Sunday 23 July 2017

Putting My Cards on the Table #2: Seeding in the Scottish Cup

Hurrah! It's another PMCOTT post, and a chance for me to divide my almost non-existent readership still further. More uninformed opinions from one of Scotland's bog-standard competitive players, because goodness knows we don't have enough of that.

I'm a Scottish Bridge News Subscriber. (Honest!) It's good value for what it is, and in today's society is probably the only institution I know of that both has the word "News" in it and hasn't been labelled "fake" by somebody. In the latest issue, they introduced a new feature: The Opinions Page. (Popcorn at the ready...) Personally, I hope that this is a mini misnomer and we will see a full-blown Opinions Section from here on out. The more constructive dialogue, the better. I don't think you can fit everything that needs talked about onto just one page.

The inaugural Opinions Page was devoted to a response from one Dougie Munroe to an invitation to enter the Scottish Cup, which is still officially Scotland's Premier Event. I'm naming him because:
(a) He deserves credit for his piece, and
(b) I can hardly hide his identity; anyone who reads SBN will know who I'm talking about, and
(c) I have a MUCH lower readership than Scottish Bridge News!
He opens:

"Why would I want to enter a competition where the Conditions of Contest are set to reduce my chances of Progressing in it?"

He follows with an article outlining a strong opinion that the Scottish Cup should be a completely open draw; that there should be no Seeded teams at all. It is a compelling, and not unjustified point of view, and it led me to question my own view on the subject. As a result of that miniature soul-search, here is my tuppence' worth.

I am not offering this piece as a rebuttal, per se. Munroe's argument was reasonable, and food for thought. But on balance I find myself inclined to disagree, albeit in pretty loose terms. As my starting point I shall consider the following statement:

Why should whether a competition is Seeded or not affect whether or not I enter it?

I am trying to establish myself as a regular attendee at the bigger events on the Scottish Bridge Calendar. It is not possible for me to attend everything, but if I have my way I will consistently be playing in the Scottish Cup, National League, Winter Fours etc from here on out. Each of these events I cited are currently (by some definition) Seeded, and I would still play in them if they weren't. I've seen minor tweaks, and not-so-minor tweaks to each, a number of which I disagree with, and I still play in them. Any one of them would have to undergo massive rule/format changes for the worse before I would consider discontinuing my participation. Maybe this is just me, but I personally feel that whether the Scottish Cup is Seeded or not is not in itself a big enough issue to affect whether I play or not.

Then again, I am an ambitious player. I want to learn. The prospect of a long match against quality opposition does not deter me. I like playing in events where I will be punished for my mistakes, because that is how I learn. You have to beat the best if you want to be the best.

I would perhaps support the removal of Seeding from the Scottish Cup - if it could be satisfactorily proven to me that this would induce a big upsurge in entries. But honestly, I don't think this is the issue. Poll everyone that doesn't play in the Scottish Cup and ask them why not, and you will get a variety of different answers, many of which will translate as: "Can't be bothered" or "I'm not a competitive player".

Okay, so let's look at what the Seeding system actually is.

The Conditions of Contest state that the amount of seeds will be limited to 4. A more recent (and possibly unwritten) stipulation is that those four seeds should be the four Semi-Finalist teams from the previous season (which presumably carries some sort of team continuity requirement). This is as good a way of doing it as you can possibly get. I would be sceptical of Scottish Cup Seeding if there were more than four. The more I think about this system, the more I think it is the fairest.

Why do we want the stronger teams to have an easier route?

A just question. As Dougie Munroe points out in his article:

"They might all meet in the early rounds while a weaker team, or the only strong team, progresses from the other half of the draw. True, but eventually the best team wins the Cup. If there's an upset, especially in the longer matches in the later stages or final, hurray for the underdog! That's what cup competitions are all about."

He also argues:

"Seeding has a place in big-money, multi-national spectator sports like tennis or football where maximising viewing figures for the later stages maximises revenue; none of these adjectives apply to the Scottish Cup. Some notable knock-out competitions do not seed and this adds to their romance, interest and participation: e.g. the Scottish and English FA Cups."

There is a difference, however, between the Scottish Cups in football and Bridge. In football, whether the match is the first round or Final, the match is 90 minutes long. Not so with Bridge. As a team draws nearer to the Final, the matches get longer. It is preferable that when the Seeds meet, the match is longer. Of course you want the romance of the cup where big teams can be knocked out early. Everyone loves an underdog. But for the integrity of the competition, clashes between Seeds should be in matches where the element of luck is reduced. Believe it or not, you are increasing the chances of everyone progressing - not just the Seeds. I shall explore this theme a bit more later.

There are some superficial, but worthy, answers to the question.

Firstly, as previously stated, everyone loves an Underdog. But there is a flip side. The underdog may be completely swept aside. It is intended that the Scottish Cup Final is broadcast on BBO VuGraph. Does anyone really want to make it to the final of a competition untested, and then have their mistakes exposed for the world to see? It is probably to the benefit of the so-called "weaker" teams that they earn their place in the final by knocking out a couple of Seeds, or at least by knocking out the teams that knocked the Seeds out.

Secondly, Knock-on effect. The National League is "seeded". By which I mean, the teams that earned a right to play in Division 1 last season have first refusal on taking up their place this season. But if not all teams take up their place, the SBU have to figure out how to rate team players, and one of the things they look at is the Scottish Cup. It's a remote chance, but surely we do not want the composition of the National League to be affected by "luck of the draw" in the Scottish Cup, which in turn may affect which players we send to represent Scotland?

Equality of Opportunity

It is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that an open draw gives everyone an equal chance. In a sense it does - in terms of equal chance of getting a favourable draw. But let's have a look at the issue in more detail.

Taking this year's Cup as a case study, there were 30 entries (not including the Highland District, as the earlier rounds are regionalised to save on travel). For those that have to play a First Round match, they would not have to play a Seed in their first match, For those unseeded teams progressing to, or entering in, the Second Round, there was only a 25% chance of them meeting a Seed at this stage. Progressing to the Last 16 incurs a 50% chance, which means you have a 50% chance of having the opportunity to progress to the Quarter Final before you meet a Seed. That seems reasonable to me.

Assume, for sake of argument, that you are a strong Unseeded team, and you would be strong favourites against any other Unseeded team. Only the Seeds stand in your way. Either:

(a) You meet a Seed in the Quarter Final, and you are effectively playing for that Seeding. Should you win, you will progress to the Semi Final, and become a Seed for the next season.


