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|2001 CNTC A National Finals|
1. Judith Gartaganis, Gordon Campbell, Nicholas Gartaganis (Calgary, AB), Keith Balcombe (Oshawa, ON)
2. Paul Thurston (St. Catharines, ON), Rick Delogu (Waterloo, ON), Michael Roche (North York, ON), Gloria Silverman, Andy Altay (Toronto, ON), Ian McKinnon (Willowdale, ON)
3/4 Ronald Carrière, Greg Carroll, Dave Turner (Kirkland, QC), Zygmunt Marcinski (Westmount, QC)
3/4 Kamel Fergani, Jeff Blond (Montreal, QC), Jurek Czyzowicz (Aylrer, QC), Darren Wolpert (Toronto, ON), Douglas Fraser (Victoria, BC), Nicolas L'Ecuyer
2001 Flight A Canadian National Team Championship
Every year the Canadian Bridge Federation hosts a bridge week for its members to determine Canada’s national champions. The competition includes Open Pairs, Women’s Teams, Open Teams (Flight A Canadian National Team Championship [CNTC]) and for the first time, a Flight B CNTC event. This year Bridge Week was held in Montreal, Quebec.
Seventeen teams qualified to play in the Flight A CNTC. A complete round robin of thirteen-board matches was played over 3 1/2 days to determine four semifinalists. The World Bridge Federation 30 Victory Point (VP) scale was used with 25 VPs being the maximum a team could win and zero VPs, the minimum. Teams that tied each earned 15 VPs. The leaderboard was a bit deceptive, particularly in the latter stages of the competition, because teams were awarded zero VPs for their bye.
After seven rounds, the teams at the top of the leaderboard were Thurston (Paul Thurston, Rick Delogu, Gloria Silverman, Michael Roche, Andy Altay, Ian McKinnon), Gartaganis (Judith Gartaganis, Nicholas Gartaganis, Keith Balcombe, Gordon Campbell), Fourcaudot (Marc-André Fourcaudot, Jean-François Boucher, Larry Crevier, Tony Reus, Jeffrey Smith, John Zaluski) and Murray (Eric Murray, Allan Graves, Boris Baran, Drew Cannell, George Mittelman, John Carruthers).
After twelve rounds, Carrière (Ronald Carrière, Greg Carroll, Dave Turner, Zygmunt Marcinski) and Cafferata (Mike Cafferata, Dave Colbert, Eiji Kujirai, Andy Stark) had moved into contention with Fourcaudot not far behind.
On the last day Fergani (Kamel Fergani, Jeff Blond, Jurek Czyzowicz, Douglas Fraser, Nicolas L'Ecuyer) had a very good day and quickly rose in the standings while Thurston and Carrière continued to solidify their grasp on one of the qualifying spots. With one match to go, Thurston could enjoy their bye knowing they would be playing the next day. Carrière was in a comfortable position and Murray needed a miracle.
The final round robin standings were:
It appeared that Fourcaudot had missed qualifying by the slimmest of margins, but they had one last hope. An appeal by Fourcaudot of an earlier result had been deferred and a committee was quickly convened. After hearing the case, the appeals committee upheld the director’s ruling so the final standings remained unchanged.
Hands From The Round Robin
Murray suffered back-to-back 8 - 22 losses against Thurston and Gartaganis. In the Gartaganis-Murray match, Gartaganis reached 4 while their opponents rested in a partscore.
MacDonald led the 2 to East’s Ace. Willis returned the 10 which Judith Gartaganis won with the King. Declarer now led the 2 and inserted the 8 when West smoothly played the 4. Declarer played the Ace and King of diamonds (pitching the Q) and ran clubs. The defense was helpless and Gartaganis picked up +790 for a 10 IMP gain on the board. Even if West plays the Q at trick three and continues hearts to force the dummy, declarer can still prevail. Cash the Ace and King of diamonds and ruff a diamond (West is guaranteed to have at least three diamonds since he has no more than three clubs and three hearts). Declarer now reverts to clubs. Although West holds one more trump than either North or South he can do nothing to get an extra trick. The end position is:
Carrière, having finished first, chose Gartaganis as their opponent leaving Thurston to grapple with Fergani. The Thurston-Fergani match was close all the way. At the halfway mark of the 64-board semi-final, Thurston led 48 – 44. Thurston had a big third quarter to increase the lead to 30 IMPs (98 – 68). Fergani recouped some of that difference in the fourth quarter, but fell short. The final tally was 123 – 107 for Thurston, earning them a spot in the final.
In the Carrière-Gartaganis match, there were some unusual similarities. Both teams were four-person squads and all four pairs played a strong club system. The first swing occurred early. Interference over a strong club auction drove North-South into the inferior contract of 3NT.
