Great BBO Vugraph Deals #18

Marc Smith visits the final weekend of the 2019 English Premier League

Going into the final match of the 2019 English Premier League, it could not have been much tighter at the top, with BLACK on 237.5 VPs and DE BOTTON on 236.2. De BOTTON was playing SMALL, who were third with 213.7, whilst BLACK took on sixth-placed MOSSOP. Hundreds of kibitzers joined us on BBO VuGraph to watch the DE BOTTON-SMALL match, and the boards provided plenty of scope for swings. 

First, let me pose a bidding problem for you to consider. We’ll find out how your choice would have fared later. Sitting West, vulnerable against not, you hold:

Let’s get on to the action now.

N/S Vulnerable – Dealer East

Opinions may differ about the best opening bid on this South hand and I confess that I am 100% in the One Club camp. The irony in our match, though, was that the partnership who opened One Spade found their club fit, whereas the one that started with One Club did not. Let’s see how this happened.

West – Ericsson North – Taylor East – Liggins SouthCox

John Cox opened One Club, which could be either clubs or a balanced hand outside the notrump range. North’s Two Club bid was a transfer to diamonds, which is fine, but South’s simple completion the transfer (rather than breaking to either Two Spades or Three Clubs to describe his hand type) was the first contributor to North/South selling out cheaply. The second was North’s decision to treat his hand as a balanced game invite (2NT), as opposed to making a natural Three Club bid. When East’s Three Heart bid came back to him, Peter Taylor could not be sure that his side had a minor-suit fit worthy of competition to the four-level. At best, defending Three Hearts when your side can make an easy ten tricks in a minor is a soft result, but this is an inherent problem of five-card major systems.

The defense began with two rounds of clubs, declarer ruffing. Espen Ericsson cashed the A and then played two rounds of diamonds, North winning with the king. Cox’s switch to the ♠Q simplified things for declarer, who claimed nine tricks: N/S -140.

West – Cooke North – Malinowki East – Small SouthBahkshi

In the replay, David Bahkshi started with One Spade. Artur Malinowski’s negative double of West’s heart overcall suggested both minors, so Bahkshi jumped in his ‘second suit’ and Malinowski had an obvious raise to game.

On a different auction, perhaps Jon Cooke would have found the only lead to defeat Five Clubs, a spade. Here he had virtually no chance. He kicked off with the A, and then had to cash the A to prevent declarer discarding his loser in that suit on the K. Declarer pitched a spade on the heart continuation, drew trumps, and subsequently threw his three remaining spade losers on dummy’s diamonds (with the aid of a ruffing finesse against East’s jack). N/S +600 and 12 IMPs to SMALL.

This deal also produced the largest swing in the other key match: Paske/Jones made Five Clubs but King/McIntosh climbed to Six Clubs, one down: 12 IMPs to MOSSOP.

E/W GameDealer East

John Cox’s pre-emptive overcall set Espen Ercisson the bidding problem posed at the top of this article. If you duplicated Ericsson’s choice of Three Hearts, did you consider the problem that would be faced by your partner if he did not have a heart fit? What was Liggins to do other than retreat to Four Clubs? From here, can you see a way to get to the only making contract still available, 4NT? No, neither can I.

The only good thing about Ericsson’s Four Heart contract was that Peter Taylor dared not double, presumably fearing that clubs would be better. Right he was, but for a different reason. Although the defenders can hold a club contract to eight tricks (three top winners and a ruff in each of the pointed suits), it is more than possible that West would retreat to 4NT if doubled in Four Hearts. (That assumes, of course, that East had not run in front of him.) Declarer managed to make six tricks in Four Hearts: E/W -400. 

West – Cooke North – Malinowki East – Small SouthBahkshi

Although probably better placed after East’s Strong Club style natural Two Club opening, a Three Diamond overcall might still perhaps have placed Jon Cooke in a similar predicament to that faced by Ericsson above. Instead, Bahkshi uncharacteristically went quietly despite favourable vulnerability and East/West quickly reached the optimum spot. Declarer won the low diamond lead with dummy’s king and claimed ten more winners: E/W +660, a result duplicated at both tables in the BLACK/MOSSOP match, but 14 IMPs to SMALL here.

