Marc Smith visits the 2019 World Championships in China
We like to bring you tales of close matches in this column, and there were a number of them at the quarter-final stage of the world championships in Wuhan. Imagine flying all the way to China, playing a grueling round robin of 23 16-board matches over eight days to qualify for the knockout stage, and then losing in the quarter-final by just a single IMP. That is exactly what happened to the French team in the d’Orsi Trophy (the Seniors team).
Let’s take a look at some of the hands on which they might have found that extra IMP (or perhaps a few more). As usual we hope you will find the deals here both instructive and entertaining, and we start on just the second deal of the 96-board match:
N/S Vulnerable – Dealer East
What an innocuous little deal this appears to be. And so it was at the table, where the French pair were sitting East/West. After two top diamonds and a diamond ruff, declarer could have made an overtrick by playing for trumps to split 2-2. Playing in just Two Spades, though, he played safe for his contract and the defenders scored their trumps separately. E/W +110.
West: H Hansen North: Lebel East: Schou South: Soulet
Michel Lebel first represented France at the 1972 Olympiad. He won his first European title two years later and became a world champion at the 1980 Olympiad in Valkenberg. Philippe Soulet made his international debut as part of that Olympiad-winning team in 1980, so they have nearly 90 years of international experience between them.
Soulet’s One Heart overcall would not be everyone’s choice at adverse vulnerability, but it is hardly criminal either. Lebel’s redouble showed three-card heart support and his Three Diamonds was a natural game try. They could have defended Three Spades, and doing so would probably have meant losing 1 IMP on the deal.
The defence to Four Hearts Doubled began with two top clubs and a third round, ruffed in dummy with the ♥10 and overruffed with the queen. A spade to the ace was then followed by another club, ruffed and overruffed. The ace of trumps was still to come: E/W +800 and 12 IMPs to DENMARK.
E/W Game – Dealer East
The French pair bid to a decent game contract that was beaten only by the brilliance of Henrik Hansen. He found the only opening lead to defeat the contract, a low heart away from his ace, East’s ♥9 forcing declarer’s king. At the table, declarer returned a heart at trick two, so Steen Schou won with the queen and played a diamond. Thus, the defenders scored a trick in each suit. N/S -50.
Had declarer played ace and another club at tricks two and three, West could have won with the ♣K and continued hearts to the queen so that East could play a diamond. With West still holding a trump trick, declarer does not now have time to dispose of his diamonds on dummy’s clubs. Would the Danes have found the winning defence? Probably.
West: Levy North: Nielsen East: Abecassis South: Boesgaard
Alain Levy made his international debut in 1981 and won his first world championship title at the 1992 Olympiad in Salsomaggiore. He won the Olympiad again in 1996 and the Bermuda Bowl in 1997. For many years he played with the enfant terrible of French bridge, the legendary Paul Chemla, and they were acknowledged as one of the best pairs in the world. Michel Abecassis won the 1991 European Pairs (playing with Jean-Christophe Quantin) and he was a member of the French team that won the 2018 European Seniors title.
Boesgaard’s pass of Two Spades is certainly conservative. Even so, it is hard to comprehend Levy’s double with such minimal values and shape. Is this a penalty double? If so, it even harder to fathom. If not, then the pass by Abecassis is hard to explain.
The play was of little interest other than that declarer had an unusual position to make ten tricks on the low club lead. He won the ♣Q in dummy and immediately ran the ♦J to West’s king. West exited with a diamond and now declarer can cash the two top spades and play his winning diamonds, throwing a heart from dummy. When he then exits with a low heart, he cannot be prevented from ruffing his heart loser in dummy for the second overtrick. At the table, declarer settled for nine tricks: N/S +570 and 12 IMPs to DENMARK, who trailed 27-33 at the end of the first stanza.
On our next deal, the French auction was far more convincing than was the Danish one. The final contract was the same, though, and it was an instructively thoughtful defensive play by a Danish defender earned his side a big swing.
