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The 1994 CNTC Final
By: Fred Gitelman

Originally Published in Canadian Master Point, September, 1994


The 1994 Canadian National Team Championships (CNTC) was held in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia in late June. Twenty teams from across the country came to battle for Canadian bridge supremacy. I was on the winning team. The article will be a "personal account" of my experiences in this event. If you want to see a lot of hands, Eric Kokish (also on the winning team) has written up 66 pages of hands from the event. Some of these hands will appear in various bridge magazines in the coming months.

When my team was formed in late 1993 it consisted of two partnerships, I played with Geoff Hampson and Joey Silver (the captain) played with George Mittelman. Shortly after the team was formed, we added Eric Kokish to the team with the intention of having him play with both Joey and George. The team struggled in the tough Ontario Final, but managed to come in third place, qualifying for the National Final.

At this point, Geoff opted to drop off the team leaving us with four players. Geoff is planning on making his living from playing bridge and hopes to eventually represent the United States on professional teams. If we were to win the CNTC (as we did), Geoff would have been prevented from playing for the United States for several years. It was basically a business decision. Geoff continued to offer his support and encouragement to the team. We all wish him well in his bridge career.

The Canadian Bridge Federation would not allow us to replace Geoff for the CNTC final. As we entered the event as a five man team, however, we were allowed to add one player. Mark Molson was the obvious choice. Mark is certainly one of Canada's best players. He is also a very flexible player. He would be perfect for the crazy experiment that George had in mind.

George decided that all five members of the team would have two partners. Eric's long-standing partnerships with George and Joey would be kept together. Joey and I had some experience together, but I had never played a hand with my other partner, Mark. Mark would also play with George, with whom he had some experience.

With Joey, I played 11-14 no trumps, two over one game force, two-way Stayman, upside-down carding, and almost no conventions. With Mark, I played 15-17 no trumps, two over one not forcing to game, transfers, standard carding, and quite a few conventions. Needless to say, I was a bit concerned with my ability to deal with all of this. Fortunately, Mark and I got to play about 200 hands together before the CNTC final, and right from our first hand together I knew we would be fine. I was very fortunate in that both Mark and Joey are excellent partners and try very hard to keep the bidding simple and the atmosphere pleasant.

Speaking of having excellent partners, here is a hand from the first match of the round robin. I was playing with Mark and I held:

Mark and I were silent and the bidding went:

At this point I was thinking that if Mark was a really good partner, he would lead a spade. Well not only did Mark lead a spade, he doubled and led a spade! The complete layout:

The result was +800 out of thin air, just enough to win the first match. This board seemed to set the tone for the event. We were there to win.

The round robin lasted three days and consisted of each team playing a 9 board match against each of the other teams. The IMP results were converted to victory points. The top four teams from the round robin qualified for the semi-finals. Our team must have set some kind of record in the round robin as we were undefeated going into the 18th match (which we lost). We won the 19th match and ended the round robin with a record of 17 wins, 1 loss, and 1 tie! I was fortunate enough to sit out the 18th match, leaving my record unblemished (except for that tie).

Our team took over first place in the middle of the first day and never looked back. We finished with 1003 Victory Points. The only other team to really assert themselves throughout the round robin (and the team that beat us in the 18th match) was FRASER (Doug Fraser-Nader Hanna, Marty Caley-Peter Schwartz) from Montreal. They came a comfortable second with 927 VPs. British Columbian's MCAVOY (Jim McAvoy-Michael Hargreaves, Allan Graves-Jim Dickie) were third with 885 VPs. Ottawa's WILLIS (Dave Willis-John Valliant, Denis Lesage-Richard Lesage, Doug Heron-Ed Zaluski) were fourth with 863 VPs.

As winners of the round robin, we had the right to pick our semi-final opponent from the third and fourth place teams. We chose to play WILLIS against whom we would have a 20 IMP carryover. FRASER would have a 12 IMP carryover against MCAVOY. The semi-finals would consist of 64 board matches in 16 board quarters. Here are the cumulative IMP scores:

Everything came together for Joey and me during the semi-finals. Our partnership was extremely successful in both the semi-final and final. Throughout the event, Joey was like a man-on-a-mission. Despite many National successes over the years, Joey had never won the CNTC. He was hungry and it showed in his play. Here was one of our nicer results from a big first quarter of the semi-final:

Joey led a low diamond. Declarer played to J and I won my Q. I returned a club and careful subsequent defense defeated the contract. When I complimented Joey on his lead, he commented that it was automatic. In retrospect, I think he is right, a low diamond lead is a standout. Everything in this tournament for Joey was automatic. He could do no wrong. Joey was our captain, and our leader, he made most of the line-up decisions and played almost all of the time (Mark was the only other player that played nearly as many boards).

