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Crunch Time


Moroccan tummy had got me on the last night of a week chez Wheeler. I lay moaning in bed, reflecting on my task ahead. I needed to get back to London, then leave for Verona the very next day to play the World Individual.

This biennial event is one of my favourites, giving you the chance to play two boards with those you normally oppose. I have always done well, and enjoy playing a standard, simple system (Frenchstyle, using Five=card Majors and Strong Notrump). My best placing was 3rd, in 1998, but it didn’t look like I’d even make the 2004 event, though, let alone improve on 3rd.

I’ll cut short the unpleasantness of the travel, except to say that I did make it to Verona, and was able to nibble at white bread on my way to an opening 55% session (first of four). The next two sessions went like a dream: my partners were brilliant, and a 58% followed by a 64% session saw me well in the lead with a day to go.

I slept nervously and sporadically that night. Although my lead was big, breathing down my neck was the might of Italian many time World Champion Norberto Bocchi, slightly taller than my six feet six inches.

I wanted a quiet start to the final session, but instead got this as the very first deal:

South Deals
None Vul
A 9 8 7 4
K 10 8 6 4
Q 6 4
9 6 5 4
9 5 3
A K J 9 7 2
W   E
J 10 3
K 10 8 7 2
10 8 3
K Q 6 5 2
A Q J 3
A 7 2
West North East South
      1 ♠
3 ♣ 4 ♣1 Pass 4 2
Pass 5 ♠3 Pass 6 ♠
Pass Pass Pass
  1. Good spade raise, unrelated to clubs (in
    the modern style).
  2. Natural slam try (again the modern
    way); perhaps hearts will make a better
    trump suit (4-4 as opposed to 5-4/5-3?).
  3. Slam try, asking for a club control.


West led the ace of clubs against my Six Spades, and switched to a diamond (best), to the queen and ace. I ruffed a heart, cashed the ace of trumps, crossed to the queen, ruffed a heart, ruffed a club, ruffed a third heart, ruffed a club, drew East's last trump, cashed the ace of hearts, the, at Trick Twelve led a diamond towards the king-ten.

Crunch time. West had cleverly kept hold of both his diamonds, but did he have the jack? I was tempted to go up with the king, because West might have been reluctant to switch to diamond away from the jack at Trick Two. But he had no other safe switch (a heart would lead to a minor-suit squeeze on him - try it!), and after much pondering I inserted the ten.

Argh! East won the jack (I can still picture him doing it), and I was down two (he could cash a heart).

Three more bottoms came straight after, and, although I still held the lead, it was now a very slender one. I clung on until the very last deal, but Bocchi overtook me at the last gasp, and I had to settle for Silver.

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