Unlucky Seed

Large knockout tournaments are usually seeded either completely or at least halfway. Probably the worst seed is number 16. It has to play the 17th seed in the round of 32, presumably an even match. In the round of 16, of course, they have to play the number one seed. In bracketed knockout events, often a cut is made between 16 and 17, so the sixteenth seed, in theory, is the weakest team in its event.

Playing in the Spingold Master Knockout Teams with a pickup team, we are the 114th seed and draw a head-to-head match against the 15th seed, a team of well-known experts plus a client. After the first half, amazingly, we are ahead by 44 IMPs, but the client is out for the evening, so we have to hold on against two very strong pairs.

The match has gone about as expected, so we are in almost a dead heat going into the last board, when I hold

 S:K32 H:AK64 D:AQ3 C:K76
With neither side vulnerable, my partner deals and opens 3H:. Recently, for some reason, he has taken to making preempts with terrible suits and some side strength. This I can handle, but he's been preempting with normal preempts, too. My reaction has been to pass automatically unless I had a great fit, which has been working out well so far. This hand, however, has too good a fit to pass. I know he doesn't have much of a suit, but opposite seven small hearts and out, 3NT is cold, so I bid it. My LHO, without pause for thought, doubles this and the other two players pass. LHO has been doubling my partner all day in freely bid 3NT contracts, and every time the contract has gone down. This time, I intend to teach him a lesson, so I redouble. This ends the auction and LHO leads the S:6.

Dummy is a little surprising and not a welcome sight:

S: 10
H: Q109852
D: 8742
C: 102
S: K32
H: AK64
D: AQ3
C: K76
I guess I am unable to take a joke. I have only eight tricks on top and a diamond finesse for nine. I very much doubt that it will work. Furthermore, going down in 3NT redoubled cannot be a good result, so I am worried about the state of the match.

RHO covers dummy's spade with the Jack and I must win. I have no alternative but to run the hearts. The doubler started with the singleton H:J and pitches the C:8 on the second round. They play that the first discard is strictly suit preference, so he is showing good spades. I knew that already. On the third round of hearts, LHO pitches the D:9 and RHO pitches the S:4. As I run the hearts, RHO pitches three spades (the 4, 7, and 9,) and a club, while LHO's five pitches are club, diamond, diamond (10), club, club. I have five cards left, my three diamonds and two clubs.

LHO is an expert player and knows the whole hand. He has shown no strain during the run of the hearts, which is strange, since he normally spends a lot of time during the defense. It is 1:30AM, primarily due to his slow play. I think the hand is clear, though. LHO must have four spades and the C:A. He probably also has the D:K for his double; as it is, that would give him a fourteen count with no source of tricks. I am pretty sure that he has stiffed his D:K, so I lead a diamond to the Ace, dropping the (now) stiff King, to make 3NT redoubled, +800.

At the other table, my teammates led a diamond against 4H: played from my side. Third hand played the Jack (for no apparent reason) so the opening leader eventually got endplayed to allow the contract to make. Our opponents were figuring on a pickup on this board; weren't they surprised to lose 9 IMPs and the match on it!

It turns out, though, that the fifteenth seed was not a lucky one in this event. The next day, we lost to a team who lost the following day. The victors of that match inherited #15 and promptly lost in the round of sixteen. Finally, after losing all its matches, the fifteenth seed was out of the event by the round of eight.

Copyright © 1994 Jeff Goldsmith