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Road to the GNT Final Four Part 1
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Introduction

This series will be a chronicle of my experiences in the 2017 Open GNT in Toronto.  Our District 6 team (Gill-Shore, Pettis-Lo, Palmer-Shi) had a good run in the event, making it through to the semifinals before a brutal 1-IMP loss to the perennially powerful District 9 team from Florida.  I decided to write about this for a few reasons:

  1. I really enjoy this site, but feel I haven't contributed all that much to it.  I thought this would be a good opportunity to create some quality content for everyone to (hopefully) enjoy.
  2. These matches contained a lot of memorable or especially challenging hands.
  3. As someone who is aspiring to compete at the National level consistently, I thought my perspective might be one that many people share but hasn't been written about very much.  
  4. This was definitely one of the highlights of my bridge life so far, and I wanted to share that experience now that the wounds have healed a bit.

 

This was our partnership's second foray into the GNT open in the last two years.  We lost last year in the R16 to the same team that won this year's event (Woolsey-Martel, D. Rosenberg-Grainger, Stansby-Stansby).  We were actually down about 70 going in the final quarter and rallied to win back about 45 to make it respectable, and if I'd have guessed better on the first hand of the quarter we'd have lost by only 2!  I don't get to go to Nationals all that often, since vacation and money are limited, so I was really looking forward to the tournament.  One of my favorite things about bridge is that you can actually play against the best, and I enjoy being challenged.   

Noble and I have been playing together for about 13 years now.  We were on the US Junior national team in 2006, and since then we've scratched a few times in National events, with a 2nd in GNT A in the last Philly nationals and a 2nd in the NAP in Kansas City just this year.  We play a non-standard version of Precision with lots of relays after 1 and in some other non-competitive sequences.  We have lots of customized agreements that we (mostly Noble) have developed over the last 10 years, and while we occasionally make tweaks, we really haven't changed what we play all that much during that time.  This helps a lot, since we both have jobs and families and don't get to play as much as we used to.

 

Wednesday Swiss Teams

The format for the Open GNT starts with a Swiss teams to come down to 16 teams.  For us, this was one of those days you'd rather forget.  We didn't play all that well, our opponents were good and sometimes lucky, and we were happy to scrape by with a 16th place Q.  We were 7 VP above 17th but it really didn't feel all that safe.  According to the Conditions of Contest, the top 4 from the Swiss get to choose their opponents from the bottom 8.  We didn't get picked by any of the top 4 teams, which we figured would happen even though we finished 16th.  While my partner and I are relatively unknown quantities, our teammates have all had lots of success at the national level.  We got randomly drawn into a match against the teams that finished 5-8 with what looked like about a 50/50 chance of a really tough draw.  We checked the sheets and we had what looked like an obscenely good draw - all of the teams with the biggest names were on the other half of the bracket.  Unfortunately, someone pointed out that that COC stipulated that 5-8 AND 9-12 should be shuffled, and only 5-8 had been shuffled.  It seemed like shuffling both sets was redundant, but the rules are the rules.  On the reshuffle we ended up on the tough half of the bracket with an even tougher day 1 draw (Passell-Wold-Bramley-Hamman-Compton).   

As crazy as it sounds, I was happy about our new draw, even though it probably massively cut down our odds of winning the event.  From a personal enjoyment standpoint, playing a difficult match the first day was optimal.  Since drop-ins to the LM Pairs were discontinued, losing on Thursday meant getting to play that event, while losing on Friday meant playing regional-level events on the weekend.  While I enjoy bridge at almost any level, I go to Nationals to play against the best!  I'd actually only played a few long matches like this against great players (I usually don't have enough time off for Spinderbilt-type events), so I was looking forward to the match.

R16 Q1

We had seating rights in the first quarter, and we chose to sit North-South against Wold and Passell, putting the two Precision systems at the same table. We figured that as the underdogs we should increase the variance as much as possible.

The action started on Board 1 when Noble was dealt:

South
Qx
Jx
AKxxxx
Kxx
W
N
E
S
1
1
2
2
P
P
?

Partner's 1 could be a balanced 11-13, single-suited diamonds (yeah right!), a 3-suiter short in any suit, or a hand with long clubs and a 4-card major.  You don't have any special agreements here - double would be invitational or better in a hand that could stand a pass and didn't want to bid anything else.  Your choice?

