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Dutch Treat
By: Fred Gitelman

Originally Published in Canadian Bridge Canadien, 1995

The Netherlands is a bridge player's paradise. Despite the fact that this county has a smaller population than Canada, membership in the Dutch Bridge Federation is approaching that of the ACBL! Bridge is everywhere in the Netherlands, on television, in the newspapers, and in the primary school system.

In Amsterdam and Utrecht there is a weekly duplicate game that regularly attracts 2000 pairs. What makes this game special (besides it size) is that the game is held in hundreds of pubs. After each round the East-West pairs do not simply move to another table, they move to another pub! Substantial cash prizes are awarded to high finishers.

The Dutch Bridge Federation's headquarters is an impressive two story building in Utrecht. The ground floor of this building includes a restaurant, bar, book store, and enough space for a large bridge tournament. The top floor contains the offices of the Bridge Federation. As far as I can tell the Dutch Bridge Federation has about 30 full time employees that handle running tournaments, administration, marketing, and production of a very impressive bridge magazine.

The Dutch Open and Women's Bridge Teams are both among the strongest in the world. One of the primary reasons for this (besides a large pool of talented players) is a man named Hans Melchers. Mr. Melchers is a very successful businessman and a great lover of the game of bridge. Several years ago he decided to act on his dream of seeing his country become a power in world bridge. He used his considerable resources to make sure that the Dutch Bridge Teams would have access to the best training facilities, coaching, and methods available. Montreal's Eric Kokish was hired to coach the Dutch teams on an ongoing basis. Mr. Melchers' efforts were rewarded when the Dutch National Team won the Bermuda Bowl in 1993.

In May of this year, Mr. Melchers asked Eric Kokish to invite a foreign team to the Netherlands to play a three day practice match against the Dutch National Team. Eric put together a team of two Canadians (George Mittelman and myself), two Americans (former Canadians Bruce Ferguson and Peter Nagy), and two Poles (Krzysztof Martens and recent World Open Pairs Champion, Marek Szymanowski). Our goal was to get the Dutch Team in shape for the upcoming European Championships. The Dutch Team consists of two pairs from the 1993 Bermuda Bowl Team (Westra-Leufkens and Jansen-Westerhof) along with Maas-Kirchoff (who have also had many international successes).

Although the Dutch Team ended up winning by a comfortable margin, the match was close until very near the end. I was very impressed by both the level of play and deportment of all three of the Dutch pairs. This is a tribute not just to the players, but to Mr. Melchers, the Dutch Bridge Federation, and Eric Kokish. They have created a climate in which talented individuals can spend all of their energy concentrating on becoming the best players and partners that they possibly can be.

An integral part of this climate is the location. Mr. Melchers owns a castle (seriously) in a rural area of The Netherlands. He allows the Dutch team to use his castle to practice. The accommodations and food were fantastic. The grounds (and moat) of the castle contain all sorts of interesting animals. It is a very beautiful and relaxing place - an ideal environment for developing oneself as a bridge player. Does it already sound too good to be true? To top it all off, all of our expenses were covered by our hosts and we were generously paid for participating. There was additional prize money for the overall winners and for the winners of each of the nine sessions we played.

It was a nice co-incidence that we were in the Netherlands during the 50th anniversary of the liberation of that country at the end of World War II. Canada played a major role in the Dutch Liberation and our countries have enjoyed a special friendship ever since. Thousands of Canadian veterans attended celebrations in The Netherlands during our bridge match. The warmth and appreciation of the Dutch people made me feel very proud to be a Canadian.

Upon reflection, it is not surprising that the Netherlands has become one of the strongest bridge playing countries in the world. They seem to be doing everything right. Iceland is another (very) small country that has had a disproportional amount of international bridge success. The achievements of Iceland can also be traced to a very professional Bridge Federation and an excellent training program.

Canada has taken some good first steps in hiring Eric Kokish as our National Coach and in trying to establish a strong Junior Program. There is only so much that can be done, however, given the budget of the Canadian Bridge Federation. The Dutch Bridge Federation is very fortunate to have found a benefactor like Mr. Melchers. The Dutch Federation also receives close to two million dollars a year from their government (The sum is based on the number of members in the federation). Their tournaments are sponsored by major corporations. If the Canadian Bridge Federation is serious about fielding competitive international teams, we too should approach the government and corporations for funding.

It is a great honour to be a member of the Canadian National Bridge Team. Unfortunately, it is also a great financial burden. I believe that one of the CBF's missions should be to seek more funding for our international program. I know that when it comes time to play in the Bermuda Bowl in Beijing this Fall, it would be nice to have only bridge to worry about - not how much money the trip is costing. Here is one of my favourite hands from The Netherlands:

South declares 3NT on the lead of the J (which wins the first trick). The defense continues with a spade to the 9 and A. East switches to the Q which you win as West discourages. The defensive carding makes it clear that West has the K. How should you continue?

The obvious solution is to cash the other top club and take the diamond finesse, depending on West to have the K and for hearts to come in for 5 tricks.

If you look a little more carefully into the hand, you will see that there is no reason to cash the other top club before playing a diamond to the J. This is how the Dutch declarer played the hand. When East won the K (an error, but an easy error to make), declarer had the rest of the tricks. What if East had allowed the J to hold? Declarer would run the hearts to produce this ending:

Declarer knows that West has the K, but does not know who has the K and what the original distribution of the minors was. If South thinks that West has the K, he should exit with the Q (discarding a diamond) before cashing the last heart. If the 2 is cashed first (South discards a diamond), declarer has to guess West's distribution in order to succeed (his hand is squeezed when the spade exit is made).

If South thinks that East has the K, he should cash the A and play another diamond without cashing the last heart. East will have to give South the last two tricks. If the last heart is cashed first, once again South's hand is squeezed - as before he must guess the distribution in order to succeed. For example, if South discards a diamond on the 2 and then exits with the A and another diamond, there is a danger that East started with 4 diamonds to the K. East will have thrown all of his clubs away and will take the last two tricks with the Kx.

To summarize: After a diamond to the J holds, declarer must guess who has the K. If he cashes dummy's fifth heart, he squeezes his hand so that it is necessary to guess the distribution of the hand as well.

Who should you play for the K? Well, there are very few Easts who are good enough to duck smoothly with the K when a diamond is played to the J. If East plays a smooth low diamond holding the K, he deserves his success. Play West for the K.

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