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The 1995 Politiken World Pairs
By: Fred Gitelman

Originally Published in Canadian Master Point, January, 1996

Could this happen in North America? A major newspaper sponsors an invitational pairs event. The newspaper provides several pages of daily coverage including photographs, standings, reports of interesting hands, and biographies of all participants. Twelve of the best pairs in the world are invited to participate. The field is rounded out by 4 local pairs who have earned the right to play through their performance over the last year. The tournament is held at one of our finest hotels. The event is opened by the Minister of Culture. Television reporters and cameramen are everywhere throughout the 5 day tournament. Each of the 16 pairs is sponsored by a major corporation that covers all of their expenses. Everything is first class. The participants play in tuxedoes. Hundreds of local players come out to kibitz and watch vugraph. Tens of thousands of dollars in prize money is given to the top 7 finishers. A closing banquet is held at the fabulous home of a local bridge-playing couple. Hundreds of people enjoy a wonderful multi-course meal, unlimited wine and champagne, and a jazz band that plays late into the night.

Before you answer "no, this could not happen in North America", you should know that this just happened somewhere else. The place was Copenhagen, Denmark. The newspaper was The Politiken, Copenhagen's biggest daily. The hotel was the Phoenix Copenhagen, the best in the city. The field consisted of 16 very strong tuxedo-wearing pairs (actually only 15 wore tuxedoes - Auken-von Armin, the recently crowned Women's World Champions from Germany, were allowed to wear dresses). Omar Sharif played with Jose Damiani, the WBF President. Not only did Omar more than hold is own in this star-studded event, his impact on the media, magnetic personality, great sense of humour, and obvious love of the game enhanced the experience for everyone involved.

George Mittelman and I were very fortunate to be invited to the inaugural running of the Politiken World Pairs which was held from November 3rd to the 7th, 1995. When I was first shown the list of competitors (in September) my immediate reaction was "I hope we don't come in last!" Our success in the Bermuda Bowl (in October) improved my confidence to the point that I knew we could play well enough to finish in the money. Whether we would actually play that well was another question.

Each pair would play a ten board match against every other pair. In every match their were 8 tables in play, all playing the same boards. For each board the best and the worst scores were thrown out and the remaining 6 results were averaged into a datum. On every board each pair's results were IMPed against this datum.

George and I found a nice defense on the following hand. Our opponent's were Peter and Dorthe Schaltz of Denmark, one of the best mixed pairs in the world. As was typical of our Danish hosts, the Schaltzs played very well against us. All of the Danes were a pleasure to play against and to get to know. The friendliness and hospitality of the local competitors really made the foreign pairs feel welcome.

George's 2NT showed both minors and Peter's 3 showed at least a limit raise of spades. George led the K. I overtook and cashed a second round. George now made the key play of discarding the 3 (upside-down attitude asking for a club switch). Notice first of all that an obvious-looking diamond shift allows the contract to make easily (the J will eventually provide a discard for declarer's club loser). George told me which suit to play but I still had to figure out which card. I returned the 9 (as opposed to the Q). Can you see why this is the right play?

Imagine that I return the Q. Declarer can win the A and run the trumps. George must come down to 3 cards including 2 diamonds to the K. His third card is a club. Declarer can now exit a club, endplaying George into leading a diamond. It is true that on the actual lie of the cards George can throw all of his high clubs away and allow me to win the club exit with my 9. If declarer had held the same hand with the J or 10 instead of a small one, my defense would be necessary.

Once I played the 9 it looked to Dorthe like the strip-squeeze would not work. She decided to give me another chance to make a mistake by allowing me to hold this trick. Dorthe had effectively rectified the count for a possible simple squeeze against Geoge. In order to break this up it was now necessary to continue clubs. The whole hand was pretty obvious at this point, however, and I had little trouble continuing clubs. Dorthe's only hope now was the diamond finesse. When the finesse lost, as expected, 4 was down one.

Before the event was half over it became pretty clear that Zia Mahmood-Peter Weichel (USA) were going to win. Despite the fact that this was a first time partnership Zia and Peter were winning just about every match by a large margin. The only other pair to really assert themselves was Andrea Buratti and Massimo Lanzarotti (Italy). Buratti-Lanzarotti are reigning European Teams Champions who represented their country in the Beijing Bermuda Bowl. Going into the last day, this pair pretty much had second place locked up. The battle would be for third place. Three pairs, Helgemo-Helness (Norway), Muller-de Boer (Holland), and George and myself had traded third, fourth, and fifth, places for much of the tournament.

Unfortunately, George and I were in fifth place going into the last match. The good news was that we were about to play Helgemo and Helness who were sitting third. George and I pride ourselves on our ability to come from behind in the last match or segment (we are not so proud of our ability to blow large leads in similar circumstances). For whatever reason we could do no wrong in this match while the Norwegians misjudged on several deals.

