Thursday, October 05, 2006

Opening Salvo

I am starting this blog primarily to record the hands/details of Singapore youth team performance in the World Youth Championships 2006 in Bangkok so that these wonderful memories wouldn't be lost. I plan to do a match by match recount of what happened in our 'fairytale' run. It is meant to be an entertaining narrative, not that instructive as a bridge guide, feel free to comment!(Please excuse my grammatical errors though)

I pay tribute to my great teammates: Poon Hua, Kelvin, Liyu, Fabian and Alex. Everyone played an important role to our success, although we didnt win it, I believe we did ourselves proud and we tried our best. The most important thing is that we enjoyed the process. I did.. immensely!

For the record, I played in most of the matches, so no surprise most of it will be about how I remembered the hands, I'll try to include how and what my teammates did in the hands. However, no matter how much I say, nothing beats being at the venue, at the table... :-)

I have arranged the posts so that the reader can read from the first match onwards, there are a total of 20 posts, so please click on 'October 2006' in the 'Archives column on the right to reveal all of them if you cannot see them.

Happy reading!

For official results and terrific hand records, please refer to

First match - China HK

After reaching the venue early, we had to endure 2 long days before the real action started. Trust me on this, it is truly miserable suffering from the anticipation...

The format of the tournament is a complete round robin of the 18 teams involved, playing 20 boards against each opponent. The top 4 will qualify for the knockouts, so it is going to be a long fight.

First match on schedule was against old rivals, China HongKong. Well, they are fellow Zone 6 competitors, finishing 2nd in our zone championships and hell they are tough to play against. So, we all silently knew the first match is important as we need to get to a good start.

Finally I picked up my first hand of my first ever World Championships., praying for a mundane hand but it was not to be so:

A 5
8 7 6 5 3
Q 8 7
Q T 9

RHO pass you pass, LHO opens 4S (upon enquiry, they play NAMYATS) now pard comes in with 5H. What do you do?

There is no 'correct' solution to this sort of problem, just what you feel at the table. Well, I took my time to think.. then decided I had not come so far to pass
:-) I raised to 6H.

For those who thinks it is a clear raise, you may want to note that USA 1 and France players passed in the exact situation and only 4 out of 18 tables bidded slam. So I will put this down to luck than good judgement :)

Well partner had a truly great hand: xx AKQJT9x A AJxx club K was onside so no problems in the play 13 tricks.

At the other table, my teammate Liyu opened 1S instead of 4S. It worked well as the opponents lost their way and subsided in 5H. 10 imps to us.

Good start you think? wait till you see the next:

You pick up another mundane hand:


Partner opens 1S and the bidding quickly escalates:

1S (3S) Pass (3NT)
4C (4D) ?

Hmm.. what is happening, RHO seems to have a 'good' D suit, I reached for the dbl but something told me to hold on a moment. this is clearly a freaky hand, if partner has a good hand, he may well dbl. if he has a greatly distributional hand, I wont mind playing in 4S too. So I finally decided to (trap)pass 4D (not a popular decision, I know). It worked beyond my wildest dreams:

1S (3S) Pass (3NT)
4C (4D) Pass? (4NT)!!
X Pass Pass Pass

the other hands:

_____________ ♠ 3
_____________ ♥ 6
_____________ ♦ A K 9 8 6 4 3 2
_____________ ♣ A 9 2

♠ A K J 8 4
♥ A K 5
♦ -
♣ K J 7 6 4
_____________ ♠ Q 9 7 2
_____________ ♥ T 9 8 3 2
_____________ ♦ 7
_____________ ♣ Q T 8

the play was quick and brutal and it suffices to say declarer only scored AK D and A C. 4NTx-7 +2000 to the good guys! If this is not luck, what is?

That was the way it went.. basically we didnt do much but just waited. Our teammates did their part, bidding aggressively and reached par on most deals. They were lucky too:

♠ 8 7
♥ A K 8 7 5
♦ A K
♣ A K 7 2

♠ A K Q 9
♥ 6
♦ J 9 6 5
♣ Q 6 4 3

On paper, the contract you want to be in is 6C. Our opponents did reached 6C. My teammates reached 7C and with clubs 3-2 and H 4-3, it was tougher to bid than to make. (there are also extra chances if H are not 4-3)

so another lucky 13 imps.

It was generally a 'swingy' set of boards, but we were prepared for it and made good use of our luck.

There were a few adverse swings too, but not from any glaring errors, just wrong takes of the situation.

At the end of the battle (The way things are swinging, you can really feel the firepowder in the air), we came out 85-36 in imps (25-5 in VPs). So great start!

Could we keep it up? Up next are Brazil... Second in the South American Youth Championships, losing to Chile by a solitary imp. So, they are clearly no pushovers, we can only hope to play our best.. it is clearly the beginning of a long long battle.

Match 2- Brazil

After a quick lunch, we resumed battle with the same lineup of my pair (Loo/Poon) and Kelvin/Liyu. A note about the food and accommodation. It is absolutely splendid. The room is very spacious and comfortable, almost suite style. All meals are provided and there is a good variety although it did seem to be repetitive towards the end but which menu wont bore after 10 days? I understand we paid quite a bit for all this but it is truly luxurious and makes life a dream, good bridge good rest and good food. :)

Ok, we sat down against Brazil confident after our last win but under no illusion that we will get another rout. And so it proved...

We got off to a good start again, with

♠ 8 7 3 2
♥ Q
♦ A K 8 6 3 2
♣ T 7

all non-vul, what do you open after 2 passes? A routine 3D?

Somehow, I felt that the hand had too many drawbacks, a 4 card Major plus bad spots. I once read that AKxxxx is a worse suit than KQJxxx for preempting, well, I agree with that analysis, so I passed and opps proceeded to a bid a normal 3NT going one off.

Though I didnt know it at that time, at the other table, my hand opened 3D dbled and passed out for -500. In the youth series, this result occured 6 times. As Michael Rosenberg says, sometimes it is right not to preempt.

At imps,players tend to bid vulnerable games, looking for that attractive bonus. The otherside of the coin is that when things get ugly you go down for a big number. A couple boards later, I held my usual:

♠ 3
♥ K J 9
♦ K 9 8
♣ 8 7 5 4 3 2

NV against Vul,
partner open 1C(2+) RHO dbls, I had a gadget in my bag, namely 2H to show a mixed raise. Now LHO blast to 4S passed to me, any move?

Your Kings are probably upgraded in terms of value, so you do have fair defensive values. However, 5C could be very cheap depending on the level of fit. Should you bid or not? I finally decided to 'consult' my partner with a dbl, hoping he would know what I am looking for. The dbl was passed out and we collected 500. other 3 hands:

------------♠ J T 8 2
------------♥ A 7 5 3
------------♦ Q 7
------------♣ A J T

♠ A K 6 5 4 --------♠ Q 9 7
♥ T 2---------------♥ Q 8 6 4
♦ J T 5 4-----------♦ A 6 3 2
♣ Q 6---------------♣ K 9

both opponents were pushy and we caught them.

We gave it back the next board when we were the ones overbidding

Vul against not, I held:

♠ K Q 3
♥ A T 9 8
♦ 5 4 2
♣ A K 9

LHO opened 1D pass pass, i dbled (1NT would be weaker and i didnt mind with all of values outside). partner respond 1H, what's your bid? well, in retrospect i suppose 2H is the right bid, at the table, the vulnerablility enticed me to stretched to 3H. partner suggested 3NT which I was more than happy to play in. That was swiftly dispatched for 3down, mercifully undbled :) Partner's hand:

♠ A J 7
♥ J 6 5 4
♦ J T 9 3
♣ 8 6

opps at other table stopped in 2H making so we lost 9 imps :(

Compared to the last match, this set of boards were much tamer with swings far and few in between. We lost another big swing when our teammates let through a game due to a defensive signal misunderstanding.

Then came what was probably the first play problem of the tournament.

♠ 3 2
♥ K 3 2
♦ J 8 3
♣ A K Q T 3

♠ K T 9 8 6 4
♥ A 5
♦ K 7 5
♣ 5 2

After RHO opened 1NT(15-17), you managed to overcome it and reached the very thin 4S.

After T of H lead (0/1 higher) which you win in dummy and lead a S, RHO quickly follows with the 7, your play?

your aim is to prevent 3 trumps losers since you probably can pitch a D loser on the club after you draw trumps.

now, the danger of playing the T is that if West gets in with a secondary honour and switches to a D you probably will need to rely on a 3-3 club break. After some thought, I decide to cater for all 3-2 breaks + 4-1 breaks with a sgl honour and play the K on this trick.

Wrong! RHO held:
♠ A Q J 7
♥ J 6
♦ A Q T 4
♣ J 9 6

arghh.. one off. at the other table my teammates sacrificed 4H after opps had reached the cold 3NT (clubs are 3-3) -500 for 11 imps away. Till now, I believe my play was right but still, it was not successful.

Towards the end, the match was fairly close and we got lucky on the following hand:
♠ Q J 8 4 3
♥ A K
♦ A J 7 6
♣ A 8

♠ A 9
♥ 8 7 5 2
♦ 5 3 2
♣ K Q 4 3

On my side, we reached the normal 3NT making with an overtrick. The real action was at the other table when they reached 4S duly defeated when S are 5-1. So, we picked up another 13 imps.

That last hand was the difference in the match when we came out 60-46 in imps (18-12 in VPs). This win could have been bigger especially since I misplayed that 4S and needlessly overbidded on some hands. But still, we were pretty happy with the proceedings, we managed to survive 2 potentially dangerous teams. We had to play another match before dinner and next match was Jordan. Judging from the early proceedings , it is fair to say we have fair hopes of securing another good win. Could we continue our winning streak?

Match 3 - Jordan

For our last match of the day, we are playing against Jordan, relative unknowns in the tournaments. For this match, we fielded our third pair, Fabian and Alex.

Our team is based mainly on 2 pairs with the third pair coming in to allow us to rest and recharge when needed. In such a long tournament, it is qt important to have a third pair. Even for the PABF championships before this, my pair and Kelvin/Liyu have played the majority of the matches.

In Sabine Auken's book, she talked about the elements of a team. In a successful team, it is important for everyone to know their roles and tasks. In this respect, I must emphasize that Alex/Fabian were great in the sense that they knew they wont be playing so much, yet they were ever ready to come on when needed. Whenever they played, they try their best and really played well in both PABF and WYC. Without them, we wont be anywhere close to what we have accomplished.

For that match against Jordan, our 3rd pair performed impeccably. there were 9 dbl-digit swings, 7 in our favour and the remaining 2 came from some bad bridge from our side. So there were no doubts that they did their part.

One of the adverse swing came from my foolishness:

♠ A K Q T 5 4 2
♥ A K 7
♦ K
♣ T 3

Vul against not, partner opened 3C, you force with 3S and to your surprise pd raised to 4S. Do you continue? Well, as you should have noticed by now, in close slam decisions like this, I prefer to bid on.. 4NT RKC.. oops, 5C:no ace , 5S and pd put down a disappointing:

♠ 9 8
♥ 8 6 2
♦ 2
♣ K Q J 9 7 6 5

It was as unhelpful a hand as it can get. On a heart lead, I had one loser too many. There are a number of ways, including running trumps or leading D to create an illusion. it is fair to say I chose a wrong line, namely to lead the T C at trick 2. Opps did well to read the position correctly, took the ace and gave his pd a ruff. The opps at other table stopped in 4, so 13 imps away.

