Spring NABC 2024 in Louisville, Pairs events

Louisville is renowned as the hometown of the legendary Muhammad Ali. Among his numerous memorable quotes is, "Even the greatest was once a beginner. Don't be afraid to take that first step."

The American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) hosts three major Nationals each year, catering to players of all skill levels, from seasoned experts to novices. By featuring events with pre-qualifications and others with Masterpoints® restrictions, the organizers guarantee a diverse range of opportunities for everyone interested. If you're a bridge enthusiast who hasn't yet attended one of these Nationals, heed Muhammad Ali's advice and dare to take that initial leap.

In Louisville one of the events was brand new, the NABC+ Open Pairs. Brad Moss and Martin Fleisher (left) were the winners, ahead of Zachary Grossack and Andrew Rosenthal. Jiang Gu and Glenn Robbins came third. This deal could have reversed the final standings:

West led the ♣Q and East overtook it to play a heart, which allowed West to draw trumps before continuing with the ♣J. East overtook that, and the defenders had all the tricks, -2800 consigning NS to second place.

The Lebhar IMP Pairs was first contested in 1987. This year the winners were Jianming Dai and Erli Zhou (right), who finished more than 30 IMPs ahead of Ettore Bianchi and Giuseppe Delle Cave. Third place goes to Dennis Hesthaven and Ralph Letizia Jr.

This was one of the most exciting deals from the event:

Dealer West. All Vul.

A handful of pairs bid 7♠.

If North finds an inspired heart lead declarer has no real chance, but after a traditional trump lead declarer has 12 tricks on top. After drawing trumps one winning option is to advance the J (just in case North covers) putting up dummy’s ace, come to hand with the ♣K, go to dummy with the K (hoping for a doubleton Q) then cash two clubs pitching a diamond and heart and ruff a diamond. When the suit divides, the A is still available as an entry to the winning diamond.

No one made 7♠, but one pair bid and made 7NT. Perhaps South came down to K10 Q32 ♣10965 as declarer ran five dummy’ spades (discarding a heart and two diamonds) and then fatally pitched a minor suit card on the last one (declarer discarding the J).

The Rockwell Mixed Pairs is always popular and this year the title went to Taiwan’s Li-Hsiang Kuo and Ho-Yee So (left).

The Kay Platinum Pairs, named in honour of Norman Kay (one half of the famous Kaplan-Kay partnership), was established in 2010. Joel Wooldridge and Kent Mignocchi ‒ who were runners up in 2016 ‒ went one better this time, finishing ahead of Oren Toledano and Ami Zamir.

The Silodor Open Pairs started in 1958. This year it was dominated by Polish players. Rafal Jagniewski and Wojciech Gawel only qualified in 63rd place, but put together scores of 62.10% and 65.05% to storm to victory, just ahead of their fellow countrymen, Jakub and Patryk Patreuha.

This deal from the second qualifying session of the event was a case of thrust and parry:

As soon as West opened the bidding Alex Kolesnik envisaged a final contract in spades or notrumps at the six or seven level. His 4♣ bid was asking for aces, but whereas he was expecting the responses to be 0/4, 1, 2, his partner thought they were playing 1430. Alex tried 4 and when his partner bid 4NT he decided to try for a matchpoint top with 6NT.

When North doubled Alex realised that the AK must be missing, and wisely ran to 7♠. When North doubled for a second time the spotlight was on South. A passive lead would allow declarer to make his contract with a winning view in the club suit, but Valerie Gamio found the essential heart lead.

Kristen Onsgard and Nancy Passell (left) won the Smith Women’s Pairs, an event that dates back to 1961, ahead of Anam Tebha and Christina Parker. Anam was also the runner-up in 2022, playing with Sally Meckstroth. If you collect trivia, the ACBL’s Executive Director Bronia Jenkins won in 2014 partnering Bernace De Young.

With so many tournaments taking place, many wonderful pieces of play are consigned to the dustbin of history. Here is one that survives from a top flight event:

North led the Q and when South took the A, Jui Wang followed with the K! When South took the bait and switched to a spade. Declarer, having won with dummy’s ♠A and discarded the 8 on dummy’s ♣A, played a diamond to the king, disclosing the 4-0 split. North won with the A and exited with a club, declarer ruffing and cashing the ♠KQ. When the suit divided, she could continue to play winning spades. When North ruffed declarer could overruff, ruff a club and play another spade, neutralizing North’s trumps for a cool +1000.

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