Ross Taylor

Momentum part four

Momentum part one |   Momentum part two |   Momentum part three |   Momentum part four

Things quietened down for a few boards – then another ugly hand. I held AK9  J832  105  9742 and heard one diamond on my right; two diamonds (forcing) on my left; 2NT on my right; 3NT on my left; all pass.

I did not enjoy finding a lead; but put my fingers on the spade ace.  Here was the layout :

Dealer: east

Vul: both

West East
62 QJ8
64 AK75
AQJ73 9864
A1065 KJ

Turns out I had hit on a very effective opening lead – but then, you guys can see all the cards! Keith played the seven, and Klimo played the 8. We play upside down attitude and standard count, but this is a very specialized situation.

Anyway, I did not find the spade continuation. I switched to my third best heart. Klimo won and hooked a diamond and Keith continued hearts. At the crucial point in the hand Klimo had to guess the location of the club queen to make and he did so – rather confidently I might add. So this was a loss of twelve imps, versus a push had we beaten the hand.

The set’s carnage was almost complete. Two hands later I picked up Q963  103   AQ10   K843. I dealt and passed, red versus white. Campbell opened 1 spade on my left, and Keith overcalled two hearts. Klimo said two spades, and I made a responsive double. Campbell said redouble – (a terrific riverboat gambler type bid – he only had AKJ54  65  8732  Q2) – a pyschic redouble!

Keith bid three clubs over the redouble, and I had to take a bid. I felt I was done, and I passed. But the full layout revealed we had lost another ten imps – largely due to Campbell’s redouble, as we both pulled in our tails thereafter. Keith actually made six!

Dealer: south

Vul: north south

Campbell Klimowicz
AKJ54 10872
65 QJ9
8732 K94
Q2 975

Ten imps gone here and the lead was now back with Team Gartaganis – up around 25 imps with sixteen boards to play.

Still, it was anyone’s match – as long as Team Korbel did not dwell on the what-ifs and focussed on the here and now – and if the hands were lively enough.

Sure enough, our team got the better of a decent number of small swings, gaining 37 imps against losing only five imps with two key hands yet to be compared. On the first, Korbel – Wolpert bid a very reasonable 4 hearts on a 5-3 fit which ran into a defensive cross ruff and went down. Klimowicz and Campbell did well to land in 3NT which was in no danger and gained their side eleven imps.

The margin was down to around 8 imps in favor of Team Gartaganis when this fateful and deciding board hit the baize.

Dealer:southVul: east west

Taylor Balcombe
QJ765 K943
J10 void
975 QJ10864
Q86 974

Campbell opened 1 forcing club, and Keith overcalled two diamonds. They then discovered their heart fit and Campbell found out Klimo had specifically an ace, a king, and the heart queen. Perhaps forgetting Klimo had passed initially (and therefore could not have another queen – as they play 11-13 NT openers at this colour) Campbell pressed his good fortune and went for all the marbles with a bid of 7NT.

I led a diamond, and when dummy came down, I could feel a gasp from Klimo when he realized his predicament – for the second time in a few hours he was in 7NT requiring a finesse. He was also steamed to be there as he felt Campbell had erred in playing him for cards he could not possibly have.

Note seven hearts has extra chances – you can pitch north’s club jack on the diamond king, and make the hand with queen doubleton in either hand or any 3-3 club break – including queen third offside.

Anyway there was nothing to do but take the club finesse fairly early and pray. The bridge gods were smiling on Klimo this day and he chalked up plus 1520 and a win of eleven imps. Our teammates stopped accurately in 6 hearts, and instead of winning 14 imps, we incurred another 25 imp swing against us.

And that was the match ! The boards ran out, and the last team standing was Team Gartaganis – winning by 19 imps over 128 boards. I was pleased my team had all played tough and hard in the last segment, but that still only spells silver – not gold.

It was a very exciting match to play in and watch – I gathered enough material to regale my blog readers with stories and hands for weeks – but that’s for another day. There were many hands of interest – hands which any of us would like to take back and redo – don’t think the match was decided on luck vis a vis the two 7NT hands – yes there was an element of luck in those two huge hands – but as is always the case, the match was decided largely on mistakes – and only a few brilliancies.

