World Championship Semifinals: November 1-2, 2005

As the Semifinals of the Bermuda Bowl, Venice Cup, and Senior Bowl began Tuesday the Americas could be proud to have teams remaining in each of these events. In the Bermuda Bowl both American teams reached the Semifinals where, by rule, they faced each other, with the winner to battle either Italy or Sweden in the finals.

Bermuda Bowl
Carryover

 Italy Sweden3-0

USA2
USA1
0-5

 

Venice Cup

Carryover

France
USA
16-0

Germany
Netherlands
0-16

 

Senior Bowl

Carryover

Indonesia
Denmark
10.5-0

USA1Netherlands
11-0


The match between USA1 and USA2 featured many of the best bridge players and partnerships in America.

USA1
USA2

Nick Nickell-Dick Freeman
Ron Rubin-Russ Ekeblad

Jeff Meckstroth-Eric Rodwell
Geoff Hampson-Eric Greco

Bob Hamman-Paul Soloway
Fred Gitelman-Brad Moss

The USA1 squad (Nickell Team) are the defending Bermuda Bowl champions and are familiar to anyone who has followed American or international bridge in recent decades. It is to no one's surprise that they have reached the Semifinals and are back to defend their title. The USA2 team (Ekeblad Team) followed a strong victory in the Spingold (premier knockout teams event at the Atlanta 2005 Summer NABC) with a hard-fought overtime win in the national team trials in Houston against another tough American team, anchored by the world class partnership of Larry Cohen and David Berkowitz. In reaching the Semifinals, where they expected to face the other American team, USA2 had accomplished their first goal for the Bermuda Bowl. But they were not satisfied and fully expect to accomplish their two remaining goals - beating their fellow countrymen and winning their first Bermuda Bowl. Eric Greco and Jeff Hampson have proven themselves to be one of the top pairs in the world, capable of holding their own against any partnership, even the mighty Meckwell. The key for the USA2 squad would be the partnership of Fred Gitelman and Brad Moss. Gitelman-Moss had not fully hit their stride in the Quarterfinals. If USA2 were to going to knockoff the defending champions then Gitelman-Moss were going would need to step up their level of play and challenge Hamman-Soloway. 

It is interesting to notice the partnership interactions and personalities of the top pairs in the world. Hamman-Soloway and Meckstroth-Rodwell hardly ever say anything to each other during competition and they stay cool towards their partners even after disastrous results. Lauria-Versace (the top Italian pair), amazingly, seem to argue after almost every hand, even with good results. Gitelman-Moss are much friendlier and more supportive of each other at the table. They use the same reassuring behavior that most players do, telling the other things like "good lead" and "sorry, partner" between hands. This encouraging behavior, though different from many of the top professional pairs, has served them well and has provided them with the confidence they needed to take on USA1, the dominant force in American bridge. 

The Semifinal match consisted of six 16-board segments. The first two segments were relatively even with both teams feeling each other out. USA1 started with a 5 IMP carryover and gained 8 IMPs and 5 IMPs in the first and second segments, respectively, to give them an 18 IMP lead going into the third segment. The third segment was important for USA2 with Gitelman-Moss sitting against Hamman-Soloway. Though USA1 won the segment 55-28 and increased their lead to 45 IMPs, Gitelman-Moss played well and more than held their own against Hamman-Soloway. Gitelman-Moss were able to hold their mistakes to a minimum and avoid any disasters when they did make mistakes. Meanwhile, they put pressure on Hamman-Soloway and felt confident that they were gaining the upper hand on almost every board. Hamman-Soloway regained their focus and control, obtaining many positive scores late in the segment, but most of the IMPs for USA2 were not lost at this table. Though the third segment resulted in USA1 greatly extending their lead, the important thing for USA2 was that it showed that Gitelman-Moss could play with both Meckwell and Hamman-Soloway. This helped set the stage for a great battle in the final three segments the next day. In the fourth 16-board segment Gitelman-Moss sat against Meckstroth-Rodwell. The session was solidly played by both pairs, with Gitelman-Moss keeping Meckwell from performing any of their magic. Gitelman-Moss bid to solid contracts, played steady defense, and escaped their mistakes with little or no loses. USA2 gained 10 IMPs to close the gap to +35 IMPs for USA1. In the fifth 16-board segment Gitelman-Moss sat against Nickell-Freeman. Gitelman-Moss played their strongest set yet in the Semifinals. They gave Nickell-Freeman few chances to gain IMPs and they skillfully bid and played to gain 24 IMPs on just three boards (#2, 7, 12).  The following hand is a nice example of both Gitelman and Moss using good bidding and good judgement.  For result of 3NT+1, they gained 10 IMPs. 

