Fast Pairs

The ACBL has a policy which baffles me. At national tournaments, they use boards without vulnerability inserts. Those boards have the vulnerability and dealer indicated by a small sticker on the board. Since the ACBL membership in general does not see particularly well, this policy seems either thoughtless or foolish. I can't begin to count the number of times an opponent didn't notice he was the dealer, and I personally have mistaken the vulnerability a few times. I used to be very careful about it, squinting at the board before each hand, but I have become lax recently.

In the second round of the second final session of the national Fast Pairs tournament, I am in second seat and pick up  S:Jx H:Kxx D:QJ10xx C:KQx. We are not vulnerable, so I open a 10-12 NT. Only just as I am placing the bid on the table, I notice we are vulernable. Rather than give partner gruesome unauthorized information to deal with, I just go through with the bid. Demonstrating fine partnership harmony, partner announces my bid as 10-12, then he notices the vulnerability and corrects himself to 15-17. So I'm a little light. Partner bids 4H:, a Texas Transfer, RHO doubles, and I retreat to 4S:. I wonder what I'm getting myself into. I get the lead of a small heart and see

S: A1087xx
H: xx
D: x
C: A10xx
S: Jx
H: Kxx
D: QJ10xx
C: KQx
All Pass
Remarkably enough, 4S: isn't a hopeless contract. If I lose only one spade trick, I need to avoid losing a club trick to make. RHO, a client, wins the first trick and continues with a small heart. I win and the pro on my left follows up the line. It looks as if hearts are 3-5. I run the S:J which loses to the queen. RHO shifts to the D:9. I put up the D:Q and LHO pulls out one card, then quickly changes to another, which turns out to be the D:A. That looks suspiciously as if he is falsecarding, but you never know. He continues with another heart, which I ruff in dummy. I cross back to the C:K and advance my other spade. When LHO plays the S:9, I have a guess. He would surely have played that card from S:9xx as well as S:K9x. I go with the odds, however, and insert the S:10. It holds and RHO follows. Yippee! I draw the last trump and start running trumps. Maybe someone will have the D:K and four clubs and I won't have to guess clubs. No such luck, it seems; no one discards a club, and at trick 11, I have crossed back to my hand with the C:Q leaving dummy with the C:A10 and my hand with a small club and the D:10 (having discarded the D:J just to be tricky). LHO has discarded two diamonds and RHO has discarded one heart and two diamonds. The opponent's remaining cards are two clubs, one heart (which I'm sure RHO is holding) and the D:K. Where are they? I might as well play a club now, because LHO might have the stiff C:J left, but no, he plays the low one, so I have to figure out what's going on. I finally decide that if the client had the D:K, she might not have switched to the D:9, she might have discarded a club, and RHO might not have thought of playing some other card than the D:A, so I try the C:A. Wrong. They got me. Down one for a near zero. Rats.

After the game, I show the hand to a friend. My partner thinks about it while the friend also guesses wrong and suggests that perhaps the pro would have led a high diamond with D:AK instead of leading the suit his partner had doubled. His argument convinces me I judged wrongly.

The very next hand, again I open 1NT, but this time I have my 15-17 HCP, having stared carefully at the vulnerability. We have a quick Stayman auction to 3NT and I see:

S: Q8xx
H: A10xx
D: A7x
C: xx
S: K10x
H: KJx
D: J86
C: AK10x
Dbl3NTAll Pass
The opening lead is the D:10 which I duck to what becomes obviously the singleton D:Q. RHO thinks for a little while and shifts to a low club. I win in hand and start on the spades. A small spade to dummy's S:Q holds, so I finesse the S:10 on the way back. LHO thinks for awhile before playing his S:A, so I know the suit is 3-3. That's good; 3NT is now cold with three spades, three hearts, one diamond, and two clubs. LHO exits with the C:Q and RHO plays the deuce, suggesting that the suit is 2-5. That means I have a full count on the hand. LHO is 3-2-6-2 and RHO is 3-4-1-5. Filling in the cards we know, here's the situation:
S: 8x
H: A10xx
D: A7
S: x
H: ??
D: K9xxx
S: J
H: ????
C: Jxx
S: K
H: KJx
D: J6
C: 10x
I have a sure line for the contract; I can just run the H:J and they can only take one trick in each suit and I'll have nine for +600. This is a pair event, so I must consider risking my contract to make an overtrick. If RHO has the H:Q, I can unblock spades, cross to the D:A, cash the spade pitching a diamond, finesse the H:J and cash the H:K, then exit with a club, forcing RHO to lead into the H:A10. That will achieve ten tricks. If LHO has the H:Q, I can cash the S:K, duck a diamond, win the diamond return, and on the S:8, RHO will be squeezed in hearts and clubs, so I'll get four heart tricks that way. Who has the H:Q? If I guess wrong and try for the overtrick with the first line, I'll go down when LHO runs his diamonds. RHO is twice as likely to be dealt the H:Q than her partner because she has four of them and he only two. So I set out on the first line, cashing the high spade, crossing to the D:A, and cashing the long spade in dummy. RHO, without apparent thought, pitches the H:9 on this! They play upside-down signals, but the real question is why is she doing this? Does she realize the position and is trying to cause me to veer from the winning line or is she just pitching a worthless heart? I'm getting a headache. There's no way she's good enough to know what plan I had in mind. Is she just playing a card at random? She knows her small club isn't worth anything; why isn't she throwing it? I finally decide she does not have the H:Q and pitch a diamond, then cash the H:K and advance the H:J. When LHO does not cover, I know I've been had for the second time in two hands. RHO wins the heart and cashes her club to hold me to nine tricks. Rats.

As usual, we didn't win. These two boards would have helped a lot.

Copyright © 2003 Jeff Goldsmith