(b) You play a Seed in a 32 board match, which you technically have more chance of winning. If you win, you will not meet another Seed until the Semi Finals.

You see? The shorter the match, the greater the chance of the underdog winning. For example, my team had a disappointing run in the District Teams of 4 last year, where some underdogs beat us in a 14 board match. That can happen - but if those were only the first 14 boards of a match, and we had 34 boards still to play, I'd be reasonably confident of turning that around. I've played in more than one Scottish Cup match where we were trailing at half time only to turn it round in the second half - on one occasion overturning a deficit of about 30 IMPs to win the second half by about 68 IMPs (memory does not give me the exact figures now). So, if you are an Underdog, it is to your tactical advantage to meet a Seed before the Quarter Final, because there's an arithmetical case that your chances of winning are increased by 33% compared to playing the Seed in the Quarter Final. Meanwhile, the Seeds meet in longer matches, where the element of luck is reduced, and may the best Seed win.

Beat a Seed to become a Seed

Not to harp on about the points I made above, but this is the implication. Munroe argues:

"There are various inconsequential arguments in defence of seeding... The main arguments of substance appear to have two, contradictory themes: Firstly, seeding is fairer to the weaker teams. If a weaker team beats a seed, the weaker team won't meet a seed in the next round. This rather depends on the number of seeds. However, at some point, if seeding serves its purpose, the weaker team (or its next opponent) will inevitably meet another Seed. So, at best, meeting another seed is only delayed by a round or two."

Or three.

"Without seeding, it is argued that a weaker team, on beating a strong team, might well meet another strong team in the next round. They might or might not but surely if one enters a cup competition and beats a good team, one savours the victory and prepares to meet stiff(er) opposition in the next round?"

Yes, one always savours the victory. But one might also argue that knocking out a seed should bring some kind of reward, other than getting knocked out one round later than expected. The opportunity to progress at least as far as the Semi Final brings that. Which brings me to...

The Standard of Competition in the Scottish Cup

Pretty much every match in the Scottish Cup is guaranteed to be a tough test. There are no weak players (unless you count me). So Seeding is kind-of a moot point anyway. You might prefer to play against a Seed compared to some of the Unseeded opposition. Yes, some teams are weaker than others, but there are no outright weak teams. Gone are the days of all and sundry entering, and big teams racking up wins in excess of a couple of hundred IMPs. In fact, I would reckon it's a good bet that when my team of youngsters entered in 2010, and were soundly beaten in our opening match by Brian Short's team, that was the last time a Scottish Cup match was lost by over a hundred IMPs - anyone care to correct me on this? (Cue the messages of: "We also beat you by over a hundred IMPs"). But just to reiterate the point about shorter matches - had Board 1 of that match been the only one to count, we'd have won. Seeded or not, anyone can get an unfavourable draw. Which brings me to...

The Scottish Cup Plate

This is a free-entry competition for teams that are knocked out of the Scottish Cup in the first round that they play. So, if you get a really unfavourable first round draw, you parachute here (sort of like getting Knocked Out of the Champion's League into the Europa League). This competition specifically exists to cater for those who are unlucky in their opening match. It's a selling point of the Scottish Cup that you are not limited to one match - every team is guaranteed a minimum of two matches. No Seeded teams here (assuming all Seeds won their opening match), so the competition is open.

A Note on the Highland District Regionalisation

I am not against regionalising the Highland District's part of the Scottish Cup. It's a big area, often difficult to travel through, and it prevents teams from having to travel obscene distances in the early rounds. However, there have been some suggestions in the past that some non-Highland teams have entered the Highland Draw in order to gain an easier route to the Last 16. While my evidence for this remains anecdotal only, it is a logical point that theoretically at least, with no Seeds from the Highland District, that is an advantage of entering that route. It is interesting that Dougie Munroe is registered in the Highland District. I can't really buy his claim that the Conditions of Contest are set to scupper HIS chances of progressing, since the Conditions of Contest if anything favour his chances of making it to the Last 16. I'm not saying that he didn't make valid points; I found his piece very interesting and I do not wish to demean his viewpoint. But taking this into consideration, it comes across as excuse-mongering.

Besides which, is it all about the winning? Can't people just enter for the love of the game any more?

Thursday 6 July 2017

Alisdair v The Rule of Seven

Ah, the rule of Seven. Such a useful little tool. Like any tool, it is only as useful as the one who wields it. For the uninitiated, the Rule of Seven is a rule-of-thumb for Declarer to use for handling a side suit with limited stoppers. Consider the following combinations:

(a) Axx opposite xxx
(b) Axxx opposite xxx
(c) Axx opposite xx

In each of the above scenarios, these are side suits, and as Declarer, they are immediately led at you.
The rule is thus:

Subtract the number of cards in your fit from 7. This gives you the number of times you need to duck.

Simple, right? For (a), the fit is 6, so 7-6 = 1. Duck ONCE and then win the Ace on the second round.
Using the same logic, you don't duck at all with (b), and you duck twice with (c).

Great. A rule that is as easy to remember as it is to use. So far, so good. But why does it work?
The mathematical logic is sound. Employing this rule helps you block the suit when the distribution is uneven. This means that when you win the trick, the only reason that both opponents can still hold a card in that suit is because the suit split as evenly as possible. This means that you can treat one hand as the "danger hand" and play to ensure that hand does not get in to cash tricks. (This is especially relevant Declaring NT contracts). It also means that you don't duck more than you need to.

Take, for example, option (a). The opponents's cards could be distributed 4-3, 5-2, 6-1 or 7-0. Obviously, when both opponents follow suit, they are at worst 6-1, and when you win the Ace on the second round and everyone follows, it is no worse than 5-2. You have now successfully cut the defence' communications in that suit. Unless the hand that started with 5 has another entry, they will never be able to cash their winners. If the split is 4-3, you have not cut communication, but they can only gather 2 further tricks from that suit.

Is this an Open and Shut case? This is Bridge; of course its not.
For example, consider the possibilities in (b). Not ducking still protects against a 5-1 split, but not against 4-2. This is the "exception" where you do not guarantee the suits splits as evenly as it possibly can. The reason the rule still applies is that 3-3 breaks are so unlikely anyway. It baffles me when I speak to players that still feel that a suit "SHOULD" split 3-3. No it shouldn't! You are entitled to that happening 35% of the time; no more. Alternatively, if you have 4 cards, you might promote a pip as as second trick so that's why the rule says not to duck.
HOWEVER, IF you took the view that: "I can afford to lose one trick that I don't need to lose, just to ensure that I don't lose three", you would reason that you need to duck once to protect against the 4-2 split.