Bobby Wolff sent me a generous email today with lots of good advice and a perspective of having won and lost his share of more big ones than most players on the planet. One point struck a chord, as it pertains to momentum at the table. I quote:

“Breaking it down …………… …… At this stage one bad board (especially an unlucky one, but even worse when an outright mistake is made) too often costs about 30 IMPs before some players return to normal.

What usually happens is that judgment becomes skewed, not unlike blackjack, but certainly (I do understand poker, but I, as yet, do not play) poker would be a shining example.

During those times it is best to withdraw from making any big decisions such as close slam bidding or daring declarer or defensive plays in bridge, but then in poker, merely acquiesce if a big hand appears rather than depend on judgment gone south.

Much easier said than done and possibly missing a great opportunity will cause a resounding loss.”

Never a truer word was spoken. In both instances of the momentum shift at our table in the final 48 boards, things changed as a result of a relatively innocuous part score hand – in and of itself not a big deal – but all aspiring and serious partnerships MUST develop defense mechanisms to cope with this sort of inevitable adversity.

The winners were all seasoned, experienced international players who got the best of us – and most importantly (true for both teams actually) never gave up or rolled over when things went badly – they played through their adversity and are worthy champions of Canada.

This summary from the late stages of the match unfortunately only has the perspective of events at my own table – for sure there were lots of interesting goings on between the Gartaganis’ and Korbel-Wolpert, and I hope we get to read about much of it in the near future.

Momentum part one |   Momentum part two |   Momentum part three |   Momentum part four

Love that lead!

Board 29 of our 128 board final match in the Canadian bridge Championships, Judy Gartaganis was on lead against six diamonds, holding 10742  AQ75  10  9853. Keith Balcombe on her right had opened one diamond, Ross Taylor on her left responded one spade. Balcombe rebid 2 diamonds; Taylor splintered with four clubs. Balcombe bid RKCB, found out Taylor had two key cards, and placed the final contract in six diamonds. What would you lead?



Dealer: south

Vul: both

Judy G. Nick G.
10742 K9
AQ75 J10842
10 J7
9853 KQ72

Judy made the excellent lead of a small spade – rendering the contract impossible to make right from the get go. Balcombe ducked in dummy, and Nick won the king, and had to now make an accurate shift to a heart in order to beat the slam.

He got it right of course, and the pair picked up a well deserved twelve imp gain, versus the seventeen imps they would have lost had they not teamed up for this winning defense.

East will meet West in the final of this year’s CNTC

There are now two teams remaining in this year’s CNTC – it will be an East meets West confrontation. The Gartaganis team, perennial contenders and past winners (from Alberta), will play the Korbel team (from in and around the Toronto area).

The final match will consist of 128 boards over two days – and will be broadcast live on BBO.

Team Gartaganis – Nick and Judy Gartaganis; Gordon Campbell and Piotr Klimowicz

Team Korbel – Daniel Korbel, Darren Wolpert, Danny Miles, Keith Balcombe and Ross Taylor

Keith has actually played with (several times) and won this event with Team Gartaganis in the past; and together they went onto win the IOC Grand Prix in Salt Lake City and the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002.

In 2006, those five, plus Dave Colbert partnering Keith, made it to the round of 16 in the Rosenblum at Verona, before falling to Meckwell and company.

Should be a good tight match – but don’t expect any predictions from this particular blogger.

I will say if you want to see great talent and huge potential, check out Korbel and Wolpert when they are on BBO. (And they play fast too!)

Seems like everyone wants to make the New York Times

Last night in the Canadian Team Trials a classic situation arose where the opening leader against six spades had an eight card heart suit of AKQJ10954 and a side void, and just about everyone holding those cards in that situation made the opening lead of the heart 4! Results varied somewhat though.





Dealer: south

Vul: both

West East
106 8
AKQJ10954 832
void 87542
864 KJ95

In several matches, the result of +100 for EW was a push. Both tables bid up to 6 spades on a highly competitive auction; both wests led their 8th best heart, and partner won the heart eight; looked around for a while, and gave west a diamond ruff for down 1.

