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.
The match between USA1 and USA2 featured many of the best bridge players and partnerships in America.
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
J 10 7 4
A K 10 8 6 5
J 9 5 4
Q 3 2
Q 9 8 6 3
J 3 2
K 7 6
J 10 7 5 4
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.
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).