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The Canadians at the Cavendish
By: Fred Gitelman

Originally Published in Canadian Master Point, July, 1996


The 1996 edition of the Cavendish Invitational Pairs was held at the Loews Hotel in New York City on May 11 and 12. During its 22 year history, this event has become well known for its tough bridge and huge cash prizes. This year's Cavendish consisted of 40 pairs. Almost all of the top American players participated and there were also entries from Norway, Sweden, Italy, Brazil, England, Israel, Poland, Turkey, and France. George Mittelman and I were the only Canadians in the field.

The Cavendish Pairs is run as a Calcutta. In a Calcutta, an auction is held before the event begins in which each partnership is sold to the highest bidder. The money that is collected during the auction is put into a pool and is awarded to the owners of the top eight finishers (after money is deducted for tournament expenses and for charity). This year's auction was extraordinary - in less than two hours, auctioneers Zia Mahmood and Bob Hamman managed to raise over $800,000 US! George and I were sold for $22,000, slighty more than the average price. Lauria and Versace of Italy were the most expensive pair, going for $41,000. First prize would be worth well over $200,000 - by far the biggest prize ever offered for a bridge event.

The tournament consisted of each pair playing three boards against each other pair. Results were IMPed on a board-by-board basis across the field. The event was divided into four sessions of nine or ten rounds, with two sessions on both Saturday and Sunday.

The first session was a disaster for George and me. Here are some notable low points:

I held:

Your right hand opponent opens a strong 1 (16+). Nobody is vulnerable. Care for a 3 preempt as an attempt to take up some valuable bidding space? Unfortunately I made this poor decision. The result was -1100 (and a loss of 204 IMPs) as George produced a worthless dummy:

George and I missed a great club slam on these cards:

  • 2 was natural and game forcing.

Perhaps George should have mentioned his hearts over my 3 rebid. He was concerned, however, that 3NT might be our only making game and that if I lacked a spade stopper we might get too high. I also might have taken another bid over 3NT but I had no idea that George's cards fit my hand so well. Fortunately, the field also had trouble with our cards and our loss was "only" 99 IMPs for missing 6.

While these last two disasters were somewhat self-inflicted, some of our poor results were the result of good bridge by our opponents. For example Michael Seamon held at unfavorable vulnerability:

George opened 1 on his left. His partner, Gaylor Kasle, overcalled 1 and I raised to 2. Michael made his first good decision by cue-bidding 3, showing at least a limit raise. George now lept to 5 and Gaylor tried for slam by bidding 5. Michael realized his hand must be worth gold opposite partner's marked diamond shortness and placed the contract is 6. Gaylor held:

and took all 13 tricks when everything broke nicely. Only 2 other pairs managed to diagnose the perfect fit and get to slam. Our loss on this board was 224 IMPs, our biggest of the session. Our best result of the session came against the same pair:

Gaylor started the K, ruffed in dummy. George tried the A and was pleased to see Gaylor follow with the K. He cashed the A and Q and ruffed a diamond in hand. After a heart ruff in dummy, another diamond ruff, and another heart ruff, George played a good diamond through Michael. The defense had no answer. If Michael discarded or ruffed with the K, George would discard a club and hold his losses to one club trick and one trump trick. When Michael tried ruffing low, George overruffed and exited in trump. Michael, down to all clubs, was endplayed into giving George a trick with the K. +850 was worth 214 IMPs for George and me. Notice that the opponents are almost certain to make 6. The A is the only lead to give declarer a problem. Even on that lead, declarer should make 6 by double finessing in clubs.

Despite this great result, we finished the first session -775 IMPs and in lowly 38th place (out of 40). We had had some bad luck but had not been sharp and we deserved most of our poor results. The event was far from over but we were going to have to play much better if we were going to finish in a respectable position.

The second session was a good start towards respectability as we won 522 IMPs and moved up to 25th place. Most of our gains in this session were due to getting the "little hands" right. Here are two examples:

East led the 4 (3rd and 5th) to West's A. West continued diamonds, forcing dummy to ruff. From my point of view, it looked like West probably had the K or he would have shifted to hearts at trick two. Accordingly I gave up on the club finesse (and just about any legitimate play for my contract). I cashed the A and played my Q under it. I then led a low club off the dummy. West ducked and I was allowed to win my 10! When I led a spade to the dummy, West followed with the 10, and a club ruff in my hand established that suit.

Looking at all four hands it is easy to see that I could have simply drawn trump, ending in the dummy to run the clubs. West's 10 looked ominous, however, and I was concerned that spades might be 4-1. If I tried to draw trump and found them 4-1, I would be down 2 vulnerable tricks. The contract was not makeable if trumps were 4-1, but it was possible to guarantee down one: diamond ruff, club ruff with the A, diamond ruff. Eight tricks were in and when I played the last club off the dummy, West had to let me score my 8 en passent. My line of play would only cost if West had played the 10 from something like 106 or 1076. +140 was only worth 51 IMPs but it was a sign that my play was getting sharper.

A few hands later George showed that he was getting focused as well:

George opened the 4 (4th best) to my K. I returned the 2 to the Q and George's A. George shifted to the 10, covered by the J and ducked by me. Declarer tried three rounds of clubs, George winning the Q as I pitched a spade. George now produced the only card in his hand to defeat the contract, the 10! Declarer tried the J but I won my Q and returned a heart to George's A. George played a third heart and dummy's K won. We already had five tricks and declarer could not get to his hand full of winners. When he tried a spade I won my A and cashed the 8 for down one and 63 IMPs to the Canadians.

Our play was starting to get really tight. We were not making any mistakes and our opponents were having trouble. First one pair missed an easy vulnerable game to hand us 115 IMPs and then another pair bid to a vulnerable slam off two aces and 233 more IMPs. Before the last round I thought we had a chance to win the prize for the best score of the session. Unfortunately, our opponents in the last round were Eddie Wold and Mark Lair. On all three deals they simply bid to the right contract and took the maximum number of tricks. There was nothing we could do but sit back and lose 100 IMPs.

While the last round was somewhat frustrating, I was still very satisified with our results in the second session. We had gone from near last to the middle of the pack and we still had two sessions left. We were playing in form and I was confident that we would have a strong finish.

For the exciting conclusion: 1996 Cavendish Invitational Pairs, Cont...

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