Sunday, November 01, 2009

We're still alive!

I know it's been a while since this blog was updated but we've been very busy in our personal lives and haven't had the time to work on posts.

We'd also like to share the news that Matthew Alexander Korbel was born on October 2nd, weighing 6lbs 14.5oz and was 19 inches long. His hands are still too little to hold cards but we'll see when he gets bigger!

We'll try and update with more bridge related things when we can, but right now sleep has been a little more of a priority!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Congratulations to the CNTC Winners!

Photo courtesy of Ross Taylor

Congratulations to Dan Korbel, David Grainger, Nick L'Ecuyer, Kamel Fergani, Darren Wolpert, and Jurek Czyzowicz on winning the Canadian National Team Championship! They played team Carruthers in the two day final (John Carruthers, Joseph Silver, David Turner, Roy Hughes, Nader Hanna, Jim Green) and won with a final score of 288 to 224.

For more results, please visit the CBF Bridge Week website.

Dan will update with hands from the event when he returns home from the Penticton Regional this week!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Winnipeg Regional

This week Jonathan and I are at the Winnipeg regional, playing all week with Danny Miles and Dave Colbert. Although we haven't had a great week, we have placed in a few KOs and won the Thursday Swiss. Here are three wild slams from this week:

I decided to evaluate the South hand as a limit raise of spades and bid 3H (which is our systemic bid). When Jonathan tried 4C, implying club length, I judged that my hand was golden and decided (dubiously, perhaps) to bid 4NT to simplify the auction. Jonathan went into the tank and a smile crept across his face. I said to the opponents, "He's never had 5 keycards before on this auction!" Indeed that was the case -- he had five keycards and the queen of trumps! Jonathan just bid 7S over 4NT, trusting that we couldn't have a late loser anywhere if I was sane, and we scored an easy +1510. Amazingly, this was worth 11.5/12 matchpoints.

This was a really wild hand. I decided to open the South cards with Flannery 2D, conventionally showing 4 spades, 5 or 6 hearts, and 11-16 HCP (Yes, I was a little light). Look at Jonathan's hand! He must have thought I had forgotten the convention and opened a weak 2D by mistake. Nonetheless, Jonathan responded 3S, which is forcing and a slam try in our style. RHO tried 3NT for the minors, vulnerable vs. not, and I rebid 4S, intending to show a minimum 4=5=2=2 (I had overbid enough already!) but accidentally showing a 4=5=2=2 maximum. My LHO bid 4NT for the minors, and Jonathan decided to take a shot at slam.

Because the opponents were vulnerable and we were not, they subsided and Jonathan bought the hand. My RHO led the dA, and quickly tried the dK -- oops! Jonathan ruffed and claimed +980. Notice that yet again the opponents are cold for 6 of either minor, and can make 7 if we don't lead a heart! An amazing hand.

Just to show how tough high-level freak hands are, our teammates doubled 6S and then perpetrated the same defense for -1230. Despite the vulnerability, bidding 7 of a minor has a lot going for it, as it's very cheap and will make whenever they lead a spade for a humongous swing.

This hand was pretty amazing too. Jonathan made a vulnerable 1S overcall and I was looking at that South hand. Incidentally, compare this hand to the problem hand in Part 1 of the Toronto Regional post a few posts ago. The situations (although here at a much lower level) are nearly identical! I said in that post that I would comment what the right approach was, and I think that against most opposition you would be best off just blasting a grand slam. It's tough for your opponents to lead the suit they have bid in the face of your grand slam blast, so they will often lead a trump or the unbid suit. Yes, a thinking opponent may call your bluff and lead the suit they have bid, so against a smart opponent you will actually want to have a void in diamonds most of the time! Note that you aren't even sure of making a small slam if partner doesn't have a diamond control so it's not like you're necessarily throwing away a bird in hand.

An added benefit of this approach is the bonus to your reputation. I remember one time I used Exclusion Blackwood with a void in their other suit and two small cards in the suit I ERKCB'd in; they led my void and we made our slam despite having two top diamond losers. A month later, I played against someone who knew about this hand, and I used ERKCB against him, honestly this time. They led the Ace of my EKCB suit, not trusting my bidding, and this gave away the slam!

In any case, my RHO led the cQ and Jonathan picked the spade suit for +2210 and a big pickup.

Am I crazy? Probably. But it sure is fun!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Toronto Regional (Part 2)

Starting on Thursday was the premier event of the Toronto Regional, the Percy Sheardown Knockouts (Percy was a legendary Canadian player). I had the good fortune to be playing with Darren Wolpert as my partner, and David Grainger and Joel Wooldridge as our teammates. (David is my partner for the CNTC coming up in June, and Darren is one of our teammates. Joel, unfortunately, lives in Buffalo).