Some wests got creative in the bidding to optimize their chances of success. Michael Roche heard one spade on his right; four hearts by him; four spades from his LHO. East decided to lead direct and bid five clubs! South bid five diamonds, and Michael bid six diamonds ! When the opponents then bid six spades, all passed, and he ignored his partner John Rayner’s five club call and of course led the heart four for down 1.

In these situations, time stands still for a few seconds as you see the stiff seven in dummy and await third hand’s play with major league trepidation.

One player is still waiting, as his partner decided to give count (!) on the opening lead and carefully played the deuce of hearts under dummy’s seven. Clearly this hand is a resounding endorsement of upside down signals as this could never happen to such players, unless they chose to play a miserly heart three !

Another west decided to seek fame a different way by overcalling (psyching) two diamonds over south’s two club opening bid ! He maintains to this minute he had much going for him. And he did, except when the opponents bid up to six spades and his partner won the heart eight at trick one – he was completely confused by this play and must have decided declarer had suffered a brain cramp or something. So he shifted to a non diamond, and six spades came home!

In our match against the tough Thurston team, the hand was far less titillating. Keith bid four hearts over south’s one spade. East bid four spades; I bid five hearts; south bid six spades, and Keith took out insurance with a seven heart bid. This only went down two for -500 when the defense did not find their club ruff.

At the other table, south bid five spades over east’s five hearts, and played it there. Plus 680 resulted in a quiet five imp gain for our side.

I know I will hear more stories about this hand today, and I will post the more interesting ones later on. But in the meantime, the lesson for all you kids reading this is very simple – THIRD HAND HIGH !

The battle continues

Board 60, five boards to play, estimating they were still down 20 or more imps, he picked up AKJ109532  9  K42 6, in first chair, no one vulnerable. The Old Master opened the bidding one spade. His protégé overcalled two clubs, and partner bid three clubs – announcing a limit raise or better in spades.

East bid four clubs, and the Old Master placed a pass card on the baize!

Smelling an opportunity, his protégé bid five clubs, passed by north and the protégé’s partner. As the bidding tray came back to the Old Master, he felt the other players behind the screen rummage around as they prepared for his final pass and to play and defend five clubs. Not so fast boys!

The Old Master now bid a surprise five spades, and his protégé doubled – perhaps on principle, since his hand did not warrant this action. North passed as did east.

The wind up was almost complete. The Old Master pulled out his blue redouble card and toyed with it clearly for the benefit of his screen mate, his younger protégé.

At that moment, his protégé knew he was the victim of a bidding coup, and flushed perceptibly. The Old Master finally decided against the redouble – but the point had been made – big time!

The heart ace was led, and the contract was quickly made; the diamond suit being child’s play as the count on the hand was revealed on the run of the spades. The full layout was : 


West East
8 4
AK83 76542
5 Q876
AQJ8732 K104


Plus 650 – could be a five imp pick up. The Old Master was content. Had he indeed redoubled, plus 1000 would have yielded as many as 11 imps. But if his protégé had run to 6 clubs, the price would have been only 300. So a redouble rated to roughly break even. He felt the psychological benefits of his theatrics with the blue card had been sufficient.

The protégé strikes back

No time to rest on his laurels, the Old Master picked up a very healthy  A72  AQ652  K  KQJ8 opposite his partner’s opening bid of 1 diamond. Both red, his LHO the dealer.

He responded a quiet 1 heart. Partner rebid 1NT. The Old Master checked back with 2D, game forcing, and heard 2 hearts from partner. A 3 heart bid now established the trump suit and set the stage for slam exploration. Partner was not interested however, and signed off in 4 hearts.

The purist in him wanted to explore further with a delicate cue bid, but at this stage of the match, he knew his opposite number’s tendencies – he would simply bid key card blackwood so the Old Master decided to keep pace with the other table.

The response showed only 1 key card – the Old Master mentally shrugged and signed off in 5 hearts, as they were missing two key cards.

Out came a surprising red double card from his protégé (his screenmate), which was passed around back to the Old Master. This was not a favorable development. One minute he was marching towards a slam contract, and now he could envision fighting for his life in 5 hearts doubled, with, presumably, bad breaks abounding.

