Marc Smith visits the knockout stage at the 2019 European Champions’ Cup
Four teams qualified for the knockout stage from the twelve originally invited to compete in the 2019 European Champions Cup in Bucharest. MONACO, who had dominated the round robin, selected ENGLAND as their opponents. This left ITALY to battle it out with NETHERLANDS in the other semi-final.
Let me first present you with a couple of problems. We’ll find out later how your choices would have turned out.
With just your side vulnerable, you hold as West:
What would you bid? If you advance with Four Diamonds now, partner bids Four Spades. Are you bidding again?
Next try your hand at an opening lead problem. As West ,with both sides vulnerable, your hand is:
What do you lead?
Back to those two problems later. For now, let’s see some action. We begin with a couple of deals from the semi-finals. First, a performance that would surely have won the award for the best-played hand (had there been one):
N/S Vulnerable – Dealer West
The Italians stopped in game. With East’s takeout double marking the position of the ♠A, and almost certainly the queen too, slam prospects were better than they would be just looking at the North/South cards. With the fourth round of clubs still a problem, though, can declarer legitimately make twelve tricks?
Bob Drijver led the ♦K against the Italian game. Giorgio Duboin drew two rounds of trumps before attempting to cash three rounds of clubs. If clubs broke 3-3 he would have twelve tricks, but this also gave him the added chance of finding the defender with three trumps also holding four clubs. Not this time: East ruffed the third round of clubs, holding declarer to eleven tricks: N/S +650.
West – Versace North – v.Prooijen East – Lauria South – Verhees
The Dutch sailed into slam, so the stakes in the card play were much higher here. Ricco van Prooijen won the diamond lead, crossed to hand with a trump and immediately led the ♠2. Lorenzo Lauria rose with the ♠A and played a second diamond. Declarer ruffed, cashed one more high trump, and advanced the ♠J, which Lauria had to cover with the ♠Q. When declarer then played a third round of spades from dummy, the ♠10 appeared from West. Declarer ruffed and was able to claim his twelve tricks, the fourth round of clubs going on dummy’s ♠9 at the end. N/S +1430 and 13 IMPs to the Dutch.
As you have probably noticed, declarer can never legitimately make two spade tricks from this combination. If East plays low on the first round of the suit, declarer has to win with the ♠K. The defenders then have enough high spades between them to ensure that declarer cannot make a second trick in the suit.
In the other semi-final, both North players (Andrew Robson for England and Franck Multon for Monaco) declared Six Hearts on a diamond lead. Robson followed the same line as van Prooijen and here too East, Piotr Gawrys this time, rose with the ♠A on the first round of spades. Away went declarer’s club loser. N/S +1430.
Only Graham Osborne got the spades right from the East seat. Alas, it didn’t help his cause, as Franck Multon had embarked on the only line of play that would make the contract against any defense, a dummy reversal on steroids. Critically, Multon ruffed a diamond at trick two. He then cashed one high trump from his hand and led his low spade. Osborne correctly played low and dummy’s ♠K won. Now declarer ruffed dummy’s last diamond high and exited with the ♠J. Multon won the trump return in dummy, ruffed a spade, returned to dummy with a high club, and ruffed dummy’s last spade with his final trump. A club to dummy now allowed declarer to score his seventh trump trick with dummy’s ♥J, drawing East’s last trump in the process. The ♣Q was declarer’s twelfth trick at the end: N/S +1430 and a superb piece of declarer play that deserved to do more than flatten the deal.
Our second deal from the semi-finals was all about the bidding.
East – West Vulnerable – Dealer North
Agustin Madala was faced with the bidding problem presented at the top of this article. He began with a Four Diamond cue-bid and passed his partner’s Four Spades. With clubs providing a discard for declarer’s losing diamond, there were twelve top tricks as long as trumps were not 3-0 the wrong way around: E/W +680.