As mentioned in the bulletin the next day, I suppose it is right to pass 4S as pd could/should cuebid if he has the hand that can make 6S. It was until dinner-time discussion that I realise another mistake. 5C is cold, I should have passed my pd's 5C response. I just bidded 5S too hastily and didnt give other bids any thought. This would be a common problem which will prove to be critical later on in the tournament.

luckily for us, this error wasnt too costly as we continue to do good things on both tables to run out winners 92-23 in imps (25-2 in VPs)

so 68VPs on the first day gave us joint first with Israel, not bad a start for a country playing in it's first ever world youth.

Match 4 - Japan

Our first opponents on the second day of the competition is Japan, another fellow Zone 6 competitor. Japan was the runaway winners in PABF 2005, furthermore, our 2 matches against them in PABF 2006 have been very very close. Thus, there is no chance we will take this match easy.

Many people have asked about the qualifying system for World Youth Championships in Zone 6. Well, it is similar to that in Europe, the top 3 teams in PABF Youth 2006 will represent Zone 6 in WYC. Singapore earned its first ever appearance in WYC in convincing fashion. It won all 16 matches in the round robin on the trot to finish clear leaders and took it's first ever win in PABF Youth 2006 also held in Bangkok early June. China HK and Japan took the other 2 spots.

My favourite match in PABF 2006 was that against Japan. After 12 boards, we won 9-6 in imps, losing one partscore swing and earning 9 purely on overtricks and undertricks. That should show how close the match was.

Well, for spectators following the results online, our match against Japan didn't look like it was going to be a close thing. After a partscore swing, Japan drew first blood by some excellent bidding:

♠ J 8
♥ Q 2
♦ A J T 8
♣ A Q J T 5

♠ A Q 9 7
♥ A 9 6 4
♦ K 6
♣ K 6 4

The pair at our table bidded efficiently to the thin slam which was missed at the other table. With both major kings favourably placed, there was no problems in the play. 12 imps out.

We lost another partscore swing owing to system difference before the next big swing came:

♠ K 9 8 5 2
♥ K 4 3
♦ A 9 8 2
♣ 5

♠ Q 3
♥ Q 8 6 5
♦ K Q 6
♣ A J 8 4

Both tables stretched to the thin(bad?) 3NT. Our side had no chance to make after opps made no mistake in the defence and S didnt break favourably. At the other table, an unfortunate lead and a slip in the defence let the game through. Another 10 imps.

Things got worse the next board when our teammates had a bidding misunderstanding to land in the wrong game. Another 11 imps away. At the midway point of the match, we were trailing 3- 46 in imps, it surely didnt look good for us.

Luckily, we came back with 2 big swings in the second half.

♠ Q J 7 4
♥ K Q 9
♦ 2
♣ J T 7 4 3

♠ 9 6 2
♥ A 4
♦ Q J 8 3
♣ A K 8 6

At our table, we reached 3NT which presented no problems when clubs came in. Atthe other table, opps lost their way after Kelvin opened a semi-psychic 1H in third seat and was allowed to play in 2H-2. 9 imps for us.

The next board could have gone either way:

♠ T 9
♥ A K Q J 8 5 3
♦ K 5
♣ A 6

♠ Q 7 5 4
♥ 6 4
♦ A Q 8
♣ Q T 9 8

The other table settled peacefully in 4H. At out table, after some terrible overbidding by me, we reached 6H by South. On most days it would have no chance. But when our opponent led away from the K C on the opening led, my partner quickly wrap up the slam. A lucky 13 imps.

Credit to our opps for not losing their focus after this board as they proceeded to play steadily and push the remaining 5 boards of the match. Eventually, the score was 51 - 31 imps (19-11 VP) to Japan. It didnt feel good to lose but still we managed to contain the damage and we remained in second place after the match. It was a long tournament and we knew we had to refocus to play Hungary after lunch.

Match 5 - Hungary

For the 5th match of the round-robin, my pair was scheduled to take a rest. However, owing to the developments of the last match, our NPC decided to field us together with Alex/Fabian for the match. In retrospect, this could be the only bad tactical move for our team in the tournament.

One of the things a bridge player learns is to leave the table at an opportune moment and take a break when things are not going his way. The idea is that when you are in a rough patch, you should go for a walk, get a drink, whatever, just leave the table for a while. It is to give yourself a chance to regain composure and enable you to concentrate on the next board the way you should: a fresh new board.

Those who had been my teammates will know I strongly believe and preach about this to everyone. However, there is a natural tendency for players to stay and remain at the table. It is somewhat bad for their ego to admit they are not playing well, that theyy are good enough to ride through the storm and get back at their opps at every slight little chance. Usually what happens is that their scores will just get worse. It is surprising what a little walk to get a drink can do. For me, my concentration level and consequently my results will inevitably improve.

Well, in our match against Hungary, our results certainly had a lot of room for improvement. The set of boards is one of those where the majority are 'flattish' with only a few chances for swings. In such sessions, if you want to get a big win, you certainly hope to take every chance you get.

The match started well for our team when we had a slam swing on the first board:

♠ A Q 9 7 5 4 3
♥ 8
♦ 9
♣ A K J 5

♠ T 2
♥ A K T 5
♦ A Q T 8
♣ 4 3 2

With South dealer, our opps at our table stopped in game while our pair at the other table pushed to slam. On a D lead through the AQ, the right play would be to take the club finesse immediately. Once that holds, you can afford to take the safety play in trumps. Otherwise, you would be forced to try to play trumps for no loser. With all the key honours onside, it wasnt tough to gather 12 tricks. 11 imps to us.

after a few flat boards, Hungary managed to get all of those imps and more back in 2 boards. First a partscore swing, then:

♠ T 7 3
♥ A K Q 2
♦ 5
♣ A J T 7 3

♠ Q J 5
♥ J 7 6 4
♦ T 6
♣ K 9 6 5

Our opps reached the cold game via a mini-splinter and through less than ideal defence, they made the contract easily. When our teammates not unreasonably stopped in 3H, 12 imps out.

After 10 more boards of seemingly no action (the actual score for that 10 bds is 10-2 imps in our favour), we finally had a chance to score another swing:

♠ 8 7 6
♥ Q 6
♦ A K 9
♣ Q T 9 8 4

♠ K Q 5
♥ A T 9 7 5 4
♦ Q 2
♣ J 6

After East opened 1S, you end up in 3NT, after the T of S lead (ducked to your Q), you note that you did well to avoid the doomed heart game. Now, how do you get your 9 tricks here?

Since it is too slow to go after the clubs, the key was to get 5 heart tricks. How do you handle the H suit?

After a brief thought, with the K of H more likely on the right, I decided to run the 9 of H from hand and later enter dummy to lead the Q to finesse against East's K.

Bad move, East's hand:
♠ A J 4 3 2
♥ J
♦ 6 4 3
♣ A K 7 3

When West hesitated on the 9 of H, I read the position correctly and rose with the Q of H but it was too late then, i switched to clubs and got out for 1 down, -100. This coupled with the fact that the Hungarian pair stop in 2H with our cards meant we lost 'only' 6 imps.

It didnt take me too long to realise that the correct play would have been to enter dummy with a top D at trick 2 and lead the Q of H immediately. This would have the advantage catering for the actual layout. Shucks, you can imagine how bad I felt then.

Well, as we were ahead of time (I did mention the boards were easy?), I immediately asked to be excused and went for a break. As fate would have it, I was back in the hot seat the next board:

♠ Q 7 4 3
♥ A 5 2
♦ A J 7 5
♣ Q 4

♠ A T
♥ Q 8
♦ K Q T 4
♣ K 9 7 6 3

After a short uninterrupted auction, we end up in 3NT on the 4 of H lead, ducked to East's K. the J of H return was captured by my Q as West followed with the 3. Plan the play.

Unless a miracle happens in clubs, if West have the 2 black honours, we are screwed. Hence, it is vital to knock out West's entry first. After a full 5 mins thought (part of it is spent trying to forget the 'disaster' the board before), I proceeded with what I thought was the best line. I overtook the D T with the J and led a small club from dummy. This will let you make the contract almost whenever East have the Ace Club (you switch to S after K hold) and if West has the ace and clears H, you probably have to work out an endplay on East.

As it was, the trick went: T, K and West takes the Ace. Now West goes into a trance(confirming your thoughts that he does not have S K) and switched to a S , you play low and East produced the J, you take and lead the T which East takes and plays another S, forcing out your Q. With the contract assured, do you see anything else to do?

Well, there is a chance for something interesting, I cashed the D King (unblocking the 7) and seeing both opps follow, I overtake the Q of D with the Ace and cash my H and club winner. When I led the 5 of D at trick 12, the situation was:

♠ 7
♥ -
♦ 5
♣ -

------------♠ 8
------------♥ -
------------♦ -
------------♣ J

♠ -
♥ -
♦ ?
♣ 9

Which winner do East keep? Do you remember which spot you have in your hand? Well, the Hungarian East 'remembered' wrongly and kept the wrong one. One of the good thing about a high level tournament is that everyone understands what is was going on and your opps is able to laugh it off and congratulate you on a hard-earned 1 imp.

Well, we won the battle but lost the war. The final result was 22-31 imps (13-17 VP) loss for Singapore and I was left to rue my misplay. As mentioned, this was a very low scoring set in most of the matches. For once, no team was able to score a 25 in this set.

2 losses in a row. Although they are small, it was not a good sign. Coupled with the fact we are about to play the leaders then, Israel, it doesn't look promising...

Match 6 - Israel

Despite the 2 small losses, we managed to stay in third spot with 92 VPs behind Poland with 96 and Israel with 106. After the initial matches, many people were surprised that we are staying near the top of the leaderboard. The vugraph commentators were understandably skeptical about our real abilities as the teams that we faced in the first day were all placed in the bottom half of the field.

Thus, to many respects, the match against Israel is very critcal. Israel youth team is very impressive and boast the likes of Eldad Ginossar , part of the thrid place team in the recent Rosemblum Cup in Verona and Yuval Yener, champion of World Junior Pairs in 2003. The Israeli schools team were even more dominating. In the knockout stages of the event, they forced their semis and final opponents into withdrawing by taking an unbeatable lead into the last segment. One can only admire the supplyline of talent emerging.

Kelvin/Liyu were back in the playing lineup together with my pair and we all entered the match, knowing this is the one that would determine whether we are pretenders or contenders. As we came to the table to get ready for battle, my partner soon found out his screenmate would be Ginossar. The way we started, it certainly looked like the critics were proven right.

On board one, I held:

♠ 8 7 6
♥ A T
♦ Q 9 8 7 3
♣ 9 5 4

my partner opened 1NT (14-17) and after 2 passes, my LHO balanced with a X: showing a single suiter.

Partner removed to 2C showing 5+ clubs passed to LHO who showed his suit with 2H. After 2 passes, do you bid?

Well, perhaps wrongly, I was there with 3C. LHO continued with 3D and was raised to 4H. I doubled smartly only to find the contract cannot be defeated:

♠ K 9 4 -------------♠ A Q T 2
♥ K 9 8 7 6 4 -------♥ Q J 5
♦ K J 5 4 -----------♦ T 2
♣ void --------------♣J T 3 2

When our teammates stopped in 2H, it meant the damage was 10 imps.

Next board:

Vul against not, you deal and held:

♠ K J T 8 7 6 4
♥ 9 6 2
♦ 7 5 2
♣ -

What do you open?

Again I felt the hand was unsuitable for a first hand unfavourable preempt. Thus, I decided to pass and the bidding proceeded:

Pass (1NT) Pass (Pass)
2S (3C) X (Pass)
3S (Pass) Pass! (Pass)

When a club was led and partner put down:
♠ A 9 3
♥ K 8 5 4
♦ Q T 3
♣ A K 6

I wasn't happy. Although game is not cold (indeed with the J D offside, it can be defeated) , I feel partner owed me a raise to 4S.

