the 1990 World Championships in Geneva. (Bernasconi was Swiss, but that was a coincidence.) I attended that tournament and became aware of those 12 hands almost as soon as they had been “played”. I knew them in detail. Also, in 1996, when I was captain of the U.S. open team in Rhodes, my friend P.O. Sundelin (Sweden) introduced me to Bernasconi! All three of us were captains or coaches that year, so we had a lot of time off while the matches were being played. P.O. and I encountered Bernasconi several times during the week, and each time he gave us a double-dummy problem that he had composed. These problems were just as good as his par hands. The man was a genius. Anyway, after studying the original 1990 par hands and solving several of his double-dummy problems, I felt that I had a good understanding of Bernasconi’s style. His compositions were beautiful, and they were pure. By the way, Michael Rosenberg also was an admirer of Bernasconi and had studied his compositions closely.

 

Naturally, I was nervous going into the par contest. While I thought that I belonged, I felt that I had to prove it by not embarrassing myself. Not by winning, not by contending, just by NOT EMBARRASSING MYSELF. (I’m sure a lot of other participants, more famous than I, felt the same way.) The event was 12 hands over four sessions, with two hours for each set of 3 hands. Each of the 35 or so participants had his own computer terminal. You were presented the problems single-dummy (just your hand and dummy) and then keyed in your plays from each hand. If you made an error the computer would beep and you’d lose points. It was something like you started with 1,500 points for a hand, then lost 500 points for the first error on that hand, 300 for the second, 100 for the third, and whatever was left for a fourth error. Also, time cost 1 point per minute. I decided going in that I would take as much time as necessary, since errors were expensive and time was cheap.

 

In the first session I immediately made an error on the first hand, but I recovered to solve it with no more errors on that hand or on the other two for that session. Relief! I had not embarrassed myself and was in the top half of the field. (One very famous player, whom I will not name, scored zero that session.) The second session went similarly (one error) and I moved into the top ten. I crushed the third session, acing all three hands and getting a session top. I moved into a tie with Michael Rosenberg for second. The leader from the beginning was Cezary Balicki, who was at the terminal closest to mine. I observed that in all three sessions so far he had zoomed through the hands with little or no beeping, and left with at least 45 minutes to go each time.

  

Now that I was tied for second I began to think about winning. Certainly I was thinking about finishing in the top four, for which there were cash prizes. Going in we knew there would be prize money, which I assumed was some nominal number of francs, probably worth a few hundred dollars at most. Along the way we learned that the prizes were in SWISS francs, which are worth a lot more. Indeed, we found out that the top prize was 50,000 Swiss francs, worth about $34,000 U.S. dollars! And the other prizes weren’t shabby either. Wow!

In the fourth session I aced the first two hands. Meanwhile, I noticed that Balicki seemed to be having trouble. He was beeping, and he stayed around much longer than in any of the other sessions. The last hand was one of those where you have a suit of A109x opposite KQxx, needing four tricks to make 6NT. I knew immediately that the whole point was to get a complete count, but I couldn’t see how to do it. I spent about 40 minutes staring at it before I played a card. There were about 5 minutes left. Finally I played dummy’s ace from Axx opposite my Kx. Beep! It was a really stupid play. Now I switched to winning with my king. At trick two I played an obvious side suit and discovered it was 5-0, which I had not previously considered. I realized that must be the key. I continued correctly on instinct for many more tricks until I reached the ending. I KNEW I had a complete count but my brain was fried and I couldn’t compute. Finally I decided that since it was Bernasconi, the singleton must be in the same hand as the void in the side suit. Right! I finished with under 30 seconds left.

 

I was pretty sure that I had passed Balicki, even with one error, but I didn’t know about Michael Rosenberg. It turned out that he had also made an error on the last hand, but he took less time, so he won and I was second. Rodwell got up to third and Balicki dropped to fourth. Yes, I was disappointed not to have won, but I had more than justified my presence in the field, and I received 25,000 Swiss francs for my efforts, equal to $17,000 U.S. Not bad!

  

To show you how attuned Michael Rosenberg and I were to Bernasconi, observe: On the twelve par hands we each messed up three of them, and they were the SAME THREE (first, last and one in the middle). We aced the other nine. Michael Rosenberg told me that he actually made a second error on one of them, so he thinks that I “won”, in the sense of having made fewer errors. My decision to sacrifice “time points” for accuracy turned out to have cost me the title, but I would do the same again. Later, Michael wrote a series of articles for Bridge Today (the magazine that the Granovetters used to publish), describing all of the par hands and his thought processes on each one. Our thinking was virtually identical on every hand.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to hear more from Bart, please consider listening to the upcoming interview of Bart Bramley on The Setting Trick podcast.

 

On the next page, there is a detailed analysis provided to me by Bart on one of the puzzles he encountered at the Par Contest.

Adapted from bridge champion, Bart Bramley

 

 

After erring on the first hand and then solving it, I moved on to the second hand:

 

North
KJ109
A109xx
A
432
South
A32
54
432
AK765
W
N
E
S
6
?

 

 

You overbid to 6 uncontested. LHO leads the J.

 

Plan the play. The solution is on the next page.

Superficially the contract looks barely OK: 3-2 trumps plus guessing spades. But your entries are no good. You can’t ruff two diamonds and then pull two trumps before running spades. Instead you have to hope for a miracle. You need 3-2 trumps, and you need 4-2 spades with the doubleton in the same hand as the trump doubleton. Since you can only ruff one diamond you have to set up a heart trick. 3-3 hearts isn’t good enough; you need LHO to have two honors doubleton. Therefore you need RHO to be 4=4=2=3. You can play either opponent for the Q, but since RHO has more of them, you play him for it. Thus, A, pass the J and 10, A and K, unblock A, A, K to pitch a heart, heart ruff (dropping LHO’s two honors), diamond ruff, heart ruffing finesse against RHO’s remaining honor, trump to RHO, who has a low heart left at trick 13 to lead to dummy’s winner.

 

I figured out all of that very quickly. My strategy going in was to play no cards until I had figured out the whole hand. Thus, I had not yet played the A from dummy, perverse as that may seem. When I realized that the winning line required RHO to have a doubleton diamond, I knew that if I were right it would be KQ, and RHO would play the QUEEN at trick one. So I played the A, and RHO DID play the queen! That’s a classic Bernasconi touch, and a joyous moment for me.

 

West
87
KQ
J1098765
98
North
KJ109
A10932
A
432
East
Q654
J876
KQ
QJ10
South
A32
54
432
AK765
W
N
E
S
P
P
6
P
P
P
D
1
6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
J
A
Q
2
1
1
0
J
4
2
7
1
2
0
10
5
3
8
1
3
0
2
10
A
8
3
4
0
K
9
3
J
3
5
0
A
5
9
6
3
6
0
4
Q
A
6
1
7
0
K
Q
5
6
1
8
0
2
7
5
K
3
9
0
3
7
4
K
1
10
0
10
J
6
8
3
11
0
7
9
3
Q
2
11
1
8
4
10
9
1
12
1
N/S +920
13

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