Marc Smith visits the English Senior Trials
The trial to select the England Senior Team for the 2020 European Championships in Madeira was staged at the Young Chelsea Bridge Club in London. Two teams of six contested a head-to-head match of 112 deals divided into seven 16-board stanzas. MOSSOP (David Mossop-Gunnar Hallberg, Norman Selway-John Holland and Paul Hackett-Brian Senior) were marginal favorites against DHONDY (Jeremy Dhondy-Brian Callaghan, Alan Mayo-David Kendrick and John Hassett-Trevor Ward). Three of the six players who had collected silver medals from the Senior Teams at the 2019 World Championship in Wuhan were in action, Holland for the MOSSOP team and Ward and Kendrick from DHONDY.
As usual, we begin with some teasers for you to consider. We will find out later how your choices would have turned out. We start this week with a high-level bidding decision. With neither side vulnerable, you hold as West:
Not strong enough for Two Hearts at your first turn, you start with a negative double. What action, if any, do you take when the auction comes back to you? If you choose to defend, what do you lead?
Next, with both sides vulnerable, your hand as East is:
Do you pass or carry on with Four Diamonds?
Finally, first in hand at favorable vulnerability, you hold:
What do you open?
If you open one-of-a-suit, what do you rebid when partner responds One Spade?
While you mull those problems over, let’s dive straight into the first set. The swing on our first deal occurred at least in part because of a difference in basic systems.
E/W Vul – Dealer East
A bit pushy, perhaps, but with a combined 24 HCP and two balanced hands it is fairly normal to get to 3NT. Today, the contract is poor and even a favorable diamond position will still leave declarer a trick short. They’ll be in it at the other table, though, won’t they?
With three suits bid, Trevor Ward looked no further than the unbid suit for his opening lead: the ♥10 went to the queen and ace. Declarer took a losing diamond finesse and the defenders quickly cashed four heart tricks and the ♠A. Two down: N/S -100 looked like a fairly normal result on the deal. At the other table, though, North/South were playing four-card majors:
West – Holland North – Mayo East – Selway South – Kendrick
This time it was West on lead and, whilst John Holland might have attacked from his ropey five-card suit, his choice of the ♣J does not look unreasonable, trying to find partner’s suit since he holds most of our combined values. The opening lead was covered all around and declarer played a spade to dummy’s queen and East’s ace. Looking at the ace-jack in dummy, it is far from obvious for Selway to switch to a heart away from his king, so he returned a club, taken by Holland with the ♣10. This was the last chance for the defense: Holland had to switch to a heart now while he still stopped the diamonds. When he continued with a third club, declarer was able to knock out the ♦K and claim ten tricks. N/S +430 and 11 IMPs to DHONDY.
DHONDY led 39-13 at the end of the first stanza, A total of 59 IMPs changed hands in just the first half of the second stanza. Curiously, the set opened with another big win for four-card majors, although it need not have been so:
None Vul – Dealer North
After Alan Mayo’s One Heart opening, David Kendrick was never going to defend Five Clubs. Paul Hackett led the ♣A and continued the suit. Declarer could draw trumps and build a spade discard for one diamond loser, but he still had to lose to the ♦K at the end. N/S +100.
West – Hallberg North – Callaghan East – Mossop South – Dhondy
This is the first of the bidding problems posed earlier. Gunnar Hallberg was not strong enough for Two Hearts after South’s club overcall, so he had to settle for a negative double. David Mossop then did well to make a responsive double of North’s pre-emptive club raise. With his partner suggesting some length in both majors, Hallberg might have been persuaded to bid Five Hearts at his second turn, although with West as declarer a diamond lead might have produced a penalty of 300 to earn the DHONDY team a small swing. Even better, Mossop’s double might have suggested a spade lead against Five Clubs (doubled or not), which would have beaten the contract by a trick for a 4- or 5-IMP pickup for MOSSOP.
Theoretically, Hallberg did well to double Five Clubs. His trump lead, though, was not good news for his side. Dhondy won, drew a second trump, and led the ♦8 from dummy, running it when East played low. East rose with the ♦A on the second round of the suit, but that was the only trick for the defense. Dummy’s spade losers disappeared on declarer’s diamond winners: N/S +650 and another 11 IMPs to DHONDY.
Then came a run of three consecutive boards that produced double-digit swings. The first was a potential slam deal:
E/W Vul – Dealer East
Paul Hackett began with a Michaels bid, showing spades and a minor. David Kendrick bid a natural and forcing Three Clubs and caught a raise from Trevor Ward. When Hackett took a second bid, though, he robbed Kendrick of the crucial space to cue-bid. I suspect that 4NT from West would now have been Blackwood (rather than a weaker or stronger Five Club bid), so Kendrick had no way to differentiate between a hand just bidding game and a hand with slam aspirations. Ward had no reason to bid again, so the decent slam was missed.