Brd: 2 K 9 8 5 3

Dlr: E 9 7 4

Vul: NS A 10 8


 K 2

 A Q
 J 10 7 4

 A K 10 8 6 5
 Q

 J 9 5 4
 Q 3 2

 A
 Q 9 8 6 3


 6 2


 J 3 2


 K 7 6


 J 10 7 5 4

 

 

 

 

 

EastSouthWestNorth

MossFreemanGitelmanNickell

PassPass11

PassPass2NT (1)Pass

3NT (2)All pass

1= Good hand with long hearts (1NT would show 18-19 HCP Balanced)

2= Great secondary values for Notrump

 

 

Contract: 3NT by W

 

 

In total, USA2 gained 17 IMPs on the segment to close to 18 IMPs behind with one final 16-board segment to play. For the final 16-boards Gitelman-Moss faced Meckwell in the closed room, while Greco-Hampson faces Hamman-Soloway in the open room. Facing Meckstroth-Rodwell in the final 16-boards of the Bermuda Bowl, down 18 IMPs, is a daunting task for anyone. But Gitelman-Moss played well and gave a valiant effort. Sitting against Meckwell in this situation, a partnership needs to continue to play good bridge, which Gitelman-Moss did, but one can not just sit back and play steady bridge. A pair trailing late in a match needs to put pressure on their opponents and force them to make difficult decisions. This is particularly true playing against a pair like Meckwell who, though more often than not accomplish brilliance at the bridge table, are prone to some disastrous results. Gitelman-Moss did exactly that, playing active bridge and forcing the set to be filled with many swings. Over the 16-board set there were swings of 14, 12, 11, 11, 10, 7, 5, 5, 4, and 2 IMPs. That is exactly the kind of set that USA2 needed in order to overcome their deficit. Unfortunately for USA2, some of the Gitelman-Moss aggression did not go in their favor and Greco-Hampson were forced into many difficult play and defensive situations that, in general, did not go their way. USA1 also play steady enough bridge to not give away many unearned IMPs. The final score for the sixth segment was 51-30 to USA1, resulting in a USA1 victory over USA2, 211-172.

Teams
Segment 1
Segment 2
Segment 3
Segment 4
Segment 5
Segment 6
Total

USA1 (+5)
26
40
55
16
18
51
211

USA2
18
35
28
26
35
30
172


In the end, USA2 did not have it in them to overcome the reigning champions. But they proved to everyone that they are a team on the rise and will be major players in the years to come. In spite of the disappointment of losing to their fellow Americans, USA2 should be proud of what they accomplished in this Bermuda Bowl.

In the other Semifinal Bermuda Bowl match, Italy had little trouble with Sweden, forcing the Swedes to concede after just five segments. Thus, the 2005 Bermuda Bowl will culminate with the much anticipated rematch from the previous Bermuda Bowl Finals - USA1 vs. Italy.

In the Venice Cup Semifinals USA1 faced the dominant French team. The American women battled hard, but were unable to overcome a difficult start that left them trailing 50-1 after just 8 boards. France cruised to a 262-150 victory. In the other Semifinal match, Germany was forced into a tough battle with the Netherlands for the first five segments. But in the final segment, Germany blew the match open with a 71-8 win and triumphed 241-164. Thus, Germany and France will face off in a rematch of the last Venice Cup Final, with France hoping to avenge their defeat.

In the Senior Bowl Semifinals, Indonesia made a late exciting comeback against a strong Denmark squad. Down 38.5 IMPs after four segments, Indonesia managed to win by a final score of 168.5-156. Meanwhile, USA1 dominated the Netherlands, with the Netherlands conceding 223-117 after just five segments. Thus, USA1 will face Indonesia in the Senior Bowl Finals.

