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1996 Olympiad
By: Fred Gitelman

Originally Published in Canadian Master Point, January, 1977


It's easier to write about winning…

The recent World Teams Olympiad in Rhodes, Greece brought good news and bad news for Canada. The good news is that our Women's team won the Bronze Medal, beating Germany (the reigning Venice Cup Champions) in the quarter-finals, and crushing the always powerful Austrian team in the playoff for the Bronze.

The whole Women's team played great, but NPC George Holland (Halifax) thought that the 25 year partnership of Sharon Reus (Montreal) and Dianna Gordon (Toronto) deserved special mention. George told me that for 90% of the tournament, Sharon and Dianna played as well as he has ever seen anyone, man or woman, play bridge. Thanks to Sharon, Dianna, George, and their teammates: Beverly Kraft-Rhoda Habert and Francine Cimon-Barbara Saltzman (all of Montreal) for something to cheer about in Rhodes. Let's hope this team can build on its success for the next World Championship, the 1997 Venice Cup, in Tunisia.

The Canadian Open Team (Mark Molson-Boris Baran and Eric Kokish-Joey Silver from Montreal, George Mittelman-Fred Gitelman and NPC John Gowdy from Toronto) demonstrated how not to build on success with their performance in the Rhodes Olympiad. The same team had won the Silver Medal in last year's Bermuda Bowl in China. We were widely considered one of the pre-tournament favourites going into the Rhodes Olympiad. Our team never made it out of the starting gate in Rhodes, however. What happened?

The qualifying stage of the 1996 Olympiad was a complete round robin of 16 board matches among 2 groups of 35 teams. The top 4 in each group would qualify for the quarter-finals. The round robin is a grueling 9 day affair. Our fist day was a disaster, as we were blitzed by France and the Czech Republic, leaving us close to last place. After a couple of better days, we climbed to about 10th and hovered in the low to middle teens for the rest of the event. We eventually finished 14th in our group of 35 teams. We never even threatened to break into the top 4 teams that would advance to the quarter-finals. Why did we not have more success in this event?

The simple answer is: we played badly. We made too many stupid mistakes. It was rare for there to be a comparison in which our team failed to hand the opponents 25 or more IMPs through bad bridge. As there were usually good results to compensate for the bad ones and since each pair (very) occasionally had a "clean card", we won our share of matches. Our wins were usually not big enough, however, to quickly move us up in the standings. Every time we managed to get some momentum going we would manage to get blitzed. We were consistently leaving too many IMPs on the table to have a chance to qualify. We played like a 14th place team and got the results we deserved. Well most of the time…

 

George's 3 showed, by agreement, a very strong suit in a hand with good playing strength. My 3 was a stall to give George a chance to show hearts. George's 3 was a further stall denying a holding of honour doubleton (or better) in hearts. When 3 was doubled, my redouble showed the A. As far as George was concerned we were still in "looking for 3NT" mode. George was pretty sure 3NT wasn't right and he retreated to 4. My 4 was a cuebid showing slam interest. George now cuebid 4, which from my hand and the auction could only mean the singleton A. I knew George had long strong clubs, the singleton A, and nothing in spades (or he would have bid 3NT after my redouble). I knew 6 would be a good contract so I bid it. It was a good contract. The A10xx of trumps was offside, however, and the slam failed.

This board was the first board George and I played from our first match of the second day. Our first day had been horrible. We were now playing Hong Kong, a reasonable team, but a team we should have no trouble beating. A big win would be really helpful. Our 6 resulted in a big swing to Hong Kong who stopped in game at the other table. The second board (rotated to make South declarer):

We arrived in 3NT and West led the Q to dummy's A. This is a very difficult hand and I do not know how one should play it. I decided to run the 9 at trick 2 to West's Q. West got out his singleton spade to the 8, 10, and Q. I continued the K to East's A and East came back his second club. I ducked and West allowed East's club spot to hold the trick as I pitched a heart from dummy. East now came back the 3.

It is easy to see that I would have had 9 tricks just by taking the heart finesse. I had what looked like a better plan. I won the A and crossed to the dummy in spades. West's discard gave me a complete count on the hand (I was sure East would have continued clubs if he had had another one). I was now in a position that I could endplay whoever held the K, but I had to guess who had that card. Since West was known to have been dealt 4 hearts, he was approximately a 2 to 1 favourite to hold the K. I, therefore, cashed dummy's other spade honour and finished the diamonds, finessing against East's 10. West was down to 2 clubs and a heart. I exited the Q expecting West to win the trick and be endplayed into leading away from his J. Instead, East won the K and cashed 2 spade tricks. I was down 2. I had managed to find the only way to go down.

At the other table, Mark Molson also led the Q against 3NT. Declarer immediately took a heart finesse, cashed the A, crossed to dummy in spades, and exited a heart. Mark was able to win this cheaply but he could not get out of his own way. If Mark had exited with the 7 the defense might have had a chance. Mark's actual choice of the Q would have worked on other layouts but did not help here. The Hong Kong declarer finished with an overtrick and another big swing.

The whole team knew that George and I had bid to a better contract than our opponents on the first board. On the second board I am quite certain I played better than the Hong Kong declarer. None of this mattered. What mattered was that we had lost 25 IMPs or so on these two boards when we might have won 25 on a better day. It is very hard to have a big win (30+ IMPs) with a start like this. We did come back in this match but I do not remember if we won or lost. If we won, it was not by enough to help our cause.

These boards typified the early going for George and myself. We were not playing badly (that would come later), but we just never seemed to guess right on the big hands. George calls this "being snakebitten". In my opinion, being confident at the bridge table is the single most important factor for winning. When snake bite sets in, it takes a great deal of character to continue to play with confidence. The natural temptation is to play with fear that every decision you make is going to be wrong. It is impossible to win while in that head space. When things go badly you have to constantly remind yourself, "We are better players than our opponents; we have been unlucky, but the luck will catch up with us".

Our team had trouble remembering this. When the luck started to come our way, a day or so after the Hong Kong match, we were not ready to taken advantage of it. By this time some of the team had become discouraged and most of us were not playing anywhere near our best. We were lucky that we were dealt blitzes against several of the teams lying between us and a qualifying spot. It was the same story each time - too many stupid mistakes turned a blitz into a small win or small loss.

My attitude going into our successful Bermuda Bowl performance was, "I am really glad to have this opportunity, I hope we do well". I was more than a little surprised when we did as well as we did. My attitude before Rhodes was, "We are one of the best teams here. We will do well". Once again, I was surprised by our performance.

Despite this, I am pretty sure that my Rhodes attitude was the right one. I also think that most of my teammates shared the same attitude going in. Some of us lost that feeling in the early going and never got it back. Some of us simply did not play or practice enough over the last year to have any serious hope of playing at their best during the Olympiad. We should have taken our success in Beijing as something to build on. We should have seen the Olympiad as the best chance in our lives to become World Champions. We failed to do this. Let's hope our Women's team can learn something from our bad example and bring Canada the Gold Medal in next year's Venice Cup.

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