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Winning the Canadian Championships playing 5-handed
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After losing by one imp in the quarterfinals of the Canadian Championships in 2018, our regular team, team L’ÉCUYER (Nicolas L'Écuyer-Zygmunt Marcinski, Kamel Fergani-Frederic Pollack) felt like we needed to make a change. Initially, we looked at playing 4-handed. Since the event lasts one week, this idea was soon shut down. Someone may not feel well, have a headache or even be sick. We felt it was too dangerous playing 4-handed. L'Écuyer suggested that we add one player to make it a 5-man team. We could rotate and keep everyone fresh. I was a tad skeptical at first. My teammates were also quite skeptical. When you think about, it makes some sense. When you have a team of 3 equal pairs, it is always a debate about who should be playing. In our case, there would no debate. The experienced partnerships would play in the critical moments. Of course, the suitable 5th would not be so easy to find. We were lucky to add Marc-André Fourcaudot as our fifth. He is a very experienced player: he won the Canadian Championship in 2008, played in the Olympiad and partnered the superstar Vince Demuy for a few years. Since L'Écuyer-Marcinski play an extremely complicated version of Precision, Fourcaudot was set to play mainly with Fergani and Pollack. He could also play with L'Écuyer in a pinch. Fourcaudot revised the Fergani-Pollack notes while studying the system. After a few practices, we were on our way to the Canadian Championships in Burnaby, British Columbia in early May.

The round robin lasted 3 days and 8 teams were set to make the playoffs. We started strong on the 1st day, had a soft second day and had a very strong last day to win the round-robin by a small margin. Fourcaudot-Fergani-Pollack played as a threesome for the entire round-robin. In fact, we did deviate a little bit from the original plan. Fourcaudot-Pollack played the critical last match in the round-robin. The new partnerships worked out very well. Fergani-Fourcaudot had played very seldomly before the tourney but kept the bidding simple and had few problems. Fourcaudot-Pollack were regular partners 25 years ago so the transition was simple. I can say this: it helped a lot that we played together a lot, even though it was a long ago. The tendencies were still there. We had no problems. Many people, however, could not figure out why we playing 5-handed. A typical comment was; you could not find a 6th? or is your 6th sick?After winning the round robin, we got to choose on your opponents, which is sometime a blessing in disguise. We chose ROCHE (Michael Roche-Daniel Lyder, Andy Stark-Nick Stock, Jacob Freeman-Michael Serafini) and had a real tough time with them. We were behind at the half but managed to come back and won by 19. In the second quarter, Fergani and I had a disaster: the opponents made 3H on a deal where our side was odds on to make 4S. We were frustrated. It was a good time to have a new partner. Fourcaudot-Pollack played the 3rd set and brought back a very good card. The timing was great. We chose TODD (Bob Todd-Doug Fisher, Neil Kimelman-Brad Bart, David Willis-Jeff Blond) in the semifinals. TODD had beaten us by 2 in the final in 2017 and they are a very tough team. This match went our way from the start and we advanced to the 2-day final to meet our ex-teammates GARTAGANIS in the final for all the marbles. The prize for the winning was gigantic: since Mexico declined to field an open team this year, the win would mean a direct entry into the 2019 Bermuda Bowl! In 2016, in the World Bridge Games in Wroclaw Poland, Judith Gartaganis – Nick Gartganis, L’Écuyer – Marcinski, Fergani-Pollack beat Italy in the round of 16. It was the first win for Canada in the KO of a restricted world championship since 1995.

A few words about our opponents in the final. GARTAGANIS (Judy and Nick Gartaganis, Jeff Smith-John Zaluski, Paul Thurtson-Keith Balcombe) are all extremely experienced players, many times winners of the CNTC and all partnerships are of long duration. We knew we would have our hands full with these formidable opponents. For the first set, Fourcaudot and I sat against Smith and Zaluski. Kamel and I regularly play with Smith and Zaluski in GNT events, so I know first hand that these guys are as tough as nails. I was ready to play but I never expected that the most exciting hand of the final would occur on the first board! Here it is:

West
98
J96
Q8754
J104
North
KJ5
K2
AK9
K8753
East
1032
87543
2
AQ62
South
AQ764
AQ10
J1063
9
W
N
E
S
 
1
P
1
P
2N
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4N
P
5
P
6
X
XX
P
P
P
D
6XX South
NS: 0 EW: 0

NS had a Polish Club auction to reach the acceptable slam.  I was sitting East and felt I felt like I had to double.  North could have a good diamond suit on the auction and our club winners may well disappear.   Zaluski was declarer.  Trick 1 went CJ, CK, CA, C9.  I did not think for a second that Zaluski made a psyche redouble.  I returned a trump and Zaluski could not quite get home at that point.  Reasonably, he tried to cash 2 rounds of diamonds, surely planning to pitch a diamond on a heart winner and eventually dropping the diamond queen or taking a ruffing finesse.  The second diamond was ruffed and L'ÉCUYER gained 12 imps (L'Écuyer-Marcinski played in game and made 5).  We took the lead on the first board and never relinquished it.  The match was close all the way but a good 7th stanza put the match out of reach for GARTAGANIS.  L'ÉCUYER won the match 241-169.  The final was played in a friendly and ethical manner.

Playing 5-handed worked incredibly well for us.  The only disaster based on lack of partnership experience was that one double was interpreted as penalty but was in fact for takeout.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it.  Team L'ÉCUYER received the approval from the Canadian Bridge Federation to play 5-handed in the upcoming Bermuda Bowl in China.  We added David Willis as NPC and are really looking forward to the opportunity.  It will be the first Bermuda Bowl for Marcinski, Fourcaudot and myself.  L'Écuyer and Fergani have played in many but have yet to make the playoffs.  We will be ready for battle.

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