Even when Joey was wrong, he was right. Early in the round robin, I held something like:

Joey opened an 11-14 no trump. I decided that if Joey had a five card minor, we might be able to bid and make a slam. I started with 2, forcing Stayman, to find out Joey's pattern. Joey bid 2 (we bid spades first with 4-4 in the majors) and I bid 3NT, setting the contract (I thought). Joey now bid 4! I retreated to 4NT and he passed. He made 5. Joey in fact had mis-sorted his hand and actually had three little hearts. The opening leader had a natural heart lead and was prepared to lead one against 3NT. Hearts were 4-3, so 3NT would have made exactly three. After Joey bid hearts, the opening leader decided to start with a minor and Joey took his 11 top tricks to win 2 IMPs!

My thinking in the bidding was that if I wanted to know if Joey had 4 hearts, I could have bid 2NT to ask him more about his hand. Therefore, Joey should not bid 4 over 3NT. Having never played 2-way Stayman in a serious partnership, I really did not know (and still do not know) if this is standard. Joey liked my thinking, and we made an agreement to play my 3NT bid to be a signoff.

The FRASER team started with a 20 IMP carryover since they had beaten our team in the round robin. The quarter scores were:

As you can see, it was a relatively low-scoring match. In fact, the standard of play was quite high. Peter Schwartz of the FRASER team really impressed me. I had never heard of Peter before the CNTC final. I am told he was a top player before I was born (1965) and partnered such household names as Kehela and Pender. Peter retired from tournament play in the early 1970s. This was his first tournament since then! Peter must be close to 60 years old, but he appears to be in excellent physical condition. How he had the stamina to play this entire event on a four man team is beyond me. What is even more amazing is how well he managed to play after more than 20 years away from the game. Peter also impressed me as a true gentleman at the table. I really hope that Peter keeps playing competitive Canadian bridge. He is a true credit to the game. The entire FRASER team should be congratulated for their excellent play and sportsmanship.

I have said some nice things about my partners. My other teammates, George and Eric, also deserve a great deal of credit. They both played very well, but that is expected of them. Their contributions towards our success went far beyond their play at the table. George put the team and its five partnerships together and managed to convince everyone that we could be successful as a five man team. George has been telling me for months that we were going to win this event. Having played on other good teams with George, I can tell you he has never had this kind of confidence going into an event before. Perhaps not coincidently, I have never won anything before with George on my team. One of the most important things I learned in the CNTC final was the power of positive thinking. The whole team played like we were there to win, and win we did. Both my partners, Mark and Joey, are great competitors (an area in which I am lacking). Both of them taught me that having a great will to win can take you far. There is a difference between being a person that wins bridge tournaments and being a winner. Mark and Joey are winners. I am hoping some of it will rub off on me.

In my opinion, Eric Kokish is the greatest bidding theorist and bridge writer in the world. He deserves special credit in that he was forced to play in two partnerships with very little in the way of bidding agreements. Playing under these circumstances is not the way that Eric likes to play the game. Eric clearly demonstrated that a player of his calibre does not need science to be effective. Eric is also the consummate team player and as a "voice of reason" imposed some sanity on an otherwise slightly twisted collection of characters. Eric has been appointed National Coach for the Canadian Open, Women, and Junior Teams. We are very lucky to have access to Eric's knowledge, judgement, discipline, and experience. Eric is truly a unique character in the world of bridge. It is always a great privilege to be his teammate.

I really think that one of the main reasons our team was so successful was because we were a five man team with five partnerships. It turned out that all five of our partnerships were quite effective. If some combinations had not worked well, we had more flexibility than the standard six man teams with three partnerships. Also, if one person had a bad match with one partner, it was nice for him to be able to look at a new face for the next match. Lineups were decided mostly on the basis of which individual felt most like sitting out. None of our partnerships had elaborate bidding systems and consequently the team had very few serious bidding disasters. It is nice to be able to call a spade a spade. As frequent readers of this magazine know, I am sort of like Eric in my orientation towards science. It was refreshing to learn that playing good solid bridge is enough to win even at the National level.

Playing no methods also seemed to contribute to making everyone feel more relaxed. In fact, the atmosphere and comraderie surrounding the team was excellent throughout the event. There was never any criticism from partners and/or teammates. For the first time in years, I actually enjoyed playing in a bridge tournament! I wouldn't be surprised if my teammates all felt the same way.

For me, personally, it was very nice to actually win something big after coming close several times. For many years I have had a great deal of respect and admiration for all four of my teammates. It was good to know that I can play in the same league as some of my bridge heroes. I have managed to prove to myself that I belong on this fine team.

Our team will be playing together at the upcoming World Championships in Albuquerque. As the winner of the 1994 CNTC, we qualify for the Tri-Country Playoff in Bermuda in January 1995. The Tri-Country Playoff is a tournament between Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda. The winner of the playoff will represent North America in Beijing later in 1995 for the Bermuda Bowl. We look forward to the opportunity to represent our country in these events.

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