Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Never Say Die

Two of my favorite pastimes are drinking beer and playing bridge.  Unfortunately, I usually have to remember to do these in the correct order.  Alcohol muddles the bridge brain.  But there have been several notable exceptions to this rule, particularly when I've been playing with Kim.

The first occurred several years ago now at the Life Master Pairs in Honolulu, our first attempt at that event. We realized what we were up against in the first session and, given our 42% game, decided to go back to our room and have a glass of wine with dinner.  It couldn't hurt, right?  We'd need at least 58% to qualify and that was simply out of the question in such an event.  But sometimes the bridge gods like to play jokes.  In the evening session, we scored 62%, winning our double-section (which included Zia and other luminaries) and easily qualifying us for the second day.

The latest happened just this last weekend, playing with Kim in the A/X pairs at the Sturbridge Regional.  Nothing really bad happened in the first session but we were a few too many times on the wrong side of average, scoring a disappointing 45.5%.  Still, we were going to have fun during the break with many of our bridge friends at the barbecue hosted by Brian Duran on a nearby lake.  Should we enjoy the full barbecue experience and have a beer?  Why not?

The fun over, we returned to the second session with no great expectations. But, as one of our bridge friends likes to say, the gift box was open!  A couple of decent things happened in the first round (four boards) which was worth about 64%.  We dropped just half a matchpoint in the second round for 98.2% (!).  With two of the seven rounds to go, we were at 73.5% although of course we didn't know that for sure.  Although I wasn't estimating, my gut feel was that we were having a 70% game.  Only in the last round did we slip a tad below average, finishing with 68.5%.  We were greeted by "how was your last round? You guys could win it."  Now, it was getting interesting!  I'd had a second-place finish in a regional A/X pairs and Kim had actually won a regional pairs event.  Otherwise, we'd won a single-session regional Swiss and a two-session sectional together.  Now I really wanted to win a two-session open regional event.

The trouble was we were two matchpoints behind the leaders.  I quickly checked the scores and found one that had been entered as 790 instead of +790.  That's one of the tricky aspects of scoring in a Howell movement  you keep switching directions so it's easy to go wrong.  Once we got that corrected, it was more than enough to put us on top.  It certainly was quite the comeback!

I'll just mention a couple of good (or maybe just lucky) decisions that helped us along the way:

All vulnerable, you hold ♠ QT7542 ♥ Q9874 ♦ 65 ♣ .  1 on your left, pass by partner, 2 on your right, alerted as inverted minors.  Your call?

Kim chose 2♠  which was doubled, ending the auction.  I produced  K  KT632  42  T8542 without any great enthusiasm, though it seemed at least I had one useful card!  Turns out we can actually make 3 on this hand, while 2♠  was down 2 for 500.  However, the opponents have 6, 6, or 6NT.  Never were we so happy to play in the wrong suit – a shared top for us.

Here's one where a couple of somewhat aggressive bids paid off.  I dealt the following hand with nobody vulnerable: ♠ QJT975  K6  876 ♣ A2.  What to open?  Some might open it 2♠.  I know some who would pass and await developments.  I don't like to open a weak two with two outside "cards" so I opened it 1.  This is not as crazy as it might seem, even though it doesn't meet the "rule of 20."  On the Zar points scale, this hand evaluates to 26, a minimum opening hand.  It's also a seven-loser hand, again worth an opening.  LHO passed and Kim responded 2♠, which shows either three-card support or a really flat hand with four spades.  RHO doubled and I raised the ante with 3 (bidding to our "law level").  This was passed out, allowing me to go quietly off two for a clear top.  The opponents could make either 400, 430 or 450 in diamonds, notrump or hearts respectively so even being doubled would have yielded a decent score.

But mostly, we were handed gifts, like the 640 for 2XX or the 800 for a "save" against a slam where even game doesn't make.  Sometimes you just get lucky.  Or just maybe it was our relaxed attitude that arose from the combination of a 45% first session, good food and a beer?

The moral of this story is that bridge is a game in which it is easy to take a wrong turn, but that whatever happens at the bridge table, you should never give up.  This applies at the level of your bridge career (or partnership), at the event level, on a particular board, and indeed after any card or bid.  When you first realize that you have just made a bad bid or play, set your mind to accept the fact that your bid or play was in fact correct and continue, based on that assumption, from that point forward.  And if you have a disastrous start to a session, put it behind you and play to win.

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