The winners of the two main pair events at the Fall Nationals in Phoenix this month had at least two things in common. First, the partners had not played together in a pair event before. Second, one player in each pair is an American, and the other was born and raised in one country but has represented another country internationally.
The Nail Life Master Pairs was won by Curtis Cheek of Las Vegas and Ishmael Del’Monte, who comes from New Zealand but has played for Australia. (They have been partners in team events.)
The Edgar Kaplan Blue Ribbon Pairs was captured by a new partnership, Steve Weinstein of Andes, N.Y., and Agustin Madala, an Argentine who represents Italy.
Cheek and Del’Monte did well in the diagramed deal from the final session of the Life Master Pairs.
Del’Monte (North) opened one club, showing 16-plus points. Cheek (South) responded one heart, promising any hand with eight or more points except one containing five-plus spades. The rest of the auction was natural. South might have raised three hearts to four, but North decided it would play better in hearts. (Many pairs failed in three no-trump.)
It is often right to lead a trump through the known long suit, and that would have been the lethal start here. However, it was hard for West, who could be confident that South had at most one heart, to realize that he had to stop a ruff in the shorter trump hand.
When West led the club four, declarer won with his king, played a club to dummy’s ace, cashed the diamond king, ruffed a club in his hand, discarded dummy’s last club on his diamond ace and ruffed a diamond in the dummy.
Cheek then made the percentage play in hearts: He cashed the ace and continued with a low heart to East’s queen. Now South lost only one spade and two hearts.
Everything would have worked when the suit was 3-3. Cashing the ace and continuing with the jack would have been successful when an opponent held nine-eight-doubleton. But that was much less likely than either East or West having king- or queen-doubleton. Note, however, that West should have dropped his eight or nine under the ace to try to deflect declarer.
Plus 420 was worth 74.5 matchpoints out of 77.