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Close But No Cigar
By: Fred Gitelman

Originally Published in Canadian Master Point, March, 1992


Last August, in Ann Arbor Michigan, a Canadian team came closer than any other Canadian team before to winning a World Championship. Alright, it was a Junior World Championship. Mark Caplan-Eric Sutherland and Geoff Hampson-Fred Gitelman all of the Toronto area, and Bronia Gmach-Mike Roberts made up the Canadian Junior team. "Junior" in bridge means 26 and under. John Carruthers (a junior in spirit) was our non-playing Captain.

Twelve teams from all over the world would play a complete round robin. The four teams with the highest victory point total would advance to the semi-finals where a mini-knockout would decide the winner. Most people favoured the three strong European teams. Previous North American showings in this event had been extremely poor. We were quietly confident.

Canada won the round robin while Australia and the two American teams tied for the next three positions. The conditions of contest dictated that we would play the Australians. Canada won 144-91 (the match was close most of the way). USA-II slaughtered favoured USA-I, 211-70. It would be Canada and USA-II for the gold medal. A triumph for the ACBL's Junior Program. We would enjoy a 7 IMP carryover and play 6 segments of 16 boards.

This was a close match. The score remained unchanged after the first segment. USA-II won an IMP in the second segment (Canada by 6). The Americans led by 11 IMPs after segment three and by 36 after segment four. Caplan-Sutherland were heroic in the fifth segment to bring us back to within 5 IMPs with 16 boards to go.

Geoff and I would face Brian Platnick and John Diamond on vugraph while Bronia and Mike would play Debbie Zuckerberg and Martha Katz in the closed room. This was really intense. The first board of the last segment:

 

My 1NT was 11-14 (I had a minimum). Geoff's 2 showed clubs and another suit. Our advanced rescue methods had found the trump suit with the best spot cards. Diamond led a trump. Platnick won and switched to a diamond. Diamond won the A and continued the suit. Geoff won and played another trump. Platnick played three rounds of trump, West pitching a heart and a diamond. Geoff carefully discarded the heart eight from dummy on the fourth round of trump.

Geoff overtook his diamond with dummy's K and cashed the long diamond, pitching a spade from his hand. He continued his unblocking by leading the 9 from the dummy. East won the A and got out the Q. Geoff won the K, unblocking the J and claimed, +180! East-West were cold for 4. 12 IMPs to Canada. We were winning. By the way, the defense on this hand was not at all indicative of the level of play in this tournament (especially by Platnick-Diamond).

We scored a partscore on the next board and won a surprise 10 IMPs when Zuckerberg and Katz got too high and went down 3 vulnerable. We were winning by 17. On the next board I held:

The vulnerability was favourable and I was in third seat after two passes. Anyone who knows me at all knows that I would never consider passing with this hand. It was a question of what to open. I eventually decided on 2, Multi, a bad weak two bid in one of the majors. This could have been dangerous (If they started doubling I would eventually bid 3 and then redouble to ensure our best trump fit). As it happened, Platnick and Diamond had a laydown slam and could not cope with the Multi. They played in 3NT and made 6. This looked like a sure vulnerable slam swing. Alas, Bronia and Mike, given a free run also played 3NT. At this point there was no doubt in my mind that we would win.

And this is as close as a Canadian team has ever come to winning a World Championship. The rest of the boards were filled with swings. The Americans played better and they also got the better of the luck. Coming out of the vugraph room, I still thought that we had won but the faces of our teammates and supporters who had come to watch us play told another story (they already knew the results). We had lost by 36 IMPs after being up by 17 with twelve boards to play!

So close to the thrill of victory. We were now living the agony of defeat. I have been asked by several sources to write an account of this event. Sitting down and doing it has been difficult as the pain has been great. I can still only talk about three of the hands. Some people say that bridge is not a sport, that it lacks the emotion, drama, and character that sports evoke. They are wrong.

Still, it was a great experience. Thanks to everyone involved.

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