Unlike most regional knockouts nowadays, this knockout was seeded, and despite our team's youth we managed to draw the #1 seed (I suspect one of the directors may have fudged the numbers a little bit as we were probably the #2 seed by masterpoints).

We drew a 3-way match in the first round, and beat one team 45-0 over 14 boards, and beat the other team 50-32 to advance. Here was a hand in the closer match that won us 11 IMPs:

West led a fourth best spade and I tried the sJ from dummy, not overly pleased to see the queen from East. I needed the cK onside to have any chance at the contract, and that pretty much marked the dK offside with my left hand opponent. Accordingly, the right play is to win the first spade with the Ace, for an obscure reason I'll show you a bit later. I crossed to dummy's hA to run four rounds of clubs ending in my hand with the aid of the finesse. I judged West to be 6-3-3-1 from her discards (1 early diamond pitch, then a spade and a fumbled heart). I cashed the hK, stripping West's last heart, and played a spade, claiming the last two tricks as she had to lead from the Kx of diamonds at trick 12.

Do you see why winning the first spade is the correct play? Because you don't have a high heart honour in your hand, if there is no spade in dummy it becomes impossible to strip West's last heart and then lead a spade next unless there is one in dummy to lead! So, if West discards the way she did, she will beat you unless you win the first trick.

In the second round we found ourselves in another 3-way match. This one didn't go so well -- we found ourselves +6 at the half in one match, and -45 at the half in the other!! If the second half didn't go better, we might find ourselves out of the event.

Happily, our team regained its form in the second half, not giving up a single IMP. Against the team we were +6, we picked up 34 more, and against the other team we got 39 of those IMPs back! In fact, on the only board we pushed, both tables went +150 in 1NT when they might have stolen a vulnerable 3NT were they in it. If Joel and David had bid it, we would have picked up 49 IMPs and won the set by 4!

Darren and I were swinging a bit in this set, as we knew we were down a ton and needed to create some swings. There is an art to swinging, and it does not involve blatant psyching. Instead, you should look for ways to create different situations at each table. You might open a shaky preempt you know your counterpart won't; you might upgrade a 13 point hand with a good suit to a strong notrump; you might open 1D on KJx instead of 1C on Axxx; you might open a chunky 4 card major in first seat; you might overcall at the 1-level instead of making a weak jump, or make a "weak" jump overcall instead of a simple 1-level overcall to shake things up.

Here was a hand where we swung successfully:

Darren, as North, made a simple raise of diamonds a diamond light, but he felt he had the high card points to compensate. I bid 2S over East's double which was pretty normal (OK, I was a little light HCP-wise, but I had good shape). When Darren doubled 3C for penalties, I decided to take a piece of 3H. Even despite the match score, I really didn't think Darren would be doubling here with "just clubs," as he would hate to push them out of clubs back into a heart contract we could not beat. So I decided we were probably killing this contract, and Darren would almost never lead a diamond -- he would either start with club ruffs, or with a spade. In fact, he led a spade, and declarer lost the first 8 tricks for +800 and 12 IMPs to us.

In the quarterfinals, we played a solid team of locals. The cards were running against us at our table, but the beauty of a team game is that your teammates encounter the same situations as your opponents. Our card didn't look wonderful, but David and Joel had a solid set and we found ourselves +13 at the half. The second half was all us at both tables and we picked up 37 IMPs.

In the semi-finals, we faced the same team we had narrowly lost to in the 2nd 3-way match, as they had inherited the #4 seed. Time for some revenge -- we hoped!

We set the tone on the very first board, where Darren doubled a 4H contract where trumps were breaking 5-0. We beat it two tricks for +500 and a 7 IMP pickup (our teammates were two down undoubled, one level lower, not warned of the bad breaks).

Another big pickup from the first half:

Lacking a good lead, I tried a low diamond from the West hand and it went to the Q, K, and Ace. Declarer next played a low club from dummy. I decided to rise with the cT to lead the d8, which held the trick, as partner played the d7. I was now quite certain that diamonds were 4333 around the table, so I couldn't afford to cash another round now. I was pretty confident that declarer had at least 5 clubs to the AK and usually 6 to go after them in this manner. In the auction, he had denied as many as 3 hearts, so I thought his only possible shapes were 2236, 3136, and 3235, with both spade honours. So, I switched to the hK, intending to give declarer a communications problem. He won the hA, dropping the hJ from hand, and led a spade to the King and my Ace.

