Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Fun in the Smoky Mountains

Kim, CJ and I spent a very enjoyable week in Tennessee, mostly at the Mid-Atlantic Regional held in Gatlinburg, on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The main attraction was playing in the bracketed knockouts at the invitation of our friends Bruce Downing and Mark Conner. I had been once before nine years ago, Kim had never been, but Bruce and Mark are regulars at the tournament.

One of the things you can do at this tournament is play five sessions a day. In truth the "dinner-bell" Compact KO is only half a session, and the midnight KOs are whatever you can manage to stay in for. But Kim and CJ indeed played all five sessions that day! And CJ managed to add significantly to his masterpoint total by playing in I/N events -- although he was the only player in the whole tournament under 20, I think.

If winning matches and masterpoints in the company of friends was our only goal then we succeeded handsomely: we won 7 of 8 matches and earned almost 48 masterpoints. Still, we came away feeling that something wasn’t quite right. Our total master points came to just under 10,000. But our competition was, in most cases, significantly outgunned. Each team surely had to have at least one gold life master, or four who are very close. Yet, the matches were not as competitive as we are used to at home even in flight B events. Nobody seemed to be able to bid slams and they were fairly ignorant of alerting procedures, how to deal with unauthorized information and general bridge etiquette. In the match we lost (the finals of the first event), we had bid a very good slam. The opponents were not in the auction. The opening lead went straight to their partner's ace in one suit followed by a switch to another suit, ruffed (my RHO had seven but had not bid the suit). Other than that, the slam was odds-on to make. But they didn't bid it at the other table of course. There were other bad boards for us too as we all made mistakes. The first event where we played in the sixth bracket of 21, offered significantly tougher competition than the second event (fifth bracket of 12). In the latter event, we felt a little bit bad for raining on their parade. In the semi-finals we found ourselves up by 70 imps at the half and our opponents decided to withdraw [how had they managed to beat two other teams?]

Possible explanations for this disparity of skills are (1) the tough competition in New England; (2) the fact that we usually play flight A events at home rather than collecting points in B flights; (3) simple randomness at work (a sample of two events, eight teams is hardly statistically significant); (4) a space-time warp. Or perhaps it's simply that, as Harold Feldheim supposedly has said, "as you get better, you won't notice it. Instead, you will think that other players are worse."

One of my favorite hands came in the final (winning) match. Kim has been a little skeptical about the efficacy of fit-showing jumps. It’s true they don’t come up very often but when they do…

All white, my hand was something like Qx xxx AQTxx ♣AJx. Dealer on my right bid 1 and I made a questionable overcall of 2. LHO bid 2 and Kim surprised me with 4, showing a diamond fit, a good club suit and a willingness to be at the four level. Thinking that her clubs might easily prove better than my ragged diamonds [not to mention Kim’s excellent declarer play], I raised to 5, which she wrapped up for 400 while our teammates were in 3 making four (11 imps). My judgment of strain proved fortuitous as my RHO had a void in hearts which would likely have been led against a diamond contract.

How do you get to be up 70 at the half? Let me quote from teammate Bruce Downing...

This board was a killer:

West opened 1D and I overcalled 1H. 1S from East and West (balked of the planned 2H reverse) ended the auction with 3NT. East passed slowly as well she might. It turns out not to matter which heart I lead. I can't stop her from getting 2 heart tricks. However we held it to 3 for a pedestrian imp result of 3NT making their way. Not so calm at the other table!!!

Kim also opened 1D but apparently the North hand does not meet the standards of their opponents for an overcall. North passed with my cards. 1S from Robin. Pass from South and 2H Reverse from Kim. Now double from North (lead directing? penalty? bizarre?) Whatever North's reasons for doubling 2H, the unfortunate woman had no idea with whom she was dealing. The next to bid would be Robin Hillyard who has spent many years refining theories of doubles. Having mastered the red card, he was ready to move on to the blue card. Redouble is Robin's bid. He likes his chances across from a red suit reverse. Pass from South (what can she do?) Pass from Kim (nice trust for partner) and it is back to North who has nowhere to go either. The contract is 2H**. Kim gave up only 3 tricks in the play, obviously playing her 4-2 fit brilliantly, and 2H made with 2 redoubled overtricks rang up +1040 for our side. Good times!

In truth, I probably shouldn't have redoubled with six spades. But when you get ahead in a match you can take a few liberties to see how things will work it. The hand always makes 9 tricks in hearts, 10 tricks in spades or notrump and 12 tricks in diamonds. So we beat par by only 120 (3 imps) but in practice it worked out as 12 imps.

We also did a lot of touristy stuff. We spent a day at Dollywood and I rode five (!) roller-coasters with CJ including the old scary Thunderhead (wooden coaster) and the sleek new Wild Eagle. There's also a kind of zip line on wheels and track called the Smoky Mountain Alpine Coaster which we enjoyed. The weather was good, the dogwoods were out in abundance. Good times indeed.


  1. 6D may make on the lie of the cards but it does not seem a plausible contract. On a spade lead, you would have to ruff spades good, draw trump, and play a club toward dummy's Q8x and play the 8 when North plays the 4. You need 3-3 spades, club AJ with North, opponents unable to lead hearts effectively and diamonds not 5-1 or worse.

    1. Yes, that's what we thought at the time - no slam - or at least no sensible slam. Thanks for your comment :)