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Son Gives Dad a Hand

 by Matthew Granovetter

Jerusalem Post — August 13, 1998

When I was a boy, I loved to play bridge with my father as a partner. He rarely got angry with me and, as his son, I could never raise my voice to him. It was a perfect partnership. We especially enjoyed playing against the famous B.J. Becker, partnered by either of his two sons, Michael or Steve. They won numerous tournaments and were probably the best father-son duo in history. Another famous father-son pair was Oswald Jacoby and his son, Jim.

In the 1990s, a new father-son partnership has become prominent: Richard Pavlicek and his son, Rich Jr. They’re from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where father is one of the most successful bridge teachers in the country, thanks in part to the organizational efforts of his wife, Mabel. He also hosts an enjoyable Web page: [].

At the recent American Summer Nationals in Chicago, the Pavliceks lost the Life Master Pairs by the smallest margin in history. (Indeed, the tournament saw record-breaking margins in the teams, as well, where the final and semifinal were decided by a single point — more on this in future columns.)

The winners of the Life Master Pairs, a grueling six-session affair, were Eric Greco and Geoff Hampson. Greco, 23, of Philadelphia, is an options trader, and Hampson, 29, of Michigan, is a professional player. Their score of 1,726.88 was just enough to keep them ahead of the second-place Pavliceks, who turned in a final score of 1,726.03. The fractional difference is incredibly close, since top on a board was 51. Probably a single overtrick would have made the difference.

Greco and Hampson got off to a great start in the first session of the final, scoring a monstrous 68.9 percent against the strong field. The pair cooled off somewhat in the second session, but hung on to win. “We played really well in the first half,” said Hampson. “The results in the second half were more mixed. I think we had something like a 54-percent game in the last half, but it was enough… barely.”

The Pavliceks were understandably disappointed by their near miss. It would have been the first National victory for them as a pair. Their result, however, is the best finish they have had as a partnership in a major event (Richard Sr. has won numerous titles partnered by Bill Root). I asked them for an interesting hand, where one trick was vital, and Richard showed me today’s deal, played by his son in the fourth session.

South dealsS 9 6 2WestNorthEastSouth
N-S vulH 10 61 H
D A Q 8 6 32 SDbl3 S3 NT
C K J 10PassPassPass
S A 8 7 4 3TableS J 10 5
H Q J 9 7 2H 4
D 7D J 10 9 5
C 9 6C Q 7 4 3 2
H A K 8 5 3
Lead: S 4D K 4 2
3 NT SouthC A 8 5

The East-West bidding may not appeal to everyone, but it’s typical of aggressive players at favorable vulnerability. South’s two-spade call was preemptive (usually showing a six-card suit) and North’s double was negative, showing game-invitational values — it said nothing about spades. The final contract was touch-and-go: three notrump by South.

Rich Jr. won the opening lead in his hand (East played the 10) and attacked diamonds with the king and a diamond to the queen. West discarded a heart and now Rich made a beautiful play. He led dummy’s six of spades toward his blank honor. From the fourth-best lead, he deduced that West held only a five-card suit originally. If West started with ace-jack five times, the defenders had only four tricks to cash, and Rich would increase his chances of guessing the queen of clubs (or perhaps avoid the guess if West returned a club).

On the actual layout, the spade suit blocked. East, who had played the 10 of spades on the opening lead, now followed with the five and West won the ace. A spade was returned to East’s jack, but now the spades were out of the picture. East shifted to the four of hearts. Declarer won the ace and led a diamond to the ace, followed by a fourth round of diamonds. East won and was forced to break clubs. So declarer took 10 tricks: one spade, two hearts, four diamonds and three clubs, for a precious overtrick and a near top score.

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© 1998 Matthew Granovetter