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A New Par Contest
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A Brief History

Par contests involve setting players single dummy bridge problems that have a unique correct solution. The first major one of which I am aware was sponsored by Ely Culbertson and the Bridge World (I believe) in the mid-1930's. The next, after WWII featured hands devised by, I think, Reese and Australian expert Tim Seres. I hope someone will correct me if I am wrong. During the 1950s and 1960s there was an Intercollegiate event using par hands set up first by Geoffrey Mott-Smith, later I think by Bill Root and Larry Rosler. I played in the event twice, the first time in 1961, the second in 1966. I still remember this type of hand:

North
AQ7
KQJ2
2
J9874
South
K
A
AKQ98765
AKQ
W
N
E
S
4NT
P
5
P
7NT
P
P
P

N-S are directed to reach 7N, on an auction lost in the mists of time, against the 10 lead.

And this one maybe easier one (approximate):

North
1043
KQ543
KQ3
K8
East
KJ95
982
A64
762
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
3NT
P
P
P

Partner leads the 10 on which declarer plays the three from dummy. 

Par contests at that time were played at the table. The players bid the hands. When the bidding was over there was an official auction and a directed opening lead. Sometimes directed play for several tricks. Players received point awards for the final contract and for finding the correct play.

In 1990 there was something new, a World Championship Par Contest in conjunction with the World Championships in Geneva, Switzerland. The problems were created by Pietro Bernasconi. There was a substantial prize fund provided by Jimmy Ortiz-Patino. 

Using computers invited players were presented single-dummy problems, eight as declarer four as defender. At each trick they could try a play. If correct the computer continued the trick and the play until the protagonist had another problem. If wrong, the computer rejected the attempted play and let the player reconsider. Scoring was based on (1) the number of correct solutions, (2) the number of errors on the way, and (3) the amount of time taken. Players were allowed 45 minutes for each hand! The comfortable winner was Benito Garrozzo, with Ghestem second and Hamman third. An impressive podium.

In 1998 there was another. Again with hands created by Bernasconi. A more substantial prize fund was provided by the estate of Jean Besse. The winner this time was Michael Rosenberg with Bart Bramley second. 

A new contest

Bernasconi died a few years ago. But as part of his "estate" he left a final set of par hands with the desire that they be used at some point for another championship event. The WBF was approached and expressed no interest. I am currently discussing with BBO the possibility of running it on their platform. 

The Bernasconi hands are very hard. In both Geneva and Lille the players were given 45 minutes per hand. Some players ran out of time on some of the hands. To make the sessions manageable in length, there were two sessions of six hands. 

My idea is to present the hands on BBO. There would be a championship event, and a non-championship event. The championship event would be run simultaneously all over the world, probably starting at 3PM London time, which would mean 10AM in NY, 7AM in California, and if on Northern Hemisphere Summer Time, 10PM in Sydney and Tokyo. This would appear to be the global best solution. It might be run on two successive days (probably) or on two weekends, not necessarily consecutive. Non-championship participants could enter at any time over, say, a two week period. 

Unfortunately this is easier said than done. BBO sees this as a one-off event that would require considerable investment of programming time on their part, and would like to know how they would get paid. Not unreasonable. My suggestion was significant but not outrageous entry fees. Maybe $200 for the championship event, $20 for just trying the hands. One of the issues, then, is how many of each type of participant we would get. I think we would need about 100 players minimum in the championship, 1000 in the "I'd like to try it" field to make it work. 

It would be really good to get a sponsor also, one who would put up some added prize money either with their name attached to the event or anonymously. My notion would be to give participants something for each problem correctly solved, and some overall prizes with a few subcategories like "best performance in the opposite sex from the winner," "best performance by a junior," etc.

Solutions to par hands

North
AQ7
KQJ2
2
J9874
South
K
A
AKQ98765
AKQ
W
N
E
S
4NT
P
5
P
7NT
P
P
P

The auction, as I remember, is that South opens 4NT Blackwood and bids 7N when he finds an ace opposite. The opening lead is the J.

The key to the hand is to recognize that you have a low probability extra chance. Maybe someone has the stiff 10. If so you can take 2, 3, 3 and 5 tricks by unblocking a lot of honors. I leave it to you to figure out the sequence of plays. 

North
1043
KQ543
KQ3
K8
East
KJ95
982
A64
762
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
3NT
P
P
P

Partner leads the 10 on which declarer plays the three from dummy.

On the opening lead East can see that partner has limited high card points. Dummy has 13 and East has 8. Giving declarer 12-14 leave 5-7 for partner. If four of his high cards are the A or the A there is no hope to beat the hand. Declarer has two diamonds, four or five hearts and some number of clubs and spades. The only hope is that partner's card is the A. You know declarer does not have four spades - and you cannot beat it if he does. There is a standard play to cope with this position. The test is whether you know it.

The Bernasconi hands are not nearly that simple.

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