The Old Master therefore ran to 5NT, clearly a bid to be passed. 5NT undoubled became the final contract and his RHO led the spade 10. The Old Master laid down his still-pretty-powerful dummy to gasps from the kibitzers, but his protégé remained completely impassive, unfazed by the monster on the board.

The Old Master was actually quite pleased with the late stages of the auction. If indeed 5 hearts was slated to go down, his protégé had just offered up a clear chance to win imps on the board, since 5NT must surely have a reasonable play, and it was quite likely the opponents at the other table would get to at least 5 hearts.

But he needed to stretch his legs and his back muscles. Stiffness was setting in after so many days of inertia. The Old Master excused himself from the table, and made for a quiet area to limber up in solitude, and to prepare for the final stretch of hands. This was the layout his partner faced :

Dealer: east

Vul: both

Old Master  
West Protégé
10986543 J
K3 J94
863 J754
3 A10964

Note the audacity and brilliance of his protégé ‘s double! He knew north south were off two aces, and there was an excellent chance of defensive ruffs – maybe even a cross ruff, to beat five hearts doubled. (If his partner had held the spade ace instead of the heart king, he might have collected +800 or even +1100 from nowhere.)

Most in the audience felt the double of five hearts had backfired though, as 5 NT looked impregnable. But they could see all the hands, and declarer could not.

When the Old Master returned to the table, there was a definite murmur afoot, and partner was scoring up down 1. The Old Master would not dream of inquiring what had happened, but the sympathetic chatter around the table was clearly along the lines of   “all he had to do was play hearts and eleven tricks were cold – but how could he? …..Who would expect a 3-2 heart break with the king onside after that snap double of five hearts?”

Likely some form of phantom end play had resulted in the Old Master’s partner going down in his cold contract. It didn’t matter – time for the next hand.

The Old Master looked over at his protégé and caught a slight upturn at the corner of his lip, which he reciprocated with an appreciative nod. Thrust and parry – no one was rolling over at this table. Whatever imps the Old Master had picked up on the prior board had likely been lobbed back at his protégé ‘s team on this hand.

To be continued.

The Old Master

All in all, the Old Master could not complain. After all, his team had overcome the disadvantage of the 8th seed and marched through the early rounds of the Spingold without too much difficulty. But now, a few boards from the conclusion of one of the lowest scoring finals on record, matters were looking somewhat bleak.

By his reckoning, they were down 20 to 25 imps to his former protégé and his highly paid pro team. The sponsor was long gone from the match, and the final pairs were all of the highest calibre.

Much had changed since that fateful phone call a few years back. Yes, he was incredibly grateful for all the times and successes they had enjoyed at the table, but now he wanted to move in a different direction.

The replacement was fifteen years younger than the Old Master, and, it must be admitted, a highly skilled player. But it still rankled to realize that others had noticed the almost imperceptible differences in the Old Master’s game.

Truth is, staying focused over week long (or longer) high level tournaments was harder than ever. Sleep had mysteriously become elusive, and now, occasionally, to the Old Master’s utter shock, the occasional “cow flew by” his table, where before that would have been impossible.

Still, this week had been a tremendous success. He had fought back the years, and played with a purpose and focus he had not enjoyed for some time.

But the circle was not yet complete. Lose this match, and the naysayers would have their day.

He picked up his cards for board 58, and saw QJ K10963 A943 AQ. Both sides vulnerable, he began proceedings with an offshape 1NT opening. His partner placed the contract in 3NT, and the lead was the spade ten.




His protégé led the spade ten to East’s king, and the deuce of spades was returned. West paused for some time, and shifted to the diamond seven, and the Old Master took stock. The club finesse had to be working, but still, that left only seven top tricks. If the diamonds could yield four tricks, that would bring the tally to eight – and maybe he could work some magic from there.

Spades were clearly 4-4; and East would need either KJ10 or KJ10x of clubs. In addition, east must guard the hearts, and the diamonds must run. It didn’t look good – seemed like east required at least fourteen cards for a squeeze to operate.

Nevertheless, the Old Master won the king in dummy, as east played the ten. That was hopeful. Perhaps east had J10 doubleton of diamonds. That would have to be presumed for any chance of success.