Declarer won the opening heart lead with the Ace and played a low diamond to his King. When East discarded a spade it became a matter of holding the undertricks. Although 5 would involve the same diamond guess, +300 rated to be a fine result for Carrière. At the other table:
The auction began in a similar fashion, but Campbell applied more pressure by leaping to 4. North-South doubled and, after the K lead and a club switch, declarer cruised home with ten tricks. A surprise 7 IMP gain for Gartaganis. The first quarter ended with Gartaganis leading by 25 IMPs (35 – 10).
At one table Balcombe-Campbell arrived at 4S making eleven tricks. At the other table, North’s eccentric splinter bid did not stop Marcinski-Carrière from rocketing into the magic 6S. In fact, after the lead of the K, declarer made all thirteen tricks (pitching a heart on the Q and ruffing a heart). At the midpoint of the match Gartaganis led by 26 IMPs (66 - 40).
The third quarter saw 100 IMPs exchange hands as Gartaganis picked up another 24 IMPs to increase the lead to 50 IMPs (128 – 78).
The final quarter provided plenty of fireworks. A common theme in this match was the reluctance of the players to allow their opponents uninterrupted strong club auctions. Against Gartaganis, Carroll-Turner bid to 4 early in one auction, removing room to explore for a grand slam that was bid at the other table. A well-deserved gain of 11 IMPs. Marcinski won the quarter 48 - 38, but it was not enough. Gartaganis won the match 166 – 126. There were several potential swings in the last quarter. On the next hand, both tables reached 4.
Based on the auction, Campbell played for the heart length in the North hand. After leading the King he later finessed the 9. The strong hand declared the contract at the other table. With no interference bidding to guide him, Campbell’s counterpart led a heart to the Queen at trick two. Win 10 IMPs for Gartaganis. Had the hearts split 2-2 with the Jack in the South hand, Carrière would have gained 10 IMPs – a 20 IMP swing.
At the first table Balcombe-Campbell conceded (500 in 5 doubled. At the other table, Gartaganis bought the contract for 5 doubled. After ruffing the opening K lead, Nicholas Gartaganis led a spade, playing the King when East ducked. The favourable lie of the minor suits now allowed declarer to make eleven tricks (ruff a heart and lead a club; win any return; pull the outstanding trumps ending in the dummy and play a diamond to the Queen or 10). Even if East wins the A he still has a problem. There is a danger that the spade suit will provide five tricks if declarer holds a doubleton spade. One of East’s options is to continue spades to cut declarer off from the spade suit. If he does so, declarer can play the Jack to establish the suit (whether or not West covers) and therefore secure four diamond pitches (with the Q as the entry to dummy). If East subsequently tries to strand the spade suit by sacrificing his club trick (duck the K when trumps are led towards the Queen) declarer can change tactics by playing on diamonds, thereby losing only a diamond and a spade. The winning defense is to win the A and return a red suit. Declarer then has an inescapable loser in each minor. Had 5 been defeated Carrière would have won 12 IMPs instead of losing the 6 IMPs that –750 cost them.
The Thurston-Gartaganis final had some interesting features. This was the first final in which both teams had a female member. Only once before had a woman (Mary Paul in 1993) been on the winning CNTC team so either Judith Gartaganis or Gloria Silverman was about to join a rather exclusive club. The rarity of seeing women in the latter stages of the CNTC is attributable to the predilection of the World Bridge Federation to hold segregated events. This has convinced most women to participate in the Canadian Women’s Team Championship and has reinforced the false impression that women lack the ability to be competitive in open events.
For the first time ever, the Finals of the CNTC were broadcast as a live internet Vugraph on Bridge Base Online. Bridge Base is the brainchild of Fred Gitelman, who was on site handling the technical details and providing expert commentary during the broadcast. The broadcast also allowed other experts and viewers to comment as the match proceeded. From the reactions of spectators who followed the broadcast, it was an exciting and entertaining show. Both the Canadian Bridge Federation and Fred Gitelman deserve congratulations for the Vugraph’s success. One can only hope that future championships continue to feature this coverage.
Gartaganis struck early in the first quarter of the 72-board final.
Both tables reached 3NT with the lead of the 4. At one table Silverman chose to win the A and run clubs hoping for something good to happen in the end position. At the other table Campbell won the K and led the Q. He created the illusion that he was trying to establish his ninth trick (the defense could infer a running club suit) so McKinnon won the A and switched to hearts. A 10 IMP gain for Gartaganis. Three hands later Gartaganis reached 4 in an uninformative auction.
Roche led the A and switched to clubs hoping to establish a fourth defensive trick. When Judith Gartaganis won the Ace and led spades, Roche grabbed the Ace to continue clubs. Declarer ran home with eleven tricks. The same contract was defeated at the other table when Balcombe-Campbell adopted a less busy defense. A 13 IMP gain for Gartaganis. Thurston recouped 9 IMPs when Roche-Silverman doubled 2S for +500 following a weak NT opening where Gartaganis had no safe landing spot. The first quarter ended with Gartaganis leading by 11 IMPs (41 – 30).
The second quarter followed the same pattern. Gartaganis scored heavily on aggressively bid games, but lost a number of partscore swings. It ended with Gartaganis adding another 23 IMPs to lead by 34 IMPs (86 – 52).
