Great BBO Vugraph Deals #10

Marc Smith visits the 2019 World Championships in China 

England teams qualified for the knockout stage in all four events at the 2019 World Championships in Wuhan, as did teams from both China and the USA. Of those four, though, only the Seniors made it all the way to the final, eventually losing to Denmark. Their quarter-final match against the host nation was a tense affair throughout, with just 4 IMPs separating the teams after 96 boards. Of course, players on both sides had plenty of chances to significantly affect the final margin. Enough waffle from me. Let’s see some of the action.

E/W Vulnerable – Dealer South

West – Kendrick North – M Shen East – Ward SouthX Shen

In a World Championship particularly notable for the explosion of partnerships opening weak two bids on five-card suits, it was hardly surprising to see South players deciding that this hand was worthy of a three-bid. Both Mingkun Shen for China and John Holland for England raised to game uncontested. 

At both tables, the East/West pairs were respectful of the vulnerability. On this layout, though, it is they and not North/South who can legitimately make game: Five Clubs has just two aces to lose. Buying the hand in Four Spades meant that both North/South pairs had comfortably beaten theoretical par. Could either declarer actually make ten tricks to gild the lily?

Both Wests led a top club. For England, Kendrick continued with a second high club. Xiaonong Shen ruffed and played a heart at trick three, but Kendrick went in with the queen and switched to the only card in his hand that would beat the contract, the 4. Declarer won in dummy and now had to draw trumps to avoid suffering a diamond ruff. With one of dummy’s top diamonds removed, Shen could no longer establish the hearts. He therefore had to lose a trick to the Q for one down. N/S -50

At the other table, Min Sung switched to a trump at trick two. Alan Mould won in dummy with the ♠K and ran the 9 to West’s queen. When West continued with a second trump, declarer was home. He drew trumps and played a second heart from his hand. No matter what the defenders now did, he had one diamond entry to ruff the third round of hearts and another to cash the established heart winners, on which he shed his two diamond losers. N/S +420 and 10 IMPs to England. 

In the d’Orsi Trophy, only one of the eight East/West pairs (Netherlands against USA1) bid and made Five Clubs. Doing so was worth 14 IMPs when their North/South pair also scored +420 in Four Spades.

Both teams had chances for a substantial swing on the next deal:

Both Vulnerable Dealer West

The auction started normally, but David Kendrick’s jump to game truly put the cat amongst the Chinese pigeons. After his partner’s vulnerable intervention into a live auction, should Mingkun Shen have doubled on the North hand? Perhaps not. When Four Hearts came back to Xiaonong Shen in the South seat, should he have opted for a flexible doubled in preference to the much more committal 4NT? I think that one gets a resounding “Yes”. Whether partner then chooses to defend or to bid Four Spades, your chances are infinitely better than they are in Five Diamonds.

Kendrick doubled 4NT to show some defensive values, so that when North corrected to diamonds Trevor Ward had an easy double. All the English pair now had to do was collect the maximum. Kendrick got his side off to the right start by leading his singleton spade, and Ward correctly won immediately with the ♠A. When he then switched to a heart, though, the spade ruff was lost. Declarer ruffed and played trumps from the top. The defenders could not be prevented from scoring the two minor-suit kings, but that was all: N/S -200.

West – Sun North – Holland East – Liang South – Mould

Here, East/West were playing Precision, so East’s pass of the One Heart opening presented Alan Mould with a different problem. Overcalling Two Diamonds would surely be the best start were the opening bid on your right, but perhaps this hand is just too strong in the protective seat. Not for me, but perhaps for most, so he started with a double. When partner freely volunteers Three Spades in competition, you are now never going to double Four Hearts. Surely, though, bidding Four Spades is a much better shot than a blind guess at an eleven-trick game in this moderate diamond suit. Indeed, despite the adverse trump split, Four Spades would have been an easy make on anything other than an unlikely club lead from East: N/S +620 and 9 IMPs to England? I’m afraid not.

Against Five Diamonds doubled, Min Sung started with a top heart, ruffed by declarer. Now at least Mould was in with a chance of flattening the board. At trick two, he must either cash the A or advance the ♠K, but he instead led a spade to the queen. East can now win and give partner her ruff, Although West then seems to be endplayed, she can safely exit with a heart as partner still controls the fourth round of spades. 