The take away from this is two-fold:
1: Context matters
2: Sometimes the even split is the one you are worried about.

Consider this hand I played last night:



3NT by the bottom hand
Lead: 4 of hearts
Match Points
No opposition Bidding

Note the heart suit. The rule of Seven says I should duck once. I play the 5, the King appears, and I duck. The 6 is returned - I duck again. Why?

Well, I do not want to lose 3 heart tricks. I can see 3 spades, 1 heart, 3 clubs and 1 diamond trick. If the minors split 3-3 (which I have just pointed out I am NOT entitled to!), I can make 9, but I may need to lose the lead twice to set that up and that brings me down if they also get 3 hearts. I can afford TWO heart losers. I am giving the contract the best chance of making by ensuring that when I win the Ace of Hearts, the suit is blocked. Sure enough, when LHO returns a third heart, RHO pitches a spade. I have lost one more heart trick than necessary.
Some may be thinking that I am wrongly adopting a teams strategy here. The goal in Match Points is to make as many tricks as possible, so it is worth the risk just to ensure that I don't lose a trick un-necessarily. I disagree. Let's see why.

Now that I know I cannot afford LHO to gain the lead for any reason what so ever, I have to assume RHO has the Ace of diamonds. Otherwise, this contract has no play and it is irrelevant how many times I ducked. So, I cash King and Ace of Clubs, with both opponents following both times. I now play a small diamond from table, RHO follows, and I play the Queen. It wins! I'm now at 8 tricks; time to combine chances. I play a small diamond from hand - and the Jack appears from LHO. I cover with the King. RHO wins with the Ace, but this sets up my 10. I now know I am making this contract. In fact, as long as RHO does not have 5 spades, I am making an overtrick. Looks like I'm making the Match Points. RHO returns a spade - his best shot at defeating the contract. There's nothing he can do to stop me making 10 tricks, given his actual hand.

Why am I making ten instead of 9? The extra duck in hearts of course! Not only was it a prudent guard against the 4-3 break, it effectively rectified the Count for a minor suit squeeze. I win the spade with the Jack and cash my Queen of clubs. LHO discards, and now I know RHO started with 3=2=4=4 (4-4 in the minors). I play my Queen of Spades and overtake with the King, to ensure that on the last spade, I am winning in hand. Crucially, on the last spade, RHO has to discard. He squirms and pitches a diamond, and I now play my last diamond to the ten, and my 6 is now a winner. His alternative was to pitch his club, which would make my 6 a winner, on which I would pitch my 6 of diamonds before cashing the ten of diamonds.

Conclusion: The Rule of Seven is an OK rule, but using a tool properly involves knowing when to use it.

Friday 10 March 2017

Just one hand

So this is a bit of a "bonus"...
Paul Gipson has recently brought my attention to the Free Daylong tournaments on BBO. So far I've played two IMP events and finished with a positive score in the one where I was actually paying attention to what I was doing. I've also played one MP event and scored respectably in that.
I have just finished the Tuesday event for the 7th March (at time of writing - although obviously I can't publish this post until after it is completed), and had this interesting South hand:


Board 4, All Vul.

East opens a pre-emptive 3 Diamonds. A 3 Spades bid is tempting. It would get across my 5 card suit and although it promises 12-14, fifteen isn't too much of a lie here. However, with the singleton diamond and tolerance for all other suits, I double for takeout. Partner bids 4 Clubs, and really I should pass. That being said, if partner has shortage in the majors I feel 5 Clubs should at least have some play, so that is my call. As is the nature of the tournament, the computer swapped my seat so that I could declare.



East led the Jack of Diamonds to my singleton 4, West's Ace and 2 from my Declaring hand. A diamond was returned, I ducked and East's 8 was ruffed by dummy's 2 of clubs. I test clubs with the King, which draws East's Jack - looks like a 4-1 split.

Now I have a choice of lines. I could look to ruff the Queen of Diaomnds and hope it is not over-ruffed, or I could look to make sure that East never gets in. The key is the robot's bidding system. The robots play 3 Weak 2s, which significantly increases the likelihood of the 3 Diamonds bid genuinely holding 7 cards. Therefore, I cash the Queen of Clubs and note the 9 of Spades discard from East. I draw trumps, pitching the 4 of hearts and East discarding two diamonds. Now I cash King of Spades and am relieved to see East follow with the 5, but not so sure about the Queen from West. I now have to hope that the computer has been programmed not to pre-empt with a 4 card major, because if East has 4 spades, I'm coming down by quite a number. However, he shows out on the next round, which I win with the Ace, and I proceed by exiting a spade to West. That's two tricks for the defence, but West has only hearts left and must play into my AQ tenace, which together with my established spade suit makes 4 more tricks and +600.

There's always something satisfying about an endplay, as it requires piecing the exact hand together, much like a squeeze (which incidentally, this endplay is a cousin of).
I love it when a plan comes together!

Saturday 14 January 2017

District Teams of Four 2016-17 Round 3

Previously on this blog...



Contract: 4 Spades
Opening Lead: 3 Diamonds
No opposition bidding

After RHO wins the Ace of diamonds and returns a small one, I am faced with the decision between playing the Jack, to guard against the singleton lead, or play the King with the hope of winning the trick.

Despite the fact that this looks very like a singleton lead, I reason I should play the King. If LHO led from Qxxx (quite possible), then playing the Jack risks coming down after it loses to the Queen, followed by a diamond ruff and a failed guess in the trump suit. Unfortunately, the King is ruffed, but I now take advantage of the extra chance. I win the club return with the Jack (a heart return would have been no more successful), and then unblock clubs. I now cash my 4 winners in the rounded suits, pitching a diamond in dummy. A small spade to the Ace is next. When both defenders follow, I can now confidently play a small spade off table with intent to finesse if RHO follows small. Losing the finesse is of no consequence since that will have exhausted all the opposing trumps. LHO will be forced to give me a ruff and discard. As it happens, the Queen appears, so although I have to give up the diamond I still have ten tricks.

That was "previously", when I was entertaining thoughts on updating this blog regularly. Since then, there have been a number of things I could've blogged about and didn't, but in my defence, November and December is a busy time.

