The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXXIV: Team Porcupine vs. the Silver Fox

The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXXIV: Team Porcupine vs. the Silver Fox

By Ray Adams

Part II: Nograwowicz’s Coup, Board # 16

Nograwowicz’s 2 bid showed two controls (ace = two, king = one). His second heart bid showed an actual heart bid, and Kowalski erred at this point, choosing to support his partner with only two hearts rather than bidding his second suit, spades. Thus, the pair reached the wrong grand slam.

Diego led the king of diamonds. Nograwowicz felt sick to his stomach when he saw Kowalski’s dummy. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the Fox smile and maliciously twist a lock of silver hair. Declarer knew he was in trouble and took extra time to think before playing dummy’s ace. He then tried a low heart, inserting his jack when the Fox played low. When he opened his eyes, he saw that the knave had won. Now a club went to the ace. He next ruffed a low club with a small heart. Declarer cashed the king and queen of spades, then led a heart to the ace.

Declarer now ran clubs through the Fox, who soon found himself in a hopeless position. If the Fox ruffed, Nograwowicz would overruff, draw the last trump and return to dummy with a spade. If the Fox did not ruff, he would eventually be caught in a trump coup when declarer led the ace of spades. The Fox soon saw what Nograwowicz was up to and folded his cards and put them back in the board.

“I have too much respect for your declarer play to prolong this farce any longer. Of course, had you been in 7S, which is the normal contract, I would have put my cards back in the board as soon as I saw the dummy.”

Nograwowicz acknowledged the Fox’s compliment with a nod.

“You are quite the bidder,” the Fox said to Kowalski. “Maybe you should write a book. You could call it Precision Kowalski.

This comment put a broad smile on Kowalski’s face. Why how wonderful it was for a player of the Fox’s caliber to say something so nice about his bidding prowess. And yes, that was exactly the title he would use. No, Bridge Per Kowalski and The Kowalski System were much too pedestrian for a book that would be so enlightening.

“I had no cards, Diego,” the Fox said to his partner. “I had no cards. Well, at least I had a queen this time and what happened? It got used against me. I was couped out of the only face card I have seen in two boards. If there is any justice in this world, then I will have 30 points on the next hand.”

“I had a vision while he was playing that contract,” Diego said. “For a moment I saw Belladonna brilliantly declaring a hand while playing in the Bermuda Bowl.”

“Try to have a vision of me playing a hand, Diego,” the Fox said. “We can’t win if Belladonna plays a hand. He’s not even on our team. Although maybe he should be. Does he stare into space like T.O.D.? I need cards, Diego, cards.” The Fox viciously twirled his moustache. “Give me some cards, Diego.”

At this table, Joe became declarer at the more sensible contract of 7♠ and Konejwicz led the jack of diamonds. Joe won his ace, cashed the ace of clubs and ruffed a club in dummy. He then drew trumps in three rounds and claimed. It was plus 1510 at both tables, meaning that Team Porcupine still led two imps to none. As he picked up board 17, Nograwowicz shuddered to think what the deficit might have been had he not found the trump coup.


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The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXXIII: Team Porcupine vs. the Silver Fox

The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXXIII: Team Porcupine vs. the Silver Fox

By Ray Adams

Part I: Negative Kowalski

 Lately I have been getting several requests from readers who wondered why I had not included the big match Team Porcupine played several years ago vs. the Silver Crusader team, led by the legendary Silver Fox, now gone to the big bridge tournament in the sky. “The match between Team Porcupine and the Silver Crusaders was one of the best bridge matches of all time,” a reader from New Jersey writes, “Surely fans of Team Porcupine should be able to enjoy it in your blog.” Well, I agree. My next seven blogs will be a coverage of all seven hands in that wonderful match.

     The setting was a regional in Las Vegas where many of the country’s best teams were competing in a Swiss Team event. After seven rounds, both Team Porcupine and the Silver Crusaders were 7-0 and would meet head to head in the final match of the day. The crowd was electric with excitement and kibitzers were three deep around both tables.