Still, the count had not been rectified – his protégé being too smart for that. To help the process along, the Old Master played dummy’s last spade, pitching a heart from hand. West won the trick and again refused to cash the defense’s fourth trick. The question now was would he find the killing defense of a heart shift.

The Old Master had done his best to disguise his hand in the auction and play, but it seemed to him a heart from west now should be forthcoming. (A heart play wreaks havoc with communications between declarer and dummy)

However his protégé fell from grace and another diamond hit the table. When east’s jack hit the table under dummy’s queen, It was all over in ten seconds. The Old Master next finessed the club; and ran the diamonds. East was forced to part with his last spade – lest he yield the game going trick in clubs or hearts, and now and only now, the Old Master could play ace and another heart – giving up a heart trick to east who was isolated from his partner’s setting trick.

East saw it all coming, and accurately unblocked his QJ of hearts – but this just meant an overtrick. Plus 630, and a reasonable chance of a thirteen imp pick up.

The full layout had been :

West East
A1098 K432
842 QJ5
7652 J10
65 KJ10x

To be continued.

The view from Las Vegas

The following link is to some ramblings from my present trip to Vegas, with some poker and blackjack thrown in. But I suppose the blog is kosher, as it mentions Bobby and Judy Wolff, and also Fred Gitelman and Sheri Winestock – all of whom I met up with on this trip.

An interview with Fred Gitelman

Fred Gitelman, formerly of Toronto, now residing in Las Vegas, is one of the most famous personalities in the bridge world. He is the inventor and developer of BBO (Bridge Base Online ) the premier free website that broadcasts top bridge events from around the world.

John Carruthers, in his capacity as editor of Ontario’s excellent quarterly Kibitzer magazine for ACBL members, recently caught up with Fred, and pubished the following fascinating interview. Thank you to JC for sharing with all of us.

Sometimes the hand is faster than the eye

My long time friend and business mentor Tom Dawson shared a cute story with me recently. He got a chance to make a New York Times play on defense – electing to lead low from AKQxxx of his bid and raised suit on the opening lead. Of course, he was angling for a ruff. A funny thing happened on the way to down 1.

Tom wrote

“You are vul and you hold      1087    8752    void    AKQ862.

RHO opens 1S; you bid 3C; LHO bids 3D; partner chimes 4C and RHO bids 4D, you pass. The auction concluded with LHO bidding 4S & all pass.

This is clearly a chance to do what you read about from time to time, even though it is matchpoints. So you lead the club 2.”

The full layout was as follows:



Dealer: South

Vul: East West

Tom East
1087 42
8752 A1094
void 1083
AKQ862 10953



A moment’s anxiety (when dummy came down with a stiff club) dissipated quickly as Tom’s partner won the 9, and shifted intelligently to the diamond ten. Tom ruffed, and dutifully led back a heart. East won the heart ace, and completed the carnage with another diamond back for down 1, and a complete top.

Tom went on to write,

” Well done team! It was only when I reviewed the hand records that night I noted that partner in fact had 4 clubs to the 10 & declarer had Jx !!!

Isn’t it amazing that when you are ‘sure’ you’ll lose the trick, the actual play of the cards doesn’t register.”

Yes it is Tom, but I think this sort of thing happens more than people let on. In fact, when I first came back to the game two short years ago, I found myself in a three level partial with Qxx opposite dummy’s two small in the suit led at trick one.

As east “won the trick”, I followed low, and proudly executed a strip squeeze later in the hand to make my contract.

Only at the half way point of the match did someone come up to me and ask me where was the ace of diamonds on that hand. You see, East had played the jack from KJxx of the suit, finessing his partner, and my queen was slated to win the trick. My later heroics simply brought the result back to par!

I realized then my path back was going to be long and sometimes painful. Along the way I suffered indignities like false claims, bidding disasters, and occasional brain cramps on defense or card play – but my very first hand in many years was a play remarkably similar to Tom’s opponent’s.

By the way Tom – nice defense ! (kinda)

PS Tom and his wife Judy have a fantastic collection of playing cards and other card game memorabilia, dating back centuries in some cases. They wrote the definitive book on the subject some years ago. (The Hochman Encylopedia of American Playing Cards)

Here is a link to the book at Amazon’s website.