Marc Smith visits the second Invitational Alt Online Tournament
The corona virus situation virtually shut down all major bridge events across the world for many months, but that does not mean that there was no high-level bridge to watch. The second ‘Invitational Alt Online’ tournament, shown around the world on BBO VuGraph, attracted eight teams and many of the world’s top players. The format was a complete seven-match round robin followed by semi-finals and final.
As usual, we begin with a couple of bidding problems for you to consider. Firstly, with neither side vulnerable, you hold as South:
What action do you take?
Next, with both sides vulnerable, your hand as North is:
What do you bid now?
While you mull those over, let’s dive straight into the action. An early match in the round robin pitted together teams captained by Rose Meltzer and Reese Milner. We start with a deal that raised the much-debated philosophical bidding question, “When is a hand too strong for a simple overcall?” I confess that I belong to the Eric Kokish school, which believes very few hands are too strong to start with an overcall. To see why this approach has become so popular amongst top players, consider the huge advantage you have after the auction (1♦)-1♠-(3♦)-Pass-(Pass)-Dbl, compared with (1♦)-Dbl-(3♦)-Pass-(Pass)-3♠. In both cases, you have shown a good hand with spades. However, the flexibility of the first auction leaves partner with far more options.
Let’s see how the respective South players dealt with the first of the bidding problems posed above:
None Vul – Dealer North
Current Bermuda Bowl champion from Poland, Piotr Tuczynski, started with a One Spade overcall on the South hand. Yes, of course Sabine Auken could passed the hand out and let South play at the one-level, but how many players would have done so? Exactly zero, is my guess. Even when your hand is very strong, if you have some distribution too then the odds of One Spade ending the auction are incredibly low: someone is almost certain to have the values and/or the shape to keep the auction alive.
Here, South showed extra values with his second-round double and then refused to defend at the three-level. Realizing that his partner held a very good hand, Roy Welland was thus galvanized into raising, despite his meager values and no great trump fit. The favorable trump position enabled declarer to make twelve tricks: N/S +480.
At the other table, the former winner of the World Mixed Teams (in 2012) and World Seniors Teams (in 2015), American Hermant Lall, opted for the more traditional approach:
West – Meltzer North – Milner East – Demirev South – Lall
Even though Lall got to introduce his suit at the two-level, a well-timed pre-emptive raise to the four-level by Nikolay Demirev effectively shut South out. Even worse for North/South, after Lall’s opening lead of the ♠A, they could take only three tricks against East’s diamond contract. N/S -130 and 12 IMPs to MELTZER.
After four of the seven round robin matches, the USA/Polish/Dutch team captained by Josef Blass held a narrow lead over the English/Norwegian sextet led by Janet de Botton, with the Dutch national squad team close behind in third place. The big match-up of Round 5 pitted DE BOTTON against TEAM NL. This deal was all about pre-empts:
E/W Vul – Dealer South
Thor Erik Hoftanisha opened Four Spades in third seat. Berend van den Bos made what was ostensibly a takeout double for the Dutch, but Joris van Lankveld judged, not unreasonably, to defend. Declarer was able to make just six trump tricks: E/W +800.
With the Dutch holding the North/South cards, the action began earlier at the other table:
West – Hydes North – Schollaardt East– Hackett South – Groenenboom
A level lower, the decision to defend was much less clear for Alex Hydes, and he opted for offense despite his limited support for the two unclaimed suits. Having found a 4-4 heart fit, Jason Hackett then wasted little time reaching slam.
Declarer’s prospects were, perhaps, better with North on lead and no spade lead coming through the king. On ace and another spade from North, declarer would have to decide to ruff high at trick two. Having done so, he would be forced to drop North’s singleton ♥Q and he could then subsequently pick up South’s trump holding with the marked double-finesse. The ♠K would provide declarer with a twelfth trick.
Maarten Schollardt’s opening of the ♣J saved declarer an immediate guess in trumps, but also did not set up the ♠K. Hydes was up to unraveling the problem, though. He won the club lead in dummy and cashed a high trump, dropping North’s queen. He then cashed a second high club and ruffed a club in hand with his low trump. Hydes then cashed the ♥J-10, crossed to dummy with the ♦A, and drew South’s last trump with the ♥K. Dummy’s last club winner was cashed and declarer crossed to hand with the ♦K, dropping South’s ♦J. Declarer knew that South had started with ten cards in the rounded suits, so it was still possible that he had started with ♦J-10-9 and no spades. Hydes had not come this far to misguess now, though: he played a third diamond and finessed against North’s ten to bring home his slam. E/W +1430 and an excellent 12 IMPs to DE BOTTON.