However, Yixiong Liang chose to duck the ♠A and now Mould led the J from dummy, which held. Just about any card from dummy now gets declarer out for one down except, that is, for the trump that Mould chose. Stuck in his hand with no club ruff threatened by dummy, declarer cannot now legitimately avoid losing four tricks. So, that would be N/S -500 and 7 IMPs to China? Not quite so quickly.

Mould tried the ♠K, and again East ducked. Now he exited with a low club, West winning the first defensive trick with the ♣10 in this position:

After winning with the ♣10, West exited safely with the K, but declarer ruffed and again exited to West, with the ♣Q. Although it is leading in declarer’s tenace, West can safely exit with a club and her partner is sure to score either two spades or a trump and a spade in the endgame. When, instead, she played a heart, East had to sacrifice his trump trick to prevent declarer discarding a black-suit loser. Mould overruffed, cashed the A, and played ace and another club. West won with the ♣J but now had to concede the last trick to dummy’s heart winner, and thus declarer’s spade loser disappeared. Curiously, the defenders had made three club tricks, but neither the ♠A nor the K. N/S -200 and a flat board, despite plenty of chances for either side to have secured a significant swing in their plus column.

Both Vulnerable Dealer South

My BBO VuGraph commentary partner, David Bird, could no doubt explain why leading from four-card suits against 3NT has a low chance of success. In his absence, you could do worse than investing in a copy of his excellent book, “Winning Notrump Leads”. I wondered if perhaps it had not yet reached the shelves in Chinese bookstores, which is why Sun Ming selected the 3 as her opening salvo. (Actually, Mr. Bird tells me that both opening lead books have been translated into Chinese and, moreover, with spectacular dragons on the front covers.)

Mould captured East’s J with his queen, unblocked the clubs and advanced a spade. Ming won and tried the K, taken by declarer with the ace. A second spade was won by West, but all she could do was cash the 10 to save a second overtrick. N/S an untroubled +630.

West – Kendrick North – M Shen East – Ward SouthX Shen

The Precision sequence was more revealing but, to me, the ♦Q chosen by Kendrick at this table looks like a more attractive option on either auction. The contract can still be made after this start, but it is certainly more challenging.

Xiaonong Shen won in hand with the K, temporarily preserving his only sure entry to dummy. He unblocked the clubs and then advanced a spade. Kendrick won with the ♠K and played his low diamond to dummy’s now-bare ace. Declarer cashed his club winners and could have made the contract by exiting with a spade and later guessing the diamond position. Leading a heart from dummy is also okay as long as he wins with the ace and then plays a low diamond. Instead, though, declarer put in the Q and now he was toast. Kendrick won with the K and returned a low heart to his partner’s jack. The A was declarer’s last trick: N/S -200 and 13 IMPs to England.

Every time England gained a swing, though, it seemed that the Chinese came right back at them, and so it was throughout this tight match.

N/S Vulnearble Dealer South

With hearts bid and raised, it was not difficult for West to fish out the 5, which went to the queen and ace. Had declarer crossed to dummy in spades to lead a low diamond, he might have slipped his contract through. When he instead played a club at trick two, he was already on the way down. He crossed back to hand in spades to lead a second club, and this time West rose with the ace and exited with a club to the queen. Declarer now made his final gambit, crossing back to hand in spades and leading a diamond. Sun Ming had not come this far to go wrong now, and inserted her K.

Declarer won with the ♦A and cashed his spades. Min Sung made sure nothing could go wrong by discarding the J. That was all she wrote for declarer: N/S -100.

West – Kendrick North – M Shen East – Ward SouthX Shen

For some reason, Ward did not raise the hearts at this table, so Kendrick was in the dark when it came time to make his opening lead. He chose a spade which, although not fatal in itself, left the defense needing some fancy footwork. Declarer won with the ♠10 in dummy and immediately played a low diamond. It would have been asking a lot to expect East to go in with the Q here. When he did not do so, the defenders’ last chance fell to Kendrick. When he won with the J rather than the king, declarer was home. 

Shen won the spade continuation in hand and played a second round of diamonds, ducking when West produced the king. When West now exited with the ♣J, declarer even had time to score two club tricks: N/S +630 and 12 IMPs in the China column. Alas for the home team in this event, they would fall short by just 4 IMPs, and it was England who advanced to a semi-final against Netherlands.

It never ceases to amaze how many IMPs could be won (or saved) over the course of a long match. Then, at the very end, who wins all comes down to a handful of IMPs, an overtrick here and there. We mere bridge mortals can take heart from seeing that even the world’s best players make plenty of mistakes. And, yet, we continue to beat ourselves up when we do so!