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Miami Highlights
By: Fred Gitelman

Originally Published in Canadian Master Point, October, 1996


I do not have much good news to report about the recent NABC in Miami. From a Canadian point of view, the highlight of the tournament was the trials for the 1997 World Junior Championships. Canadians Mike Roberts- Eric Sutherland, Jeff Blond-David Levy, Darren Wolpert-Fred Pollack completely dominated this event. Canada has been a major power in junior bridge during the 1990s and this team is perhaps our strongest junior team ever. I was not only impressed by the results, but by the collective maturity of this team - maturity is a very rare trait for talented young bridge players. I believe this team has an excellent chance of winning the Gold Medal next year.

John Carruthers (JC) has done an excellent job in the past as non-playing captain (NPC) of the Canadian Junior Team. JC will not be available as NPC for the 1997 event. This is due to the fact that the event will be held in Hamilton, Ontario and JC will have his hands full as the tournament chairman. The juniors gave me the honour of selecting me as their NPC. I was somewhat concerned that I lacked the organizational skills to do this job properly and asked Sheri Winestock to assist me in captaining this team.

As Canada will be the host country for the 1997 World Juniors we are allowed to enter two teams in this event. Colin Lee-Barry Piafsky, David Halasi-Ben Zeidenberg, Mike Nadle -Dan Nadler will be our other junior team. This team did fairly well at the trials and also has an excellent chance of doing well next year in Hamilton. John Gowdy will be their NPC.

Canadian bridge players should be very proud of our teams. Having a strong junior program is very important to the future of bridge in this country. Please make plans to come to Hamilton next summer to cheer for our teams. Also, the CBF is doing the best it can to provide money for the training of our teams but funds are sadly lacking. Any financial contributions to our junior program would be greatly appreciated.

From a bridge point of view, the best thing that happened to me in Miami was the chance to play with Mike Lawrence in the National IMP Pairs. Mike was one of the original Dallas Aces. He has won two World Championships and many National events. In addition Mike is one of the most popular and talented bridge authors in the world. Mike and I recently collaborated on a new software product, Counting at Bridge. I knew I had impressed Mike with my computer skills but I was somewhat surprised when he asked me to play with him in the IMP pairs. We did not do particularly well, finishing 39th . This result was more due to our opponents' good play than any mistakes we made. Mike was a pleasure to play with. His unique sense of humour, one of the reasons he is such a good writer, also comes across at the table - regardless of the results.

There were four particularly memorable hands I had with Mike. The lesson of the first two hands is "beware of Greeks bearing gifts":

 

I led my singleton heart to declarer's A. South tried a low spade towards the J and I hopped up with my K. I wanted to get Mike on lead to play more hearts and had to decide which minor suit to play. Fortunately, Mike and I had decided to adopt the defensive carding strategy of "trying to tell partner what they need to know". I have always preferred this philosophy to "always count", "always attitude", or "trying to make agreements about every possible defensive situation". Mike had told me what I needed to know at trick one when he followed with the 3 - a suit preference signal for clubs.

Thus, I shifted to the Q. Declarer, giving me a great deal of credit, covered with the K. Mike won the A and played back the 8, another suit preference signal for clubs. Declarer ruffed with the 9 and I over-ruffed with the 10. I cashed the J as Mike discarded his lowest remaining heart. Mike's carding and South's bidding made it pretty clear that declarer had both the A and K. I had a complete count on the hand and I knew that declarer would soon have one as well. I knew that if I exited safely in clubs, declarer would have no choice but to play diamonds from the top. With my QJ about to drop, I could see the contract was going to make. It was time for a Greek gift. I got out with the J!

South took the bait. After winning the diamond shift, he crossed to the J and finessed Mike for the Q. I won the Q to defeat the contract. I was quite surprised that South, a strong player, would play me to make the horrible play of switching to the J from Jx.

The next Greek gift I offered was more difficult to refuse:

 

  • 1NT was forcing.

I led the 2, which was won in dummy as Mike played a neutral middle diamond. Declarer played a heart to the K and I had to decide what to do. It would often be right to duck in this situation, but I saw a chance to offer another declarer a Greek gift. I won the A and returned a heart. South welcomed the chance to take a "free finesse" and played the 9 from dummy. The finesse turned out not to be free as Mike's 10 forced the J. When neither hearts nor spades divided the contract was down one.

If I had continued diamonds, establishing Mike's suit, the contract would have made. After winning the A, declarer would have played a heart to the Q, felling Mike's 10, and cashed the 9. The K would be an entry to cash the J, and the A and Q would bring South up to eight tricks. When declarer accepted my Greek gift eight tricks became seven. Once again the declarer should have asked himself, "why is this supposedly good player helping me by returning a heart from the 10?".

I have extensive memories of my favorite tournaments, events, matches, and hands from my bridge career. I do not generally remember favorite rounds from pairs events. Mike and I had a round in Miami that I will never forget. The unfortunate victims of this round, Toronto's Fred and Margaret Lerner, are far too nice to deserve what happened to them on these two boards:

On the first board I held:

A very nice hand that got considerably nicer when Mike opened the bidding 1! As Mike and I had no way to make an immediate forcing diamond raise nor was a strong jump shift to 3 available, I was forced to start with 2. Auctions that begin with 1-2 are extremely difficult in standard bidding, especially for a new partnership with few agreements, and the rest of the auction is not suitable for printing in a family publication. Eventually Margaret found herself on lead against 6 with a very attractive heart sequence (J109xx). All she knew from our auction is that we had lots of diamonds and no idea what we were doing. She reasonably led a heart. Mike held:

The K was onside and Mike made seven. The A was offside so our slam would have gone down on a spade lead. A massive swing at IMP pairs.

Fred Lerner's sense of humor is perhaps not as well known worldwide as Mike's, but it is quite famous in Canada. Typical of Fred (and atypical of most bridge players), he said something very funny (which also is not suitable for printing in a family publication). After I introduced Mike to my ex-friends, the Lerners, we got on to the second board.

This time I held even more cards in the minors:

Once again Mike opened 1! This time Margaret overcalled 1. What to bid? I have always thought it wrong to try to be delicate on freak hands in what is sure to be a highly competitive auction. In these circumstances, tactics and "bidding what you think you can make" are more important than science.

I realized that this hand might not play well in diamonds if Mike held only four (or three!) cards in that suit. I tried 5. Fred raised to 5. When Mike didn't double this, I was delighted to try 5NT, offering a choice of minors at the six-level. I was certain that having strongly emphasized clubs already, Mike would choose the right suit. Mike bid 6, doubled by Margaret.

Fred, interpreting the double as Lightner, led a diamond. Dummy tabled:

I won the K and played the K, covered by the A and ruffed. A club to the A dropped Margaret's offside K and my heart loser went on the Q, making seven again. As we were doubled and vulnerable this time the swing was even bigger. Note that on a heart lead there is no reason to reject the percentage finesse in clubs and the slam would, therefore, fail. At the end of the most memorable two board round of my bridge career, Fred was still smiling and laughing, as usual. Margaret was still completely pleasant, as usual. As they say, "It couldn't happen to a nicer pair!"

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