So Happy New Year, and on to my first major event of 2017: The District Teams of Four, Round 3. Things have changed since the last time I blogged about this competition. For one thing, I'm not the Convener any more. Those rains have been handed over to Abigail Wilson, and she has put her own stamp on it, while I get to take a back seat and concentrate on playing. Well, that was the plan. On Round 1 I had to pull a movement out of my sleeve at short notice, and I'm not sure the use of the continuous VP scale has been popular (I'll get over it).

For another thing, none of my original team remain. Abi has moved on because there was no way she wanted another season partnering me she needs to play in a team of Juniors to realise her International ambitions - good for the event as for the first time since I was a Junior, the event has an all-Junior team again. Even better, it is an all-Junior team that are title challengers. Lessurl moved to Englandshire and the others became unavailable. Before that, however, my team did win the title a couple of years in succession.

We are not defending Champions however, and my team consist of 3 players that have not been on my team (in this event) before. We're not the strongest incarnation of a team Captained by me and we don't pretend to be, but we hoped to be "dark horses" for the title.

The premise was interesting enough. Nine teams, one Round Robin, 14 board matches. I like long matches (have I mentioned that enough?). and against the best players in the District it is a stern test. It is competitive - of the nine teams, at the start of the season I'd have said 6 have a genuine chance of being Champions, if I count my own team. After two rounds (four matches), the results seem to bear that out, although it's not the original 6. The standings were:

Bill Ross: 56.04
Maureen Mowat: 48.38
Alisdair McLeod: 48.25
Norman McLeod: 48.00
Sandy Duncan: 47.18
Abigail Wilson: 36.45
Maggie Payne: 27.45
Donald Campbell: 26.10
Loraine Findlay: 22.15

Of course, that does not tell the full story so a little context. Donald Campbell is one of the 6 teams I expected to be "Contenders". However, his first match was against my team and it was one of those where my team could do no wrong; we collected 19.47VPs from that match. They won their other match that night, but not by much, and that was against my Dad, who, with all due respect, is not going to be District Teams of Four Champion (although his whole team are definitely good enough to have a major say in who is). After a shock defeat by Findlay, and another thrashing at the hands of Duncan, it seems his team's chances are all but over. I do predict, however, that his team will rise up the table and one or more of the "Contenders" will have their title hopes scuppered as a result.

Conversely, my Dad's team are doing well and are still within half a match of the summit at the half way stage. Unfortunately, it could be argued that his team are in a false position with pre-season favourites Duncan, Champions Mowat, Challengers Wilson and Champions Elect Ross to play. On the other hand, it is an opportunity for them to pull of a "Leicester City".

Bill Ross has consistently put together a very strong team year upon year and yet has somehow never won it as far as I can remember. This, however, I am pretty sure, will be his year. Not only does he have an 8VP lead at the half way stage, but he has played all 4 of the other Contenders that are still in the hunt. The title is theirs to throw away. That's my Half Time prediction and I don't care who knows it.

As for my team? I'm just glad if we can still call ourselves "Contenders". 3 wins and 1 heavy defeat in the first half leaves us with no margin of error, and we have to hope for at least 1 shock result in other matches.

So, for Round 3.
First up for partner and I was a "must-win" match against bottom-of-the-table Findlay. Loraine and I know each other very well as we work together on a lot of District issues. She was fielding a couple of substitutes for this match and it was hard to predict what the net result would be. One was Sandra Schwitz, who most would argue strengthens the line-up somewhat. The other was a 15 year old, who I will here refer to as "my young padouin", as he shows great promise and I have taken him under my wing in club games where the chance has arisen. For that reason I know that when he sets his mind to it, he is a formidable opponent and very unpredictable. I was expecting a tough match - and that's exactly what I got.

The very first board, I held:

(All Vul)

LHO is Dealer and it goes Pass-Pass-1S to me. I double, with the intention of rebidding hearts. LHO bids 2 Spades, and sure enough this is passed round to me, so I say 3 Hearts. LHO competes to 3 Spades which prompts RHO to bid 4, and I double. Partner pulls this to 5 Hearts. This was an excellent call as he held:


A spade is led, and for good measure I wait until trick 3 to claim 11 tricks. What makes my partner's 5 Hearts bid even better is that 4 Spades Doubled will make (unless I find a small heart lead from AKJ8743, which I won't). At the other table, Loraine and my young padouin allowed our team-mates to play in 4 Spades, for +16IMPs.

When I say "tough match", I suspect our opponents found it somewhat tougher. Partner and I had few decisions to make, but when we did, we got them right  (with one exception), allowing Sandra and her partner for the evening no leeway. Our team-mates, it transpired, had a string of good results, finding any Game going and a Slam as well. In the end we earned 20VPs with plenty IMPs to spare. The only "miss" was this:



All Vul
Contract: 3NT

West was Dealer and passed. With the North hand, I opened 2 Spades, showing 5-10 points, at least 5 spades, and at least 4 in any other suit. Partner enquired about my second suit with 2NT, followed by 3 Hearts, which is an interesting call. When asked about it, my jovial reply was: "I hope it's hearts!". I then further explained that logically, it looked to me like he was giving me a long suit to see if 3NT was viable. These explanations were after I had bid 3NT, which ended the auction. It makes sense for partner to bid 3 Hearts here, as I could be 5=3=4=1, but since I was 5=1=4=3, with promising filling in the minors, I bid 3NT.

The two of clubs is led to the 5, King and Ace. Partner's next play is Jack of Clubs, which West ducks. Partner then finesses the Queen of Spades, which holds, and plays a heart off table to the King, which also holds. That's an excellent guess which in the fullness of time earned 9 tricks. Dealmaster says 6 Diamonds is on, but I reckon if we bid Slam on hands like that, we'll be coming down an awful lot. As it was, +600 converted to +10IMPs.

The other match was against Abigail Wilson's team. This is something that both teams would have seen as a "Knockout" match, in as much as the losing side could virtually give up on the title. Unfortunately for our opponents, they had to field a weakened side. My RHO has only been learning the game for 4 weeks, so was really up against it. Put yourself in his shoes.

You hold:


Starting with RHO, the uncontested auction is: 1H-1NT-2S-3NT
Partner leads the 4 of clubs, and dummy is:


Declarer plays the 5 from Dummy and you rise with your Ace, drawing the 3 from Declarer. How do you defend and what card do you play next?