Partner would raise diamonds on almost all hands with 3+ diamonds here, so it's very likely you'll need to lose the lead in 3NT at least once unless partner has exactly Qx in diamonds (and even then 1/3 of the time).  Given either major could be a source of the setting tricks for the opponents, Noble judged his hand as worth less than a GF even though he had 13 HCP and a 6-card suit.  He backed his judgment to the extreme and bid a non-forcing 3. I think I would have doubled and followed with 3 to give partner a chance to kick it in, but I wasn't going to be doing any kicking on my hand anyway:

West
10xx
Axxx
QJx
xxx
North
Kxx
Qxx
xx
AQ109x
East
AJ9xx
K10xx
10x
Jx
South
Qx
Jx
AKxxxx
Kxx
W
N
E
S
1
1
2
2
P
P
3
P
P
P
D
3 North
NS: 0 EW: 0

On the opening trump lead, I was able to draw 2 rounds of trumps and shake a heart from dummy on the clubs while West ruffed in to make 4. Win 5 when 3NT failed a trick on the expected spade lead.

Board 2 was a routine push in 2 making, then things picked up again on Board 3 when I was dealt:

North
xxx
Kx
xx
AKJxxx
W
N
E
S
P
P
?

I figured if there ever were a time to mix things up, it's in a match like this, so I opened with a semi-psychic 1NT. I've actually never had a hand that I thought was a strong candidate for this action, but it seemed like this bid had a few ways to win. It might blow the opponents out of the auction, or get me to a light 3NT that makes on a heart lead if partner has a maximum pass. I could have opened a natural 2, and I usually am happy to take actions like that where I feel I'm already ahead of the other table, but it really felt right to screw around a little at favorable. This time, neither of the expected good things happened, but the bid worked out well anyway:

West
10987
A9xx
Kx
Q10x
North
xxx
Kx
xx
AKJxxx
East
AKJx
Qxx
QJ109x
x
South
Qx
J10xx
Axxx
xxx
W
N
E
S
P
P
1NT
2
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 East
NS: 0 EW: 0

Declarer took the opening J lead with dummy's ace and naturally took a spade finesse through the opening 1NT bidder, losing the obvious 4 tricks. At the other table, my hand chose to open 3, which prompted a club lead. Declarer was tapped at trick 2, but was protected from an immediate heart attack and was quasi-forced into picking up trumps. With careful play, she was able to score it up for win another 12 somewhat random IMPs.

Board 4 gave me another bidding decision:

North
J9xxx
AKx
Jxx
xx
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
X
?

You can bid any number of hearts to play, or 3 to show an inv+ hand with at least 3-card support. Your choice?

North
J9xxx
AKx
Jxx
xx
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
X
?

I thought this hand was close to an invite, but I didn't think my two Jacks were likely to be worth very much, so I just bid 3, figuring that if partner had a shapely max he could always take a shot at game. 3 bought it and my judgment turned out well on this deal:

West
Q10xx
xx
KQxxx
Jx
North
J9xxx
AKx
Jxx
xx
East
Kx
xx
Axxx
KQxxx
South
Ax
QJ98xx
10
A10xx
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
2
X
3
P
P
P
D
3 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

Opponents overcalled at the 1-level and found their way to game, and both tables took 9 tricks after the K lead and a trump shift. Another 6 to the good guys. Then on board 5, the opponents had a bidding misunderstanding:

West
Q109x
A
AKQxxx
Kx
North
Axx
KQ10xx
10x
xxx
East
xxx
J9xxxx
x
Jxx
South
KJx
x
Jxxx
AQ109x
W
N
E
S
P
P
2
X
2
X
2
3NT
P
P
P
D
3NT West
NS: 0 EW: 0

East thought the double just showed hearts not values, and West thought it showed values and bid game. I led a club and with diamonds not breaking, declarer's hand gets squeezed on the clubs to let us make an eighth trick for +200. Win 4 when teammates held it to down 1 in a part-score. Then, I had to make a decision in an unusual auction:

North
x
10xx
10xx
AQ109xx
W
N
E
S
1
2
2
3
X
XX
3
?

North
x
10xx
10xx
AQ109xx
W
N
E
S
1
2
2
3
X
XX
3
?

Clearly partner had a good hand too, especially given my LHO was already trying for game. If partner has the K my hand is worth a ton, although if he doesn't then it's likely to be offside and my hand isn't really all that great.  Still, defending 3 when 4 might just be cold even if partner doesn't have the K seemed like too big a position to take at IMPs, so I bid 4. As it turns out, partner did have the K, and game made 6 when the opponents led a normal spade:

West
KJxx
xxx
xxx
xxx
North
x
10xx
10xx
AQ109xx
East
Q109xxx
AJ
KQxx
J
South
Ax
KQxxx
AJ9
Kxx
W
N
E
S
1
2
2
3
X
XX
3
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

At the other table, South chose to make a power double, which is not really our style. We are pretty conservative about our power doubles, especially with a bad suit like this. I'm sure on some other hand this would burn us, but this time overcalling worked much better. West raised to 2, North bid 3, East bid 3, and South was left with a rather unappetizing decision. He decided to double again, which they nipped a trick for +200 and win another 7, giving us a 34-0 run to start the match.