The defense began with two rounds of diamonds. When the ♣Q appeared on the first round declarer could claim twelve tricks: E/W +620.
West – Hallberg North – Callaghan East – Mossop South – Dhondy
Jeremy Dhondy opted for a One Spade overcall, meaning that East/West could bid and support clubs a level lower. Dhondy now bid his diamonds, but Hallberg was able to show both slam interest and a diamond control below game. Mossop cue-bid his spade control and, although Hallberg did not commit to slam, Mossop had already heard enough.
North led a spade to jack, king and ace, and Hallberg cashed the ♣K at trick two, felling South’s queen. A spade ruff now gave declarer thirteen tricks without needing the hearts to break. E/W +1390 and 13 IMPs to MOSSOP.
MOSSOP gained a further 22 IMPs on the next two deals, but DHONDY ran off 23 unanswered IMPs in the second half of the set. MOSSOP won the set 48-36 to trail by 14 IMPs (61-75) halfway through Saturday’s play. The next possible slam deal was not long in coming:
Both Vul – Dealer South
The effect of John Hassett’s Two Club opening was to pre-empt the East/West auction to the extent that they were in game before anyone had bid the suit in which they had a big fit. Should Trevor Ward have taken another bid over 3NT? My feeling is that 3NT is unlikely to be the last making game. Surely, facing a Two Club opening, either 4NT or Five Clubs will be safe if you do not find a fit with Four Diamonds.
North led the ♠10, but South did not cash his second winner in the suit to save the third overtrick. E/W +690.
West – Holland North – Callaghan East – Selway South – Dhondy
John Holland’s One Club opening worked out much better. When Holland reversed into diamonds at his second turn, Norman Selway was able to show his big fit with a splinter bid. There was no stopping Holland now and, although Selway showed a minimum with his jump to game, Holland still made a grand slam try on the way to slam. E/W +1370 and 12 IMPs to MOSSOP.
MOSSOP won the third set 44-9 to lead by 26 IMPs (106-82) approaching the midway point of the match. The final stanza of Saturday’s play was relatively quiet. The set was not without interest, though:
E/W Vul – Dealer North
1-4-4-4 hands in the opening 1NT range are always problematic. Both North players here were playing four-card majors, giving them an extra option not available to many of you. Alan Mayo tried to solve the problem by starting with One Heart and rebidding clubs. The major danger with this, of course, is that when you rebid Two Clubs you show a fifth heart. Mayo did not risk raising the fourth-suit Two Diamonds, in theory showing 0-5-4-4 shape, instead jumping to 3NT in a game-forcing auction. The message he wanted to get across was “I think this is the right contract.” Kendrick’s spades were ideal for playing notrumps facing shortage, so he chose not to correct to the presumed eight-card major-suit fit. As someone famous once observed, all’s well that ends well!
East led a diamond and declarer set about building a spade trick. The defense switched to clubs, solving the problem in that suit: N/S +460.
West – Callaghan North – Senior East – Dhondy South – Hackett
Brian Senior also opened One Heart, but he continued with the slight overbid of an 18-19 point 2NT on his chunky 17-count. When Hackett advanced with a Three Club enquiry, Senior now tried to get his shape across with a natural Four Club bid,
Paul Hackett’s Four Heart bid was presumably intended as a potential place to play, but was interpreted as agreeing clubs. When Senior jumped to slam in clubs, it was clear to Hackett that something had gone wrong. Six of a red suit might have been playable on these North/South cards, although the defensive cards do not lie as you need them. Slam in notrumps certainly had a serious deficiency.
Declarer was still in with a chance when dummy’s ♦10 held at trick one. He now just needed to find West with the ♣Q doubleton or tripleton to give him four club tricks. When the club finesse lost, though, the defenders cashed their spades: N/S -100 and 11 IMPs to DHONDY.
So, how should you deal with this shape/strength? We’ve seen two of the options. The other two choices are to open a minor (preferably One Club, to maximize the chance of finding a fit in either minor), and to then reverse into hearts over a One Spade response. Whilst this also promises 5-4 shape, showing a five-card minor is potentially less dangerous than showing a five-card major you do not have, as the Mayo auction above does. The other option is a 1NT opening, but that also has obvious dangers too. There is no guaranteed way to deal with this hand.
MOSSOP won a close fourth stanza 28-25 to lead by 29 IMPs (138-107) overnight. This match was far from over, though. We will return next week to see the highlights from the remaining 48 boards.