It's tempting to return a club and that probably will work, but will likely result in Declarer only coming 1 off instead of 2. Instead, he switches to the King of Spades, which sets up two spade tricks in addition to partner's KQ of clubs and the Ace of diamonds. How many experienced players would find this defence?

I was feeling pretty cheesed off with myself at that point in the match, having missed a chance to defeat a cold Game on the previous board, but as the net result from the two was -1 IMP, I'll chalk it up to "could have been worse".

My LHO had a job to do here:


He's on lead against 3NT after his RHO opens 1NT (12-14), and the bidding proceeds, without interference: 2C (NP Stayman) - 2 Hearts - 3NT.
What should he lead?

My sympathies are entirely with my opponent here. We bid a thin Game and got away with it. I agree with his choice of lead and would most likely have done the same, but on this occasion it allowed the contract to make.

Our team-mates came back with what they were sure was a losing card, and we had to settle for a 19-IMP win.

If we were in contention beforehand, we're still in contention now. 35.06VPs from 40 is not a bad evening's work. I write this before the scores at the doors are published, but my hope is that we have at least closed the gap on Bill Ross. The Norman McLeod, Maureen Mowat and Sandy Duncan teams all played each other, all winning one and losing one, so a quick glance at the Half-Way scores tells me we can be doing no worse than 2nd place at the moment. If the leaders had a bad night (which I doubt), we might even be leading. Hopefully I will remember find the time to blog about the final night, just in case any readers are interested in how we do.

Saturday 5 November 2016

The Scottish National League: Putting My Cards on the Table

Well, this is awkward...
So, a number of years ago, when I was still a (kind-of) young whippersnapper on the Scottish Bridge scene, I wrote this blog. For a while. Like all my social media forays, it tended to be intermittent in the updates, as blog posts took an inordinately long time to write, and it didn't seem worth it anyway. What, I asked myself, was the point of blogging about bridge, when my blog would have a rather small following and I am not a sufficiently competent enough player to give an in-depth analysis of interesting boards? Over three years have passed since my last post, but my blog is still here, lying dormant, as if waiting for the chance to rise again. And come up in conversation it does. From bridge players all over the country, expert and beginner alike. Just the other night, at the Graham Ewen Individual in Aberdeen a new(ish) player, who didn't even know me three years ago, mentioned that he'd been reading my blog. So perhaps I have something to offer after all.

How does this go again? Oh yeah, I'm supposed to have offered some hand to look at by now. OK, try this one:


Opps Vul.
LHO is Dealer and passes. Partner opens 1 Club. RHO competes with 1 Heart, and you bid 1 Spade, which is forcing for 1 round. 2 Hearts is bid on your left. Partner jumps to 3 Spades, which is passed to you.
Partner's bid is interesting. It certainly agrees spades and shows a good hand, but he had 3H available as an Unassuming Cue Bid showing a good raise to 3 Spades.
Your call? I'll give you some time to think about it.

In the mean time, I'd like to go further into the rationale behind my sudden return. Would it suffice to say "I felt like it"? Probably. But to address the point made above: maybe it's not all about sharing bidding and card play decisions I've had. That's going to be far less interesting than, say, The Beer Card, by Paul Gipson, which if you're into reading Bridge Blogs you should definitely check out. But perhaps I can offer something different; not just the technicalities of bridge but my experience as a whole - a window into the perspective of another player on the circuit. Whilst I will certainly not be ditching the previous style and format, I will hereto speak more broadly about my opinions on anything about the game in general.

Hence the reason for part of the title of this post: Putting My Cards on the Table. Where I talk about, not just some of the hands that came up in the National league, but the overall experience of competing as a whole. The fact that I am about to take a stance and publicly state an opinion may ruffle a few feathers - either with fellow players or with the SBU - but my aim is to offer somewhat constructive criticism, not to offend. I would offer a token apology in advance of what is about to follow, but I don't really mean it; for I am only going to be honest (perhaps bluntly so, but honest nonetheless), and it is not my job to appease anyone who takes offence where none is intended. With any luck, expressing my opinion in a publicly visible format may trigger some constructive dialogue; you never know.

The Scottish National League has been created with a view to becoming, if it is not already, Scotland's Premier Competition. Played over the course of two weekends, it offers long matches against quality opposition. The field is tough regardless of the Division, but if you rise as far as Division 1 you will come up against some of the best players Scotland has to offer. My partner and I both enjoy playing in fields where we will be punished (severely) for making mistakes, so earlier this year we began soul searching (here meaning "searching for souls brave enough to be our team-mates") so that we could enter a team. The League was only introduced a few years ago so it still has teething troubles, but it has reached a stage now where it is beginning to settle down. On principle, it is a great event. I thoroughly enjoy playing in it.

If only it were so simple, and just about the bridge. Take this hand from the first match:


I held this hand as South, Game All, Dealer North.
Partner opens 1 Heart, and with the opposition passing throughout, I bid 1 Spade and get a 3D response from partner. What is your call in this position?
There are two schools of thought here, and a dilemma is created because most bridge players would agree with both schools. The first school of thought proclaims a 7 card suit is called Trump. I should rebid spades therefore. The second school says don't fight your partner in the auction.
Whichever one wins out, you are going to end up in Slam here. As it turns out, it is a big decision, because a lot of teams got +/- 17 IMPs on this board.
I supported hearts, reasoning I was better off supporting partner given that as 7 card suits go, my suit quality wasn't brilliant. +1430 later it transpires that I got it right (or got lucky).
The full hand:



My counterpart was in 6 Spades, and unfortunately for him, West holds K1074. There is no way for him to avoid two Trump losers, and we win 17 IMPs. On another day, he might be collecting them - a 34 IMP swing.

Like I said, if only it was just about the bridge. If only. Unfortunately, politics had to get involved with the running of the event, and that changed things for the worse.

There are some political problems which I am not going to elaborate on here; I will either go through "the proper channels" or blog about it separately. For example, the fact that 3 of our 4 players had to make a 300 mile round trip to play. If you're expecting a typical Aberdonian to whinge about the fact that all the major competitions are held at least 60 miles away, then you'll be disappointed. Whilst there is a legitimate grievance there, it is a more complex argument than might be assumed and it deserves a "PMCOT" post to itself.