On Board 7, I had to lead against the following auction:

North
J108x
Kx
A109x
Q9x
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
P
P

North
J108x
Kx
A109x
Q9x
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
2
P
P
P

I thought a lead in any of the suits could honestly be right, but it seemed like a trump had the most going for it. Dummy was likely to hold 2 or fewer hearts sitting behind me since with 3, he might have taken a preference back to hearts. Also since dummy was known to be very weak, ruffing hearts would also be giving declarer much-needed entries. It's unusual to lead a trump from Qxx but it really seemed right here.

West
A
A9xx
Qxxx
AKxx
North
J108x
Kx
A109x
Q9x
East
Q9xxx
xxx
xx
J10x
South
Kxx
QJ10x
KJx
xxx
W
N
E
S
 
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1
P
1N
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 West
NS: 0 EW: 0

Several leads would have been successful on this deal as it happens, and a trump was as good as anything else.  Had we played a trump each time we were in, we could have beaten the contract two tricks after a trump lead. However, we slipped a trick and allowed declarer to escape for only down 1. Teammates opened 1, responded 1, and opener chose to rebid 2NT. Responder pulled to 3, which drifted off 3 putting the opponents on the board with 5 IMPs.

The opponents scored an overtrick IMP in a making 3NT, then:

North
10x
10x
QJ109xx
Axx
W
N
E
S
3
P
3
4
?

I chose to open the North hand 3 since I was favorable, which was fairly normal for our style. We are aggressive at 1st/3rd favorable, and with shortness in both majors here and strong diamonds, it seemed like a reasonable risk. Looking at my hand, I figured that 4 and 4 were most likely to be both down 1, but I really don't think trying to thread the needle like that is the way to play IMPs. Lots of good things can happen when you bid 4 over 4, and at least you aren't bringing back a double game swing against you. This time, however, the expected happens:

West
Ax
AKJxxx
Kxx
xx
North
10x
10x
QJ109xx
Axx
East
xxxx
Qxx
xx
Q10xx
South
KQJ9x
xx
Ax
KJxx
W
N
E
S
3
P
3
4
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

Lose another 4 when the opponents let 4 play at the other table. After an easy push in game, a bidding problem for our side:

North
xxxx
Axx
AQJxxx
South
KJ
KQx
K109x
A1098
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
P
P

Our 2 response to 1NT just asks about spades initially to conceal opener's heart length when responder doesn't need to know. Here it also conferred the advantage that opener knew responder's major whereas with Stayman he wouldn't be sure. I could have bid 3NT over 3 with a normal choice of games hand, so 4 was forward-going but did not show a void. Partner could still want to play in hearts with 5, so 4 just set the suit. Over this, I felt it was close whether or not to make another effort with 5. In the end I decided that partner really needed to have the nuts to bid a slam and he was already going to do that since I'd made a slam try. I really didn't like my spade holding, and I knew partner would think KJx was good when in reality it would mean we had very little play. Fortunately, partner took some time before bidding 4 so I had time to think things through and bid 5 in tempo (given it was a slam auction).

Today, the AQ were both off so there was no winning guess. The opponents found their way to slam opposite a 15-17 NT, so we picked up another 10. After that things calmed down for the rest of the set. A making game at both tables netted the opponents another overtrick IMP, then I had to decide whether to bid a natural(!) 2 over 1NT:

North
10x
Axx
KQ108xx
10x
W
N
E
S
P
P
1NT
?

North
10x
Axx
KQ108xx
10x
W
N
E
S
P
P
1NT
?
It seemed like this was a good opportunity to make a bid that they wouldn't be able to make at the other table. This might result in going plus in diamonds, going -50 in diamonds instead of letting them make a part-score, pushing them a level higher and beating them, or maybe testing their agreements since who else plays 2 as natural? This time, it chased the opponents into a making part-score when West balanced with 2:

West
AKx
108xxx
Jx
AKx
North
10xx
Ax
KQ108xx
10x
East
J92
QJ9
Axx
xxxx
South
Qxxx
Kxx
xx
QJxx
W
N
E
S
P
P
1NT
2
P
P
2
P
P
P
D
2 West
NS: 0 EW: 0

Lose 4 when the opponents passed 1NT out and beat it a trick. 

The last board was a push in a spade part-score.  We knew we had a solid card since we didn't really give up anything big and we had a lot of plus scores. We were very happy to find ourselves up 44-15, but had the 50/50 slam hand gone the other way, it would have been effectively tied.  We knew we'd need at least reasonable luck to beat a team this good, so we were happy to take it while it lasted. 

 

To be continued...

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