Tension ran high as the teams shuffled and dealt boards 15 to 21. Readers of this blog are already familiar with Team Porcupine’s crew of Stanislaus Kowalski/Porczouk Nograwowicz sitting NS and Stari Pas/Harrington Konejwicz in the EW seats. The Silver Crusaders consisted of Diego de la Plata/the Silver Fox in the EW chairs, while Joe Crowfoot/T.O.D.C.J. opposed Pas and Konejwicz. Diego de la Plata, a rich silver baron from Durango, Mexico, was the team sponsor, while everyone knew that the Silver Fox was its star player. However, Joe Crowfoot and T.O.D.C.J., who normally went by his first three initials of T.O.D., were certainly formidable.

       In the auction, Kowalski was rather surprised by Diego’s 1♠ overcall and decided to double it for penalty, forgetting that in this situation, his double was actually negative. So, rightly or wrongly, the pair ended in 4, declared by Nograwowicz.

Diego, a short man with aristocratic features and an extremely well-groomed mustache, led the king of spades. When the dummy hit, the Silver Fox, a huge fellow with long, silver locks that overflowed from underneath a Minnesota Twins baseball cap, could not restrain himself.

“A most unusual negative double. Were you searching for a 4-3 heart fit?”

Kowalski turned red but made no reply.

Nograwowicz was quick to defend his partner. “We call that bid Negative Kowalski,” he said, “and it is, indeed a search for a 4-3 fit in the majors.”

“A likely story,” the Fox muttered under his breath, and play continued.

Kowalski smiled to himself. It was nice to have his partner ride in to rescue him. Then he got lost in his own thoughts as he mechanically played the dummy. After all, he, Stanislaus Kowalski, had created several new bids during this particular day’s competition. Perhaps he should write a book. Maybe Bridge Per Kowalski or The Kowalski System, oh, or better yet Precision Kowalski.

Meanwhile, Nograwowicz won the lead with dummy’s ace then led a low diamond for a finesse. Diego captured the queen with his king and returned the queen of spades. Declarer ruffed this and played the ace of diamonds, dropping Diego’s jack. Now, if only the heart suit would split evenly.

The Fox threw fear into Nograwowicz’s soul, following with the eight, then the nine, but declarer really had no choice but to try for a 3-3 split, and when that materialized, he claimed eleven tricks, conceding a club at the end.

“I had no cards, no cards at all,” the Fox said. “I had to have some fun. Did you sweat? Did I make your heart palpitate if ever so little?”

Nograwowicz smiled at the Fox’s antics. The Fox was certainly one of the top card players in the country, but was his skill at bridge any match for the cloud of B.S. he created at the table?

Pas and Konejwicz took time to study their opponents as they sat silently while T.O.D. and Joe bid up to 5.   T.O.D. looked a lot like Elton John and had an interesting habit of tilting his face to one side and staring into space. He wore a Minnesota Vikings sweatshirt and black and white shoes. Joe Crowfoot was a Chippewa Indian with the stocky build of most of his tribe. His clothing style seemed designed to intimidate his opponents. He wore a red Apache-style headband, an Oakland Raiders jersey, and faded jeans held up by a belt with a silver buckle in the shape of a human skull. His boots were made of rattlesnake hide. “I’m certainly glad I met him at the bridge table and not in a dark alley,” Harrington Konejwicz said to himself as he followed the auction.

Pas led the king of spades, taken by dummy’s ace. T.O.D. played a diamond to his ten, losing to the jack. Pas returned the queen of spades, ruffed. A small heart went to dummy’s ten and another diamond led from the board. When Konejwicz followed with the six, T.O.D. was faced with a choice. He tilted his head and stared into spade for several minutes. Then T.O.D. refocused his eyes and stared at the six of diamonds. He pulled out a card, almost threw it on the table, then put it back in his hand. He stared for a few minutes more, then grabbed another card, coming very close to dropping it in front of him, but finally placing it back in his hand at the last moment. When T.O.D. started to repeat this performance, Joe said, “I can’t stand it anymore,” and reached across the table and slapped the card from his partner’s hand.