I proceeded to take 10 tricks. Another game swing? That's the way it felt but my teammates took the insurance in 5Cx for -300 to reduce the damage to 4 imps.

On the next board:

♠ A Q 9 6 3
♥ K 9 7
♦ 8 4
♣ K 8 4

I opened 1S, heard a 2C overcall and partner jumped to 3D. In our system this showed an intermediate hand with 5+ D. I saw nothing to do and passed it out. When Gino led a S, I sensed something was wrong and so it was. We just had our first (and thankfully, only) systemic misunderstanding for the tournament. Partner remembered it as a fit jump and held:

♠ K J 7 4
♥ 8 5
♦ K J T 7 2
♣ Q 7

3D drifted one off and with everything on my left, 4S is cold! (Luckily, the opps misplayed it and went down)

I was bemused. Not only do we have to cope with tough opps, we are even shooting ourselves in the foot. 3 boards and it seemed like 30 imps away against world class opponents. It does seem like an impossible task. Are we really here to make up the numbers? It certainly looked that way. In my opinion, what I did next was the critcal point for the tournament. It was also the best lesson I took away from the whole WYC.

I has always been the one recording scores for my side. Up till then, I had always placed my scoresheet in front of me. I've always felt that with the scoresheet available, the state of the match would be clear and I would know what adjustments to make to my game.

Frustrated with the proceedings, I chucked my scoresheet under the table. I thought: To hell with the scores, I'm not going to be humiliated, even if we do lose, I'll try to put up my best fight and concentrate on every card/bid. Thanks to the Bridgemates(more on that later), this could be done and I didn't record any scores until the end of the match.

Well, as it was, we regained a bit of luck:
♠ J 8 5 4
♥ A T 8 5
♦ K T 9 2
♣ 3

♠ A K T 9 6
♥ K 3
♦ J 3
♣ 9 7 6 4

I held the South hand and heard Gino (East) open 1H, I overcalled 1S, West bidded 2D (forcing) and partner judged very well to bid game directly. Gino dbled and that ended the proceeding.

On a trump lead, I could see our hands fitted perfectly and proceeded to take an easy 11 tricks (trumps were 2-2) +990. Our opps stopped in 3S so we got 13 imps back.

Immediately on the next board, I have to make another difficult decision:

♠ 5 2
♥ K 8 4
♦ K 4 2
♣ A K T 5 2

After Gino (RHO) opened the bidding, it went:

1NT 2C
2D 3H (5S+4H)

ace of club lead was obvious and I saw the dummy:

♠ A J 9 7 4
♥ Q J 9 3
♦ Q T 9
♣ 4

What next?

Given the strong dummy, you do not expect pd to help much. What is important is that your tricks do not get away. At the table I switched to a D, the obvious choice between the red suits on the bidding.

When partner turned up with:

♠ Q T 6
♥ T 6 5
♦ 6 5
♣ J 9 7 6 3

We took a trick in each suit and defeated 4S. At the other table, the defender in my seat elected to continue with a small club and when in with the D K, another club. That was fatal and Kelvin swiftly discarded all his H losers for 10 tricks. another 13 imps in.

Well, that kick-started an avalanche when we tried to play as well as we could and opponents were unlucky in some cases and took some wrong views. After it ended, Poon Hua and me were confident it was not a thrashing. I scrambled to enter all the scores into my ditched scoresheet. It turned out our teammates had a terrific set after the sluggish start and got everything absolutely right. In any event, after the first 3 boards, Israel scored only on 1 board, 4 imps.. while we scored 83 imps!

The final score was 83 -19 in imps (25 - 3 in VPs). We were greeted with smiles and praises from our third pair who were not playing and our NPCs when we came out. Suddenly, we are back in the running and was second on the leaderboard, just behind Poland.

Exhausted after the long day, we couldnt wait to finish dinner and rest. It feels doubly sweet to overcome such a bad start. Sometimes, we just try our best and leave it to fate to see how things turn out. Hopefully, we'll continue this good streak the next day when we play Thailand, Egypt and Norway, the last match to be on vugraph...

Match 7 - Thailand

My pair sat out for the first time for this match. Judging from the fixtures of matches, it did look like the best opportunity for us to take a rest. However, we soon found out that being a spectator is tough, especially when your team is not exactly cruising to victory.

I must congratulate the committee for WYC. It was a very well-organised event, especially in terms of technical matters. 'Bridgemates' have been implemented at several major events in recent years, however WYC was the first time I have used them. In short, Bridgemates are small portable 'terminals' that are linked to a centralised system. Thus, after every board, the players would key in the result and the system will have updated scores for every match. After match, there was no hassle to check and sign the scores, we just had to make sure the scores are right and contact the directors when there is discrepencies.

Another awesome aspect of the technical setup is the vugraph presentation. Apart from the official vugraph 'show', there was a live-time updated scoreboard beside it. As a direct consequence of the bridgemates, spectators can see running scores of any match. In fact, sometimes, the running scores are more interesting than the vugraph itself :-)

Well, the way our teammates started the match, sitting in the vugraph room looking at the running scores is like watching a horror movie, none of us (me , Poon and our NPC) can stand it and left the room midway when the score was 12-45. It worked like a charm, our teammates soon recovered most of the imps lost.

It is somewhat tougher to comment on the hands when I am not personally playing, so here are some highlights as far as I can see.

NV against Vul, you hold:

♠ J T 8 7 3
♥ K 7 6
♦ 8 7
♣ T 8 2

Partner opened 1S, RHO comes in with 2NT showing both minors, std unusual. Your bid?

For our side, Alex chose to bid 4S, a perfectly reasonable bid that didn't work very well, opps chose to dbl and it went for 800. Still, it dint look that bad as opps were cold for 5D.

Well, only 2 pairs missed 5D and very unfortunately one of the was our teammates. The Thai junior chose to pass with the above hand! It worked miraculously when their opps simply showed a preference and didnt have the information to realise they had extra values and no wasted values in S. 12 imps away.

None Vul, you hold:
♠ 6 4
♥ 8
♦ A K J T 6 3
♣ A K T 6

You open 1D, partner responded 1S when the pesky RHO came in with 3H, what is your bid?

Preempts work, it is tough to get all these decisions right. As it was either 3NT or 5D will make, just a matter of how to get there. When the player for our side chose a very conservative pass, we are heading for a minus score. At the other table, opps got to 3NT, zealously dbled, making on the nose, that meant 11 imps away.

♠ K T 9 3
♥ 9 8 5 2
♦ T 7
♣ Q 9 8

♠ A J 2
♥ A 7 3
♦ K Q J 8
♣ A 6 2

What would you have reached on the cards above? Well, in typical youth style, both tables reached 3NT. Luckily for us, our side made while the Thai went down. So we managed to get another 10 imps back.

We got another big swing through some good bidding:

♠ A 4
♥ J 8 6 3 2
♦ A K J 5
♣ T 7

♠ K Q 9 7 3 2
♥ Q
♦ Q 9 6 3
♣ A Q

Our teammates reached 6S while the other side stopped in 5D, with everything behaving, there wasn't much trouble making 12 tricks in either denomination.

And so the match ended close with a small loss for us: 44-48 imps, 14-16 VPs. It was undeniably a disappointing result and it also marked the end of the 'easy' matches, although we still managed to stay in second place, it was obvious that we had our work cut out for us, we do need to play better if we are to stay with the qualifying pack.

Match 8 - Egypt

Up to now, I have not mentioned much about my partner, Poon Hua. Well, the Poon-Loo partnership have been playing together for 4 years. Our first debut was PABF Youth in 2003 Manila in which we got second place in the Teams event and qualified for the finals of the pairs which remained my most memorable pairs event.

4 years down, we have won many local titles, though mostly pairs events until this year when we won most of the team titles playing in our current squad. Systemwise, we have gone through many transitions, trying out everything from pure vanilla 2/1 to Power relay system to a forcing club before coming back to a very complex 2/1 derived primarily from the Italians.

The primary reason for our success is that we have developed a good understanding of each other style's and I feel the key factor is that we are playing at a similar level. Thus, we can play what we judged best without much worries that our partner will be too confused. In addition, we both respect each other abilities that we almost never get into a arguement at the table. If you think partner has made a mistake, you better put it aside and think again after the match cos, chances are you missed a valid point of consideration.

Poon Hua's strongest point is undoubtedly his excellent card reading and almost flawless technique in card play. Whenever he declares, I can leave the table in peace, knowing that if the contract can reasonably be made, odds-on he will make it. This added to the great amount of work he put in by reading and practicing makes him one the best players in Singapore right now.

Well, in our match against Egypt, he played the first hand and it seemed like we got off to a great start:

♠ A K J 6 5 4
♥ K 9 8
♦ T 9
♣ J 9

♠ Q
♥ A 4 3
♦ K 8 6 5 4
♣ K 5 3 2

South dealt and the bidding went:


I (North) had a difficult bid on the second and third round of bidding but still managed to get it right by landing in 3NT.

West led the 7 of C, your play?

Poon got the first trick right when he when up with the J as East drops the T. It looked like smooth sailing until West discarded a club when he crossed to the Q of S at trick 2. What now?

Poon Hua considered his play for a while before emerging with a small D from hand, West went in with the J and switched to a H. He carefully took with dummy's K, cashed exactly 2 more S winners, and continued with a D towards his hand, East followed small smoothly but he unhesitantly went up with the K and led another round of D to East's bare ace. Winning the H return in his hand, he made his contract with 3S, 3D, 2H and 1 C. We cannot ask for a better start!

In the entire field, only one other declarer made 3NT, all the rest ending up with 5,6,7,8 tricks. Well, as you might guessed, the other declarer that made it was an Egyptian after some less-than-ideal defence from our teammates. He made 10 tricks even. 1 imp away for us :)

We managed to get the better of small partscores until this hand came up:

♠ K Q T 6
♥ 3
♦ K J T 9 8
♣ 6 4 2

------------♠ J 8 4
------------♥ A Q J 8 7 6
------------♦ -
------------♣ A K T 3

You hold the East's hand. After South opens 1NT (14-16), you came in with 2H over stayman but they still ended up in 3NT. Your partner obediently led the T of H. You take the ace and cashed the Ace club at trick 2, partner encouraged. Your next card?

Well, do partner have Jxxx or Qxx, at both tables, the defence got it wrong by guessing partner has Qxx and continued with a small club. West had Jxxx C and nothing else, so declarer ran away with his contract for yet another push board. Should West wrong in encouraging with Jxxx ? This is not a new problem but I have yet to find a satisfactory solution published for it.

The match was played at quite a high level. (Did I mention we were expecting no easy games from now?)

♠ 3
♥ 9 6 3 2
♦ J 8 7 2
♣ A T 9 2

♠ A Q J 9 6
♥ A
♦ K Q 9 3
♣ K 7 4

Vulnerable and with South dealing, what would you reach with these hands?

Well, both tables bidded 5D and made it with careful play for another high level push. Time and again, I have emphasize on bidding aggressive games in teams, well the next board was a pleasant surprise as our teammates judged well:

♠ 9 7
♥ K J 8
♦ J T 6 4 3
♣ Q T 6

♠ K Q J 4
♥ Q T
♦ A K Q 9
♣ J 7 2

At our table, my opponents landed in 3NT and drifted one off after a club lead. Our teammates judged very well to avoid 3NT and end in 3D making for a 5 imp swing.

The last board of the set again proved to be the deciding set.

When partner opens 1H, do you respond with:

♠ T 9 7 6 5 2
♥ 4 3
♦ A 4
♣ 8 3 2

My teammate did and couldn't stop his partner from getting to game with

♠ K
♥ K Q J 9 8 5 2
♦ K J
♣ K Q J

At the other table, my opps didnt respond and languished in a partscore.