As the winners of the round robin, BLASS had the choice of semi-final opponents. They selected DE BOTTON, who was coming off a heavy loss against MILNER that had dropped them down to third place. That left MELTZER to play STREET in the all-US semi-final.
In one of the 36-board semi-finals, STREET scored a comfortable victory over MELTZER to claim one place in the final. BLASS began the other semi-final with a 10.1-IMP carryover advantage from the round robin. There were plenty of spectacular boards for the hundreds of kibitzers watching on BBO VuGraph to enjoy. This wild deal saw both North players in a similar situation to that posed in the second of the bidding problems from the top of this article:
Both Vul – Dealer North
Anyone for a One Heart opening? At least you would now have the option of rebidding Six Clubs and getting both of your suits into the auction. Opening Two Clubs on a huge two-suiter always runs the risk that the opponents may be able to pre-empt to an uncomfortable level before you can bid either of your suits. That is exactly what happened to North here.
Michal Nowosadzki opted to bid his major at the five-level. Jacek Kalita advanced with 5NT, pick-a-slam and now Nowosadzki introduced his second suit, but only at the six-level. Unfortunately for the Polish world champions, there were thirteen easy tricks in either rounded suit, so N/S +1390 did not look like a great result,
West – Brink North – Hoftaniska East – Drijver South – Charlsen
South’s 2NT bid showed a positive with spades, so Thor Erik Hoftaniska found himself in a very similar position after West’s jump to the five-level. He chose to bid his minor at the six-level and, when Thomas Charlsen raised, the Norwegians seemed to have earned their side a deserved swing by reaching the excellent grand slam. Bas Drijver was still there for the Dutch, though, and he opted for a seven-level sacrifice. South doubled and the spotlight now fell on Hoftaniska in the North seat. Could he find a Seven Heart bid (and, if he did so, would Charlsen pass?)
Hoftaniska decided that the time for introducing hearts had gone, and so he settled for defending. Drijver made eight tricks in Seven Diamonds Doubled: N/S +1400 and one of the more spectacular flat boards of the year.
Although BLASS begun with a 10.1-IMP advantage, the match itself was very one-sided. DE BOTTON quickly overcame the deficit, conceding only a miserly 3 IMPs in the first 18-board segment. They led at halftime by 42-13.1, and extended their advantage in the second half to earn their place in the final with victory by a margin of 70-37.1.
DE BOTTON began the final with a carryover advantage of 0.1 IMPs (just to make sure there could be no extra boards in the event of a tie). It was never going to be that close, though. On our final deal, declarer gave Jason Hackett the chance to find a superb defensive play, and the Mancunian did not miss the opportunity. This was the deal:
E/W Vul – Dealer East
West’s Three Hearts showed a ‘mixed raise’ of spades and, after identical auctions, both East players led the ♦6 to the seven and queen.
For DE BOTTON, Hoftaniska cashed both high clubs from his hand and led the ♥10. Karnel Fergani rose with the ♥K and underled his high spades. Pollack won with the ♠K and returned the ♦K for his partner to ruff away declarer’s ace, but that was the last trick for the defense. Declarer drew the outstanding trumps ending in dummy and disposed of his two diamond losers on dummy’s club winners. N/S +420.
At the other table, Paul Street won with the ♦Q, cashed just one high club, and then played a spade. Hydes won with the ♠K to lead the ♦K and, again, East ruffed declarer’s ♦A. Jason Hackett now found the only card in his hand to defeat the contract, the ♥6, giving up his natural trump trick, but removing dummy’s entry whilst the clubs were still blocked. Declarer could win and cash the ♥A, dropping Hackett’s king, but he still had two diamonds to lose. N/S -50 and a tremendous 10 IMPs to DE BOTTON.
DE BOTTON won the match 77.1-39 to take the title.
Next week we will return to the ‘Alt Invitational’ series to witness the best of the action from ‘Alt III’ when, again, eight teams featuring many of the world top players do battle online.