In the third quarter Thurston began to whittle away the Gartaganis lead. On board 39 Roche-Silverman reached 3NT after the opponents opened 2. When both diamonds and spades behaved Thurston scored a game swing (Balcombe-Campbell rested in 3, just making). The third quarter ended with Thurston winning back 12 IMPs in a low scoring set (31 - 19).
As the last quarter began, the Gartaganis lead was down to 22 IMPs (115 – 83). The players were starting to suffer from fatigue and this made for a high scoring and wild ending to the finals.
Thurston drew first blood when Altay-McKinnon bid a spade slam which needed a 3-2 break in both majors. The bad news was the heart suit broke 4-1, but the good news was that McKinnon picked up the suit for no losers. Thurston won 11 IMPs cutting the deficit in half. Gartaganis won back 5 IMPs when Thurston was pushed one level too high in a partscore. Thurston immediately recouped that loss by bidding a thin game – win 7 IMPs. The Gartaganis lead was now only 9 IMPs. Gartaganis responded by bidding a notrump game at one table while their opponents rested in 3 at the other table. That translated to an 8 IMP gain when Campbell divined the 3-1 break in diamonds and located the Queen. The lead was back up to 17 IMPs. On the next board Thurston found a cheap save against a vulnerable game for a 10 IMP gain that sliced their opponents’ lead to 7 IMPs. Thurston picked up a net of 3 IMPs on the next few boards. Then Altay-McKinnon bid 6 which needed trumps to split 3-2 with the K onside. The King was offside (lose 10 IMPs) so the Gartaganis lead was back up to 14 IMPs.
On board 64 Thurston landed in the best spot of 5 while Gartaganis reached the non-making contract of 4.
Notice that in 5 the 7 in the dummy gives declarer two chances as long as the trumps are not 4-0. Win the diamond lead and play a club to the Queen. Pitch a diamond on the Ace and ruff a spade. Now play a heart. If North wins the trick and plays a trump, insert the 7. If it loses then trumps are breaking so a heart ruff provides the eleventh trick. If the 7 holds the trick, ruff another spade and pull the last trump ending in the dummy. Should South win the first heart trick then a trump return cannot hurt declarer. Thurston was now only 4 IMPs behind.
The next two boards were pushes. Board 67 gave both sides an opportunity.
Both South players chose to pass in first seat. At one table Thurston took a gamble by bidding 6 after his partner opened 1 and the opponents competed in spades. Unluckily the opponents had two cashing aces. Note that 5 fails even if South leads the Ace. In that case, South must continue hearts to break up the subsequent heart-diamond squeeze or endplay against North. At the other table Nicholas Gartaganis opened a weak 1NT and was raised to 3NT. McKinnon had to lead spades to push the board, but reasonably enough led the 3. The Gartaganis lead was back up to 14 IMPs.
On Board 68 the auctions followed a similar line with one important difference.
Judith Gartaganis doubled 3NT, chasing Altay into 4. That contract failed when Altay misguessed the diamond position. Thurston still gained 5 IMPs when 3NT quietly went down five tricks at the other table.
Gartaganis had a slim 9 IMP lead with four boards remaining. Board 69 was a push. On Board 70 both sides reached 3NT. Thurston defeated the contract at one table while Gartaganis slipped on defense at the other table: +12 IMPs for Thurston. Thurston had grabbed the lead for the first time. With two boards remaining, the commentators saw little potential for a swing and predicted that Thurston was destined to win.
The stage was set for the drama on Board 71.
Gartaganis reached the normal contract of 4 at the first table. McKinnon lead the K. Nicholas Gartaganis won the Ace and played a club from dummy. Altay won his K to return the Q. McKinnon won with the Ace and continued hearts. In dummy with the Q, Gartaganis tried to take a club pitch on the K. He was rudely surprised when Altay ruffed the King with the 8. Gartaganis overruffed and had to decide whether or not to play for all four spades in the South hand. Both the bidding (no double by Altay) and the lead of the K suggested that McKinnon had at least one spade and two clubs, so declarer cashed the As and cross-ruffed for ten tricks. Once he had cashed a high spade and both defenders followed, declarer was guaranteed ten tricks.
The last hand was anticlimactic. Both tables played in 1NT making with an overtrick. Gartaganis had won the CNTC (152 – 143) by a narrow margin after a seesaw fourth quarter battle with Thurston
Following a 17-year absence the CNTC trophy returned to Alberta. This was the second CNTC win for Nicholas Gartaganis (1982) and Gordon Campbell (1984) and the first for Keith Balcombe (a wanna-be Albertan living in Ontario) and Judith Gartaganis. Strangely enough, Keith and Gordon faced each other in the 1984 CNTC final and then, nearly 16 years later, established a successful long-distance partnership. Another interesting feature of this victory is the first-time win by a husband-wife partnership. Could this be a compelling reason for other spouses to add competitive bridge to their joint endeavours? Probably not, but stay tuned!