10 imps for us on the final deal and we ran out winners 42-23 in imps (19-11 in VPs)
We did miss a few chances to win this by a bigger margin but it still looked like a decent result as Egypt was one of the contenders and as can be seen, were one of the strongest opponents we have played so far.

We didn't get much chance to think about the match though. We are still in third place behind Poland and USA1 but the next match was against Norway (ranked 6)and it's scheduled to be on vugraph, our first for the tournament. We will still be playing with our top 2 pairs: Poon-Loo, Kelvin/Liyu. It would be our final match before the mid-RR break, can we continue our 'lucky' run?

Match 9 - Norway

For the round robin phase, all teams have to play the other 17 teams once. The schedule is planned such that there is a 1-day break after 9 matches. Thus the match against Norway was the last before we can rest for one complete day.

For our team, the schedule of matches was quite lopsided. We were to play against mostly the 'weaker' teams first before the break, before ending with matches with USA 1, Poland, Italy , France, Canada in the second half of matches. Thus, the general gameplan was to try to secure as many VPs as possible early on and hope to 'survive' the stronger teams at the end.

The good thing about this is that due to the training we got in local competitions, we are quite adept at preserving leads and we know just what is needed to be done. The bad thing is that things are not exactly going according to plan. We have faltered against several teams which we expect to pick up convincing wins. Still, we have got some unexpected wins , so we are still reasonably optimistic. We do need to perform exceedingly well against the stronger teams in the later matches if we were in for a chance though.

The match against Norway was to be shown on vugraph. Kelvin and Liyu is to play in the closed room while Poon Hua and me is to play in the Open room where there is a powerful spotlight shining on the table for the convenience of the video camera for the audience in the vugraph room. One thing to be sure, none of us is tired despite 3 long days of bridge. At least for me, being of vugraph just gets adrenalin flowing.

Playing in the Open room, you start 15 minutes later than the rest of the field. This is to let the closed room get ahead of us so there will be comparison for the vugraph audience when the open room play the boards. Well, for me, that 15 minutes seemed like forever, I just cannot wait to start playing and concentrating on the match. Looking at the convention cards and discussing defence just takes a couple of minutes. After that, the players just sit there and wait.

Well, the director finally end your agony and give you the permission to start the match. I pick up my first hand on vugraph, hoping for an easy hand to calm nerves.

Well, my hand didnt look interesting:

♠ 9 8
♥ A Q 9 8 3
♦ Q 7 6 2
♣ 8 3

Partner deals and open 1D (4+) , RHO comes in with 1S and you have your first problem of the set. Your bid?

We play forcing freebids so 2H direct would show 10+ HCP so that was out. A dbl wasn't perfect either as partner will probably take you for only 4 card. You do not expect to rebid H as that might be uncomfortably high and will probably show 6 cards. Well, for now, a double looked best so you chose that and the bidding soon escalated:


Over 5H, it didnt seem right to bid on given all the black losers. Now, 5S gave me a real problem. What do you bid?

Well, I can almost recognise the recurring theme... first board of a critical match... to bid or not to bid... So, it didn't take me long to bid 6H. Partner had:

♠ -
♥ K 7 6 2
♦ K J T 8 4 3
♣ A Q 7

Only a D lead from Ax would defeat the contract. At the table, my opps chose a club lead, so we made the slam. It felt like another great start. It turned out that at the other table, the bidding was the same up to 5S when Liyu decided to let the bidding go at 5H for -480 but 10 imps for us.

A few quiet boards , then this deal which created a swing in 7 of the 9 matches in Youth category.

♠ A 6
♥ A K J 7
♦ K Q T 4 2
♣ 4 2

♠ 8 5 2
♥ T 6 5 4 3
♦ A
♣ A Q J 3

After a relay sequence, we finally reached 6H by South. On a S lead, the obvious line was to cash 2 rounds of H and if the trump Q is out, to try to dispose of your S loser on the D and take the club finesse. Well, everything worked so we end up taking 13 tricks. The Norwegian pair at the other table missed the slam so we had another 11 imps (Why are all our slam swings always Non-Vul?)

Singapore had a 31-2 imp lead at this point of time but that soon changed:

All Vul, You hold:

♠ J 7 5 4 3
♥ 9 8 5
♦ -
♣ Q J T 7 2

Partner opened 1S, RHO dbled, you raised to 4S, LHO 5D passed to you. Your bid?

Over the double, I had a fit-jump available but judged that this hand is too weak for that. Well, that didn't seem like a smart thing to do. Over 5D, I finally chose to go quietly. Wrong decision as partner had:

♠ A K Q T 8
♥ A 2
♦ T 9 2
♣ K 5 3

Well, we did defeat 5D by a trick but there are at least 11 tricks in S. At the other table, the Norwegian opened a systemic 1NT with partner's hand so my teammates were never in the auction. 4S+2 , 11 imps away.

The rest of the boards were all flat with nothing exceptional but Norway picked up 3 partscore swings through no fault of anyone really. One of those was systemic like having a penalty double available over a strong NT.

Anyway, the end result was a 34-31 imp win for us (16-14 in VP)

We thus ended the first half of matches with a useful result and the leaderboard then read:

1 POLAND 177
2 ISRAEL 172
3 USA 1 171
5 FRANCE 149
6 EGYPT 148
7 NORWAY 146

Well, we have a considerable lead over the 5th place team but it is clear that if we want to qualify at the end of the RR, we better be looking at how to close the gap on the Polish team rather than looking back. With that, we entered a long-awaited one day break.

Match 10 - USA2

We restarted the tough regime of matches after a day break. Our remaining fixtures read USA2, USA1, Australia, Italy, Poland , Chile, France and Canada in that order. It was as tough as it can get and we can only try to do our best. First up was USA2, a team that has had participated in last's year WYC in Sydney, thus were quite experienced players.

For our rest day, we slept and lazed around till about eleven in the morning before moving off, trying to get to the shopping areas around our hotel. The very heavy traffic meant that we would do better to travel by foot, so armed with a tourists' map, we started to make our way out. If you think the roads were crowded by vehicles, wait till you see their shopping streets. It took us fifteen minutes of jostling and bashing before we could reach the main road. After another 15 minutes of brisk walking, we finally reached our destination, the World Trade Centre.

Well, it turned out that we were more interested in the shopping complex opp WTC , mainly because the nearest KFC was there :-) It shall remain a secret but it suffices to say it is part of our recipe to success :p Anyway, it turned out to be a good choice as it was an entertainment centre with a very large supermarket. Also worth mentioning is the cheap ice-cream parlour available. We returned to the hotel in the evening by taxi as noone comtemplated walking back with all the groceries(read snacks and drinks) we stocked up at the supermarket.

At night, we went to perhaps the most visited place in our 2 trips to Bangkok, Chinatown. The range of Chinese restaurants seems to have a magical attraction for our NPC, so whenever we went there, it would inevitably be a feast of fish maw, shark fin soup and other delicacies. It wasn't different this time round and we helped ourselves to more of such stuff. All these while discussing about the hands and deals we had played the past few days... you didnt think we could really forget about bridge? :)It was a relaxing 'off' day but back in everyone minds are the gruelling matches coming up next.

And so, as we sat down at the table for the match against USA2, it was the Poon/Loo and Kelvin/Liyu lineup. It seems we didnt come back from our 'holiday mood' as it was a disastrous set for my pair except for some blunders by our opps.

We started well enough:

♠ A J 8
♥ 7
♦ A K Q J T 5
♣ 9 6 4

♠ Q T 9 7 3
♥ K Q J 3
♦ 8 7
♣ Q 2

How would you play 4S when West cashed the AK of C and Ace of H before exiting with a D?

Our opponents chose the wrong minor when he played a third club, over-ruffed by the K of trumps. When our teammates made a somewhat lucky 3NT (clubs were blocked), it was a good 10 imps start for us.

We gave some of it back on the next board when we dbled our opps 1NT, making an overtick, 5 imps away. Then our teammates uncharacteristically missed a thin 3NT , reached at our table for another 10 imps away. It stayed that way until the first wild board came up:

---------------♠ A K 2
---------------♥ T 6 3
---------------♦ K 9
---------------♣ K 7 5 3 2

♠ 8 ------------------------♠ Q 9 7 3
♥ A K Q J 5 4 2 ------------♥ -
♦ Q 8 6 5 3 ---------------♦ A J T 7 4 2
♣ - ------------------------♣ 8 6 4

---------------♠ J T 6 5 4
---------------♥ 9 8 7
---------------♦ -
---------------♣ A Q J T 9

With West dealer, what do you open?

our teammates had a useful gadget for it and managed to reached 6D, dbled by North, so Liyu had not much problem getting trumps right for a tremendous +1090.

At our table, our opps opened 4H and we (N/S) zealously got into the bidding, thankfully we managed to escape for -300 in 5Sx for 13 imps.

Our opps seems to be bidding everything on sight:

♠ Q 7 6 3
♥ A T
♦ A Q 7 5 4
♣ Q 7

♠ T 9 8 5 2
♥ J 8 4
♦ 3
♣ A T 9 8

What would you reach with these cards?

Our opponents bid to 4S (1D - 1S, 3S - 4S)and with trumps 2-2 and KQ of H with West, clubs untouchable by the defence, it was undefeatable for another swing away.

It wasnt long before I faced my next tough decision:

you hold:

♠ T 9 7 4 3
♥ Q T 9
♦ T 7 3
♣ J 4

Does it occur to you all my difficult decisions are with some very poor hands?

RHO opens 1C, LHO jumps to 2D (Strong jumpshift), partner is there with 4H and RHO cuebidded 5H and raised to 7C when his partner signed off in 6! What is your lead?

I took my time to think through my choice. With a good long D suit in dummy, it seems you need to score a trick soon enough. It is either a D ruff or a major ace. Well, since partner didn't Lightner dbl, he shouldnt be ruffing anything. So which ace can partner have? Well, if partner have the H ace, it seems RHO must have a void to justify his bidding so cashing the S ace seems to be the only chance? It seems obvious but leading against a grand slam is nerve-wreaking since you cannot afford to get it wrong. After rechecking my thoughts again, I finally convinced myself a S must be right....

When dummy came down, partner took a sip of water (it seemed like eternity) before calmly producing the ace of S. Phew!

♠ J 2 ------------♠ K Q 8
♥ A 8 ------------♥ -
♦ A K Q 8 5 4 ----♦ J 9 2
♣ A 5 3 ----------♣ K Q T 9 8 7 6

Dubious bidding but still nervewrecking for you! Our teammates were in 6D for 14 imps

Unfortunately, my leads were not always that well-thought out:

Towards the end of the session,
you hold:

♠ K T 3
♥ T 6 5 3 2
♦ T 7 3
♣ 3 2

LHO opens 2D Flannery, RHO signs off in 3NT. Your lead?

It didnt take me long to lead a D, my 'better' minor. It soon proved to be a disastrous lead:

♠ A 8 6 5 -------♠ J
♥ A Q J 9 4 -----♥ K 7
♦ J -------------♦ K Q 9 6 5 2
♣ J 8 6 ---------♣ K Q 9 7

Only a S lead defeats 3NT outright, a club lead will probably defeat unless declarer takes a view in H.

Should I have got it right? The truth is it is perhaps qt random, the minors can easily be switched. (Partner's non-action over 2D doesn't tell anything as his dbl would be artifical) But it still doesn't feel good that I missed a killing lead and the fact is I didn't really consider my lead long enough.

Our teammates got to 3NT on the other side, so with the obvious S lead, it was 2 off. 13 imps away.

