Marc Smith visits the MontreAlt Quing event
With live bridge still not an option, the second Major Alt Invitational event, dubbed ‘MontreAlt’, effectively replaces the Spingold at the cancelled US Summer Nationals, which were scheduled for Montreal. The success of the first Major Alt event meant that there were far more interested teams than the 36-team field could accommodate. To solve this conundrum, 24 teams were invited to participate in a four-day Qualifying competition, from which the top eight finishers receive an invitation to the main event.
The format was a straight 12-match Swiss teams. With all twelve tables shown on BBO VuGraph, there was plenty of excellent bridge for the hundreds of kibitzers to enjoy. This week, we bring you the best of that action. As usual, though, we begin with a couple of problems for you to consider. Firstly, with only the opponents vulnerable, you hold as West:
Partner’s One Club is either natural or balanced outside the 15-17 notrump range. What do you bid now?
If you make a negative double, what do you then do when partner jumps to 3NT?
Next, with your side only vulnerable, your hand as East is:
You dealt. What action, if any, do you take?
If you passed as Dealer:
What do you bid now?
While you mull those over, let’s take a look at the early action. This deal from Round 3 offered the East/West pairs a choice of two suits in which to bid slam successfully:
N/S Vul – Dealer North
Two-thirds of the 24 East/West pairs successfully negotiated their way to a making slam. Some used good judgment, such as this pair from the Dutch HERRES! team:
West – Huber North – Roelofs East – v.d.Starre South – Oranje
After South’s overcall, Marijn Huber’s One Spade showed a five-card suit (in the old style, with a negative double showing four spades). When Martin van der Starre raised to game, Huber showed excellent judgment by making an invitational raise. Although, Five Hearts would usually enquire about good trumps in this auction and Five Spades would ask for a heart control, I would guess that the raise here asked about trumps. The Dutch pair seemed to know what they were doing, and van der Starre raised to the good slam. With the ªQ falling, that was E/W +1010.
At another table, an Anglo-Dutch pair playing for BID72 displayed some serious science to reach slam:
West – H’genkamp North – Ahmed East – Green South – Thrower
Steve Green began with an artificial strong club, and thereafter he just made a serious relays asking about his partner’s hand. Ed Hoogenkamp’s Two Club response showed a positive (9+HCP) and unbalanced with at least four spades. He then showed at least four diamonds (with 2♠), at least 5-5 shape (with 3♣), short hearts (with 3♥), and exactly 5-0-6-2 shape (with 4♦). Now Green asked about high cards, West’s redouble showing three controls (A-K or three kings), and his 5♣ showing a diamond honour but denying one in either black suit.
Green could not find out about the ♠J (or maybe he could have but didn’t bother), but he knew everything else about his partner’s hand. An impressive auction to a good slam. E/W +940.
Everyone did not find it so easy, though. A number of regular BBO commentators banded together to form a team named REMEMBERING ROLAND, in memory of the recently-departed Roland Wald. The first of the bidding problems posed above was faced by one the ENGLAND U16 team in their match against us:
West – Ahl North – Horton East – Anoyrkatis South – Smith
South’s jump overcall left Bjorn Ahl with a number of unpalatable options. Clearly not good enough for a game-forcing Three Diamonds, he effectively had to choose between Two Spades (forcing for one round) and a negative double. At least one player did choose Two Spades in this position, and thereafter found themselves carried to a slam. At our table, Ahl not unreasonably preferred a negative double, but his problems did not end there.
When East jumped to 3NT, it was quite possible that her bid was based on a solid six- or seven-card club suit and a heart stopper: perhaps something like ♠Kx/♥Ax/♦xx/♣AKQJ10xx. Opposite this, you surely want to play in 3NT, so passing is certainly an option. At the table, Ahl did well to advance, showing his diamonds and keeping slam hopes alive. Is East supposed to like her hand enough to cue-bid now, or has she already shown these values? Is a Four Heart cue-bid going to excite West much here anyway? When Anoyrkatis just raised to game, it was far too difficult for West to make another move: E/W +440.
At least one illustrious pair found the hand too difficult even in an uncontested auction:
West – Ja Hackett North – Steenbak’s East – Ju Hackett South – Ijsselm’en
Justin Hackett’s Two Club opening and reverse Kokish auction to 2NT showed a balanced 19-20. Jason transferred to spades and then did very well to make one further effort, (4♥ showed a shortage and at least mild slam interest), but Justin could not know quite how well the hands were fitting. All very sensible and understandable, but E/W +510 only.
It would seem that we should congratulate the two-thirds of East/West pairs who did get to slam on these cards. That it was so many is testament to the overall strength of the field.
Our next deal, from Round 4, transferred plenty of IMPs, with their destination often depending on East’s choice of action as Dealer. In recent months, we have seen first seat non-vulnerable pre-empts becoming lighter and lighter. What about when you are vulnerable, though? The second problem posed at the top would be a routine pre-empt for most non-vulnerable, but on this occasion you were vulnerable against not. Does this mean you have to pass?