The ace of diamonds hit the table. Pas disgustedly threw his king down. T.O.D. later conceded a club to claim 5 for plus 600. Since Nograwowicz had picked up 650 at the other table, it meant that Team Porcupine had the early lead 2 imps to none.

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The Adventures of Poor Frank, Part CXXXII: Criss-Cross Archie

The Adventures of Poor Frank, Part CXXXII: Criss-Cross Archie

By Ray Adams

Poor Frank and Lucky Archie were neck and neck just the other night at the local duplicate club. They were playing each other when the following hand came up on the last board of the evening:

In the auction, 2NT was a forcing raise in hearts, 4 was a sign off, and North, with his great hand, made one more slam try with the 5 bid. When Poor Frank showed diamond values, North bid 7♥, knowing how badly Poor Frank wanted to beat his rival. In actual fact, not everyone bid 6 on this hand, so if North had merely settled for the small slam, Poor Frank surely would have won that evening. But now the stakes were higher. Lucky Archie considered a double, but realized that setting the grand one trick would be good enough for an overall victory.

Archie tossed the king of clubs on the table, smiling to himself when he saw the dummy. There was no way Poor Frank was going to make this hand. Enough was enough and he would be king of the studio one more time. Poor Frank won the ace of clubs, having really no choice, and drew trumps in four rounds, tossing a spade from dummy on the last one. He then ran the diamonds, reaching the following end position:

When Poor Frank led dummy’s nine of diamonds, he had no trouble tossing a small spade. Lucky Archie, on the other hand, had a much larger problem. If he tossed a spade, Poor Frank would cash dummy’s ace of spades, ruff a club and claim the thirteenth trick with the queen of spades. Lucky Archie could see this coming, so he decided to let go of a club. Poor Frank now ruffed a club, dropping Lucky Archie’s queen and returned to the good dummy via the ace of spades. Making seven hearts.

“What happened?’ Lucky Archie said. “How did you make it?   I feel like I was double crossed.”

“Actually you were criss-crossed, Archie,” Poor Frank said smiling. It was clear from the look on Archie’s face that he had no idea what had happened to him.

“You should have seen Archie,” Poor Frank later said to Janet. “He looked like he had fallen into a rabbit hole.”

“Off with his head,” Janet said, laughing. “Off with his head.”


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The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXXII: It’s All in the Style

The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXXII: It’s All in the Style

By Ray Adams


One of the remarkable aspects of team game bridge is how a slight difference in bidding style can completely change the outcome of a hand.

When Kowalski/Nograwowicz held the NS cards, the auction was as given in the top diagram. Nograwowicz was able to make a one level overcall of his major suit, spades. This allowed Kowalski to lead the king of spades when the auction was over. Nograwowicz played the ten, won the next trick with the ace and gave his partner a ruff. The ace of trumps in Kowalski’s hand meant the contract was soon down one or plus 100 for Team Porcupine.

At the other table, Konejwicz decided his 15 point hand merited a 1NT opener. At this table, South was reluctant to come in with a 2S overcall, allowing Pas to transfer his partner into hearts. The result of this bidding sequence is that South found himself on lead. Of course, it is possible that South might have found the killing lead of a small spade, but this South did not, and this made it more difficult for NS to negotiate their spade ruff.

After the queen of clubs lead, Konejwicz studied the dummy and saw that even if hearts split 5-0 (which they did), he would make his contract as long as NS did not get a spade ruff. So he won his ace of clubs and immediately cashed the king of clubs, sluffing a spade from dummy. Now even if North shifted to the king of spades after winning the trump ace, he could not overruff dummy and the contract was safe.

Plus 620 and plus 100 added up to a 12 imp swing for Team Porcupine in a match they only won by 9 imps. It was nice bonus for a slight difference in style.