The real problem with travelling over 150 miles just to get to the event is where we ended up at the end of that trip: The St. Andrew Bridge Club in Glasgow. I've got nothing against the club or its wonderful and hard-working staff; I do have an issue with having an event such as the National League there. Let's be honest: It's not big enough. Last year, when there were less entries than this year, they held it there, there was barely enough space and they definitely couldn't fit the catering, for which they had to open another Bridge Club 10 minutes' walk along the road to host. This year, with three divisions instead of two, the organisers in their infinite wisdom decided to hold the First Weekend there again, and scrap the catering, which in fairness was in response to the quality of the catering getting lambasted in the feedback last year.

I know the defence: Of course it's big enough; there were enough tables, weren't there? I don't give it any credence. The club cannot comfortably fit over a hundred players playing a major competition. I can easily fit 10 people into my house, but it would be uncomfortable and impractical for 10 people to try and live there. You'd never have 10 people all living in my house because the house is not fit for that purpose and the quality of life of the occupants would suffer as a result. Similarly, yes there were enough tables, but the club was not fit for purpose. Division 2 had to play in the bar area/entrance foyer. Players from all divisions had to walk through their playing area in order to come and go from the club, or for some players to access the lounge area between rounds.

Now I'm sure some people disagree with my assessment of the club. But that's neither here nor there in terms of relevance to why it was chosen as a venue. It wasn't because the organisers thought it was the best place to play bridge. It was because they were under political pressure to host one of the weekends in the West District. The SBU is divided into 7 Districts and of these, there has been for many years a ding-dong of a power struggle between the East and West Districts. That means that when an event like the National League is held, those two Districts get one weekend each, despite what clubs they have available.

I have had occasion to set foot in a number of Bridge clubs across Scotland, and two stand out: the New Melville and the New Carlton. Emphasis on the word new. Both clubs have been around for a long time, but both have moved in the last few years to new premises. Both clubs are all on one floor, have very large card rooms and playing capacity, have separate lounge areas, and kitchens large enough for caterers to work out of. They are by a long distance the best bridge venues in Scotland. So it would make sense that each would host one weekend of the National League. The problem? Both of these venues are in Edinburgh. You can't hold both weekends of the National League in Edinburgh without the Westerners throwing their toys out of the pram.

One could lay the blame at the door of the organisers for this, but I am disinclined to do so. They are a hard working bunch doing the best they can, and it is not their fault when they face external pressure. You try keeping over a hundred bridge players with a variety of ideas, motives, backgrounds and temperaments happy - I'm telling you, it can't be done. On the whole, they do a great job.

I'm more tempted to blame the West District. I'm sure the Committee is just trying to look after the interests of its members; I don't fault them for that. But there's a right way and a wrong way to go about it. I don't think the West District should be hosting the National League for the same reason I don't think Qatar should be hosting the World Cup: If you want to host an event, make sure you have a suitable venue and the proper facilities to do so. If St. Andrew Bridge Club was as good a club as the New Melville, then I would have no problem playing the National League there, and neither would anyone else. If we really have to have one of the weekends in the West District, then do all 3 Divisions really need to be played at the same venue? Couldn't you have two Divisions in one club, one Division in another, and make everyone more comfortable?

But enough about the organisation; I'm sure you want to know about the bridge side of things. Well... they collided - quite spectacularly. At the end of the weekend I personally thanked our Director for the work he put in. I don't know what the SBU pay him for his services for the weekend, but he - like all the staff - earned every penny. The pressure was on him from the get-go, not least because yours truly had a couple of bones to pick.

You remember that hand I gave you earlier? This one:


Have you had enough time to make your decision? If not, please feel free to take it now.
I did not have that luxury, as I was told - at the exact moment of having to make the decision - that we only had a few minutes left, and we had another board to play.
Under that time pressure, I cracked and took a guess. I'm not happy about that, as I should be experienced enough to know that I should take the penalty and go into the tank for as long as I need. But, with this and other factors coming to a head, I didn't want more stress and just bid. I went with 4 Spades.
What I should have done was bid 4 Clubs, showing a 1st or 2nd round control. Partner would have cue bid 4 Diamonds, and now I'm interested in his controls. After I say 4NT and he gives me 2 Key Cards, I know 6 Spades is the contract.
12 tricks and +480 later, the Director suddenly announces he's looked at the Conditions of Contest and they specify more time than what he'd announced, so we actually had plenty time left. Are you kidding me?? Just to be clear: they didn't have enough laptops to provide us with a clock, so Division 3 was totally reliant on the Director's word for how much time we had left. And yes, of course I should've had the mental discipline to take the time to find a 4 Clubs bid which is not that hard to find. But that wouldn't have been an issue had I been properly informed. How many Directors have been asked to give a ruling on Misinformation, when they themselves are the ones that misinformed in the first place? A unique situation, and not one the Directors were in a mood to entertain. And that was bone of contention number 2. Bone number 1 was the fact that Divisions 2 and 3 had to do their team line-ups blind, when the Conditions of Contest had stated that Seating Rights applied to all divisions. To be fair, the Director admitted his mistake on that one, but the damage was done.

How did we do? There are 7 teams in Division 3 and after weekend 1 we are lying 6th. I'll be honest: my aspirations were somewhat higher. Despite the fact that I have played in the National League since its inception and have finished 2nd bottom of the lowest Division every single year, the target this year was to win promotion to Division 2. We're still in with a shout of doing that, but it will require a storming comeback on the 2nd weekend.

I'll end with a Declarer problem from the last hand of the last match.



Contract: 4 Spades
Opening Lead: 3 Diamonds
No opposition bidding

I play a small diamond from dummy to East's Ace. East returns a small diamond.
My counterpart guessed well on this hand and made 11 tricks at the risk of coming off.
I took (I think) a safer line that only made 10.
What's your line?
My answer to this will be in my next post - that'll give me an incentive to write one.

Saturday 16 February 2013

Junior Camrose and Peggy Bayer 2013 - Day 1

I am pretty disgusted with my own bridge at the moment. How fortunate I have something else to talk about - the Junior Camrose and Peggy Bayer 2013. One of my favourite events to follow on BBO, not that I'll be doing much of that this year (not through choice).

