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How Low Can You Go?
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I don't play much matchpoints, which is alright with me, but I set a personal record in a recent session: 20 plus scores out of 24 boards. Must've been a big game, right? After all, plus scores are key at matchpoints. Nope—I barely broke 46%.

It hardly seems possible, and looking over the results doesn't provide much additional insight. Take Board 6 for instance. I held:

South
874
843
A1082
AQ10
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
2
2
2NT
3
P
P
P

My righty dealt and opened 1, which I passed, then after (1NT) - 2 - (2) - ?, I was able to bid 2NT as a good heart raise. So far, so good. Lefty competed to 3, and that came around to me. I passed. Maybe I just lack the killer matchpoint instinct, but I didn't think it was so clear that the opponents were going down in 3, and even if they were, we might be getting a reasonable score for going plus. Who knows if partner has a sound overcall—he might have won the board for pushing the opponents up. And if making nine tricks in spades is a normal result, going -730 would be a disaster. This was the full deal:

West
J6
K102
KQ73
9873
North
KQ
AJ9765
965
J6
East
A109532
Q
J4
K542
South
874
843
A1082
AQ10
W
N
E
S
1
P
1NT
2
2
2NT
3
P
P
P
D
6
3 East
NS: 0 EW: 0

I'm not sure what West was thinking bidding 3, but he handed us a juicy +200 on a partscore deal. Sure, we make 10 tricks due to the friendly layout—if West held the K we might only take eight—but who would get to game on these combined hands?

Turns out, most of the field! Nine pairs out of 12 played 4. Seven made it (one was doubled) and two went down. One pair played 3 making four, and one table passed the board out. Our +200 scored a measly 36%.

Board 10 gave me a tough bidding problem:

South
A94
AK74
2
AQ1074
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
P
P
?

A classic dilemma, a strong but offshape hand. I (very) briefly considered double, pulling diamonds to 2, and 2 directly, but I settled for an in-tempo 1NT. That got bumped to 3NT, and West tracked the dreaded low diamond:

North
10653
QJ9
J53
K62
South
A94
AK74
2
AQ1074
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
P
P
1NT
P
3NT
P
P
P

How would you play?

North
10653
QJ9
J53
K62
South
A94
AK74
2
AQ1074
W
N
E
S
P
1
1
P
P
1NT
P
3NT
P
P
P

I confidently ducked high, like a man with some stuff in diamonds, hoping that East would win and shift to spades. Didn't work. He won the K and played one back, but since West had begun with AQ104, the suit was blocked. If I had ducked low in dummy, East could have inserted a spot, winning, and the suit would have run.

I was the only declarer in 3NT to make my contract—the other four pairs in the notrump game scored an overtrick, presumably after a spade lead. +600 was worth only 59% of the matchpoints.

 

One last bidding problem (Board 17):

South
9
Q9
KJ873
KQJ93
W
N
E
S
2
P
2NT
P
4
X
?

Partner dealt and opened 2, Flannery. I thought about just blasting 3NT but I thought I'd go slow in case partner had a sixth heart. I bid 2NT, asking, and he bid 4, showing a non-minimum 4=5=0=4 shape. East doubled without asking what 4 meant.

We had no agreement about pass and redouble, but any bid in one of partner's long suits would be a signoff and 4NT would be straight aces (with 0/4, 1, 2, 3 responses). 

What call do you make?

Slam could be a good contract, but unless I bought three of the A, AK, and A, it wasn't going to look so hot, and it might not have been cold even with three of those cards. We had been having a good set thus far (or so I thought), with 10 straight pluses, so I wasn't about to jeopardize that by bashing slam. I just bid 5, thinking I was going down the middle of the road. This was the layout:

West
AJ875
J762
64
64
North
K1043
AK1085
A1052
East
Q62
43
AQ10952
87
South
9
Q9
KJ873
KQJ93
W
N
E
S
2
P
2NT
P
4
X
5
P
P
P
D
17
5 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

West led a trump. I drew a second round before trying to steal the K. Didn't work (and would have needed hearts to run to make 13 tricks anyway): +420. Without knowing the exact distribution, I marked that down as an average-minus, since plenty of pairs would probably be in 3NT, and if the opponents led a diamond, then making 10 or 11 tricks would be normal.

Wrong again! At eight tables, East-West got doubled in 3, going down 800 seven times and 1100 once. The East player who overcalled just 2 went for a mere 500 and skated away with 73% of the matchpoints. Two pairs played 3NT making five for a terrible score, and then there was me, with a cold zero. So much for going down the middle.

 

It'll be a while before I play matchpoints again. I think I can manage to contain my excitement.

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