On one hand George was dealt:

He was in second position at favourable vulnerability. What would you open? Most of the field opened 5. This is the bid that I think George would normally make (though he might open 1 on occasion). George picked the right time to be pessimistic and opened 3. This was passed out. 3 was the limit of the hand and we were one of the only pairs in our direction to get a plus score. I don't know if our position in the standings caused George to take a "swinging action" on this hand. If so, it is an instructional way to swing. Most players when trying for a swing become more aggressive in the bidding and hope lots of tricks are available. It is a less well known tactic to bid less aggressively and hope that few tricks are available. Full marks to George for finding the right way to swing on this hand.

This deal (also from the last match) was interesting from a tactical bidding point of view as well:

Helgemo's 3 was a "short suit game try" showing a singleton or void in diamonds and asking partner to evaluate for game purposes. Helness, with almost half his hand opposite partner's shortness, signed off. This revealing auction made it pretty easy for me to lead a low diamond away from my A. Helgemo made the normal play of the J from dummy. George won his Q and accurately switched to a heart (there was some danger that I would eventually be squeezed in hearts and diamonds). When he later won his A, George played another heart. Helgemo could still have made an overtrick by cashing his club trick and throwing me in with a heart. I would have to lead another diamond or concede a ruff and discard, either of which would eliminate Helgemo's second club loser. Helgemo reasonably tried to endplay George instead by exiting with his third club. He was right in that George was out of hearts. He was wrong about the position of the A, however, as George had a safe diamond exit.

Our nice defense was not enough to defeat 3 but almost everyone else played in 4 making 5 on the normal lead of the Q. What does this have to do with tactics? Well, I think that Helgemo's 3 bid was a poor tactical choice. I have a lot of respect for Helgemo. He is only 25 years old and one of the finest bridge players in the world. Moreover, I can understand his reservations on this hand. It is far from clear that you want to be in 4 on the actual NS cards. Despite this, I strongly believe that Helgemo should just bid 4 over 2. Obviously 4 might have no play and it is also possible that 3NT is a much better contract than 4. I believe, however, that scientific game tries are very overrated. For one thing, it is absurd to think that even super fancy game tries are accurate enough to allow your partnership to consistently judge if 9 or 10 tricks are available. Even if your methods and judgement are that accurate the information you give away in the process is often worth at least one trick to the defense. George and I have adopted the philosophy of almost never making game tries - if you think game should be a reasonably good proposition most of the time, just bid it. We have found this approach to be very successful mostly through keeping the defense in the dark about what declarer's hand looks like.

We ended up beating Helgemo and Helness by 26 IMPs in the last match and easily passed them in the standings. Muller and de Boer (who really impressed us both with their bridge and their deportment) lost in the last match to the Schaltzs (who were the only local pair to win prize money, finishing 7th). As a result, we also passed our Dutch friends to finish third. Shivdasani and Ghose of India finished the event by blitzing their last three matches (including one against us) to come from nowhere into fourth place.

The final standings:

  1. Mahmood-Weichsel USA 944
  2. Buratti-Lanzarotti Italy 901
  3. Mittelman-Gitelman Canada 804
  4. Shivdasani-Ghose India 788
  5. Muller-de Boer Holland 777
  6. Helgemo-Helness Norway 777
  7. Schaltz-Schaltz Denmark 768
  8. Auken-von Arnim Germany 713
  9. Sharif-Damiani Egypt/France 708
  10. Koch-Palmund-Auken Denmark 704
  11. Graversen-Stetkaer Denmark 699
  12. Aagaard-Jepsen Denmark 693
  13. Sowter-Kendrick England 690
  14. Berkowitz-Cohen USA 681
  15. Baldursson-Thorbjornsson Iceland 674
  16. Fallenius-Nilsland Sweden 667

All of the hard-working organizers and officials from Denmark should be congratulated as the Politiken World Pairs was a huge success. Two similar events, the Cap-Volmac in The Hague and the Sunday Times in London, have enjoyed similar degrees of success over the years. George and I have been invited to these tournaments in January - watch this space for details. Hopefully the Politiken will become an annual affair. If so, it is certain to become known as one of the high points on the international bridge calendar. At the closing ceremonies, WBF President Damiani reflected on how wonderful these events are for promoting bridge and offered full WBF support for the establishment and recognition of a circuit of similar tournaments. Could we run such a tournament in Toronto? I don't see why not.

It should be noted that all of my teammates have had some additional success since the Bermuda Bowl. In addition to our third place finish in the Politiken, George went on to win the pro-am in Denmark. Meanwhile Mark Molson and Boris Baran successfully defended the North American Swiss Teams at the Atlanta NABC (along with Jack Coleman and Canadians Drew Cannell and Mark Stein). Eric Kokish and Joey Silver had one first and two seconds in the three events they played at a recent international tournament in Tokyo. Their teammates were Montrealers Rhoda Habert and Beverley Kraft, two members of Canada's Olympiad Women's Team.

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