The Transnational Team continued the preliminary Swiss-stage of the event over the past two days, preparing for the final knockout-stage.  The leaders are currently a strong Russian team (777).

World Championship Events October 29th-30th

I arrived in Estoril, Portugal for the 2005 Bermuda Bowl on the evening of Saturday, October 29th. The final round of the preliminary Round Robin stage of the event was just finishing and an exciting rematch between the two finalists from two years ago, USA1 and Italy, had just been completed. The Italians had been leading the event, living up to their billing as the favorites to win this year's Bermuda Bowl. The USA1 team had performed well up until this point, but had not yet returned to their championship form of the past several years. This match provided much excitement, with few flat boards and much for the crowds to cheer about. In the end, the USA1 team, with a strong 107-40 IMPs victory, reminded the Italians that though they have had little trouble in leading the event to this point, the defending champions are still here and ready to repeat.

On Sunday, October 30th the final Knockout stage of the event began. Some exciting matches began in all the events- Bermuda Bowl, Venice Cup(women), and Senior Bowl.  Additionally, the finals of the World Computer Bridge Championships were held, with Wbridge5 knocking off the three-time defending champion, Jack, in an excellent match for computer bridge.

Bermuda Bowl Quarterfinals with carry-over
Italy vs. India 0-2.3
USA2 vs. Argentina 0-4
USA1 vs. Brazil 9-0
Egypt vs. Sweden 0-16

Venice Cup Quarterfinals with carry-over
France vs. Canada 15.5-0
China vs. Netherlands 16-0
Germany vs.England 0-3.7
USA1 vs.USA2 9-0

Senior Bowl Quarterfinals with carry-over
USA1 vs. France 11-0
Portugal vs.Indonesia 0-16
USA2 vs.Netherlands 16-0
Denmark vs. Israel 16-0

You can follow these matches live at:
http://www.worldbridge1.org/tourn/Estoril.05/asp/knockoutphase.asp?qtournid=535&qphase=QF

One of the most impressive performances at this year's Bermuda Bowl has been by the relatively young USA2 pair, Geoff Hampson and Eric Greco. Greco-Hampson have been performing well at ACBL nationals for several years, continuously challenging the top seeds for victory.  They performed exceptionally well in the Round Robin stage of this year's Bermuda Bowl, winning the prestigious Butler rankings, which are given to the pair that scores the best against the datum. In doing so, they beat out such top pairs as Italy's Versace-Lauria and Egypt's El Ahmadi-Sadek. This clearly qualifies them as one of the best pairs in the world and solidifies them as a force in American bridge for years to come. I kibitzed Greco-Hampson during their first segment of their Quarterfinal match vs. Argentina on Sunday, October 30th. It was a close match in which Greco-Hampson played solid bridge, forcing the Argentines to earn any swings that were going to take place at their table. Greco-Hampson began board 1 by bidding and playing well to reach 4x= for an nice start to the set. Argentina struck back on board 3 by making a 1 overcall on AKQx, forcing Greco to get conservative with his 10 HCP and 9xxx in Hearts sitting behind the overcall, settling for 2=, when they could likely make 3N (but it wasn't bid at the other table either.) On Board 5 Greco-Hampson generated some action for their side by doubling the Argentines in 2, non-vul vs. vul. They slipped a trick on the defense, but still beat the contract two tricks for +500, a gain against their making non-vulnerable game. They played well the rest of the way, dropping overtricks defending a 1N contract on board 11, but defeating 3N on board 16 while their teammates made 4. It was a good start to their match and solid bridge from the exciting new American stars.

The most interest match to American observers may be in the Venice cup, where USA1 faces USA2. The first two segments were tight, with both teams battling to gain an edge. In the third segment the USA1 took hold of the match with a strong 64-12 IMP beating of USA2 to take a 58 IMP lead at the half. Though USA1 has had much success against USA2 in the last year, expect a strong, difficult match to continue.

One of the most interesting hands of the second segment was board 12. North-South can made either 6 or 6, but few pairs managed to reach the slam. The Italian pair of Fulvio Fantoni and Claudio Nunes reached 6 on an interesting auction and I asked Fantoni about the bidding.