That pretty summed up the ding- dong match. We had 3 big swings to our favour but lost 3 big swings too and all the partscore swings went their way so we ended with a
42-57 imp (12-18 VPs) loss. Not really that bad but it doesn't auger well for the rest of the tournanment.

Especially when we are going to play USA1 after lunch. That match is scheduled to be on vugraph. It is going to be a big match so we press on with our strongest line-up...

Match 11 - USA1

Our opps for this match is the defending champions, USA1. Their main 2 pairs, Grue/Kranyak and Lall/Greenberg were in the winning team last year where they fended off Poland in a nail-biting finish. Well, for this year's WYC, the hot favourites were still the Polish and Americans. In fact, before the tournament, I had stated that from a training and learning point of view, the best we could possibly hope for is to complete the RR and face Poland and USA1 in the knockouts. Of course, at that point of time, it seemed wishful thinking...

It seems time to talk about our Non-playing Captain (NPC): Chua Gang. CG is NPC of the youth team for PABF and WYC this year. Lesser-known is that he was also the NPC of the youth team for our youth team in PABF 2003, Manila. The youth team acheived second place then, a record placing at that time.

For USA1's Venice Cup win in 1993, their NPC, Jo Morse was 'chosen not only for her unflappable temperament and angelic disposition, but for her legendary luck'. In Singapore's context, CG must be the NPC with the Midas' Touch. He has perhaps acheived greater accolades as a NPC than as a player :)

While being only reasonably acceptable in terms of adminstrative handling (all that Captains' meetings, information dissemination, etc), he is qt adept in keeping the team harmony and spirit at a healthy level. He usually lets the players decide how things should go, only putting a strong foot in when he feels there is a real need to. Many have been bemused how he keeps churning out successful youth teams and I do not profess to know his secrets, just that he has his ways.

When we talk about CG, you cannot possibly leave out his wife, Seet Choon Cheng, commonly known as Seet to us. This husband-wife pair is especially devoted into the development of bridge in Singapore. I'm always impressed with the amount of time and effort they give back to the game, it is no mean feat to maintain playing at least one session of bridge a week for the past 15-20 years. I am perhaps being a bit more subjective here as they are very good friends and are especially supportive of my pair. Indeed, I will go as far as saying that it is unthinkable I will acheive what I had without the continous support and opportunities both of them have provided. Thanks!

Well, after a mildly depressing lunch, we entered the vugraph room trying to forget the fact that we had lost to their 'second' team in the morning. We were slated to play in the Open Room again, back to under the spotlight.

After that familiar 15 minutes wait, we started playing. It didnt take long before we lost our first swing:

♠ Q 8 6 4
♥ K Q T 9 8 7
♦ Q
♣ A 4

♠ A 9
♥ 6
♦ K 8 6 4 3
♣ K 9 8 5 3

We stopped in 3C and partner managed to scramble 9 tricks. It didn't look like a bad score since both rounded suits were not lying well. However, at the actual play, our teammates lost their way in defence and allowed 3NT to make... 7 imps away.

Then came a wild board that created a swing in almost all the matches:

♠ 5 4 3
♥ K 5 4
♦ A Q 8 6 5
♣ Q 5

♠ 9
♥ 7
♦ K J 9 7
♣ A K T 8 7 6 3

East (Grue) opens the bidding with 4S, I (South) chose the obvious 5C overcall. When West tried 5S, my partner raised me to slam, dbled by West (Kranyak). Kranyak led the K of S and I wasn't too pleased with the dummy. Oh well it looked like a phantom sacrifice against their 5S. Joe Grue, the most featured player in the bulletins has been known to be extremely imaginative and thus unpredictable. Well, he overtook the ace of S and promptly returned the T of S! Hmm, I blinked but was soon wrapping up 12 tricks and +1540.

The Americans at the other table lost their way when they allowed our teammates to bid and make 4H , so we were heading for a positive score anyway but maybe nowhere near the actual +18 imps.

That proved to be our only imps in for a long time when the American stamped their class with some good decisions coupled with a couple of accidents and poor judgment on our part. They rattled off 54 imps without reply over the next 11 boards! One can only imagine our supporters' anguish and the criticism from the commentators in the vugraph room.

One of the most widely-discussed mistake I made:

All Vul, you hold:

♠ 8 5 4
♥ Q T 7 3
♦ Q J T 9 6 3
♣ -

RHO opened 1D (Precision). You pass , LHO responded 1H and partner is there with 4S.

Passed to LHO who reopens with a DBL (explained as penalty showing a good hand). RHO gave it some thought before emerging with 4NT (minors). Your bid?

If you passed, LHO removed to 5C, passed to you, any action?

I shall not defend my action here, I believe there has been qt a bit of discussion on it and I have developed a different view since then. It suffices to say I passed on both rounds, not a success when opps only went one off when we are cold for 12 tricks. The Americans at the other table managed to bag 5Sx+1 for a 14 imp swing.

We were spared more blushes when our opps miscomed on a slam hand and misplayed on another one. Well, in summary, it was a scrappy set where both sides made several mistakes and poor decisions and we lost as we had more blunders. In essence, that is what bridge is all about, the winning team is the one with less mistakes. Officially, the score is a 44-75 imps (9-21 VPs) loss.

At the end of the 2 USA matahes, we have lost all of our overnight lead but the good thing is that all the other results were qt favourable to us and everyone was very close. The leaderboard read:

1 USA 1 208
2 POLAND 206
3 ISRAEL 195
4 FRANCE 189
5 EGYPT 187
7 NORWAY 185
8 ITALY 180

Match 12 - Australia

After 2 losses against the Americans, we weren't in a very promising position. (Un)Fortunately, we don't have much time to think about it. Next up are familiar opponents, Australia. We have played the Aussies in PABF and defeated them quite convincingly. The main difference now is that they added Gabby Feiler into their team. Gabby was in their youth team last year but missed this year's PABF due to studies. A very good player with terrific card sense, we all know how potent he can be.

Like the American and some European teams, the Australians like to bid a lot. They are consistently pushing in the bidding and most of the time you wonder if there are 60 HCP in the pack. Is this a winning strategy? In my opinion, it is all a matter of style. For us, we are trained to be more conservative and sound in the bidding. But, it does not mean the aggressive style is not effective, just look at the Hacketts and Grue/Kranyak for great successes.

A while back, I came across a discussion on the merits of '2-handed' vs '4-handed' bridge. In esscence, '2-handed' bridge means bidding on the full value of your partnership's hands and try to get to par as often as possible. '4-handed' bridge are players who try to make things as difficult as possible for their opponents. Always jamming up the bidding, they sacrifice some accuracy in their own bidding at times.

I believe there is no clear winner between the 2 camps. It is obvious that there are times where the boards are such that a particular style fits best. As in most real-life models, the theoritical optimal approach is a hybrid between the 2. What I wish to point out is that the more important factor for your partnership is to be completely sure which style you are adopting and to accept the pros and cons that come with it. It is useless switching from an aggressive to conservative style after 1 or 2 sessions of bad results and so forth. It is much more beneficial if you know what suits your partnership most, stick to it and work on your system accordingly.

It takes a lot of discipline to stick to your system and style whatever it is. In actual play, there are times you wish you are not playing your particular style. However, it is a mistake to try to change your definitions of your systemic agreements there and then. Live with it and choose the best lie you can find. It is great for your partnership morale and confidence, not to mention results, that partner can find the dummy he was expecting.

Ok, my screenmate is Gabby as we settled to play. Off the table, he is a good friend to our team but we know neither of us is going to hold any punches back in the match. Well, it certainly got off to a crackling start:

♠ 8 6 5
♥ A T 9 4
♦ K 9 3
♣ K 9 4

Partner opens 1H, Gabby on your right overcalls 1S, looking at your opps, I decide on a slightly pushy 2S (inv+). Well, LHO dbled, partner passes and Gabby leapt to 4S. I was happy to dbl and lead a trump:

♠ A K Q 7 3
♥ 7 6 2
♦ Q 8 6 2
♣ A

♠ J 9 2
♥ 3
♦ T 7 5
♣ J 8 7 5 3 2

well, we took our tricks for +300 when 4H is dubious. In fact, our teammates defeated 3H by a trick. 8 imps for us.

The next board wasn't too flat:

NV against Vul:

♠ A Q
♥ 9 8
♦ K J 7 6 2
♣ K 7 5 2

You opened 1D, partner responded 1H, RHO is there with 1S, what is your bid?

1NT, 2C or even Pass (playing support dbl) are possible choices. I decided to introduce my second suit with 2C. It proved to be a winner when partner sacrificed 5C over their 4S with:

♠ 8
♥ Q J 6 3
♦ Q 8 5
♣ 9 8 6 4 3

-300 and when our teammates were left to play 4S for +620, another 8 imps.

A few boards later, our teammates were the one to find a non-vul 5 minor sac against a vul game. They did even better to go only one off for 11 imps.

The fearless Australian bidding found its mark when they bidded to slam with:

♠ Q 5 3
♥ J 9 6
♦ Q 7 5 3 2
♣ J 9

♠ A 4
♥ A K T 7 4 3 2
♦ -
♣ A K 8 4

The S King was on the left, so there were no problems. Our teammates had difficulty finding the pricless dblton club (I'm not too sure they found it at our table either) so they stopped in game. 11 imps out.

For the Singapore supporters, there must have been great hope as we next hit a roll and scored 36 imps over the next 6 boards. First, we reached to thin vul game that came home. Next:

♠ Q 6 4
♥ A K J T 6 4
♦ Q T 3
♣ 3

All Vul, RHO opens 1C (2+), what is your bid?

Well, the Australian chose 4H! Not so lucky this time as it was promptly dbled for 500 when there is nothing on for us.

After another 2 part score swing, the score read: 63-14 imps in favour of us.

Well, our momentum didn't last:

None Vul:

♠ J T 8 6 5
♥ J 3
♦ T 7 3
♣ A 3 2

LHO opens 1C, RHO respond 1H, do you overcall?

As you would have expected, this hand is nowhere near in my overcalling syle. The Australian player at the other table found the obvious overcall and it proved to be the winner this time round as a S lead is the only one to defeat 3NT. 10 imps away.

Then, our teammates chose to depart from science and bidded a slam off AK of a suit. Not that lucky this time and Opps was quick to cash out for another 10 imps.

When the firepowder cleared ( a third of the final contracts at our table were dbled) we came on top 64- 37 imps (21-9 VPs). It was our only win for the day so I cannot say we were delighted but still we are hanging in there:

1 USA 1 218
2 POLAND 214
3 ISRAEL 212
4 FRANCE 211
6 EGYPT 202
7 ITALY 199
USA 2 199
9 NORWAY 198

We have Italy and Poland up the next day so it is pretty much do-or-die for us.

Match 13 - Italy

We enter the last 2 days of the RR with a heavy heart. We are still in the running but with so many tough matches ahead, we cannot afford ANY slip ups. The fixture list for the day read a daunting Italy, Poland , Chile. Tuff, tuff...

First up is Italy who boast the famous pair of Fabio Lo Presti - Stelio Di Bello. One of the big attractions of playing in the World Youth Championship is that we can play against some famous teams like the Americans and the top teams from Europe.

Contract Bridge is one of few sports where the average player can play against a world champion and have a good time, especially if the match is short. In my experience, over 20-28 boards, anything can happen. Someday , you beat a team flat out, on another day, they can roll right over you, it is just too short a match if you want to find out the relative strength of 2 teams. Even if the match is 64 or 96 boards you will frequently find 'upsets' too.