2 rounds were played before I could log on and my hopes were not high for Scotland. I had plenty faith in the players, but I accept that the teams are in transition just now and I wasn't placing any expectations on them. Given that, I was rather pleased to hear that the Peggy Bayer team had won their first match and that Jake and Ian had achieved a winning draw in their debut match. I entered viewing with the scores as:


Scotland 15-15 Northern Ireland
England 25-5 Republic of Ireland

Scotland 8-22 England
Republic of Ireland 4-25 Northern Ireland


Scotland 25-2 Northern Ireland
England 25-1 Republic of Ireland

Scotland 6-24 England
Republic of Ireland 25-4 Northern Ireland

The feature match for Round 3 was the Junior Camrose match Northern Ireland v England - the two early front runners for the trophy. England had to be favourites, so I was rooting for Northern Ireland. It might also be something to do with knowing some of their team. I watched Corry/Clegg v Macintosh/O'Connor.

Northern Ireland made a solid start to the match with a 4 Hearts and 2 Hearts making on the nose. They over-stretched on the next board, the result of which would not be known for some time as they started with the last three boards to bring in comparisons.
On the first comparison, Corry/Clegg didn't find a sacrifice worth 3 IMPs, and when the next two boards saw the Irish pairs take it in turns to bid games that didn't make, the IMP score was 0-14. Not good.

Board 28 was an interesting one.



These were the Irish hands (NS) with NS Vul, West Dealer.
At the other table, Atchison went 3 down in 4 Spades (undoubled). Here, West opened 2 Diamonds as a bad weak 2 in a major. Clegg doubled, and East jumped to 3 Hearts. Corry now bid 4 Hearts, intended as natural but treated as a cue. North therefore bid 5 Diamonds, East now said 5 Spades and Corry doubled. Things were looking up for Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, North pulled to 6 Diamonds (which is reasonable given what he thinks partner has), and the no-play Slam went 2 down for an 8 IMP swing out.
After Nothern Ireland got their first IMP in a part score, I watched Dan McIntosh play this 3NT hand:



3NT by the bottom hand, small spade led.

Dan let the spade run to his nine (RHO had the King but ducked), and ran the 9 of hearts. RHO won with the Jack and returned a spade, the queen winning. Dan then ran the 10 of hearts to the queen, and RHO cleared the spades. The King of hearts cleared the suit, and since the ace was with North, Dan claimed 10 tricks for 10 IMPs as the same contract wasn't made at the other table.

The IMPs continued to go one way as the same doomed contract was not Doubled when the English pair played it, and the score was 1-37. As I watched the next baord, an IMP came to England on Board 35 and England were now in maximum territory. More so when the other table wrapped up with another 3 IMPs to England.

There was finally some joy for Northern Ireland as they scored a part score swing on the last board. Somerville made 2 Spades at one table while Clegg was allowed to play in 1NT making an overtrick. That scored 6 IMPs for 7-41 and stopped England from getting the maximum 25, although leaving them comfortably out ahead in first place nonetheless.

When the results were updated, I found myself editing the above scores as both English teams seemed to gain VPs from an earlier match. In fact, as I write this, everything seems to be constantly changing, so if you don't want to know the score, you're all right. Even the above match turned into a 25 for England. But there was good news too: Scotland got another 25 in the Peggy Bayer, this time against Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, Scotland got a 23 in the Junior Camrose.

This meant that having been round the lap once, Scotland were establishing themselves as strong contenders for 2nd place in the Peggy Bayer, and seemed to be fighting it out for 3rd place in the Junior Camrose.

Thoughts at this point: Scotland doing well. Jake and Iain seem to have taken to the International scene very well. (They've never even been in a Peggy Bayer before - they are straight in at the deep end), with one win and one draw so far. Just because Scotland are the holders of the Junior Camrose trophy doesn't make them favourites to win it this year (far from it), and if they manage to pip Northern Ireland to 2nd place, it will be a job very well done.

I am just as impressed with the Peggy Bayer team. This team has four debutants and is well ahead of third place, losing only to red hot favourites England so far. I hope they are enjoying themselves because they are doing their country proud.

I'm working tomorrow so probably won't get to see any matches, which is a shame because it seems I'm missing out.

Monday 11 February 2013

Take a picture, quick!

So last Friday was the penultimate round of the District Teams of Four. You may recall that in the last round I more or less wrote off our chances of winning the trophy. After the events of Round 4 I am obliged not to do so. Why? Because we have suddenly found ourselves in first place - just when we weren't expecting it.

Lessurl and I started the night with a match against USHER. The Captain himself was not playing; he rotates a team of six for this event. We had the other two pairs to contend with. 009domino had never conceded defeat in this event, and was adamant we still had a title shot. But to keep that hope alive we knew what was needed against a team that was currently sitting 8th. As ever, there was a difference between knowing what is needed, and being able to do it.
The first three boards were snore bores - a 3NT+2 against us, a 2NT+1 against us and then a 1H+2 by Lessurl, during which I dashed away to collect the table money. As if trying to win at bridge wasn't a big enough ask, I was also running this event.
Next up was a 2 Spades by me, in which both I and Lessurl had 4-3-3-3 distributions, so there was nowhere to get rid of my six losers and I went one down. This was followed by another cold 11 tricks against us in No-Trump for -660.
So, we get to board 6 and the auction qualifies for the most interesting thing to happen thus far. I hold:


I open this 2 Clubs. LHO overcalls 2 Spades. Lessurl passes, showing no aces, so I bid 3 Hearts. This was a bad bid - I should have bid 4, and play there. Because I don't, we end up in 5 Hearts as I try to investigate a remote slam. The Ace of Spades lead helps greatly, and I canter to eleven tricks. Even though this was a non-vulnerable Game, I really don't think we could've penalised 2 Spades for a better score, though it is always a tempting thought.
  +690 on the next board was more likely to yield 3 IMPs than a Slam Swing out, and -170 on the next board looked like a small chance of a swing if our team-mates had a route to the thin Game. I played a 4 Heart contract that rolled in, watched as a 5 Diamond contract rolled to 12 tricks against us on the penultimate board, and then this board to finish:



Contract: 4 Hearts by the bottom hand, King of Diamonds led.
I am Dealer at Game All, with the bottom hand. I open 1 Heart. LHO doubles.
Lessurl now bids 2 Clubs, which I alert as it shows 6-9 points with 3 card heart support and probably something in clubs (almost certainly in this case). With a reversing strength hand I bid 2 Spades, even though I know there is no fit there - it is just the best way to show my strength. Lessurl bids 3 Hearts, which suggests he is bottom of the range, but I take a view and bid 4, mainly on basis of feeling we need a swing to stay in the competition and also that I know where a lot of the points are.

