Great BBO Vugraph Deals Week #9

Marc Smith visits the 2019 World Championships in China

This week we return to Wuhan, the capital and largest city in the Chinese province of Hubei and the venue for the 2019 World Bridge Championships. Home to more than 11 million people, Wuhan is the seventh largest Chinese city, and the most populous in central China. Located at the intersection of the Yangtze and Han rivers, this major transport hub is known as “China’s Thoroughfare” or “The Chicago of China”.

This week’s match from the early stages of the Round Robin in the Venice Cup features ENGLAND and NETHERLANDS. These are two teams who are always amongst the favourites at just about every women’s championship, and this one is no exception.

Enough of my ramblings, let’s see some action:

None Vulnerable Dealer North

The auction started quietly but Nicola Smith’s pre-emptive raise to Four Spades set Laura Dekkers a serious problem. Dekkers chose to support her partner’s known four-card suit, perhaps the most encouraging bid she could have made. Even so, it is surely asking too much to expect North, with just one ace and assorted queens of dubious value, to raise in an auction such as this. After all, partner has made a bid under pressure and she may have done just enough to win the board already. Such is the power of pre-emption. Declarer was allowed to make all thirteen tricks: N/S +510.

At the other table, the pre-emption began even earlier in the auction:

West – Simons          North – Senior East – Senior            SouthDhondy

Heather Dhondy has been playing international bridge for almost 30 years, and won her first world title at the 1996 World Mixed Teams in Rhodes. She has since won two more world championships along with five European titles. Here, she overcalled Jet Pasman’s Two Spade opening (weak with spades and a minor) and heard her partner compete to the five-level when Anneke Simons pre-empted in spades. Although facing a passed partner, Dhondy reasoned that her partner was likely to hold at least one of the two relevant aces for her five-level bid, so she raised herself to slam. N/S +920 and 9 IMPs to ENGLAND.

Looking at just the North/South hands, you might think that bidding a slam on this deal would be fairly routine for international-level players. It does emphasize just how difficult pre-emption can make life, though, as Dhondy/Senior were one of only four pairs (out of 24) in the Venice Cup to reach slam on these cards. In the Bermuda Bowl it was only seven out of 24.

Our next deal provided a test for declarer’s card play skills, and may also prove instructive:

 Both Game – Dealer South

The Dutch conducted a natural auction to a game that may not appear wonderful looking at just the North/South cards. As the cards lie, though, the defenders cannot legitimately beat it with North as declarer.

Nicola Smith led the ♣10, which declarer won in hand with the ace. A low diamond was now ducked around to West’s ten and Yvonne Wiseman returned a heart. Declarer’s 10 lost to East’s queen and Smith switched back to the ♣9. Declarer has lost two tricks already and must still lose another diamond in order set up her winners in that suit. The defenders also have the A to cash when they get in, so declarer cannot afford to lose a black-suit trick. The clue is to ask yourself how likely is it that East has led a club from Q-10-9-(x) after dummy has bid that suit?

The winning play is to rise with the ♣K and play ace and another diamond. East will win and exit with a spade. Note that declarer cannot afford to let that run into her tenace: she must put up the ♠K, cash her diamonds, and eventually take the spade finesse for her ninth trick. At the table, Merel Bruijnsteen played the ♣J on the second round, losing to West’s queen. The defenders still had a diamond and the A to come: one down, E/W +100.

West – Simons          North – Senior East – Senior            SouthDhondy

At the other table, the same contract was reached, but with South as declarer, and Simons unerringly found the only lead to beat the contract legitimately, a heart. Pasman won with the Q and could have simplified the defence by returning a low heart, but doing so into that suit in dummy is not obvious. Instead, she switched to the ♣10, taken by declarer in hand with the ace. In theory, the club switch is okay, except that when a diamond is then ducked to West she has to switch back to hearts in order to defeat the contract. Instead, Simons tried her luck in the spade suit, and now declarer was home. She won with the ♠K and when she cleared the diamonds East had only one heart winner to cash and not two. E/W -600 and 12 IMPs to ENGLAND.

Sequences following Two Club openings are not a strong point of natural bidding systems. Our next exhibit raises a number of useful pointers for players interested in improving their bidding in this area.

 Both Game – Dealer West

Declarer has eleven top tricks in notrump, and needs either a spade break, a successful heart finesse or some sort of squeeze to make a small slam. Played in diamonds, though, two heart ruffs give declarer thirteen easy tricks.