Thus we look forward to playing famous names like Joe Grue, Justin Lall from USA, Buras from Poland, Ginossar from Israel, the Bessis brothers from France, just to name a few. To a certain extent, we can actually perform better against these big names as the pressure is not on us anymore. What is important is we enjoy the matches and take away valuable lessons and experience from the matches. Hopefully, the results are not too disappointing :-)

On the other side of the coin, it was also a valuable chance to meet players from other less well-known countries like us. Teams like Jordan, Canada, Chile, it prob is the first time we meet them in any bridge event. It was a good experience in that it was great to see that we can put aside any language and culture differences just by playing bridge.

The match against Italy was a pretty high level one with only a few large swings.
here is a tough decision i had in the second board:

Vul against not,

♠ T 7 5 3
♥ A 7
♦ A J 9 7 6 5 3
♣ -

RHO deals and pass, what is your bid?

Again I chose to pass and later overcalled in D, opps climbed to 3NT and went 2 down on the D lead. Our opp at the other table chose to open 1D, so our teammates managed to stop in a partscore for 7 imps. The result proved nothing but I believe the popular expert choice is to open 1D.

A couple boards later, I faced another tough decision:

All Vul,

♠ 7 2
♥ A 6 4
♦ J 9 5 3
♣ A Q 9 3

Partner opened 1H, RHO overcalls 1S, you cuebid 2S showing 10+ HCP, 3+ H. Now LHO jumped to 4S passed to you, your bid (partner's pass is not forcing)?

Well, I chose a conservative pass and defeated 4S by a trick when the lead was the ace of H. Perhaps I should have just doubled based on the 2 aces? At the other table, our teammates didnt find the fine sacrifice and left opps in 4H which made with no problems, 11 imps away.

It wasn't always that much of a coin toss:

What would you bid to with:

♠ A K Q J T 5
♥ J 5
♦ A 9 7 6
♣ 7

♠ 7 3
♥ Q 9 8
♦ 5 4 3 2
♣ A Q T 8

most of the field reached 4S which had no chance. We managed to bid to the much better contract of 3NT, ironically with the aid of an Italian gadget. 11 imps back for us.

We continue to pile on the pressure and had a healthy 24 imp lead going into the last board:

♠ A
♥ A J 9 6 2
♦ Q J 4 2
♣ K J 4

♠ Q 8 7 5
♥ 7 5
♦ A 9
♣ A T 5 3 2

You end in 3NT and received a small S lead. How would you like the chances? This is a convoluted hand to analyse and I do not propose to say how best to play it. Well, our opps at the table got everything right and made 11 tricks. My teammate got everything wrong and went one off. His line of play was certainly reasonable, just unlucky.

So at the end of everything, the match ended pretty close, a 51-40 imp win (17-13 VP) for us. And so we survived the first match against a fellow contender... next up the Polish 'Machines' :)

1 USA 1 239
2 ISRAEL 231
3 POLAND 230
4 EGYPT 225
6 NORWAY 223
7 FRANCE 220
8 ITALY 212

Match 14 - Poland

The Polish team is regarded as one of the hot favourites to win WYC. They are vastly experienced, having played in the past few WYC as a team. As described by some of the other teams, they are virtually 'machines' when it comes to bridge, smooth and flawless in terms of technique. So much so that, the general feeling is that we would do well to survive them and not lose too many points.

Many people have asked what is the most important aspect among declarer's play, defence and bidding. In my opinion, the higher the level of bridge , the more the importance of bidding. Most great players have terrific card sense and impeccable technique in card play. Thus, it takes many sets of hands before you find a hand that is decided purely based on superior card play. Sure they exist, and when you get them right, you do have a good sense of satisfaction. However, the frequency of such boards are too little that it is more practical you concentrate on your bidding agreements :)

Many a times, the board is already decided in the bidding. By bidding, I do not mean bidding system. What is clearly more important is bidding judgement. The final decision at the end of a bidding sequence, whether you can visualise the optimal contract after the series of 'conversations' you and your partner had in the bidding.
Of course, the more defined your system, the more infomation you have about your partner's hand. Bear in mind though, your opps also have the same amount of information as you... sometimes it doesn't pay to go 'daisy-picking' (as in the words of Hugh Kelsey), just bid when you know where are you going to end at.

At imps play, players are trained to bid all the close games, especially when vulnerable. However, in very tight matches, the deciding boards are not the games, most regular partnerships can bid them all. Instead, it is the slam bidding and partscore bidding where the experts show their superior judgement. Imo, it is in these areas where the Italians are pretty superior, and this is one of the key reasons why Lauria/Versace, Bocchi/Duboin are considered among the top few pairs in the world now.

Well, in our match against Poland, there were lots of slams (a good chance to match your slam bidding against the machines):

♠ A 4
♥ 6 5
♦ A K Q J 4
♣ K Q 8 6

♠ K Q J 6 3
♥ K Q T 8
♦ 9 8 6
♣ A

With South dealer, what would you bid to?

Well, of the 18 pairs in the youth category, only 3 managed to reach the superior slam in NT. In fact one pair reached 7D and made it!

The two tables in our match reached the reasonable 6D but when West led his singleton H and ruffed the H return, you can bet both N/S pairs were not too pleased :) Still, a push.

A couple of boards later:

♠ A 2
♥ T 7
♦ A Q 5 4 2
♣ K 9 7 5

♠ Q J 7 6 5
♥ A J 8 4
♦ K T 8 3
♣ -

South deals

Well, the Polish really bid their slams (ala Meckwell) and they reached the thin 6D at our table. The K of S was onside but (un)fortunately was singleton... so after a trump lead, there was no way home. Our teammates were in the easier 3NT for 13 imps.

Before we can catch our breath:

♠ K Q 9 6 4
♥ 3 2
♦ K J 3
♣ K Q 7

♠ A 8
♥ A K J 8 5
♦ A 7 5 4
♣ A 2

South deals, your contract?

Our teammates were in the obvious 6NT which made 13 tricks easily when S were 3-3 and H Q onside. The opps at our table had a slight misunderstanding in the bidding (yes, it can happen even to the 'machines') and over-reached to 7S! The same circumstances meant the same 13 tricks and 12 imps away.. arghh..

I thought we were in some slam bidding competition when yet another hand came up:

♠ A J 7 6 4
♥ 9
♦ A 9
♣ K T 8 6 3

♠ K Q T 8 3
♥ J 8 7 4
♦ 7 5
♣ A J

South deals

Both tables reached the very good 6S contract on a D lead.

Perhaps tired from the continous string of slam bidding, our teammate didn't plan his play well enough and proceeded to draw 2 rounds of trumps , then found that he had to guess the clubs to make the contract. Almost inevitably, he got it wrong and went 1 off.

Of course, 'machines' do not face the same problem and played impeccably by cashing only 1 round of trump before starting on clubs, the upside is that he was able to set up the 5th club(clubs were 4-2) and have sufficient entries to enjoy the discard. Good play and 14 imps reward for that.

It wasn't all about slam bidding:

♠ T 4
♥ 9 7 6 5
♦ 6 4 2
♣ A 9 8 7

♠ A Q 9 7
♥ J
♦ A Q J T 7 3
♣ K T

Buras and partner at our table reached the pushy contract of 5D (a good contract, imo, excellent judgement... They were the only one in the whole field to bid it)

On a trump lead , how would you play the S suit for only 1 loser?

Well, Buras, not unreasonably tested the clubs to no avail, before going for the dbl-finesse and found both honours offside. As West, I had: KJ52 of S and dblton trump. So the winning play is to pin the 8 trebleton in East, although it is not clear why he should even consider playing it that way.

After negotiating all the tough slams, you would have thought the following hand is easy:

♠ 7 3
♥ J 7 5
♦ K 3
♣ K Q 8 6 4 2

♠ J 8 6
♥ A K Q T 8 6
♦ Q J 6
♣ A

South deals.

Well, our teammates got lost somewhere and rested in 3NT which had no chance when their opps cashed out the S suit. Our Opps were in the normal 4H which made 11 tricks for an unexpected 11 imps loss.

At the end of 20 boards, it was virtually even honours and there were only 4 imps between us. The score was 51-55 imp (14-16 VPs). I cannot say we were unhappy with such a small loss but we all knew we have squandered a good chance to win against a quality team. Might we have the chance to play them again to break the tie? Well, at least we were still up there with the rest of qualifying contenders:

1 USA 1 264
2 ISRAEL 247
3 POLAND 246
4 NORWAY 245
5 FRANCE 243
6 EGYPT 240
8 ITALY 236

Match 16 - France

The penultimate match was against France. Before the match, France is lying in third place, 5 VPs in front of us. Thus, this can be viewed as the decider in the race for qualifying. Indeed, if any team can etch out a big win, they will almost certainly qualify.

France boast the likes of De Tessieres, Julien Gaviard and the Bessis brothers, sons of 2 world champions, they are certainly a very strong team and no doubt deserve a place in the top 4 of the tournament. They have had a rollercoaster tournament so far, losing 25-4 to the Americans in the first match and defeating Jordan by only 18-12. Nonetheless, they have come back very strongly and are in good position to win a spot in the last 4. It is inevitable that this decider against the surprises of the tournament would be on vugraph.

Back in Singapore, the match is held at the same time where the Singapore is holding their Pesta Sukan, a national championship. They have made arrangements to screen the vugraph match live so there will be lots of morale support there. Over here at the playing venue, the general feeling is that most of the spectators are rooting for France to teach these upstarts a lesson or two. It is quite interesting situation, that as a neutral, who would you support? Well, I confess I would not have backed the underdogs. For me, if the stronger team wins, it will make for more exciting knockout matches. However, there are many who would be behind the giant-killers.

As the RR closes, we are glad we are still in the thick of things and still have lots to play for. You can imagine there are some teams that are already just playing for pride. The other side of things is that, we are forced to play on with our strongest 4 again. The fact that we have been playing 9 matches in a row meant there is no rest. To their credit, our third pair did not ever complain. They were still there every match, watching our running scores (this would turn out to be of crucial importance) waiting to take over if anyone of us was in no shape to play.

After 2 abysmal performances in the Vugraph Open room, our pair found ourselves in the closed room this time round. This time round, we do not have to wait agonisingly in the spotlight and so we got started.

The very first hand:

♠ T 8 3
♥ A 8
♦ K Q 9 8 3
♣ 8 7 5

RHO passes, I pass, LHO opened a strong NT, RHO staymaned. Normally , I would pass but this time round, I came in with 2D.

I saw this as a chance to push things a little and showed them we are not going to lie down flat. Well, if I wanted a chance for a swing, I got it: LHO dbled and it was passed out.

The K of H was led and partner put down a typical:

♠ K Q 9 6 5
♥ T 7 4
♦ T
♣ T 4 3 2

♠ T 8 3
♥ A 8
♦ K Q 9 8 3
♣ 8 7 5

Oh well, at least 3NT or 4H can make for them. Meanwhile, I surveyed the dummy to see how i can minimize loss. The play took a very long time and was quite complex. Mainly, I was trying to lure them into a defensive error since it was almost 3 down for sure if they didnt make a mistake. I succeeded to cash a second S trick and that meant only 2 down. -300 for 3imps! That set a fast tempo for the match..

A couple boards later:

♠ 5 4 3
♥ K 9 5 4 2
♦ T
♣ K Q T 2

RHO opened 1D, I passed, LHO 1S which RHO raised to 2S. Still feeling aggressive, I came in with a takeout dbl. LHO brushed it aside and went straight to 4S. My dbl helped partner who had a lead from

♠ 8
♥ T 6 3
♦ A Q J 8 6 4
♣ J 7 5

After a club (or H ) lead there was no way home. At the other table, our opps had no help and unfortunately led the ace D (after all the D bidder was on his left). That let the game home for another 11 imps.

