My whole plan for the week in Phoenix was upended last Tuesday when my work meetings moved to Minneapolis. Still, I was committed to play three days with Barry (well, turned out it was only two) and could hardly back out of going down to Phoenix notwithstanding the venue change. The best flight I could get was in the afternoon so I was able to play in the side game in the morning. For that, I needed to visit the partnership desk. Given my background with the online partnership desk that I developed many years ago for the ACBL (which they chose not to use but preferred to write their own – but that's another story), and the fact that Kim and I ran the partnership desk for the 2008 NABC, you won't be surprised that I am something of a fan of the partnership desk. Over the years I have picked up partners who have ranged from brilliant to having no idea how the game should be played. But all nice people that I wouldn't have met otherwise.
The best was surely Matthew Thomson, an Australian bridge pro, who I somehow convinced to play with me in a two-session Swiss (don't ask me how) at an NABC several years ago (Denver, 2005 perhaps). I'm sure that, if he remembers me at all, it's as "that pommy bastard that couldn't follow suit."
Matthew is the fastest player I've ever played with (and I've played with Zach Grossack). By about trick six of every hand, we was able to claim whether defending or playing the dummy. Probably he was looking for a claim even when he was the dummy. We sat down against a team and were on the seventh board of the match when the director came over and said we were playing the wrong pair. The correct pair sat down and we started over. We still finished on time, having played almost fourteen boards!
Matthew was very insistent that with 6-5 you shouldn’t bid Michaels – too much shape – partner will never guess you have that all-important extra card. And he gave me lots of other good system advice which I'm afraid I've forgotten.
I remember defending a hand where we had booked the declarer. I was on lead and couldn’t see how we could get another trick. There was a suit which would have given declarer a ruff/sluff so I completely ignored that suit. But that was the proper play. Partner would have been able to score his now bare queen of trumps en passant.
On another hand the opponents doubled for a lead while we were heading to game or maybe slam. He redoubled and I pulled to 3NT or whatever, making. But the redoubled contract would have scored considerably more.
Matthew has a new book out (his second) which is reviewed in the current ACBL Bridge Bulletin. I'm hoping to find it in my Christmas stocking as I'm sure it's going to be excellent.
Another great stroke of luck was playing with a young lady from California called Katherine Jin. At the last minute before an evening side game at the 2010 Reno NABC, as I was about to give up, she showed up. We played in a 49-table game and finished 2nd overall. Very studious and quiet, she had an uncanny knack for competitive bidding and could play the spots off the cards too.
Today, I was again fortunate. I got paired up with a retired rocket scientist (I may be embellishing a bit) called George from New Jersey. We hit it off pretty well and got lucky with a few contracts too. We weren't perfect but we still managed to get 3rd overall in a 26-table side game.
But, if you're still with me, you will finally be rewarded with a hand. This was in fact the first hand that I picked up in the side game. It was a "New Zealand Rugby" hand – all black – and a real beauty: ♠T876532 ♥– ♦– ♣AKQT62. Nobody vulnerable and the dealer on my right opened 1♥. How should I treat this hand? Whatever I do, unless I bid something like 6♠, I don't think it will be passed out. I decided to walk the dog with 1♠. LHO bid 4♥, nothing from partner and back to me. Should I bid 5♣? Clearly, if there had been any sign of life from partner, I would want to introduce the clubs. Maybe I should even so. But there are some possible drawbacks. One drawback is that I won't be able to play 4♠. Is it likely that they would let me? One of my friends playing in the same event did get to play 4♠X. And what if it turns out that a club lead might get them a ruff and my bid might tip them off? So I bid 4♠. The opponents competed to 5♥ and I bid my spades yet again and got doubled. We were off the top three spades but fortunately they fell in two tricks so, with the help of partner's ♣J (he also had the wasted ♦A), I was able to make my contract (+650) for 18 of 23 matchpoints. Par was +300 for 6♥X-2.
And the outcomes from the partnership desk can be longer-lasting too. I've picked up several partners who became regular partners. And occasionally you might get extraordinarily lucky and really hit the jackpot. At the logical equivalent of the partnership desk (a club director making pairings), I even met my wife Kim!