The datum score on the deal was around E/W +300. Let’s see how the various actions fared at a few of the tables:
E/W Vul – Dealer East
At table 2, it was the multinational BRIDGE TOO FAR against the strong SWEDEN MIXED.
Erez Hendelman, an American national who first represented Israel at the 1987 European championships, opened Three Hearts and it is hard to be too critical of former U.S. junior international Sam Amer’s jump to slam. (Most people would play 4NT as minors in this auction, rather than RKCB agreeing hearts, so that is not an option).
The defense was not difficult, with two top spades forcing dummy to ruff and thus ensuring a trick for the otherwise-badly placed ♥K. E/W -100.
West – Ahlen North – Gulyas East – Gunnarsson South – Barczy
After an opening pass from Eva Gunnarsson and One Spade from South, Nils Ahlen began with an Unusual 2NT overcall. Gunnarsson responded Three Diamonds (more on that later) and Peter Barzcy unwittingly assisted the Swedes, his Three Spade bid allowing West a takeout double that resurrected the heart suit. Daniel Gulyas saved in Four Spades and, although the Swedes had sold out early, they were one of only two pairs to take the maximum penalty out of a spade contract.
East began with a high club and, when his partner followed with the ♣6 (playing standard count signals), he could be sure that declarer held the missing club. Ahlen then cashed his top diamonds before playing the ♣8. Gunnarsson ruffed and led the ♥Q through declarer’s king. The Hungarian made just his seven trump tricks: E/W +500 and 12 IMPs to SWEDEN MIXED.
Let’s return to the second half of the problem posed earlier. Things worked out okay for Eva Gunnarsson above, but that was not always the case. In THE DALTONS (Netherlands / Austria) vs BISHEL (USA):
West – J. Bishel North – van Oosten East – T.Bishel South – Thorpe
In the same position as Nils Ahlen above, John Bishel chose to cue-bid, agreeing diamonds and showing his slam ambitions. His partner quickly signed off, in game, but even best play (ruff the second spade, play ♣A, club ruff low, ♥Q [and a second heart if necessary to get to hand] a club ruff with the ♦10, top diamonds, etc.) still only produces ten tricks in diamonds as you must lose a trick in each suit other than hearts. Declarer made nine tricks at the table: E/W -200 and 13 IMPs to THE DALTONS when North/South defended Four Hearts in the replay.
I am glad to report that our French teammates did manage to solve the problem after this same start:
West – Schweitzer North – Aquino East – Schmidt South – Hotamis’l
Pierre Schmidt bid Three Hearts over his partner’s minor-showing 2NT overcall, which does not seem unreasonable to me. After all, partner’s diamonds will be equally useful in a heart contract, but your hearts rate to be fairly worthless playing in diamonds. This simplified the auction for Henri Schweitzer, and Schmidt then completed his masterpiece by judging correctly to bid again over North’s attempted sacrifice in Four Spades. E/W +650 and 4 IMPs to REMEMBERING ROLAND when teammates conceded -500 in spades.
Personally, I think the ISRAEL East (among others) found the correct answer to the original problem:
West – Korczyn North – Brogeland East – Yekuteili South – H-Evanstad
Whilst not normally advocating a weak two opening with a seven-card suit, this hand at unfavorable vulnerability seems to be the exception to the rule. Although Nicolai Heiberg-Evanstad made a full-blooded jump to the four-level for NORWEGIAN U21/U16, Anders Brogeland restrained himself, making the theoretically correct decision not to bid five-over-five. Having said that, all of the pairs who defended Five Spades-Doubled dropped a trick in defense, letting their opponents out for -500. Not that it mattered much as E/W +650 was 13 IMPs to ISRAEL when the young Norwegians at the other table reached Five Diamonds (E/W -200) on an auction that cannot be reported in a family magazine. (Yes, okay, they bribed me not to tell you.)
Most pairs reached the same contact on our next deal, from Round 10. Instructive in that it emphasizes a point that my students are probably tired of hearing, a surprising number of declarers at this level went down.
E/W Vul – Dealer South
At the 24 tables, three East/West pairs bid to Four Hearts, three played in diamonds (one in a partscore) and two Easts passed the takeout double of One Club, collecting +300. The other 16 played 3NT (one of them doubled). This auction from the match between NEW ENGLANDERS (USA) and the multinational MG was typical:
West – Silin North – Gast East – Liu South – Sen
South leads the ♣K. How would you play?
Everything looks hunky-dory, doesn’t it? There are only 13 points missing, so eleven of the sixteen declarers faced with this problem thought no further than winning the opening lead with the ♣A, cashing the ♦K, and running the ♦10. Some took the time to unblock the hearts before taking the diamond finesse. Others, like lemmings in a rush to beat each other over the cliff edge, did not. All of them are now sadder, but perhaps wiser.
The principle that I try to drive home to my students is to delay attacking the suit in which you have to make a decision until as late in the hand as possible. Here, you have seven top tricks and you can establish an eighth in spades by force. One thing that you can be fairly sure of is the location of the ♠A: without that card South would struggle to find an opening bid. A spade switch, therefore, does not represent a danger, so there is no rush to win the ♣A.