Then came a series of 4 boards which decided how the match is going to be:

♠ -
♥ A K J 9
♦ K T 7 3 2
♣ K 8 6 5

♠ 6 5 4 2
♥ 6
♦ A Q J 8 6
♣ A Q 4

After North deals and East come in with a Michaels (both majors) how would you bid? (West will raise to 4S immediately) Both sides bidded to the excellent 7D. Unfortunately, at our table the bidding was less than convincing with many bids being explained as 'no agreement'. Thus, we let them play in it. At the other table, our teammates were much more confident, being able to show their void in S. This in turn induced the French defenders to trust them and sacrificed in 7S for -1400 but 12 imps for them.

Vul against not,

♠ Q 8 7
♥ K Q T 7
♦ K 9 6
♣ A 6 5

I opened 1NT, LHO preempted 3S, Partner came in with 4S (undiscussed). RHO gave it a long look before passing, your bid?

Well, I admit I was cursing for being given such a difficult decision. With the previous board and the vulnerablity in mind, I quickly decided to push things a little: 5NT (choose a slam)

Partner chose 6C and RHO was there with the expected 6S, I doubled for +800. This time though, 6C was cold. Partner had:

♠ -
♥ J 9 8 6 5
♦ A Q 4
♣ K J 7 3 2

With the Q of clubs placed nicely and no H ruff available, it would be an easy +1370. Shucks... did we lose another board? This board proved to be tough for everyone when only 2 out of 18 pairs in the Youth category bid to slam. Luckily, our opps were not one of them, they stopped in game and we had a 5 imps gain.

Next, our turn to bid:

♠ J 5
♥ A K 7 4 3
♦ A K Q 3
♣ 7 2

♠ K
♥ Q T 9 8 5
♦ T 6 4
♣ A K 9 8

We had a system gadget to uncover the good fit and we soon cruised to slam for an easy +1460 (opps didnt cash their S). It looked pretty flat at that time. Indeed only 5 pairs failed to find the slam. Very luckily, our opps at the other table lost their way a little and stopped in game, a lucky 13 imps for us.

The less said about the next board the better, in essence, my partner decided he had to do something after opps stopped in an unmakeable game and came in with 4S after 4 rounds of silence in the bidding. Our Opps geefully dbled and took their 9 imps (3NT-1 in other room)

Oh well, I was fuming.. the last string of boards didn't look promising with at least 2 good boards for the French. But as I learnt in the Israeli match, it was not the time to start venting my anger, I had to concentrate and focus for the final 12 boards.

Partner was having another bad match on vugraph:

♠ K 6 4
♥ Q T 7 4
♦ J T 8 5
♣ K 9

RHO opened 1D LHO 1S, RHO bid an artificial 2NT which could be one of many hands, but later revealed to be both minors and a strong hand. Partner led the obvious H:

♠ J T 7 3 2
♥ A J 9 6
♦ 9
♣ 8 7 2

Dummy's 9 held the trick (5 and 2 from me and declarer). Next declarer ran the 9 of D to your T, your lead now?

It seems easy now, but partner had a mindblock (admittedly perhaps confused by my carding) but he continued H and declarer soon wrapped up 9 tricks. The winning choice was a low S as I had AQ985, we would collect 4 S tricks, capturing the JT on the way. Our teammates played in on the other side and had no chance on a S lead, 13 imps away.

To their credit, up to now, our teammates were having a great match.. bidding everything accurately:

♠ Q 8 7 6 4
♥ A 9 7
♦ Q 7 2
♣ 8 4

♠ -
♥ K J 8 6 3
♦ A 9
♣ A K Q 9 5 3

Perhaps they are enjoying the vugraph spotlight as they were 1 of only 3 pairs to reach the slam in H.

It was a technically interesting hand. On a D lead to the Q K and ace, you play a H to the ace, the Q appearing on the left, how do you play?

Our opps, not unreasonably finessed the 9 of H and partner (West) turned up with the T and cashed the D. Unfortunately, our opps are only in game so that meant only 1 overtick saved. Credit to partner though for shaking off his bad patch to find this elegant falsecard.

Luckily, our teammate didnt face the same problem and when LHO contributed the T, he played for the drop and soon had his slam for 11 imps.

At our table, we began to played well and made no obvious mistakes till the end of the match. Our teammates at the other hand, began to lose it a little and had 2 bad boards in a row, :

♠ A 7 5 3
♥ K 7 6 5 3
♦ T
♣ Q J 3

♠ T 6 4
♥ A J
♦ A 5 4
♣ A T 9 8 4

South deals and they lost their way in the bidding to reach 5C going down when the French opps made 3NT (club K was onside)

The very swingy match continued (there were only 2 pushes in the 20 boards):

Vul against not:

♠ A 3
♥ 9 5 4 3
♦ K Q 7 3 2
♣ A 8

After 2 passes, you open 1D, LHO overcalls 2C, partner is there with a NF 2H, RHO dbls to show S+ club tolerence.

You try 4H but LHO was there with 4S passed to you, any bid?

The French opp got it wrong when he thought we were sane and quietly passed it out

♠ K Q 9 8 7
♥ J 8
♦ T 8 4
♣ J 4 2

♠ 6 5 2
♥ K 2
♦ A 9
♣ K 9 7 6 5 3

It was very atypical bidding of our overcalls but thankfully I chose a right time to do it. 4H made at the other table meant 10 imps for us.

Perhaps indicative of the long tournament week and the very aggressive bridge at the youth level, at the end of it all, 130 imps have changed hands! Score wise, there wasnt much between us. We edged the French out by 73-57 imps (18-12 in VPs) for an important victory.

That match meant we overtook the French by 1 VP going into the last match of the RR... but we still remained in 4th spot when Italy crushed Japan 23-7:

1 USA 1 312
2 POLAND 295
3 ITALY 284
5 FRANCE 280
6 NORWAY 276
7 ISRAEL 270

With USA and Poland almost through for sure, the remaining 2 spots remained up for grabs...

Match 15 - Chile

After 2 gruelling matches, our final match for the day is not going to be that much easier, Chile, the champions of the South American zone. On paper, Singapore is dropping out of the running and with time running out, we need a good result to have a sporting chance on the final day. At the playing venue, however, it didn't seem that bad for us, we were confident we still have a chance and perhaps tired by the schedule of matches, we just wanted to go in and play the match, giving it our best.

It is a stroke of good luck for us that we are playing Chile so late in the RR. The reason is that Chile and Jordan are the only 2 teams that are playing with 4 men. Thus, it is inevitable they are not as fresh and the long gruesome schedule takes its toil on them. Still, we pretty much played the whole RR too, so it isn't easy to fully concentrate fully. It rates to be a tight match.

You might think that the WYC is a nice, friendly place where everyone enjoys bridge. That is far from the whole picture. It is a world championship and every team is committed to do their best and to achieve something in the tournament. It is really very important to the players. Before every match , you can hear loud 'warcrys' from the Chilean and Israeli players. You can virtually feel their fighting spirit, their will to win. For us Asians, we are more restrained but there is no doubt we are every bit as determined to pull it through.

Bridge is a social game for many but for the real competitive players, especially for the contenders, it is almost a matter of life and death. Personally, in my short 'playing career' I have acheived many successes in local and overseas tournaments. However, the ones that are really memorable are the 'failures', most notably in the Korea PABF last year. We were pretty close but fell short at the end. I can vouch that several of us shed tears at the end... Thankfully, these are far and few in between and those who know me will recognise that if I play competitively, I give it all my best and will go for the win. Seriously, I'll never play just to sit in awe of my opps and let them roll over me. It applies to most of my teammates.. no defeatists will ever be successful at this game!

As mentioned, throughout the entire tournament, the Chileans showed great fighting spirit. Mathematically, they still have a chance to qualify if they have a fabulous showing inthe final 3 matches so there is no doubt that they will come at us. I have already played against my screenmate , Jack Smith , online and he is really a good player , probably the stronger player in his partnership, fearless in the bidding and thus, I was prepared for some action.

Well, the match started slowly with a few flat boards in a row.. not exactly what we hoped for...

An example of Jack's dynamic style:

NV against VUL you hold:

♠ T 9 5 3
♥ -
♦ A Q 8
♣ J 7 6 5 3 2

LHO opens 3H, RHO raised to 4H, do you bid?

Well Jack unhesitantly came in with 5C!! found his partner with AKx club and a good sac for -300. Luckily for us, the opps at the other table didn't find the cold game so we gained 4 imps instead of losing 8. Still, a fine example of what we would be expecting.

You can see their desire to win and you can also sense which side Lady Luck is on:

♠ A Q 5 3
♥ T 9
♦ K
♣ K Q 9 4 3 2

♠ J T 9 4 2
♥ Q J 7 5 2
♦ A T
♣ A

The Chilean pair at our table bidded it up to 6S even after checking Keycards! Well, my partner didnt find the H lead (From the bidding, it was declarer's suit ) On the D lead, declarer hurriedly threw a h from dummy, before taking the S finesse. Well, I was East and blessed enough to hold the K of S, so the slam went one off anyway. Our teammates rationally stopped in game for 12 imps.

After 12 boards the score was 28-11 imps in our favour We didnt know for sure but I can feel the flattish boards might mean the scores are really close. This might explain my action on the next hand: (This board created 13 imp swings in 8 of the 9 matches in youth category!)

All vul,

I held:

♠ A K J T 9 8 4
♥ 7 3
♦ K Q 7
♣ A

After 2 passes, I opened 1S, partner raised to 2S. We were playing Drury(one of my favourite conventions) so 2S is really narrowly defined to be 6-9 HCp with 1.5 to 2 covercards. What is your bid?

Well, time is running out... I do know that slam is probably at best 50% (Give partner a K and an ace, note that he probably have S Q which is useless) so it is really a coin toss.. well, I decided I could improve my chances a little.. I bidded 2NT as a general game try, partner bidded 3C to show club values.. oh well.. not one to give up though, I tried 3H , showing some H values before launching blackwood over partner's 4S. I was quickly in slam when partner admitted to 1 KC.

Well, partner did have a maximum hand:

♠ Q 7 2
♥ A 9 5 4
♦ T 6 5
♣ K 8 5

♠ A K J T 9 8 4
♥ 7 3
♦ K Q 7
♣ A

Well, as expected the slam is 50% , dependent on the D ace. It was offside, so the slam rates to go down. However.. the effect of the bidding led my tired opp to lead the unbid suit and his natural lead in that suit was the Ace of D! I quickly claimed 12 tricks and a very lucky 13 imps.

That proved to be the turning point of the match... Lady Luck stuck with us:

First seat Vul:

♠ A Q 9 8 7 2
♥ 2
♦ J 7 2
♣ K 6 5

What do you open?

I chose to open a weak 2S while the Chilean player at the other table chose an agressive 1S. Partner held:

♠ J 4
♥ A 9 8 7 4
♦ Q 5 3
♣ A Q 2

We stopped in 2S while opps reached the very good game. Alas, the trumps was KTxx offside, so it will require doubledummy play to make game. Another lucky 6 imps.

When you are unlucky, nothing you do will turn out right:

♠ K J 6 5
♥ K T 9 7
♦ 8 2
♣ K Q 6

♠ A 8 4 2
♥ A 8 5 4
♦ A 5 3
♣ T 3

Both sides reached 4H. The critical play is to cater for a 4-1 break in trumps. My teammate did well to guess which way it was and made the contract. The Chilean declarer at my table chose the wrong view and went down after a few misguesses. 11 imps for us.

perhaps shaken by the string of bad results or that the tiredness of the long tournament got to him, the partner of Jack handed us our next swing:

♠ A 6
♥ J 5 4
♦ K Q J 7 6 3 2
♣ T

♠ K 8 3
♥ A K
♦ 8 4
♣ A J 9 7 6 2

Last board of the match, you play in 3NT on a S lead. It looks so easy.