I cashed the dJ, severing declarer from dummy, and exited with the cQ. Declarer could cash all his black winners but I had to score the sJ at the end. It wouldn't have helped him to cash the hQ before dislodging the sA because we would then have the setting tricks to cash in the heart suit. At the other table, the defense never led hearts, and David scored 9 tricks via a late heart finesse.

When the smoke cleared, we had won 45 IMPs in each half to win by 90.

In the final, we faced the original #2 seed, John Carruthers - Eric Murray, Nader Hanna - Jim Green, John Gowdy - Vince Oddy.

Darren and I had a good set against Eric Murray and J.C. in the first half, doing nothing wrong. Well, almost nothing. I had to find a lead from this hand:

Clearly, a heart is the only logical choice, but which heart? The heart Ten would be best if dummy hit with Kx, or declarer had KJx (KJxx doesn't help us); a higher heart would be necessary if dummy had a doubleton or singleton jack. I judged the latter to be a more likely scenario, and I decided to try the Ace of hearts, which as you can see was a major disaster. Perhaps I was being too much of a genius. But opening leads are hard. Jim Green did not open my cards, and in the midgame found a low heart switch. -600 was worth 13 IMPs away.

Fortunately, those were the only IMPs we lost in the half, and we found ourselves +13 IMPs overall. Here was a hand that was a swing to us:

J.C. led the h4 and I won the queen in dummy. This contract was a really bad one, but if I could find a lucky club position I still might make it. I led a club to the queen, and J.C. won the king. He switched to a diamond, which Eric Murray won to return a heart. I won the Ace and took stock. It seemed incredibly unlikely that a player as seasoned as John would win the first round of clubs from an original holding of KJx, so when I led a club toward the dummy and he played the c9 I was not tempted to finesse. The fall of the cJ meant +400 and 8 IMPs to us instead of 5 IMPs away. Yes, the defenders should let me win the first round of clubs. But anyone can make a mistake in the heat of the battle, and he was a bit unlucky that I was awake enough to take advantage.

In the second half both tables were very solid. Here was another 3NT I declared (some days, all the good play problems fall to one seat):

Vince led the cT which I covered with dummy's jack as John Gowdy won the queen. He switched to a spade, which I rode to dummy's queen. I played another spade, which he won to clear spades. At this point, I knew that he had 4 spades and at least 5 clubs (probably exactly 5). Vince's diamond discard made it clear to me that he had 5 or 6 diamonds, and thus 3 or 4 hearts. In fact, RHO's most likely distribution was 4=2=2=5, and if so, I was going to make this hand on an endplay.

I cashed the dA and led the hT. If Vince covered, I would have simply taken two deep heart finesses, but when he played low smoothly I rose hA, cashed the dK, and ducked a heart to John's queen. He cashed his spade, but with only clubs left in his hand he had to give me the c9 and cA, and a heart finesse was marked for my ninth trick. This was worth 10 IMPs when the other declarer failed on a diamond lead (on a less informative auction).

When all was said and done we picked up another 16 IMPs in the second half to win the match by 29 IMPs. Our opponents played very well, but on this day our team was firing on all cylinders and it was very hard to beat us.

Playing with David and Joel was a pleasure, as they are both great teammates, great players, and fun guys to hang out with. Partnering Darren was a treat; he is a very supportive partner and really makes you feel confident. Darren and I are playing in the "mini" Cavendish pairs in Las Vegas in May (we'd play in the big one but don't want to pony up the $15K!).

Tomorrow I fly out to Winnipeg to play at the regional with Jonathan. Stay posted for updates.

Toronto Regional (Part 1)

The Toronto regional was held the week of April 7 - 12. I played from April 7 to April 11. On April 7th I played with Sean Pryke in a 2-session pairs game; we did okay but not enough to get in the overalls. Our opponents played well against us in the afternoon and that in and of itself is often enough to keep you from winning a pairs game. The trick with pairs games is to be sure to take the win when it is dealt to you, but this wasn't our day.

On Wednesday I played a Swiss teams with Andy Stark, John Carruthers, Mike Roche and John Rayner. I played 4 sets with Andy and two with J. C. Last year, in this event with the same team, we were sitting at 119/120 at the half way point, and after 5 matchs were 149/150 -- we had it almost locked up with three matches to go!

This year was a different story, and we didn't even place in the overalls!

