The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Tuesday, May 20, 2003


Today I felt a lot better. I made an appointment to see a doctor at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation at noon, and went into work late in the morning for the first time since Thursday. The doctor was thin, friendly, and younger than me. He gave me a once-over with his stethoscope and otoscope, and told me that I didn't have strep or pneumonia, and I would probably have to wait another week to get better.

Work went well but I got tired early, and left at about 5. I came home and goofed off. It's 9 p.m. now, and I will use some of my remaining energy detailing some of the interesting bridge hands from last weekend.

Sherry and I left for Monterey around noon on Friday. We drove down the coast and into Santa Cruz for lunch. We went to a Szechuan restaurant in downtown for lunch, and found that the food was very Americanized -- the kung pao chicken had one sad-looking chili pepper! We wandered down Pacific Ave to get some coffee, and saw a man playing a musical instrument with a case full of small change in front of him. But this was no ordinary busking, as Messrs Layne and Welch might have performed in Budaspest or Prague; it was a man grasping and shoving the air around some antennae that sprouted from a wooden cube, producing a strange electronic wailing noise. I realized that I was watching someone play a theramin!

We got into Monterey a little after 3 p.m. I bought an entry and was given a top seed, North-South at Table 2 in Section B. As the players settled down I looked to see who I recognized. There were three people in the room who could really play -- my friend Wayne Stuart, Stephen Kanzee, and Bob Crossley, who wrote an article in the Bridge World thirty years ago that introduced the CRASH convention. They were in the other section, as were some other people I knew who were good players. Wayne calls single-session sectionals "fish-beating contests", and Section B was looking like my private fish pool. I got confirmation of my low opinion of the field before play even started; our section was supposed to double-duplicate boards for the benefit of another section, and the table behind us did not duplicate the extra set of boards. I guess they thought the boards were for decoration, boards being plentiful and the site having run out of flower pots. (Even worse, another table did not duplicate any boards at all!)

Our first board was an exercise in terror:

At unfavorable, I held Sx HAx DA9x CQJTxxxx. I opened 1C, and LHO doubled. Sherry passed and RHO jumped to 4S. LHO then bid 4N. RHO bid 5D. I considered doubling, but figured that I would soon be on lead against 5S. Imagine my surprise when LHO bid 6H!

RHO passed, unhappily, and I decided to double to try to scare her back into spades. But everyone passed, and Sherry led a spade (since my double should request an unusual lead). Here was the dummy:

SAKQxx Hxx Dxx CAKxx.

I turned green. Declarer won the spade, then pitched a small diamond and the ten on the two high clubs! Then he played another high spade. I ruffed high and he pitched the diamond queen. I then cashed my DA and all was well. Declarer's hand was Sx HKQJTxxxx DKQTx C—.

I'm not a fan of the double. Why not just 4H and give up on trying to get to a slam that you can't reach and probably isn't there after an opening bid? Another pair I knew started with double, and the heart hand got to bid 5C exclusion keycard on the next round -- but they got to 6S!

I already told you that Sherry and I tied for first in the event. We checked into our bed and breakfast -- the Martine Inn in Pacific Grove -- had a comforting dinner at an English pub, then hung out in front of our fireplace. We had finally found a B&B that did fires right. Two years ago we got a room with a fireplace that was gas; it was warm but unromantic. Last year we went to a place in downtown Monterey that had a wood-burning fireplace -- and lit up a single Duraflame log. The Martine has some fire-starting aids, but covers them with real wood logs.

Friday night was terrible; I had a sore throat and earache, and got little sleep. We had planned to play the 10:30 game, but I slept in till 10 (which got my sleep tally up to five or six hours). We focussed on culinary and tourist pursuits. Lunch was at the Red House in Pacific Grove, dinner at the Grill on Ocean Street in Carmel. Both were very good.

Saturday night I slept better, but had to wake up earlier than I liked for the Swiss. We made it to the Martine's breakfast. Unfortunately the Martine, like many bed and breakfasts, serves eggy dishes that leave us wanting. Theoretically a poached egg dish with artichoke sauce should be delightful, but if you think runny eggs are vile you will be unsatisfied in practice. (Sherry shares my opinion; whatever I might say about Chinese food, at least it's not undercooked.)

I got off to a good start on the first board out of the box. Against 3N Hamish led D7, which was dummy's bid suit. Dummy had AK532 and I had Q9; Hamish had clearly led from JT87 so I dropped the queen when dummy played the king. This allowed Hamish to overtake my 9 and establish the suit. I made some bidding mistakes but my card play was very sharp.

Your Stepping Stone

Here's my favorite hand of the day. I was declaring 3N with the opponents silent throughout. Here was dummy, and my hand below it:

SQ84 HAKQ7 DJ54 C987

SA95 HT54 DAQ3 CA542

LHO led S6. I ducked and RHO produced the jack, which I won. It looked like LHO had the ten, so spades were going to produce two tricks for me.

I led a heart to dummy and RHO played the 9. This was ominous, as my best chance for the contract was 3-3 hearts. I could have played another high heart now, to expose doubleton jack on my right, but that might let someone return a heart later and reduce my flexibility in the end game. So I took a diamond hook.

Good news and bad news: The queen won -- and LHO pitched S3! So RHO was 2x7x. I ducked a club, which RHO won. She played back a spade and LHO won the king and cleared the suit, RHO pitching a diamond.

I played another high heart and RHO played the jack, marking her for 2272. This meant my HQ and HT were good, but my suit was blocked.

At first I thought about playing another club and hoping RHO held the king. She would have diamonds left and would be endplayed. But then, just as the opponents began to whine about my slow play, I saw the 100% line.

I played the DJ off dummy and ducked it. LHO pitched a club. RHO exited with another diamond, and LHO was really in trouble now. She had to pitch down to four cards, two of which had to be hearts (else I would overtake the ten) and two of which had to be clubs (else all my clubs would be good). So she pitched her last spade.

I cashed the HT and played ace and another club. LHO won and had to give the last trick to dummy's HQ. This is called a stepping-stone squeeze, as LHO was a stepping stone to my stranded heart winner. (There were also elements of a simple squeeze; I could have exited ace and a club, which would leave my hand with the HT and a good club.)


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