E/W Vulnerable – Dealer East
The French took a direct route to a game that appears to rely solely on the club finesse. With the ♣K offside, declarer seems to have four losers, and so it proved. Henrik Hansen led the ♥K, then cashed the ♠A before playing the ♥J to Steen Schou’s ace. It mattered not what Schou did now: declarer had, eventually, to take the club finesse. When it lost, he was one down: N/S -50.
West: Levy North: Nielsen East: Abecassis South: Boesgaard
The Danish South’s bidding was incredibly undisciplined, but it is the sort of mistake you see often at local clubs. The three-level pre-empt chosen by Soulet at the other table looks normal, but Boesgaard chose to treat his hand as a weak two and opened a Multi. When the auction then returned to him with the opponents in game, he decided that he had undervalued his hand earlier and so took a unilateral decision in an attempt to catch up.
When you pre-empt, that’s it – you do not bid again, Any future decision is partner’s. What this means is that you should always bid to the limit of your hand at your first turn. If your hand is worth a three-level bid then open three. Do not open two and then bid again because you haven’t bid enough the first time.
However, this was the Dane’s lucky day and he found an excellent dummy. Alain Levy also started the defence with the ♥K, but he carelessly continued with the jack at trick two. As at the other table, East overtook with the ♥A and shifted to a diamond. Look what happened next… Declarer won with the ♦A, ruffed a diamond, ruffed his last heart in dummy, and ruffed a second diamond, eliminating the red suits. Now, when declarer played a trump, Levy won and was endplayed, either to give a ruff-and-discard or to lead away from the ♣K. N/S +590 and 12 IMPs to DENMARK.
During the fifth of the six sessions, the Danish lead crept over the 50-IMP mark, but by the time the stanza ended it stood at just 9 IMPs (155-146). There was only one double-digit swing in the final set, but it was a whopper:
N/S Vulnerable – Dealer East
Hansen opened his system strong bid and rebid 3NT to show 24-26 balanced. Schou transferred to hearts and then bid 5NT, inviting partner to pick a slam. A sensible auction to the best contract. Declarer won the diamond lead in hand and cashed the ace of trumps. When everyone followed, he claimed twelve tricks: N/S +1430.
West: Nielsen North: Lebel East: Boesgaard South: Soulet
Soulet chose to rebid his spades and this left Lebel with a problem. A good general rule is that you should not bid bad suits on good hands. But what choice did Lebel have, other than to introduce his motley hearts here? Soulet’s Four Clubs was a cue-bid agreeing hearts, and now Level made a return cue-bid to show his diamond control. Exactly what Soulet’s Five Diamond bid was intended to achieve, I cannot tell you. In retrospect, perhaps RKCB would have been a better choice, though.
Having carried the bidding to the five-level, Soulet could no longer find out about the missing key card, so he simply assumed that his partner’s hearts would be headed by the king.
East led a club around to declarer’s king and Lebel played a heart to the queen. When it held, Lebel just needed the outstanding trumps to split 1-1. When he cashed the ♥A, though, West discarded and declarer was one down: N/S +100 and 17 massive IMPs to DENMARK. The Danes held on to win the match by just 1 IMP, 181-180.
I wonder if the French team could have found just one or two extra IMPs anywhere over the 96-board match. Not that the Danes were the only ones to squeak through to the semi-finals in the Seniors event. CHINESE TAIPEI led INDIA by 28 IMPS after four sets and by 8 IMPs going into the final stanza. IN|DIA emerged as winners by just 3 IMPs. In the England-vs-CHINA quarter-final, ENGLAND led by 30 after 48 boards but by only 8 IMPs after four sets. Going into the final set, the Chinese team led by 6 IMPs and with just three deals remaining they were 18 IMPs ahead. ENGLAND emerged victorious from that one by a 4-IMP margin. In the fourth quarter-final NETHERLANDS beat USA-2 by the relative comfort of 28 IMPs.