Two good auctions J.C. and I had:

In my opinion, John is a really world-class bidder so I was perfectly comfortable trusting all his bidding completely. He responded Drury 2C to my 1S opening bid, and I tested the waters for slam with a 3C bid. John's 4C bid showed club strength as well as club length, so I could immediately picture a possible slam in clubs. When I tried 4H, denying a diamond control, John bid 5D, which was promptly doubled. Missing the sAKQ and the cAQ, I knew it was impossible for John not to have the dA and be willing to bypass the safety of 4S, so I didn't bother to pass 5D around to him and give him options. Instead, I bid 6C, as heart ruffs in my hand could bring us up to 12 tricks even if 6S could not make, and this way the diamond position is protected from the lead.

On the hA lead, all we needed was spades not 4-1 offside, but alas, that was the case, and we lost 12 IMPs to the +620 recorded at the other table. This was our first board of the day and unfortunately set the tone.

A grand slam we backed into:

I chose to respond 1S to 1C, mainly because we hadn't discussed what we were playing over the auction 1C-P-1D-P-1NT (I would usually bid 1D, my best suit, on a strong hand). In any case, this worked out great when my 2D bid got raised to 3D, showing 4=6 in the minors. I bid 4D to set trumps, confident John would trust that this bid was forcing, and he duly cuebid 4H on his singleton. I launched into Keycard Blackwood, and asked for the Queen of trumps over his 1-keycard reply of 5C. John knew that I needed all the keycards for my 5H bid, as it went past our "safety" level of 5D, and thus was a grand slam try, and loved his cards. He tried 7C to emphasize his great clubs in case I wanted to try 7NT, but I settled for 7D. This was a 13 IMP win against 6C at the other table -- they never even mentioned diamonds!

The last round of the Swiss was memorable for this doozy -- a hand straight out of a Victor Mollo book:

Yes, this really happened at both tables. If RHO hadn't bid 4H, you would still have a problem, but it wouldn't be as sticky as the problem you have now. Think about what your options are and what you would do and I will post what I think, and the table results, in a later post.

See Part 2 for a recap of the Sheardown Knockout, the premier event each year at the Toronto Regional.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Hand from Bridge Base Online

Tonight David Grainger and I played a set game online against Ira Chorush and Venkatrao Koneru. It was a very well played match all around, I thought, and we only ended up ahead because we had way more than our share of the cards.

Here is a grand slam that ties into the theme of a hand I posted a little while ago, of avoiding a weak 4-4 fit:

Many players nowadays would open the South hand, but it's just not something I'm comfortable with -- although I suspect it would have made the auction trivial. As it was, we didn't really have too much difficulty with the hand once David made the exquisitely Canadian decision to open 1C rather than 2C despite holding 23 high card points. I like this approach to bidding, on the theory that if you get by the first round of the auction, you are usually in good shape to have intelligent communication with your partner. Here, 1C is rarely passed out, sometimes it is right to play in 1C when it is passed out, and this hand is difficult to describe without artificial methods if you start with 2C. (If the auction starts 2C-(3H), I have trouble constructing a sequence in our methods that allow us to get to 7C. In any case, it's much harder).

Over David's 4H cuebid, I knew that he either had a big hand with a spade fit, or a big hand with a club suit, so now the question was what to do. I really wanted to bid 5D, but I was worried that that would be natural (as we hadn't discussed it I wasn't going to risk playing in a 3-2 fit). I decided finally that if David had a singleton heart or the Ace as his 4H bid suggested (meaning tricks 1 and 2 weren't going to go hA, heart ruff), my cards were good enough to take a shot at slam. David decided that if I didn't have the dA I was crazy and found a good raise to 7C.

As you can see, 7NT is the best spot, but 7C is quite a happy contract. The key here was to ignore the spade fit, where you are at the mercy of a 3-2 break. Strangely, Ira's preempt probably made it easier for us to avoid spades, because had he passed or bid 1H, the auction would have gone 1C-(1H)-X or 1C-P-1S, making it much more difficult for me to show both my strength and my club support, two things that helped David to choose clubs at the end.

When should you avoid a 4-4 major suit fit? If it is to play in a slam, whenever you have enough tricks but you have a weak trump fit you can consider a different trump suit or notrumps. If it is a choice between 3NT and 4M, you will usually want to have a little extra in HCP to make up for the fact that you aren't making use of ruffing power. As an example, if I picked up

and heard partner open 1NT, I would just bid 3NT and forget about the major suit fit. My suit is weak, I have extra strength (we are in the 27-29 HCP range), and help in the other suits. Not everyone agrees with me on what hands to avoid the major suit fit on, but one thing Kit Woolsey suggests to look for in his classic book, Matchpoints, is to have secondary honours (Queens and Jacks) in your doubleton.

Read this entry for a spectacular example of 3NT being right.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Funny Hand

Here's a funny deal that I was a part of 6 or 7 years ago.

