Squeezing The Dummy

Monday, January 16, 2006

NAOP Report

The North American Open Pairs (NAOP) is a unique event. You begin by qualifying at the club then go on to unit, district, and finally nationals. I really love the district finals because there are no weak pairs in the second day and few in the first. District 16 is notoriously tough so the scores are usually very close and the quality of bridge is high. The top 3 pairs get to go to the nationals and the top 2 pairs get their hotel and airfare paid. Usually the money is very nice but ironically the next nationals are in my hometown of Dallas so there will be no airfare or hotel fees.

The district finals were held over the weekend in San Antonio. For the first time I got my dad to go to the club and qualify and was excited about playing with him. One of my dreams is to win a national with my father, it would make it that much sweeter.

The first session of the first day started out miserably. In our first 2 boards we missed two saves and after about 5 rounds it felt like we were having a 20 % game. It's important in these situations to remember that there is a lot of boards left and just to play normally. Towards the middle of the session things finally started going our way and we were getting hot. We ended up with a 55 % game, not horrible but not great either. Considering our start, though, I would have been happy with average.

The second session was uneventful; we just made too many costly mistakes. We had opportunities and let them pass us by. We ended up with an average game. This meant we qualified in 8th position out of 14. The two pairs that were leading had big carryovers, and everyone else would have very little. There was a 2 board max carryover and we got 1/3rd of a board. This put us at a disadvantage but the main thing was we made it to day two.

In day two it is time to take a few more risks. Instead of trying to be in the top half, you're trying to be in the top 3 out of 14 in a good field. Without much carryover you need two good sessions to achieve this. Our first session started out amazingly well. We were getting gifts left and right. Towards the middle bad things started happening, and we didn't seem to be playing as well as we could. We were getting zeroes and they were killing our score. On the last round we had a misunderstanding and bid a grand on a finesse which was....on...whew. Rather be lucky than good. We ended with a 55 % game but a 70 % was literally in reach. I looked at our scores and noticed we had 5 zeroes in 26 boards. That is just way too many. There was good news and bad news with the rest of the people's scores. Jim Griffin/Ken Schutze and Georgianna Gates/Gus Plate both had huge games. They were about even and 2 boards ahead of the rest of the field. Both pairs are very good and very experienced so I didn't expect to be able to catch them. After that there were about 4 pairs very close in score fighting it out for third with everyone else being outside contenders. We were one of those 4 pairs, so if we had a good night session we would probably make it.

The mentality in the final session was just to play tough and not give anything up. Our style is very active so we're used to more bottoms than most but we knew we had been playing softly and doing things we shouldn't have. In the fourth session we finally brought our A games. Our luck was not as good as before but we had some cards and made the best of them. We ended up having a 57 % game which was surprising, it felt much better. In a good field sometimes good games are less good than they feel and bad games also less bad than they feel because there is less variance in skill and actions taken. I wasn't sure if 57 % was going to cut it, but unbelievably both of the pairs that were leading had games in the low 40's. I actually thought we might have won. We ended up second, losing by 1.4 matchpoints to Shawn and Joe Quinn.

There were a few interesting hands. One hand I had J9x AJ9 Q98xx Ax.

RHO opened 1, I passed, LHO bid 1N forcing and partner bid 3. RHO Xed for business and LHO pulled to 4. First, what do you lead? Dummy obviously has a stiff or void in clubs, likely the latter, and we have the red suits locked up. LHO will only have 3 trumps since she started with a forcing NT. I think a trump lead stands out to cut down on the club ruffs. I led one and dummy hit with:

Axx QT8xxx JTxx ---. We were right about the short clubs and 3 card spade support, but we were wrong about having the red suits locked up! Those hearts looked scary. Declarer played small from dummy, partner put in the queen and declarer won the king. Now he tried the king of hearts. At this point I stopped to consider the hand. Declarer is likely 5224, 5134 or 5125. It's possible declarer has 3 hearts as well but he might have played it differently. If declarer has stiff king of hearts it's probably not right to duck, and with Kx he may not hook later so I won immediately, partner showing even count. I now led the ace of clubs to tap the dummy. It's crucial to do this in order to avoid declarer running hearts and having an entry to dummy. Declarer now cashed the spade ace and ran the jack of diamonds to my queen. I now got out the 9 of hearts to kill the final link to dummy. Declarer correctly hooked and had the king of clubs so he was down just 1.

Another hand my partner made a good bid. He held AKQT KJxxx Axx x

I opened 1 (11-15 5+ hearts) and he bid 3 showing a game forcing heart raise. I now jumped to 4 showing 5-5 and decent suits. He tried keycard and I showed 2 with the queen. He then tried 5N and I jumped to 7. What is my hand? What do you bid?

You should know my exact high cards. I must have the AQ of hearts, A of clubs (2 with) and the KQ of diamonds (7). I'm 5-5 so there are 13 top tricks in hearts. In NT there are only 12 tricks. However if diamonds don't behave you can always fall back on the spade hook. If I don't have the ten of diamonds picking up diamonds will be 68 % and the spade hook is 50 % so 7N will be 84%. If I do have the diamond ten it's over 90%. This was from the first day and the goal is just to qualify. He correctly gave credit to the field and bid 7N which made (diamonds didn't break but the spade jack was on). We got about 80 % of the matchpoints and bidding 7 would have been slightly below average. I think the risk was worth it.

There was a very interesting 3N hand against Griffin/Schutze, but I'll leave that for tomorrow's post.

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