The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Monday, January 03, 2005


Evan Kirchhoff spoke of his tribulations returning from Southern California. My wife and I had a similar experience last week. Tuesday at 5 p.m. we left Sherry's workplace in Los Altos for Reno, Nevada. We took 680 to avoid commute traffic on 101 and 80, and while we hit some slow going in Fremont we made pretty good time. We ate dinner at an Italian restaurant in Vacaville called Strings. It had the suspicious air of a lame restaurant chain, but the food was very tasty.

We had heard on the radio that Interstate 80 was a mess and had been closed for several hours due to accidents. For those not familiar with California geography, we had taken 680 north for an hour and merged with 80. Another hour northeast on 80 brought us to Sacramento. 80 continues north and east, while US 50 forks off to the east. The two bracket Lake Tahoe; 80 continues to Reno while 50 ends in Carson City.

50 was a good drive for awhile. Then it started raining. Then as the elevation climbed, the rain turned to snow and the ground acquired an inch or so of slush. We came up on a CalTrans worker manning a checkpoint for chains; vehicles who lack four-wheel drive and all weather tires must use chains on these mountain highways when it snows. We were driving a Subaru with four-wheel drive and our tires were deemed acceptable. This was a relief, as I have never had to put chains on tires.

We drove at 25-30 miles an hour for two hours as we crept into Tahoe and followed US 50 counterclockwise around the lake. At the east edge of the lake 50 turned east, climbed a pass, and descended. Very steeply. With about a thousand foot drop to the right. I slowed way down, to about 15 MPH. Finally we arrived at foggy Carson City, population 50,000, drove through town, and had an easy last 25 miles on 395. I had hoped to make Reno by 11; we got to the Hilton at 12:30, after a 285 mile trip.

Over the next few days I played six sessions of bridge. Wednesday Sherry and I played in a knockout. We had a 15 imp lead at the half but lost by 2. So our evening game was a single session Swiss. Thursday I played a morning pairs with my friend Michael Sclafani; we had a massive 70% and won the event. Thursday evening Michael, my friend Mike Cohen, and Sherry and I played the single session Swiss and placed first in B. Friday Sherry and I played in the two-session mixed pairs.

Here is an interesting hand from a Swiss match:

At none vul, second seat, I held:

SKxx HAQ9xxx DAT76 C

RHO opened 1C. I made the obvious overcall of 1H. LHO bid 3C, a limit raise. This was passed around to me and I doubled. Sherry bid 3H and all passed.

LHO led DK and here was the dummy:

SAJxx H8x D942 CTxxx

RHO played the D8. I won, as this guaranteed that I could power out a second diamond trick. But the 8 looked like a doubleton; I was afraid of RHO getting a diamond ruff. I crossed to the SA and took the heart finesse; if this won the contract would be safe. The HQ did win, but when I cashed the ace LHO pitched a club.

Now what? For the moment all I could do was work on diamonds. I led a diamond and RHO won DJ; she played a club, which I ruffed. The seven of diamonds was ducked by LHO; RHO looked annoyed, ruffed this, and played a second club. When I put her in with her HK, LHO pitched a club, and RHO persisted with a third club.

At this point I had SKx and DT. Dummy had SJxx. LHO started with one heart and four diamonds. I decided to play him for 3145 shape, and threw him in with my diamond loser. When he led a spade I popped with dummy's jack and it held. Making three!




In our last match of the first Swiss we were matched against Harold Feldheim's team. Feldheim is a Connecticut expert and author; I own three of his books. At unfavorable, I held SKT86 HAxx DA9xx Cxx. Sherry passed, RHO opened 1C, and I doubled. The next bidding card placed on the table was blue. I looked at my hand and thought, "Oh my God, I'm vulnerable!". I bid 1D and Feldheim, to my left, doubled. All passed.

Feldheim led CT and this disappointing dummy appeared:

S7xx HQxx DJT CJxxxx

RHO overtook the club with the CQ and returned the S9. I covered, LHO won the jack, and returned a diamond. Dummy's jack was covered by RHO's king; I won the ace and led a low spade. LHO won the queen and cashed the ace; a fourth round was ruffed by dummy's ten as RHO pitched a club and a heart.

I led a club off dummy. RHO won as LHO pitched a heart; I ruffed the club continuation and was overruffed. LHO returned a heart; when I played dummy's queen it won.

At this point I had taken three tricks, and the ace of hearts was a fourth. I was down to SHAx D9x C—. I crossed to my ace of hearts and Feldheim went into the tank. I knew he would get it right and he did: he followed to the ace with his king, so that the third round of hearts was won by his partner and the diamond lead came through me at the end. I was down 800, which was lose 9 against our teammates' non-vulnerable three notrump.




We stayed through New Year's Eve and left Reno at 11 a.m. New Year's Day. Reno had been hit by the worst snowstorm in years, and our car was buried in about eight inches of snow. We crawled on I-80 westbound for a long time coming out of Reno. We crept 20 miles or so to the California border, only to come to a complete stop for another hour. A neighboring driver wandered ahead and came back with the news that there had been an accident, and that the road had just been cleared. It was a considerable amount of time before we started moving.

We stopped near Tahoe to grab a snack and hit the bathroom. The gas station and mart was a zoo; there were a dozen women in line for the bathroom, and when we were ready to leave, there was a traffic jam just to leave the parking lot! (It didn't help that we were a few hundred feet from an exit which was backed up.) A woman directed traffic leaving the station, and after ten or fifteen minutes we finally got out. Traffic barely moved, then picked up a bit. The road had two lanes open. The road surface was sometimes clear, sometimes covered with an inch or two of snow and ice. Snow hung heavily on the trees, and was piled up five feet high on the side of the road. We were occasionally passed by a pair of slowplows, and also by an interesting contrivance that sheared a sharp edge on the piled snow. Cars and trucks threw up a slushy spray that misted the cars with dirt; I began to worry that I would run out of wiper fluid. Sometimes the snow blew in from the banks, which created very scary conditions of low visibility.

Donner Pass, at 7300 feet, is the high point of I-80 at maybe fifty miles from Reno. It was only another twenty miles before we reached the edge of the snow country, and the chain control was lifted. Have I mentioned yet that California drivers are idiots? When we reached the sign marking the end of chain control, everyone either pulled to the side of the road to fling off their shackles (if they had chains) or blasted ahead at near-freeway speeds (if they were in an SUV). But it was still sleeting, at night, on a steep downgrade! The descent was nerve-racking, as I was passed by many cars but did not want to speed up on a curvy, steep, unfamiliar road. (At least there were no cliffs at the road's edge.) Finally the road levelled, and the sleet turned to rain and dried up altogether. We got sandwiches and coffee at a little town northeast of Sacramento. Then we drove the last 175 miles in comfort and safety, and arrived home after a ten-hour journey.


1 comments

1 Comments:

Hi Floyd,
You might have mentioned that I was your RHO. I was quite surprised to be defending against one diamond doubled at IMPs.
My recollection of the board is that you went for 1100 - for a push with same contract at the other table

By Anonymous Tom Snouse, at 8:57 PM  

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