There is a lot of misconception about when you should make a positive response to Two Clubs. You should not bid a bad suit (eg. J-x-x-x-x) just because you have something like an ace and a king outside. Simply make a waiting Two Diamond response and find out why partner opened Two Clubs. However, the auction above illustrates how a positive response when you do have a decent suit can simplify the bidding.

After Dhondy’s positive in diamonds, Senior agreed the suit. When Dhondy then cue-bid in hearts, Blackwood told Senior everything she needed to know and the excellent grand slam was easily reached. N/S +2140.

West – Wisemann     North – Bruijnsteen East – Smith      SouthDekkers

This extended auction may need some explanation. North’s Two Hearts is a convention called Kokish: North shows either hearts or a balanced hand too strong for 2♣-2-2NT. South’s Two Spades in forced and the 2NT continuation shows the balanced hand. (Any other bid by North would show hearts.) This means that you have all of your usual sequences over 2NT available, whereas that is not the case if opener has to rebid 3NT at her second turn.

Three Clubs was then Puppet Stayman, and 3NT denied a four-card major. Four Diamonds was now natural and North’s Four Heart cue-bid agreed diamonds. Note how much extra space has been used up. More importantly on this hand, though, it meant that the wrong player used Blackwood. When the strong hand used Blackwood in the first auction, the response told her everything she needed to know. Here, when the weak hand bid 4NT, the response was far less helpful. Despite all of the subsequent efforts to find out exactly how many tricks were available, South could never be sure enough to venture beyond the small slam. N/S +1440 and another 12 IMPs to ENGLAND.

My final deal from this match is another high-level bidding judgement hand:

            Both Game – Dealer North 

We were all taught in our cradles not to pre-empt with four cards in the other major. Well, how about five?

In the other match where I saw this deal played, one North did pass and the other opened Three Hearts. Nevena Senior, a former Bulgarian international who has been married to English expert and bridge writer Brian Senior for the best part of 20 years, has represented England since 2000 and won her first World Championship title at the 2008 Womens Teams in Lille, France. She opted for an off-centre weak two opening here. When East doubled, Dhondy jumped to game, and Simons tried an adventurous Four Spades on the West cards.

Senior passed, of course: why scare the opponents out of the only contract you think you might be able to beat, after all? She needn’t have worried as it happens: if South can find the ♠A as an opening lead, Five Diamonds will go -800 down. Of course, South cannot guess that the opponents have landed in such an uncomfortable spot either. Having made the Dutch guess at a high level she simply passed with the hope that they had guessed wrong. They had, massively, and Four Spades went four down, undoubled: N/S +400.

Students frequently ask me to teach them how to get high-level bidding decisions right, and my usual answer is that even the experts get them wrong a reasonably high proportion of the time, despite their years of experience. There simply is no silver bullet, so take heart when you get this sort of decision wrong. You are not alone!

 West – Wisemann     North – Bruijnsteen East – Smith      SouthDekkers

The Dutch North found yet another solution to this hand: Four Hearts. Once again, East/West found their way to Four Spades, but now when it came back to South she had a clear Five Heart bid. The thinking is that you really have no idea who can make what, but if either Four Spades or Five Hearts is making, then bidding is right. What’s more, even if you are wrong and both contracts are going one down, you will lose only a small swing. If you guess to defend and both contracts are making, the downside is potentially massive.

I’m not sure that Wisemann has such an obvious double of Five Hearts (other than to prevent her partner bidding Five Spades), but if she doesn’t double then her partner surely will. The defenders started with three rounds of clubs, but declarer ruffed, crossed to the ♠A, and began crossruffing diamonds and spades. Bruijnsteen ruffed the fourth round of spades with the A, setting up the thirteenth spade in her hand in the process, and then crossed back to hand with dummy’s last small trump to draw the opponent’s trumps with her last two cards in the suit. An impressive eleven tricks: N/S +850 and 10 IMPs to NETHERLANDS.

ENGLAND won this high-scoring match 68-28. At the end of the eight-day, 23-match Round Robin, both of these teams qualified comfortably for the knockout stage. NETHERLANDS defeated NORWAY in their quarter-final, and ENGLAND saw off POLAND in theirs. Both teams were then beaten in their respective semi-finals, the English losing to SWEDEN and the Dutch to CHINA. The two teams thus met again in the bronze-medal match, with ENGLAND winning a nail-biter by 5 IMPs on the very last deal of the match. Perhaps we shall return to see some of the action from that encounter in a future week.