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The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXXI: Partial to Partials

The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXXI: Partial to Partials

By Ray Adams

Team Porcupine has proven time and time again that they will fight for every trick in a battle of the partials. The following hand is certainly no exception:

 At the table where Pas/Konejwicz were EW, North reached three hearts on the top auction given above. Konejwicz led a trump, won in dummy. Declarer took the ace of clubs and ruffed a club. He returned to hand with the ace of diamonds and ruffed a second club. When he led a low spade, Pas won his ten and led a heart, eliminating dummy’s last heart and establishing a club trick for Konejwicz. Declarer led a club, won by Konejwicz, who now led the ace of spades, ruffed by declarer. North, however, was able to draw Pas’ last trump and cash the long club. This was the ninth trick, so Team Porcupine was minus 140 at this table.

When Kowalski/Nograwowicz were NS, East decided to take another bid after Kowalski’s three heart call. This proved fatal when Nograwowicz doubled and produced a brutal defense. He led the singleton club, taken by Kowalski, who returned the two for a ruff. Nograwowicz led a diamond to partner’s ace and another club ruff was forthcoming. Nograwowicz now cashed the ace of hearts and led a heart to Kowalski’s king. Kowalski put yet another club on the table, and when East had to follow, Nograwowicz was able to overruff dummy with his queen of trumps.

Team Porcupine had taken the first seven tricks for down three and plus 800. This was a nice 12 imp gain for the team and helped them win this important match. It is hands like this which make fans of the Porcupines say that their team is “partial to partials.”

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The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXX: The Telltale Double

The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXX: The Telltale Double

By Ray Adams

Lead directing doubles can be a very useful tool in a bridge buff’s arsenal, but many times these doubles are abused in ways that go beyond comprehension.

In the auction, 4NT asked for aces and 5 showed two without the queen of trumps, spades being the agreed suit. When West doubled his 5 bid, Team Captain Stari Pas of Team Porcupine thought that West surely had the ace and queen of this suit. Else why would he make a lead-directing double? Although the strange thing was that West must have known that he would be on lead against this bold slam. Pas was even more surprised when the opening lead of the six of hearts was made and he saw the ace of hearts in the dummy and East’s queen pop up when he played the eight. What had possibly induced West to double?

After some thought, Pas decided West must have been doubling on length. If so, then possibly spades were splitting badly and a safety play was in order. At trick two, Pas led a a low spade to dummy’s king, then dummy’s five. East played the seven and Pas covered this with the eight. West now showed out, tossing one of his hearts. Pas smiled to himself as he saw his reasoning justified.

Declarer now cashed the ace of diamonds and led a heart to the ace, East following with the five. Next came the queen of diamonds and a small diamond to the king as West showed out. Pas now knew East had started with four spades and four diamonds. He guessed that because of West’s double of hearts, the rest of East’s hand must be two hearts and three clubs.

If Pas was right, then East could be endplayed. He led his last diamond, ruffed in dummy, then led dummy’s last trump to his ace. He led the jack of hearts. East had the option of ruffing, but would then have to lead into dummy’s club tenace. Instead, East tossed a small club. No matter. Pas simply threw East in with a trump to produce the same result. Six spades bid and made. Plus 1430 to Team Porcupine.

When the team later compared scores, Kowalski confessed that he, too, had doubled the five heart bid. When asked why, he replied, “I didn’t think they could make five hearts.

“But, Stanislaus,” Pas said, “you gave declarer a valuable clue to playing the hand.”

“I must not have,” Kowalski said, “because at our table, declarer was down two.”


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The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXIX: A Knack for Slams

The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXIX: A Knack for Slams

By Ray Adams

Picking the right slam is not always the easiest thing to do, especially when you have to start exploring at the four level. Team Porcupine seems to have an uncanny knack of somehow managing to find their way safely out of a jungle of obstructive bids.

When Pas/Konejwicz held the EW cards, Pas opened four hearts, South bid five clubs in the pass out seat and North raised to six clubs. Pas made the highly imaginative lead of the queen of hearts. Declarer hopefully played the ace, but this was ruffed by Konejwicz. Konejwicz realized that Pas must have eight hearts for his bid. Therefore he had to hold the king of hearts. So, what then, did the lead of the queen of hearts signify? Konejwicz thought it could only be a suit preference signal for spades, the highest non-trump suit. Konejwicz put his theory into action and returned a spade. When Pas did indeed ruff this, the contract was down one. It was plus 100 to Team Porcupine.

At the other table, the auction began exactly the same. But when the five club bid came to Kowalski, he made the creative call of five hearts. This induced Nograwowicz to show his four card spade suit and Kowalski raised his erstwhile partner to the small slam.

West led the king of hearts vs. six spades and East ruffed away dummy’s ace, but now could only return a diamond. This was taken in dummy. Nograwowicz now tried the club finesse. When it worked, he banged down the ace of clubs and smiled as East’s king dropped. He now drew trumps, ending in hand, and claimed.

Plus 980 and plus 100 added up to a 14 imp swing for Team Porcupine and was enough for them to win a match they otherwise would have lost. Later, Nograwowicz and team captain Stari Pas praised Kowalski’s thoughtful bid. However, Konejwicz, who was frequently the victim of Kowalski’s barbs, had another opinion.

“Where did you learn to pick slams so well, Stanislaus,” Konejwicz said. “Is it because you have so much experience picking your nose?”

“No,” Kowalski answered, “I got it picking partners. Clearly I picked a much better one than our captain, Stari Pas, did.”



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The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXVIII: He Who Dares

The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXVIII: He Who Dares

By Ray Adams

Most team events are won when one team bids and makes a game or slam while the other team fails to do so. Thus, the strategy of many teams is to try to create swings on borderline game or slam hands. Team Porcupine is no different from other successful teams in this aspect, but what sets them apart is the ability to create swings on hands that appear to be completely innocent.


With Kowalski and Nograwowicz sitting EW, 1NT by South was passed out as seen in the top auction diagram above. Kowalski led the four of spades and declarer was unable to take more than one spade trick, two diamonds and the ace of clubs. This was down three for a nifty plus 300 to Team Porcupine. Team Porcupine’s two opponents simply shrugged this off. There was no reason to believe that the result would be any different at the other table.

However, when Pas was sitting North on this hand, he decided to gamble when Konejwicz opened 1NT. He bid two clubs, Stayman, hoping to hear his partner respond two hearts or two diamonds, denying a four card major. When he saw Konejwicz’s two heart response, he quickly passed.

The opening lead was once again a spade. However, with hearts as trumps, declarer was able to win a spade and ruff a spade in dummy. He soon lost two trump tricks. Readers can see that the club suit was frozen, meaning that neither side could lead clubs without surrendering a trick. Konejwicz was able to find a way around this. In the end game, he played his ace and king of diamonds, giving up the next diamond. East won the ten and cashed the jack, but Konejwicz threw a club on this. Now East had to lead away from his king of clubs and Konejwicz had eight tricks lined up in front of him: one spade, one spade ruff, two hearts, two diamonds, and two clubs. This was plus 110 for Team Porcupine.

Plus 300 and plus 110 added up to a nine imp swing for the team on a hand with absolutely no game or slam possibilities. This was truly an amazing result. Later, team captain Stari Pas was asked what he would have done if Konejwicz had responded two spades to his Stayman bid.

“Passed, of course,” Pas said. “But I might add that if playing a 4-3 fit is character building, then Harrington Konejwicz would have been one of the most notorious characters in the USA by the time he finished playing in a 4-2 spade fit.”

Pas refused to comment on the additional question of whether playing for Team Porcupine aids in building character or in building characters.

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The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXVII: Getting Defensive

The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXVII: Getting Defensive

By Ray Adams

Much has been written about the excellent declarer play of Team Porcupine members such as Nograwowiciz and Konejwicz. However, it should be noted that this group did not achieve its national reputation by play of the hand alone. Tight defense has always been a Porcupine trademark.

      Pas-Konejwicz were NS during the top auction. Pas’s four club bid was lead-directing and indicative of a willingness to play four spades. North decided to compete to four hearts which would have made against most teams and Konejwicz chose to defend.

Konejwicz led the ten of clubs, taken by Pas’s ace. Pas now switched to the queen of spades, won by declarer’s ace. North floated the ten of hearts to Pas’s ace. Pas returned the jack of spades, overtaken by Konejwicz’s king. The club return was ruffed by Pas for a nifty down one and plus 100 to Team Porcupine.

Readers should note that North could have made this contract by taking the “unnecessary” finesse in diamonds, and jettisoning the losing spade on the ace of diamonds. This would also have cut the defenders’ communications and North would actually have ended up making five on this hand!

At the other table, Kowalski chose not to bid four hearts, possibly because he would be playing the hand and not Nograwowicz. At any rate, he led the king of clubs, taken by declarer’s ace.   Nograwowicz played the four on this. Kowalski thought about this play and came to the conclusion that Nograwowicz was signaling an even number of clubs, most likely four.

When declarer led a trump, Kowalski jumped with his ace and switched to his singleton diamond. This went low, queen by Nograwowicz and small by declarer. The diamond three looked like a singleton to Nograwowicz. But where most players would have immediately cashed the ace of diamonds and returned a diamond for partner to ruff, Nograwowicz saw that this would not set the contract. Therefore he returned the seven of diamonds.

Kowalski ruffed this and since the seven looked like suit preference for hearts, returned the jack of hearts. This went to the queen, king, and ace. Now declarer could not establish a diamond trick without letting Team Porcupine in to cash a heart for down one. Thus, this hand ended with two plus 100’s for Team Porcupine as opposed to the minus 650 and minus 140 it could have been. The five imp gain instead of a possible thirteen imp loss was living proof that Team Porcupine has no need to get defensive about results like this.


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The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXVI: The Phantom of the Sacrifice

The Adventures of Team Porcupine, Part XXVI: The Phantom of the Sacrifice

By Ray Adams

     One of the most dreaded nightmares a bridge buff can have is that of the phantom sacrifice. This occurs when a pair chooses to sacrifice against a game contract that would go down against perfectly normal defense. And few players choose to sacrifice at a high level when they are vulnerable and the opponents are not. Stanislaus Kowalski of Team Porcupine would be one of the few exceptions, especially when he knows his partner, Porczouk Nograwowicz, will be playing the hand.

    East’s two spade bid was weak and Kowalski’s 4NT bid was unusual (to say the least), showing ten cards in the minors. West had no trouble doubling, and in fact, must have been expecting a huge penalty of at least 800 points. Kowalski, on the other hand, was clearly hoping that his partner could hold the contract to down one for minus 200 versus the presumed plus 420 EW would earn for four spades making.

West led the ace of spades, ruffed in dummy. Nograwowicz saw he had no easy job in front of him and indeed, he could easily lose control of the hand and go down three or more. He decided to embark on a crossruff, trumping two diamonds in his hand and two more spades in the dummy. He next played the ace of clubs, dummy’s last trump. Declarer then ruffed a third diamond and led his last trump, hoping the suit divided 2-2 and that West would have to win the trick, as East would have had several spades to cash.

Declarer’s hopes came true when West took the king of clubs as East’s jack dropped. A very interesting end position had now been reached. Dummy remained with the king and ten of hearts plus the ace, ten and nine of diamonds. West had four hearts to the ace and the singleton king of diamonds, while East held the queen doubleton of hearts, and the king, ten, and eight of spades.

West was an excellent player and saw what was about to happen. He tried his best by leading the nine of hearts, but Nograwowicz calmly played dummy’s king and quickly cashed three more diamond tricks to make his doubled contract. This was plus 750 for Team Porcupine. At the other table, Konejwicz tried his best to make four spades, but lost a trick in each suit for down one and minus 50 for the team. Still, this was a 12 imp pickup for Team Porcupine in a match they won by 9 imps.

Since the spade game had gone down, Kowalski’s sacrifice had indeed been a phantom. But the phantom had turned into much more than an enticing apparition created by Kowalski’s mind when Nograwowicz’s sterling play brought it home.

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