My most regular partner at the time, Matthew Mason, was sitting North, and I was sitting South. We were playing at the Waterloo, Ontario sectional in the Saturday matchpoint game. Things were going fine and we were enjoying ourselves. Then, two little old ladies came to the table, whom I knew by name:

The lady on my right opened 1S, and the lady on my left -- well, as you can see, she responded with 1D. Unfortunately, that is not a legal call in that auction, and Matthew summoned the director, David Burke (who has since passed away). David asked Matthew if he would like to accept the bid. Matthew said no. David explained to LHO: "You can make any call you want, but if it isn't 2D, your partner is barred for the rest of the auction."

So LHO, a very agreeable lady, nods and says okay, and goes into a brown study, staring at her cards. The director repeats, "You can bid 2D with no penalty, but otherwise your partner is barred."

LHO nods again, but still doesn't emerge with any bid. Eventually David takes a look at her hand, looks at the lady, and says, "You can bid 2D with no penalty, and the auction will just continue on as normal."

To this, the little old lady on my left forcefully replies, "No, I don't want to bid 2D."

After another long trance, she finally reached into the bidding box ... and pulled out ... the master bid of ... FIVE SPADES!

Yes, five spades. Matthew and I make eye contact and I realize we are both about to break out in peals of laughter. I quickly stare at a spot on the ground and try to think of Margaret Thatcher naked on a cold day.

The director, of course, can't believe what is happening either. He says to LHO, "You realize your partner must pass this bid!"

The LOL on my left is apparently quite happy with her decision because she says, "Yes, I understand."

At this point David says, "OK," and he has to walk away because he too has broken out laughing. Matthew and I have done an admirable job of keeping ourselves to the occasional smile or sharp breath.

As you can see from the diagram, the LOL on my right quickly wraps up all the tricks. Matthew and I book it away from the table because we just couldn't hold it in any longer. As we were leaving the table I could hear my RHO saying, "Why didn't you just bid 2D?"

A funny hand, but I have a few other good ones, including my all-time favourite. I'll post them in February.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bridge over the New Year

As has become almost traditional, Susie, Jonathan Steinberg, Martin Hunter, and I hopped on a flight on Christmas Day to the Kansas City Holiday Regional. Although this isn't the largest of regionals, the food and hospitality in Kansas City are great and we are always made to feel welcome.

We had a nice week in Kansas City, with a number of good showings in events. Susie and I won over 50 points, while Jonathan and Martin broke 70 points due to their win in the December 30th Flight A Barometer Pairs (a cool event; the scores are updated almost in real-time).

We followed that up with a win in the New Years Eve swiss teams event, despite losing 30-0 against Dan Morse's team in the first round! After that, we went 6-0 while Morse's team lost their last two matches, allowing us to nip them for the win. Another thing about this event that I will probably never do again: Susie and I went for -2000 (!) on a board in this match, and then won the event! Not only that, but the other table ran out of time, and the board we went -2000 on was thrown out, as if it never happened! We got blitzed anyway. Bridge can be a strange game.

You can check Jonathan's photos if you are interested in seeing more.

The day after we got back from the KC Regional, it was time for the Toronto Sectional!

I played with bridge author and proud new father of a beautiful baby boy, Lennox, Andy Stark Friday afternoon, and we had a whopping 68% game to win easily. I'm almost ashamed to admit it, but we have played together 5 times, and that is the lowest score we have ever had!

On Saturday, Jonathan and I broke average in the pairs game, while Susie played with Danny Miles and did a little better, scoring a 54% average. Here is a hand I like from the event:

Susie's 4C was not a shy bid; I might have settled for 3S myself. In any case, the point of the hand is to play in hearts, not spades, and Danny found a great 6H bid at the end, having difficulty visualizing any hand where 6H would not be nearly cold despite missing a keycard and the sQ. Note that Susie didn't show her club void, having overbid enough already.

The reason I like this hand is that bridge bidding in general is geared into looking for the "magic 4-4" fit, which, although often right, is important to be able to squeak out of when you have abundant values elsewhere and your suit is weak. This can be true at the game level, too; I can't tell you how many times I have played in a makeable (or cold) 3NT with 4H or 4S on a 4-4 fit shaky (or no play).

On the Sunday I played with Robert Lebi, teammates Jim Green and Nader Hanna. We started out 7-0 to lead the event, but an unfortunate final match had us drop all the way to 5th in the event (there were a lot of teams).

There may not be much bridge happening until March, but I have a few funny bridge stories I'd like to share with you, so check back for those in the coming weeks.