I win the S lead in my hand and led the D 8 quickly. My LHO covered with the D 9 ... he had all 4 outstanding diamonds! I was awake enough to notice East discarding a H on the first D, so I returned back to hand to play another D for 10 tricks.

At the other table (and many others), my teammate followed small smoothly and declarer had no reason to get it right. 8 tricks was the limit and another 12 imps for us.

The late surge of results meant that we ended up an astounding 76-29 imp win (24-6 in VP). That great result meant we surged back into the top 4 with 2 matches to go. Boy, could we feel the tension.. how do we even go to sleep tonight?

1 USA 1 287
2 POLAND 271
3 FRANCE 268
5 ITALY 261
6 ISRAEL 254
8 EGYPT 250

Match 17 - Canada

After lunch, the RR enters its final match with everything still to play for, the main contenders for the remaining 2 spots are:

3 ITALY 284
5 FRANCE 280

with Norway having an outside chance.

Coincidentally, the last matches looked Ryder-cup style with PABF vs the Rest:

Italy vs Australia
Singapore vs Canada
France vs Japan

Well, we would really need to depend on Australia and Japan to do well against France and Italy. Similarly, the French team could be seen approaching the Canadian team during lunch to encourage them to do well against us.

Of the 3 matches, our match looks the toughest. Not only is Canada placed highest among the 3 teams, prior to the last match , the Canadians have only lost one match single digit (8-22 to Norway). It is no wonder, everyone was expecting us to fall short again. In fact, after the event, I gather that back in Singapore, many supporters were not too optimistic of our chances too.

As I prepare for this blog, I read in a book on the attributes of a winner in tournament bridge. "Card sense, endurance, stamina, etc. Besides that, you need to have intangibles like a driving will to win and confidence" I strongly agree with what was written. In fact, many ppl have asked how do we acquire or train on these. I do not have an answer for them. Having a strong mental aspect is vital in many sports and games and it seems to me to be an inborn characteristic. I suppose the first step is to treat playing bridge very seriously, not just a game.

In Bangkok though, it didnt seem like we were underdogs. We were strangely confident. In fact, midway through the RR, I had predicted we will make it through. We had chose the hard way by failing to capitalise against the weaker teams but we are still hanging in there... Just like a drama script, we didnt come so far to fail at the last hurdle.

Still, we knew we need a big score against the tough Canadians to continue our run. With that in mind, I picked up my first hand of the board.

Well, as you can almost predict, first hand of a critical match.. I had another poor hand but yet another tough bidding decision:

♠ T 9
♥ J 9 7 5 4
♦ 8 5 3
♣ J 8 6

Partner deals and open 1C. I see no reason to respond, and LHO balanced with 1NT (11-15) Partner dbls to show a 18-20 bal. Your bid?

On any other day, I would choose to takeout to 2H. I'm sure that would be the expert's bid in a bidding poll... Still, I knew we only have 20 boards to break down the strong Canadian team and this could be a big chance to start the flow of imps, I judged to pass the dbl. Here was what declarer saw:

♠ Q 5 3
♥ T 3 2
♦ T 9 4 2
♣ K T 7

♠ J 8 4 2
♥ A
♦ A K 6
♣ Q 9 4 3 2

LHO (Poon) led the ace of S and went into a trance before switching to a H! When declarer led a club to the T, the floodgates opened: +500 and 8 imps to us (They made 3H at other table) Good start?

We should have added to it on the next board.

Vul against not:

♠ T 3
♥ A T 7
♦ Q 7 6
♣ A 8 6 3 2

Partner opened 1S RHO came in with 3D, you passed to partner who reopened with a dbl. Your bid?

Poon decided to go for the vulnerable game bonus and bidded 3NT. Unfortuately I had:

♠ A J 7 5 2
♥ K Q J 4
♦ 8 2
♣ K 7

8 tricks was the limit. The winning decision (later we agreed it was in fact the correct decision) was to pass the dbl for penalty. That would have meant another 500 instead of the 5 imp lost here. (Our opps got to play in 2S)

Still, it was clear it would be the set of penalties.. and so it proved:

NV against Vul,

♠ 5
♥ A 9 5 4 3
♦ J 8 6
♣ A K J 6

RHO opened 2S (weak), No doubt influenced by how 'bloody' things were, I chose a slightly off-shape dbl. It hit jackpot when partner held:

♠ A J 6 4 2
♥ K 8
♦ A K 7 2
♣ T 4

With opps red, it was an easy decision and we soon had +1100 for 12 imps: the Canadian opps landed in 3NT after a multi opening.

Things got better:
All Vul

♠ -
♥ K Q 8 7 2
♦ A K Q
♣ T 8 7 6 5

i opened 1H, LHO overcalled 1S, partner jumped to 4H, RHO was in there with 4S,your bid?

Well, I had learnt my lesson bout bidding at the 5 level :-) , so I was there with 5H, promptly dbled and when partner had a perfect:

♠ J 8 7 6
♥ A T 9 4 3
♦ T 7 3
♣ 4

I had 12 tricks for +1050 and 14 imps when the canadian opp at the other table passed 4S which went 1 down. Looking at the scoresheet.. 1050 is a very common score achieved 8 times in the Youth Category!

Well, you know it's your day when things goes like this:

♠ Q J T 7 4 2
♥ 8
♦ K T 9 8
♣ T 7

♠ A
♥ Q T 6 3
♦ J 7 6
♣ A K 9 6 4

After South opens 1C and LHO dbled, North jumped to 2S (meant as weak but construed as a fit jump) After that, they languished in the bidding to stop in 4Cx (4S would be better) and went for another 500 and 12 imps for us when teammates stopped very well in 3S.

It wasn't all about penalties:

♠ Q 5 4
♥ J 2
♦ A K J 7 2
♣ Q 9 8

♠ A 7 2
♥ A K T
♦ Q T 8 4
♣ J T 7

After East have overcalled in S, you end up in 3NT on the 8 of S lead. East plays the 6 (small encouraging), Plan your play.

Declarer took the ace, led a D to the J and led the J of H immediately, East played the 9 (std count). Declarer elects to rise with the K and run the D, throwing a S from hand. East had a singleton D and discarded 2S and 2C. The ending:

♠ Q 5
♥ 2
♦ -
♣ Q 9 8

♠ 7
♥ K T
♦ -
♣ J T 7

when declarer led a club, East rose with the ace and played the 5 of H through. Your play? Do you trust the club ace (denying the K)? Trusting the H play rather than the club play, declarer rose with the K and played another club, the only winning play when East have something like:

♠ K J T 9 6
♥ 9 5
♦ 6
♣ A K 4 3 2

East would have been endplayed on the club to lead a S to dummy's Q.

Unfortunately, for declarer, the club play was the honest one, East held:

♠ K J T 9 6
♥ Q 9 5
♦ 6
♣ A 6 4 2

When West put a S through when in with the club K, it meant 5 tricks for the defence. Noone else in the whole field went down in 3NT, when our teammates took 10 tricks, so that meant 10 more imps for us.

Our next chance:

NV against Vul,

♠ T 9 8 7 6 3
♥ K Q T 8 7
♦ -
♣ A 9

Partner pass, RHO opens 1NT, you dbl to show either one long minor or both majors, partner bids 2C to ask which hand you have. You bid 2S to show both majors with longer/better S. Now LHO comes to life with 3D which partner dbls. Do you pass?

Well, thanks to your brilliant 2S, partner will not be off to the best lead ever. As a passed hand, how many tricks can you expect partner to have? Most experts I posed this problem to chose the safer route and took it out. I personally agree with this analysis at any normal match.

At that point of time, there was no question: We had opps at our mercy and this is the perfect chance to seal the match. I passed and the contract was quickly 2 off for +500 (It would have been +800 had partner led a H). We didnt know it then but our teammates misdefended 4Sx and allowed it through for -590, 3 imps away :-)

Both sides did not distinguish themselves on the following hand:

♠ A Q 7 5
♥ T 5
♦ A J 7
♣ A J 8 6

♠ 9
♥ K Q J
♦ K Q 8 5 4
♣ K Q 5 2

South deals and West comes in with a both majors cuebid, both N-S pairs failed to reach the cold slam for a push, settling in 3NT for a push. Strangely, only 3 pairs got to slam although there were several taking the penalty to compensate for their slam.

Towards the end came your final test:

Vul against not:

♠ A K Q J 8 6
♥ K J T
♦ 9 7 2
♣ 4

Partner opens 1H, RHO bids 2NT (minors), you cuebid to show a good hand with S suit. Now LHO raised the stakes to 6C... Partner cuebidded 6D! Your bid?

Well, partner surely has grandslam interest and you have unexpected H support for him, together with a solid S suit. Surely 7H/S has a chance? You would think I would have gone for broke at that stage of the match.

Nope, I took a full 2 to 3 minutes to consider my bid and finally decided to opt for 'safety' and bid 6H. The opps promptly cashed the Ace of clubs! Partner had fallen in love with his hand:

♠ T
♥ A Q 9 6 5 4 3 2
♦ A 5
♣ 5 3

Luckily, i sidestepped his 'trap' and got a safe +980. It was a push when our teammates likewise did not find the cheap sacrifice in 7C.

When the match ended, we were more than optimistic. In fact, our opps began congratulating us on our 'sure' qualification. After all, they had just witnessed our monster set and it really is unthinkable we wont qualify, especially with 2 spots available!

Well, it was not to be. When we came out of the playing area to the vugraph room, we saw that with 2 boards to go (both boards were flat), the leaderboard was:

3 ITALY 306
4 FRANCE 301

Oh well, Italy is winning 23-7 and so had the 3rd spot sewn up. More importantly.. we were tied with France for 4th place on 301 VPs... France is winning 22-8 and we 'only' won the match 20-10! We are not clear on the tie-breaking prcedures , even up to now.. but what it means is that we are not through yet.. how agonising!

As we nervously waited for the last few boards to end, we 'know' the last couple of boards were pretty flat so it rates to be a tie between us and France! That was until, we met our third pair in the vugraph room.. they had been diligently tracking our results from the room. There was no doubt were every bit as excited as us...

Alex was the first to break the news to us.. that Kelvin and Liyu has mis-scored one of the boards in the open room... They had credited the game they made to their opps! That means we have won the match by a bigger margin than the score reflected.

You can imagine the frenzy when they came out of the other room, we hurried to verify the board was not misboarded and that they had indeed entered the score into Bridgemate wrongly. Another search for the Canadian team to verify the mistake and then search for a director to have him acknowledge the change in score. Next , we have to go to the scorers to get them to key the change into the sytem.. All this while everyone was gathering in the lobby looking at the results...

At the end of it all, we overcame the Canadians 69- 28 imps (23-7 VP) while the Italians faltered on the last board against the Australians:

1 USA 1 328
2 POLAND 309
3 ITALY 304
5 FRANCE 301
6 ISRAEL 293
7 NORWAY 291
8 EGYPT 263

Nothing can describe how relieved we were that we managed do the 'impossible'. It has been a hell of a ride for us and thankfully, all's well that end well.. for us that is.

We saw the French team after the match as they realise they no longer had to tie-break. Oh well, we have been in the position before and we really feel for them.
It is not easy to come so far and miss out by so little. Understandably, they left after the match but when we met up the next day, they were more than gracious and had words of encouragement for us. Kudos to them...

The last few posts seemed to have been lost, here are the direct URLS to them: