Great BBO Vugraph Deals #4

Marc Smith visits the 2019 Grand National Teams Final

Traditionally the opening event at the Summer Nationals, the Grand National Teams is a knockout event contested by the champion team from each ACBL District. The 2019 final proved to be one of the most exciting in the event’s long history.

The first of the finalist, representing District 17, a huge geographical region that had never previously won this event, were the Las Vegas, NV sextet WINESTOCK (Sheri Winestock/Fred Gitelman, Roger Lee/Daniel Korbel and Geoff Hampson/Haig Tchamitch). They defeated McDEVITT from Massachusetts 120-99 in their semi-final to reach this stage.

Opposing them were GRUE (Joe Grue, John Hurd, Joel Wooldridge, Kent Mignocchi and Gillian Miniter) from New York City, representing District 24, a district that remarkably has only won the Grand National Teams once despite numerous appearances in the final. They crushed GUPTA from California 187-95 in the other semi-final.

The final was contested over 60 boards divided into four 15-board sets. After three sets, GRUE led by 8 IMPs (101-93). We join the action early in the final set, with GRUE having added a further 2 IMPs to their lead.

N/S GameDealer East

Kent Mignocchi opened One Spade in third seat, got a raise to Two Spades in competition from his partner, and advanced with a help-wanted game try in clubs. North competed to Three Hearts and Wooldridge passed. Regular partnerships should know whether this is a stronger action than bidding Three Spades, but it clearly denies the values to accept the game try.

South’s raise to Four Hearts was perhaps somewhat unexpected, since he had not raised to Three Hearts at his previous turn. Indeed, the unconvincing nature of the opponents’ auction may have persuaded Mignocchi to respect his partner’s rejection of his earlier game try rather than take unilateral action now. Wooldridge’s double of Four Hearts seemed to confirm this decision.

That theory was not long in the debunking. Wooldridge led a spade to the ace. Declarer won trick two with the ♠K, laid down the A, and eventually reached dummy in trumps to take the club finesse for an overtrick. N/S a very useful-looking +990.

West – Hampson;   North – Grue;        East – Tchamitch South – Hurd

The auction was much quicker here thanks to Haig Tchamitch’s natural weak two opening on the East cards. Hampson bid a strong but non-forcing Two Spades and Tchamitch was happy to support his partner’s suit after North’s jump to Four Hearts.

To beat Four Spades legitimately, North must attack clubs before his trump winner is dislodged. Grue kept the defence alive by leading the A, but then gave declarer a chance by continuing hearts at trick two. Declarer pitched a club loser on the K, but then fatally started trumps by leading the ♠10 rather than the ♠3.

North won with the ♠K and returned a spade but declarer now had only one trump entry to dummy. He played a low diamond to the king and then ran the J, but he still had to lose two clubs at the end. Had declarer been able to win the second round of trumps in dummy, he could have run the J on the first round of the suit and repeated the finesse with the 10. He could then cross to the A, return to dummy with the remaining high trump, and cash the K to dispose of another club loser. Still, E/W -50 is no disaster when teammates have +990, so that was 14 IMPs to WINESTOCK. Had Hampson made Four Spades, he would have picked up only an additional 2 IMPs. How I wish that it only cost me 2 IMPs every time I went down in a game I could have made!

WINESTOCK had inched ahead by 4 IMPs, and the very next board produced another sizeable swing:

E/W Game – Dealer South

I thought it had become fairly standard to play a jump to Three Notrumps showing exactly the type of hand South has here, with a strong suit and a couple of outside cards. (Balanced hands in the 18-19 range can rebid 2NT.)  Declarer won the opening club lead in hand with the ace and led his heart. When West played low, declarer rose with dummy’s king, and claimed nine tricks when it held.

As it happens, the major suits lie well for declarer and it looks as though any sensible line of play will produce nine tricks, so N/S +600 looked like a normal result.

West – Hampson;   North – Grue;        East – Tchamitch South – Hurd

The root of this disaster is surely South’s Three Club bid, although North should perhaps rebid his decent six-card heart suit rather than raising his partner’s second suit. For his part, South might have sensed problems ahead as soon as his partner raised clubs, although probably the best he can do at that point is jump to game in diamonds, which may be too high anyway.

Grue denied slam interest over Hurd’s Four Spade cue-bid but, of course, when Hurd then attempted to correct the contract back to his real suit, his intentions were misunderstood. Grue merrily co-operated in what he naturally assumed was a grand slam try, and then the doubling began. The only saving grace is that no one had a double of the final contract. Not that it would have made a huge difference: N/S -100 was 11 MPs to WINESTOCK, now ahead by 15. Had someone doubled Six Diamonds, they would have gained only one extra IMP. Hold that thought, though!

An exchange of small swings had little influence on the margin, and with four deals remaining WINESTOCK still led by 14. North’s initial choice of action determined the tempo of the two auctions on this deal:

Love Vulnerable Dealer South

Grue chose to start with a takeout double and then bid his strong six-card major at his second turn. South’s jump to game is certainly aggressive, but even if he only raises to the three-level, North will surely go on to game and East will be in the same position. Having bid his diamonds and shown club support, Haig Tchamitch quite reasonably felt he had done his bit. Now all he had to do was to find the winning lead.

After the low club lead chosen at the table, declarer had ten tricks. He ducked the J at trick two, won the spade switch and knocked out West’s A. He then ruffed the club return and ran his trumps, squeezing East in the pointed suits to overcome the spade blockage. N/S +420.

Only a diamond lead beats Four Hearts. If declarer wins and plays a heart, East can overtake the J on the second round of the suit and give his partner a diamond ruff. If declarer ducks at trick one, wins the diamond continuation and plays on trumps, West can underlead his ♣A-K to get partner in to cash his diamond winner. Perhaps it is safer to take the cheap save after all…

West – Mignocchi;   North – Korbel;        East – Wooldridge South – Lee

Here, North started with a heart overcall and caught an immediate raise in competition. West rebid his clubs and North made a game try with Three Diamonds, but now Wooldridge jumped all the way to game, thus convincing the opponents not to double.

Was South accepting the game try, though? Almost certainly not, so perhaps Four Clubs from East would have bought the contract. N/S +50 was 9 IMPs to GRUE. Had E/W managed to buy the hand at the four-level, their +130 would have saved 2 IMPs.

Down by 5 IMPs with three boards to play, both E/W pairs stayed out of a heart slam on a finesse and a little more: flat at +480. Then both West’s led their long suit from a 4-3-3-3shape after 1NT-3NT: flat at +50. On the final deal, N/S bid 1NT-2-2♠ back to East. Tchamitch passed and his partner led a trump: N/S +140. At the other table, Wooldridge backed in with a double on a 2-3-4-4 11-count. North bid on to Three Spades and Mignocchi, encouraged by his partner’s double, led a heart from K-10-x-x. When the dust had cleared, the defense had amassed five tricks: N/S -50 and 5 IMPs to GRUE, tying the match at 136-136. If only someone could have found just one extra IMP somewhere!

And so it was on to an extra eight boards. First blood went to GRUE but it was more of a scratch than the gaping wound it might have been:

N/S GameDealer East

On grounds of frequency, it is common to play takeout doubles of a three-level overcall of a One Notrump opening. This deal, of course, is the exception. At this vulnerability, Wooldridge surely would have doubled for penalties if he could but, with game a likely make, he could not risk passing in the hope his partner would reopen. E/W +430 when it could have been almost double that defending Three Spades Doubled.

West – Hampson;   North – Grue       East – Gitelman South – Hurd

At this table, Fred Gitelman opened a Precision-style, natural and limited Two Clubs and Hurd weighed in with a vulnerable-against-not Four Spade overcall. Could Geoff Hampson pull the trigger? For one reason or another, apparently not.

Seeing green cards all round was no doubt a great relief for North, with his completely useless dummy. Even so, declarer could make only six tricks: E/W -400 the hard way and 1 IMP to GRUE.

The next deal produced a more substantial swing:

E/W GameDealer South

There was some discussion amongst the BBO VuGraph commentators, and the general feeling was that Grue/Hurd play 1-3♠ to show a minimum opening bid with an unknown singleton (3NT then asks which shortage if opener wants to know). Thus, this jump to Four Diamonds showed a better hand than that. Even so, it is hard to expect Hurd to do anything other than to just bid Four Hearts on this very minimum opening bid. West led a club so that was thirteen tricks for declarer: N/S +510.

West – Wooldridge  North – Lee;        East – Mignocchi South – Korbel

Roger Lee chose to start with a Jacoby 2NT, and Korbel’s Three Clubs showed any minimum hand. Lee could have inquired about shortage with Three Diamonds, but instead chose Three Hearts, showing slam interest and asking for a control. South now cue-bid his ♣A and, over Four Diamonds, having already shown a minimum, he jumped to Five Hearts to ask for a spade control.

Six Hearts is much better than just the club finesse. Possession of the ♠Q means that it is also cold if West holds the ♠K or, indeed, on just about any layout if West does not lead a spade. Wooldridge did lead a spade and he did not hold the king, but with the ♣K onside good bidding was duly rewarded in the IMP column: N/S +980 and 10 IMPs to WINESTOCK.

This was the very next board, and fairly innocuous it looks too. As we have learned, though, looks can be deceiving:

Both Vulnerable – Dealer West

I cannot say that I like East’s pass over Two Clubs, although the hand presents even more of a problem if partner might have only three diamonds for his opening bid. My preference would be for Two Diamonds, but I strongly prefer pass to the only other alternative, a negative double. With East remaining silent throughout, East/West sold our and declare made nine tricks for what looked like a fairly normal N/S +110.

West – Wooldridge;   North – Lee       East – Mignocchi South – Korbel

Here, East did make the aforementioned questionable a negative double of the Two Club overcall, and although that was the root of the subsequent trouble it was not the only dubious bid in the auction. When North’s Three Clubs was passed back to West, it looks to me like he has a fairly routine takeout double. Partner will, presumably, bid Three Diamonds, and that should be the end of the auction. You may lose a couple of IMPs, but that’s all.

Wooldridge’s Four Club cue-bid just looks far too much to me, particularly with South having bid spades naturally. Even if you find a 4-4 spade fit, do you really want to play there with A-10-9-x-x in one defender’s hand?

When the music finally ground to a halt, North produced a red double card and led ace and another club. Declarer ruffed and desperately tried a heart towards dummy’s queen. South won with the K and led the ♠10 for his partner to ruff. North now exited with a heart, won in dummy, but when declarer now played a trump, North was able to win and give his partner a heart ruff. That was the ♣A, the K and four trump tricks for the defence: N/S +1100 and another 14 IMPs to WINESTOCK.

There were some minor exchanges on the remaining deals, but WINESTOCK won the extra boards 29-14 and the match 165-150. Congratulations on their victory, the first by a team from District 17 since the event began in 1973. This was the third time that District 17 have reached the final, and for Roger Lee and Daniel Korbel it was a case of redemption, having been members of the second of those defeated teams just twelve months earlier.