Like everyone else, Biswajit Sen led the ♣K at our featured table. Xiaoqian Liu pitched a spade from dummy and played low from his hand. Sen continued with the ♣Q: Liu pitched a diamond and again allowed South to win. When Sen persisted with the ♣J, declarer was now on easy street. He threw a second diamond from dummy, won with the A♣ and returned the ♣9 to establish his eighth trick with the ♣8. Scoring a ninth trick in spades did not present a problem. E/W +600 and 12 IMPs to NEW ENGLANDERS when 3NT failed at the other table.
Suppose that, instead, South switches to a heart at trick three. No problem: declarer wins, cashes one or two more hearts, unblocking the suit but, more importantly, removing South’s safe exits. Declarer can then play the ♣9. South wins with the ♣10 but will have to concede declarer’s ninth trick in whichever suit he plays next.
This hardly seems like a particularly difficult line of play, and yet the most dangerous deals are often those that look really easy. Lulling you into a false sense of security, you take your eye off the ball and, before you know it, you are writing a figure in minus column of your scorecard. That this seemingly mundane deal created a swing of 9 IMPs or more in over half of the matches is perhaps testament to how difficult (and fascinating) this game can be.
With two matches remaining, three teams looked safe: LOMBARD from the Netherlands on 141.38 VPs, ISRAEL (131.62) and SWEDEN MIXED (126.32) were all more than a match clear of the ninth-placed team, who had 104.53. With an average over the first ten matches of over 11.6 VPs/match, two other Dutch teams, FRUITVLIEGJES and MACAVITY, were well placed, and there were a further nine teams with 95- 113 VPs scrapping it out for the remaining qualifying places.
Round 11 pitted a number of the contenders against each other, and Board 4 created swings in many of the matches. MACAVITY (Netherlands) faced the multinational BRIDGE TOO FAR at Table 4, and defensive slips at both tables led to a massive swing:
Gyorgy Kemeny, a former junior international who first played in the Hungarian Open team in 2002, chose to overcall at the two-level. Facing a raise to game, Kemeny then judged to bid on to the five-level when North agreed spades. The spotlight then fell on Tim van den Bos, a silver medalist for Holland at the 2015 World Junior Teams. A relatively balanced hand with a bad suit, no doubt combined with admonitions from plenty of experts against bidding five-over five, persuaded him to double rather than attempt eleven tricks on offense. No great harm done, with +500 available against the potential +650 available in spades.
Van den Bos led the ¨A and then had to decide which black suit to play at trick two. Although he chose a club, covered by the ten, jack and ruffed by declarer, no harm had been done. Declarer advanced the ©Q at trick three and, when that won, he then played a second round of diamonds. The defense is still on track if they switch to spades now but, when van den Bos first cashed his ©A, declarer was in control. He won the spade switch with dummy’s ace, ruffed a club to hand, and advanced the ¨10. Whether South covered or not, dummy’s spade loser was destined to disappear. N/S +200 looked like poor return on a deal where the datum was close to N/S +500. Even so, there was still a chance that BRIDGE TOO FAR would gain on the deal…
West – Ros North – Hendelman East – Lesmeister South – Amer
As usual, a Dutch player pre-empted one level higher than at most of the other tables, and Sam Amer chose to start with a negative double rather than overstate his weak spade suit. When Erez Hendelman then competed to Four Spades, though, Amer felt he was too good to give up there, so out came RKCB. When his partner owned up to two key cards, Amer took the bull by the horns and shot out the slam. It wasn’t the world’s finest contract, but we have all made worse.
John Lesmeister led the ♥K for the Dutch. Hendelman won in dummy with the ♥A and called for a trump. Would you have found the winning defense in Gert-Jan Ros’s shoes? Prospects do not look great, other than hoping that declarer will misguess diamonds and lose to your doubleton queen at the end. Even so, is there any reason to steam in with the ♠A and switch to clubs?
Looking at all four hands, we can see that this is the defense required for the Dutch to gain their 9 IMPs on the deal. When Ros ducked the first trump, declarer won with the ♠K and played a second round back to jack, queen and ace. When the club finesse subsequently worked, Hendelman could claim: N/S +1430 and 15 IMPs to MACAVITY.
The scores on this deal were all over the place. In one match, both South players declared Six Spades and both Easts made a Lightner double for a club lead: an honourable push at N/S -200. One declarer in Five Hearts doubled manage to lose 800 whilst, at the other end of the scale, one South actually went down in Four Spades.
Despite this bad result, BRIDGE TOO FAR won this match by 18 IMPs, but decent wins in Round 12 meant that both teams made it safely into the top eight. The final list of teams qualifying for MontreAlt are:
|Bridge Too Far||136.71|
|Hungary – Galim||136.11|
If any of these teams are unable to play in the main event, their place will be offered to the next-ranked team in the qualifying event. Next week, we will be back with the best of the action from the Swiss stage of MontreAlt itself. Once again, a field of 36 teams packed with the world’s all stars will be in action to entertain, amuse and, hopefully, educate.