June BBO Prime Tournament. Deal analysis.

Thank you for joining June’s BBO Prime Tournament. We hope you enjoyed it!

There were 10 deals in this tournament and 5 of them were taken from a real life event, featured on BBO vugraph. Want to know which deals were “cooked” and see how they were played originally?

The “surprise” deals were boards 2, 4, 5 6, and 10 in May’s BBO Prime Tournament.


Read below BBO star player and bridge writer extraordinaire Marc Smith’s analysis, along with the context in which the hands were played in real life.


Most of Australia’s leading players headed for the Gold Coast region and, specifically, the town of Tweed Heads in northeastern New South Wales, near the Queensland border. The main event of the week-long festival of bridge is the Grand National Open Teams. The format is a straight knockout, with two teams rejoining the main event from a repêchage just prior to the semi-final stage. 

Sixty teams, representing cities and regions from across the nation, made it to the starting line, meaning the top four seeds were granted a bye in Round 1. All of the top 16 seeds survived the first day, and most also made it through day two. Round 3, though, was not so kind to the big names. Only #3 MELBOURNE 1 from the top four, and three other top eight seeds, reached Round 4. 

In Round 5, #3 MELBOURNE 1 faced off against #18 SYDNEY 7 whilst two other teams from the New South Wales capital battled it out in the other match. The winners of these two matches would advance directly to the semi-finals. The losing teams in Round 5 would meet the two teams who survived the repêchage to determine the other semi-finalists. 

The big story of Round 5 was the defeat of MELBOURNE 1, who then came up against the original #1 seeds, SYDNEY 1, in one heat of the repêchage final. The New South Wales team won a 55-54 nail biter to eliminate the Victorians. Meanwhile, #5 SYDNEY 2 saw off the valiant challenge of #16 SYDNEY 6, who then lost again in the other repêchage final to #17 CANBERRA 2.

With just four teams still standing, ‘The Battle of the Dark Horses’ saw #17 CANBERRA 2 beat #18 SYDNEY 7 by 122-74 to ensure one out-of-state team in the final. In this week’s article, take a look at the action in the other semi-final, between the top two NSW teams, and the highest two original seeds still alive, #1 SYDNEY 1 and #5 SYDNEY 2.

I offer only one problem for you to mull over this week. As usual, we will find out later how your choice would have turned out.

With just your side vulnerable, you hold as West:

What would you lead?

While you consider that, let’s take a look at the early action:

E/W VulnerableDealer East

This deal is largely a question of hand evaluation by the North players. For SYDNEY 1, Bruce Neill decided he was worth a quantitative raise to 4NT. With a minimum point count and sterile shape, Avinash Kanetkar was never going to do anything but pass. Quite right too, as 6NT is not a great contract. Declarer would most likely play for hearts to break and then the spade finesse, neither of which work as the cards lie. 

Six Notrump can be made, via a strip-squeeze: when declarer cashes his last minor-suit winner, West must discard a heart or bare his ♠A, either of which gives declarer a twelfth trick if he reads the position accurately. Playing in game, declarer understandably took his obvious tricks: N/S +460.

No heroics were required in the play to gain a substantial swing, though:

West – Brown North – Ashton East – Buchen SouthWilltshire

Sophie Ashton started with Puppet Stayman. When her partner denied a five-card major, she now introduced her five-card minor and suggested some slam interest. David Willtshire’s spade cue-bid was exactly what North wanted to hear. Blackwood confirmed that just one key-card was missing and Ashton raised to slam. Well judged!

Six Diamonds from the South seat is the perfect contract. Declarer won the heart lead, drew one round of trumps, and claimed, one of dummy’s spades going on declarer’s third club winner. N/S +920 and 10 IMPs to SYDNEY 2.

E/W VulnerableDealer North

You will recognize the lead problem presented at the top of this article. Did you find the red-suit lead needed to defeat this contract? No? Neither did Terry Brown. He opted for the ♠2. Peter Buchen won with the ace and returned the ♠10, covered by jack and queen. Declarer could now overcome the entry problems by playing clubs from his hand to set up one trick in that suit. He had three tricks in each major plus one club and two diamonds: N/S +400.

I tend to avoid leading away from honors into a 2NT opener, and whilst declarer can theoretically make the contract on a club lead, he probably would not. Suppose the defenders start with ace and another club. Declarer can win with the ♣J, but then needs to play a heart to the ten followed by a spade to the king. That sounds like too many good guesses to me, so you probably went plus if you chose a club too. The bad news, though, is that even if you beat 3NT, you would still have lost IMPs on the deal.

West- Beauch’mp North – Neill East – Hans SouthKanetkar

Kanetkar had two chances to get to 3NT, although the odds were against that contract making once he had warned the defense off the spade lead. Five Diamonds, of course, had no chance. The 4-1 trump break meant not only that it was two down, but also that Sartaj Hans had an easy double. N/S -300 and 12 IMPs to SYDNEY 2, who led 23-15 after the first of the four ten-board sets.