LHO takes the first two tricks with the King then Ace of Diamonds. A third round of diamonds is ruffed in hand with RHO showing the Jack.
This is a tricky situation. There is a threat of losing trump control - especially if they break 4-1. I probably won't get the time to ruff 2 spades in dummy, so clubs need to be set up. And the key question is where is the Queen of Hearts? I don't know the answer to that one, but in the mean time, I may as well play LHO for the Ace of Clubs and get a count of the hand - he surely doesn't have Axxxx. As it happens, the King holds a round, and when I play a small up to dummy, the Ace appears, followed by another club. A good attempt from LHO - he knows not to give me a ruff and discard and can't risk giving me the distribution by playing on spades. He has held up a round in the hope of getting partner a ruff, but at the expense of beating an honour with the Ace. This means I have no dilemma on the third round, and as it happens, the Jack holds, and I can pitch 1 Spade. That brings me to this position:



The location of the Queen of Hearts is a genuine guess. I don't have everything I need to be sure, but I must get it right as I need to play trumps for no losers and rid myself of a spade loser along the way. There are two options. Option A is play for Qxx on my left: small heart to the ace, small heart towards the K10, stuffing LHO, and drawing trumps in 3 rounds before pitching a spade on a club. Option B is to play for Qx(x) on my right: King of hearts and a small heart from dummy to trap RHO, before cashing two rounds of spades and ruffing a third and requiring the remaining heart to be on my right.
Option A seems to be the intuitive line: it picks up more heart distributions and places the Queen with the hand that doubled. I didn't pick this. LHO has shown 11 points already and is unlikely to have both major queens. He has played three diamonds and had an original holding of three clubs. Since his double implies length in spades, I am placing him with 4 of these, leaving room for three more red cards. Given his partner played the Jack of Diamonds, I think it more likely that he has another diamond, meaning that his partner rates to have longer hearts than him. It is the Theory of Available Spaces in action. In other words, if I correctly place Queen of Hearts on my right, I will be given the "luck" of RHO having three. So all that remains is to place that sodding queen. I place it on my right. Of the two major queens, I think LHO more likely to hold the Spade, since that is likely his suit and I held Ace-King. So I take Option B. This works, and the contract makes.
  I could cross my fingers this would grant us a swing, but overall, the match looked too mundane for a score. Wrong. Only three flat boards as our team-mates did not have a boring set at all. On the first, 009domino also played in 3NT but took the lot. Unfortunately, they passed out the next board and we were losing 2-4. Lessurl's 9th trick gained us an IMP on the third, and my -50 gained another 2 as our counterparts had played in 3 Spades. Then came the first board that was actually flat. Still only 5-4 at this stage.
  My 5 Hearts making was the first swing - our counterparts were also in 5 Hearts and coming 2 off. -2 and +3 followed before 2 flat boards saw us edging the match 19-6 with two to score up. Our team-mates were the heroes on the next board, finding the thin but making 6 Hearts to gain us 11 more IMPs. The above 4 Hearts gained us a further 10, and that was enough to see us fall 1 IMP short of the maximum win, settling for 19-1.

Before we scored that match we had a match to play against McGUIRE. This was a team that beat us heavily last year, or at least part thereof, as it is actually a merger of two teams. Having lost one match already, we couldn't afford a repeat result. Fortunately, it seemed to us the only potential big swings were going to be in our favour.
  After a "flat" first board in which we lost an IMP, Lessurl and I had these hands:



As Dealer with the bottom hand, I open 1 Spade. Lessurl responds a Jacoby 2NT. I bid a positive 3 Spades, explained at the end of the auction as such and denying a singleton or void. I am denying my diamond singleton - I don't show a singleton Ace as such. Lessurl bids 4 Spades, which tells me he was only interested in Game when he bid 2NT. I put on my rose tinted specs and bid 4NT. However, I cannot justify a slam when the auction continues 5C (one Key Card) - 5D (QS?) - 5H (No) - 5S (I give up) So Five Spades is the contract.

How to play this on a heart lead? There are two options. Finesse and hope that either this makes, or that I only have 1 loser in the black suits if it fails. Or, I could rise with the Ace and play the spades for no losers (before or after unblocking diamonds depending on how I want to play spades) and get back to dummy with a spade to discard hearts. Hmm.
Lucky I don't have this dilemma - I get a diamond lead. I win, cash AK of spades, failing to drop the queen, then cash the Ace of hearts and pitch two hearts on the KQ of diamonds. The club finesse fails, so 11 tricks is spot on.
I would not want to be in 6 Spades here, which is exactly what our counterparts were in (also with a diamond lead). The line for attempting to make 6 is the same as for 5, so we gained 13 IMPs here. It is a fine line though - Declarer can make 13 tricks if he can see where all the cards are at Trick 1.

On the next board, my RHO passed a reverse bid. It was a judgement call that backfired when her partner was maximum. So, three boards in we had built up a comfortable 19-1 IMPs lead. By 10 boards, we had increased this to 31-1. This consisted of a gift of an extra trick, a part score battle that we won, and our opponents bidding a Game that didn't make. Unfortunately, we shipped 8 IMPs on the penultimate board to win the match 17-3. Still, 36 was a very good nights' work; the best score we've ever had in one two-match round of the District Teams of Four.

We didn't think it would be enough to put us on top, however. But MOWAT beat ROSS, so the current top 4 looks like this:

1. A. McLeod 122
2. Ross 120
3. Hay 115
4. Mowat 95

This is where the seeding system does its stuff. These were the top 4 seeds (though not in that order). We, as well as HAY (the top 2 seeds) have to play two of the top four seeds on the final night. We have the worst of it I think as we face HAY and ROSS. At least it could be argued that destiny is in our own hands, but I can't place us as favourites given our run-in. In my opinion, ROSS is in the better situation, only 2 VPs off the lead, with the leaders to play plus another match against a lower seed (6th). HAY is still very much in the mix and has a good chance of retaining the title. They also have the advantage of having "got the T-shirt" in terms of having won the event, being winners since - well, longer than I know. MOWAT complete the top 4 and the list of teams that still has a mathematical chance of winning. But they will need to win big (including in a match against HAY) and get other results in their favour. I'm not saying it can't or won't be done; only that a bookmaker should offer reasonable odds on a team outside of the current top 3 winning the event this season.

All in all, everything is in place for a great final night. I don't remember the contest ever being this close at this stage - usually it is a two horse race or less. I know which horse I want to win, but I'll be happy as long as we don't fall at the final hurdle.