Brd: Q2/6 #12 K J 10 4

Dlr: W J 6 4 2

Vul: NS A J 10 4


 10

 Q 9 3
 8 6

 K 8
 7 3

 K 9 8 7
 Q 6 3 2

 K Q 9 7
 J 6 5 4 2


 A 7 5 2


 A Q 10 9 5


 5


 A 8 3

 

 

WestNorthEastSouth


Fantoni
Nunes

1PassPassX (1)

Pass1 (2)Pass3 (3)

Pass3 (4)Pass3N (5)

Pass4 (6)Pass4 (7)

Pass4Pass6 (8)

All pass

(1) Two way, 8-11 or 14+ HCP

(2) Any hand without game interest opposite 8-11 HCP

(3) 14+ HCP, good Hearts

(4) Cuebid- Italian Style, 1st or 2nd round control

(5) Waitng, but minimizing hand 14-17

(6) Cuebid, still interested in slam

(7) Cuebid

(8) Slam is likely!

 

 

Contract: 6 by N

 

Well done by the Italians!

 

 

 

 

 

 

An example of the fine play taking place in the USA2-Argentina match came from a slam hand on board 10. Many pairs in the Bermuda Bowl, Venice Cup, and Senior bowl reach 7 and went down when the spade suit of AKJ10xxxxx opposite a void could not be played for no losers because of a 4-0 break. First the USA2 pair reached 7 to get a great result. Then, to the cheers of the Vugraph crowd, the Argentines reached the same nice 7 contract on these cards:

Dlr: E —

Vul: Both A 6 4 3


 A K 9 8 3 2


 Q J 2



 



 



 



 


 A K J 10 9 8 6 3 2


 —


 Q 7 5


 A

 

 

 

 

Well done by all!

The Quarterfinals with be completed Monday, October 31st with three final 16 board segments.

My Year In Finland (Aug 2005 - Aug2006)

My year in Finland was filled with many great experiences, highlighted by some truely exciting bridge.  This happened to be a great year for bridge in Europe.  I was able to attend many great events.  These events included the
2005 World Championships in Estoril, Portugal -
where I got to experience my first Bermuda Bowl and kibitz some amazing players and matches, 
2006 World Open Bridge Champships in Versona, Italy - 
where I got the opportunity to play against some of the best players in the world and learn that I could more than hold my own, and
2006 Procom Software SA European Bridge Championships in Warsaw, Poland - 
where I got to absorb the European styles of bridge and understand the contrasts and rivalries.

All of these were great bridge experiences, but my experiences of playing bridge with the Fins surpassed them all.  In Finland, I was fortunate to quickly be accepted into their bridge community of top players, interesting events, and great people.  One of the immediate challenges to bridge in Finland (other than being without any regular partners) was learning and adapting to the many new systems I encountered.  As a player, I had studyed several systems, but I had never been immersed in the pleathera of varied systems I would begin to see regularly (4-card Majors both Finnish and Swedish style, many flavors of strong club systems, Magic Diamond, light initial action systems, forcing pass, and more...)  My proclivity for asking lots of system questions and seeing what might be problem auctions paid off greatly (though I do think some of the Fins got a little tired of me giving them bidding sequences to see what they would mean in the many different systems.)  In the end, all of this was a great stimulater of ideas and aided in the development of my personal bridge system.  

One of the early highlights was playing with a talented and experienced Finnish player Petri Ukkonen.  We were fortuate to have seome early success and develop the beginnings of a regular partnership.  We were invited to participate in the trials for the Finnish national team and despite taking the first day to find our form - we had a successful performance of coming in second (while have a chance to win up till the end.)  The other great experiences are too many to ennumerate, but playing with many excellent partners while winning the first division of the Helsinki Fall Teams League and the summer fun of the Hanko Bridge Week were some of the most noteworthy and enjoyable. 

Bridge in Finlnad is of a much higher qulaity than I had expected before going there.  After playing and making friends with most of the top players I have high expectations for their bridge future.  For such a small country there are plenty of players with world class talent and experience.  I hope and believe that the top partnerships will continue to mature and develop, thus allowing them to challenge on the worlds biggest stage.

Finally, I'd like to say thank you to all the friends I made in Finland.  Your hospitality, partneship, and acceptence was greatly appreciated and won't be forgotten.