Judging whether to sacrifice when vulnerable against not is never easy. Of course, in the best case scenario, it turns out that you are not sacrificing at all, but bidding to make. The question on our next deal is “who should have taken an extra bid?”

N/S GameDealer West

At adverse vulnerability, John Cox did remarkably well (brave or complete lunatic, you decide) to climb in over East’s Jacoby 2NT. Peter Taylor then compounded the good work by showing his diamonds on the way to Four Spades, uncovering the double fit. Liggins’ Five Clubs gave Cox the chance to bid Five Diamonds, which would surely have persuaded Taylor to bid a fifth spade over Five Hearts. Had Cox already done enough? Should Taylor have bid again anyway? I’ll leave you to be the judge. 

The defenders collected two spades and a diamond, but N/S +50 was poor recompense for the vulnerable game that was available.

West – Cooke North – Malinowki East – Small SouthBahkshi

Cameron Small’s Two Diamond response showed a constructive heart raise or better, but also allowed Bahkshi in at a more comfortable level (see below for what happened in the other match). Thereafter, Malinowski took control. Of course, East/West have a relatively cheap save available in Six Hearts, but judging that you are the ones who need to sacrifice when you both have an opening bid is always difficult. Cooke did not find the club lead, so declarer managed all thirteen tricks: N/S +710 and 12 IMPs to DE BOTTON. 

In the other match, neither South was willing to risk a three-level overcall, so the board was flat at E/W +420 in Four Hearts.

None GameDealer East

Ericsson’s Two Spade response showed a game-forcing hand with exactly four spades and five or more diamonds. One can hardly argue with Glyn Liggins’ description of this East hand as a minimum opening bid. Unfortunately, it was exactly the right minimum. Of course, Ericsson might have guessed to bid on anyway, but the effect was perhaps that their methods had pre-empted their own auction. E/W +480.

West – Cooke North – Malinowki East – Small SouthBahkshi

Small started with a Precision-style One Diamond (11-15, 1+), and the Two Club response was an artificial game force denying a five-card major. Two Diamonds now showed four hearts and Two Spades was natural. Small’s raise promised four-card support in a weak notrump type hand. Effectively, Jon Cooke knew about the same as Ericsson had done at the other table. He evaluated the hand more optimistically than his counterpart, and the decent slam was duly reached.

Malinowski found the best lead, a club. Declarer won, cashed two top hearts to pitch his club loser, and advanced the ♠K. South won with the ace and forced declarer with a club. With both pointed suits behaving, declarer was in control: he drew a second round of trumps with the queen, cashed his two top diamonds and ruffed a diamond with the ♠10. He could then return to hand with the ♠J, drawing the last trump in the process, and claim. E/W +980 and 11 IMPs to SMALL.

In the other match, both Hallberg/Patterson for BLACK and the Hacketts for MOSSOP stopped in game, so the board was flat at E/W +480.

As you might have guessed from the deals we have seen, our match was close. DE BOTTON won 43-42, which meant 10.31 VPs, giving them a total of 246.53 VPs over the three weekends.. The other key match was also close, and very low-scoring. A 25-13 win for MOSSOP meant 6.72 VPs for BLACK, giving them an overall total of 244.19. Over 21 matches, a total of 336 boards, the final margin between the top two teams was about 5 IMPs. Congratulations to the DE BOTTON team, Janet De Botton, Artur Malinowski, Espen Ericsson, Glyn Liggins, David Bahkshi and Tom Townsend.

Congratulations also to Andrew Black, who topped the Butler with an average of 0.88 IMPs/board, just ahead of David Gold (0.81) and Espen Ericsson/Glyn Liggins (0.78). No one else averaged higher than 0.47 IMPs/board over the three weekends.

Next week, we will be in Bucharest, Romania for the European Champions’ Cup, an annual invitational event contested by the champion teams from a dozen European countries.