Never Say Die

Winners of the U.S. Bridge Championship and a berth as USA1 in next year’s Bermuda Bowl: Steve Weinstein, captain Nick Nickell, Ralph Katz, coach Eric Kokish, Jeff Meckstroth, Eric Rodwell and Robert Levin.

Like two prize fighters, the teams captained by Nick Nickell and Hemant Lall battled for 120 boards only to see their quest for the U.S. Bridge Championship come down to the last deal. In an exciting comeback, it was NICKELL in front 240–229 when the final bell sounded.
With the win, the Nickell team claims the USA1 berth for the 2019 Bermuda Bowl to be held in Sanya, China. The USA2 team will be determined in trials hosted by the U.S. Bridge Federation next year.
Nickell’s team roster is Ralph Katz; Jeff Meckstroth–Eric Rodwell; and Bobby Levin–Steve Weinstein. Crewing for Lall were Reese Milner; Kevin Bathurst–Justin Lall; and Zia Mahmood Jacek “Pepsi” Pszczola.
USBF’s 2018 championship, held over 10 days in mid-May in Houston TX, drew 21 teams. A two-day, round-robin Swiss eliminated seven teams. Subsequent head-to-head knockout rounds consisted of 120 boards played over two days.
The No. 3 seed, led by Andrew Rosenthal (Aaron Silverstein; Bob Hamman–David Berkowitz; Eldad Ginossar–Chris Willenkin), made their entrance in the round of 16. By virtue of their appearance in the final of the Vanderbilt Knockout Teams, FLEISHER and NICKELL were seeded No. 1 and No. 2 and drew a bye to the quarterfinals.
FLEISHER (Marty Fleisher–Chip Martel; Eric Greco–Geoff Hampson; Brad Moss–Joe Grue) was bounced early when Paul Fireman’s team (Gavin Wolpert; John Hurd–Joel Wooldridge; Vincent Demuy–John
Kranyak) slipped by them to win 207–193 in the quarterfinals.
In other quarterfinal action, Team Juster (Jeffrey Juster–Frank Merblum; Adam Grossack–Zachary Grossack, Howard Weinstein–Adam Wildavsky) upset ROSENTHAL 247–212. NICKELL scored a solid
253–171 win over MAHAFFEY (Jim Mahaffey–Sam Lev; John Schermer–Neil Chambers; Billy Cohen–Gary Cohler), and LALL, despite a sluggish start, overcame the Bob Morris (npc) squad (Michael Levine–Eddie Wold; Mike Passell–Marc Jacobus; Greg Hinze–David Grainger) 212–200.
A keen bid by Wooldridge paid off for FIREMAN on this deal from the last segment, right-siding a vulnerable game contract and picking up 12 IMPs. (Hamman and Adam Grossack also drove to 3NT holding Wooldridge’s cards; they ended up tying the board in their quarterfinal match.)

Dlr: North ♠ 7 2
Vul: E-W 10 6
Bd: 25 J 9 6 5 4 3
♣ K Q 5
♠ J 9 5 ♠ K 10 8
A J 9 8 4 2 K Q 7 3
A K 10 7
♣ A 10 7 ♣ 9 6 4
♠ A Q 6 4 3
Q 8 2
♣ J 8 3 2
Pass 1&clubsl 1♠
2 Pass 2NT Pass
3NT All Pass

Looking at balanced, soft values that were better led up to than through, Wooldridge proposed notrump rather than raising hearts. The heart suit might work just as well in notrump, plus there was no danger of a ruff.
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