West – De Wijs North – Lauria East – Muller South – Versace
Simon De Wijs chose, instead, to start with a Four Club cue-bid. When Bauke Muller co-operated with a cue-bid in diamonds, the auction was easy. De Wijs simply Blackwooded to the excellent slam. E/W +1430 and 13 IMPs to Netherlands.
The English East/West pair faced the same problem in the other semi-final:
West – Osborne North – Gawrys East – Forrester South – Klukowski
Graham Osborne also chose to start with a Four Diamond bid. When Tony Forrester could only repeat his suit, though, Osborne still thought he was worth one more try. When Forrester confirmed that he held a diamond control, Osborne leapt to the slam: E/W +1430.
Only the Monaco East/West faced a different problem. Against them, David Gold chose the perfect
West – Zimmermann North – Gold East – Multon South – Bell
Timing in bridge, as in life, is everything. The decision to open this 7222 shape with a fairly anemic suit something other than Three Diamonds could not have worked better. Indeed, not so long ago I would have expected to see some players opening Two Diamonds on it. Not any longer! This is ‘The Age of the Pre-empt’.
One can hardly blame Franck Multon for deciding that his hand was not worth a Four Spade overcall at unfavorable vulnerability. The problem is that when Pierre Zimmermann reopened with a double, the East hand is huge. And yet, can you really commit to more than game? Partner may be fairly light in this balancing seat. In fact, he has a bit extra too, and that combination is often disastrous. It was for the Monacans here: E/W +680 and 13 IMPs to the English.
The two teams that had finished higher in the round robin had both lost their respective semi-finals. ENGLISH CHAMPIONS defeated MONACO FMB 51-30. In the other match, it was the Dutch defending champions, BC’T ONSTEIN 1, who had triumphed by a score of 70-45 over the Italian champions, CANOTTIERI, OLONA.
The final began with a quiet first stanza, at the end of which the English led 29-15. In the first twelve deals of the second set, there was no swing larger than 5 IMPs. With just four deals remaining, the score had advanced to 40-25 in favor of the Anglos. The Great Dealer, though, had saved all the excitement until the very end…
Both Vulnerable – Dealer North
You may recognize this West hand as the lead problem presented earlier, but on a somewhat briefer auction. It is true that the English West had more information than his counterpart at the other table. Whether that was a good thing or not, I’ll leave you to judge.
South opened an artificial Strong Club, and North’s Two Diamond response showed a balanced hand with 9-11 HCP. South then relayed a number of times to find out that his partner was minimum with precisely 4-3-3-3 shape. The extra information evidently did not help Mike Bell, who opened the ♣2. Declarer won in hand with the ♣J and led a spade. West took his ace, cashed his ♣A, and declarer claimed the rest: N/S +660.
At the other table, the auction was much briefer:
West – De Wijs North – Osborne East – Muller South – Forrester
Realizing that he held most of his partnership’s high cards, Simon de Wijs found the thoughtful lead of the ♣A. When his partner showed an odd number of clubs, it was not difficult for de Wijs to continue with the ♣Q at trick two, pinning declarer’s jack. Tony Forrester won the third round of clubs and then had to decide which defender was most likely to hold the ♠A. He concluded, correctly, that the opening lead suggested it would be West. This meant that Forrester had to put all of his eggs in the heart finesse basket. When that also failed, he was an extra one down: N/S -200 and 13 IMPs to the Dutch, which left them trailing by just 2 IMPs with three deals left.
The next deal was flat, but then came a slam hand. Again, the spotlight fell on the respective West players to find an opening lead. Both auctions provided plenty of clues:
North South Vulnerable – Dealer South
South started with a Strong Club and North made a natural and positive Two Club response. A series a relays from South then revealed that North held a 3-0-4-6 shape with four controls (ace=2, king=1). You know nothing about the South hand other than that he chose to play 6NT facing this North hand.
As it happens, leading either major will give declarer a sixth trick in the majors to go with his four diamonds, and he can develop a second club trick by force. Mike Bell avoided those two pitfalls, but opted for a low club. Declarer played low from dummy and East’s ♣K won, but declarer now had an easy twelve tricks. N/S +1440.