The only major swing in the second stanza resulted from a defensive slip. It was a situation, though, that I suspect would have caught quite a few players napping. The respective Wests followed an identical auction to a game that appeared doomed by the unfriendly layout of the key suit. 

N/S VulnerableDealer South

For SYDNEY 2, David Beauchamp ducked the ♥Q lead and got what looks like a favorable switch to the ♠10, won in hand with the jack. A club to the jack lost and Terry Brown now simplified the defense by shifting to the ♦Q. Declarer won the third round of diamonds, cashed the ♣A, and effectively gave up when North pitched a diamond. He cashed his other club winner, crossed to the ♠A, took his heart winners and conceded the rest. With North having only major-suit cards left, declarer could have saved one trick by establishing his long spade before cashing his hearts, but he was always down. E/W -100.

At the other table, Terry Neill won the opening heart lead and immediately played a low spade, dummy’s queen winning. He then cashed the ♣A, crossed to the ♠A, and led the ♣9. When North discarded a diamond, declarer rose with the ♣K and played a third round of spades. North won with the ♠K and played a second round of hearts, taken by the ace. These cards remained with declarer still needing three more tricks:

What would you discard from the North hand when declarer cashes his spade winner?

Not foreseeing the ending, Sophie Ashton threw a diamond. Declarer pitched a club from dummy and South had to throw a diamond, otherwise declarer could just concede a club. Neill then played a diamond and put in dummy’s 10. South won with the ♦J and had to return a diamond to his partner’s bare king. Neill took the ♦A and returned the suit, leaving David Willtshire endplayed to surrender a trick to the ♣J at the end. A superb E/W +400 and 11 to SYDNEY 1.

Note that if North pitches a heart on the last spade, declarer can still play a diamond to the ten and jack. Now, though, South can return the ♦Q. If declarer wins this trick and plays a third diamond, North wins and cashes two hearts. If declarer ducks the second diamond, South just plays a third round. Dummy is then endplayed, forced to lead into South’s club tenace at the end, rather than the other way around.

SYDNEY 1 won the second stanza 24-3 to lead 39-26 at the midway point of the match. SYDNEY 2 then rallied in the third set, winning it 27-6 to lead by 8 IMPs (53-45) with ten boards remaining. With four of the final ten deals gone, the deficit was down to just 4 IMPs. Then came:

N/S Vulnerable – Dealer South

Sartaj Hans responded with a natural Two Clubs and heard a splinter raise in spades. He set the suit with Four Clubs and, after an exchange of cue-bids, Beauchamp rolled out Blackwood. What he could not find out about, though, was the ♦Q, so he settled for the safe small slam.

With trumps 2-1, declarer had no trouble ruffing three heart losers in dummy. The fourth went on the ♠A. N/S +1390 and a missed chance, perhaps? The auction at the other table was remarkable in many ways, including its brevity:

West – Ashton North – Neill East – Willtshire SouthKanetkar

This is the auction as it is recorded in BBO’s VuGraph archives, although I suspect that the One Spade bid is a misprint and North really responded Two Clubs. Not only is that the obvious bid, but it also makes the subsequent auction look much more sensible. North/South reached their club slam in double-quick time without ever investigating the grand. Even so, Sophie Ashton took a brave decision at the six-level, and she gained handsomely for it. 

Best defense would have flattened the deal by holding declarer to six tricks. One trick went out of the window at trick one, when South not unreasonably opened with the ♦A The club switch then forced dummy and declarer played a second round of diamonds. When North did not rise with the ♦Q in order to play trumps, another defensive trick disappeared. Winning with the ♦K, South could do no better than force dummy again in clubs. This allowed declarer to ruff a diamond to hand in order to ruff his last club loser in dummy. A heart from dummy went to jack and ace, and South returned a heart for his partner to ruff, but declarer was now guaranteed four more tricks. West’s adventurous high-flyer had turned out to be a more than profitable venture. N/S +800 and 11 IMPs to SYDNEY 2.

The final nail in the coffin was not long in coming:

None Vulnerable – Dealer North

Despite a combined 26 HCP, North/South cannot legitimately make any game. David Beauchamp’s direct raise to 3NT looks eminently sensible, and surely offered his side the best chance of success. Indeed, there was no reason for Buchen to lead a club. He didn’t, and Hans quickly claimed his nine top tricks: N/S +400.

West – Ashton North – Neill East – Willtshire SouthKanektar

Once Kanetkar used Stayman and Ashton doubled, North/South were in trouble. Two Diamonds was natural and Three Clubs was described as a game-forcing relay. Neill rebid his diamonds and now Kanetkar rolled out Minorwood. This may look rather ambitious on his flat 11-count, but he was surely never panning to venture beyond game. As a ruse to deter anyone who may consider doubling when you stop in game, though, it is not such a silly idea to use Blackwood on the way. It worked to that extent: no one even thought about doubling. The contract still has to lose two clubs and two hearts, though: N/S -100 and another 11 IMPs to SYDNEY 2.

The underdogs won the final set 29-17 and ran out winners by a score of 82-62. They will be favorites in tomorrow’s final against CANBERRA 2, and we shall return next week to see how things pan out.

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