West – De Wijs North – Osborne East – Muller South – Forrester
A briefer auction but the same destination. Forrester opened a 20-22 balanced 2NT and Robson asked about minors with Three Spades. 3NT denied any particular interest in either minor, and Robson advanced showing longer clubs. When Forrester co-operated with a Four Diamond cue-bid, Robson jumped to Five Hearts, showing slam values and heart shortage.
De Wijs had similar if not identical information to Bell. Unerringly, he fished out the ♦7 as his opening lead. Whilst this does not, in itself, defeat the contract, it has the distinct advantage of not giving away the twelfth trick. Forrester won in hand and immediately ran the ♣Q. Muller won with the ♣K and returned a heart. Forrester won and led his second club. Of course, he can make the contact by finessing against the ♣10. Would you? Of course not, and nor did Forrester. He rose with the ♣J and, when East discarded he had no winning option. He played for the only chance he had, finding ♠Q-10 on his right, and ran the ♠J from dummy.
East took the setting trick with the ♠Q. The major-suit squeeze against East saved the second undertrick, but that was still N/S -100 and a massive 17 IMPs to the Dutch. They had suddenly forged ahead by 15 IMPs with just one board left. There was still a double-digit swing to come, though.
E/W Vulnerable – Dealer West
Ricco van Prooijen’s takeout double of One Club would not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it certainly added momentum to the auction. Bell was understandably not prepared to sell out to Three Spades, but perhaps his Four Club bid inferred a better hand than he actually held. In the circumstances, David Gold’s penalty double of Four Spades seems eminently reasonable.
Bell led the ♣K, taken in dummy, and declarer immediately played ace and another spade. Gold won and played a diamond to the nine and queen. He then won the third round of spades and played a second diamond to West’s ace. That was it for the defense: N/S +590.
West – De Wijs North – Osborne East – Muller South – Forrester
Simon de Wijs began with a natural and limited Two Club opening, and Osborne entered with a fairly normal-looking 2NT. A transfer auction then carried the English pair to the obvious game.
Bauke Muller led his club, taken in hand by declarer. Not pre-warned of the spade position by a penalty double here, Osborne now ruffed a club to dummy to start trumps. Significantly, this allowed Muller to discard a diamond from the East hand. When West showed out on the first round of spades, Osborne ducked to East’s queen. Muller now played a diamond, which was allowed to run around to declarer’s queen.
Declarer can still make the contract from here. He has to ruff a second club in dummy, cash three rounds of hearts ending in his hand, and then play his last club. East cannot gain by ruffing high, so he pitches a red card. When declarer then plays a diamond, West can win with the ace and give his partner a diamond ruff, but East is then endplayed to lead away from ♠K-7 into declarer’s ♠A-8 at trick twelve.
At the table, Osborne played ace and another trump after winning the first round of diamonds. Muller won with the king, played his last diamond to his partner’s ace, and scored the setting trick with a diamond ruff. N/S -50 and another 12 IMPs to the Dutch.
Having trailed by 15 IMPs with four deals to play, the Dutch had won those final four deals 42-0 (despite one flat board) to take the trophy with a 67-40 victory. The holders, BC’T ONSTEIN 1, had retained their title. Congratulations to Bob Drijver, Bauke Muller, Bart Nab, Ricco Van Prooijen, Louk Verhees and Simon de Wijs. Commiserations to the English team, who had performed excellently throughout the three days, only to fall just short at the very last hurdle.
In the playoff for third place, Monaco defeated the Italians 72-64. The Israeli Champions beat the second Dutch team in the knockout final for fifth place.
I shall be back next week with more ‘Great BBO Vugraph Deals’. Next up on the international calendar are the Australian Grand National Teams and a trip to San Francisco for the 2019 Fall North American Bridge Championship, where the Paul Soloway Knockout is being staged for the first time.