November BBO Prime Tournament. Deal analysis.

Thank you for joining November’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 4, 5, 6, 7 and 9 in July’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.

The field for the inaugural running of the Soloway Trophy at the 2019 Fall Nationals was bristling with big-name stars, both from across the U.S. and from the rest of the world. And quite rightly too, for an event bearing the name of a true legend of the game. Born in Los Angeles, California in 1941, Paul Soloway was a nephew of the notorious gangster Bugsy Siegel. He first represented the U.S. at the 1972 Olympiad and by the time of his death in 2007 he had amassed more masterpoints than any player in the game’s history. He was a member of the winning Bermuda Bowl teams in 1976, 1977, 1979, 2000 and 2003, but he will also be remembered by many as one of the nicest guys you could ever hope to meet. That his legacy should be commemorated by such a high-profile event is fitting indeed.

One of the teams that survived four rounds of knockout matches to reach the final needs little introduction. Although in various incarnations they have been the most dominant team in U.S (and world) events for a number of decades, NICKELL (Nick Nickell, Ralph Katz, Jeff Meckstroth, Eric Rodwell, Bobby Levin and Steve Weinstein) was seeded only number three for this event.

Their opponents in this final, seeded number 20, were led by npc Josef Blass. Although perhaps not such familiar names to American audiences, all five members of his playing squad are also Bermuda Bowl winners: Dutch stars Sjoert Brink and Sebastiaan ‘Bas’ Drijver, along with Polish-American Jacek Pszczola, and Jacek Kalita and Michal Nowosadzki from Poland. Kalita and Nowosadzki, currently ranked numbers two and five respectively in the WBF Open rankings, were members of Polish teams that won the Bermuda Bowl in 2015 in Chennai and again in 2019 in Wuhan. Kalita had first become a world champion way back in 2004, as a member of the Polish team at the World University Championships. Pszczola, now an American national and widely known around the bridge world as ‘Pepsi’, won the 1998 World Pairs in Lille playing with fellow-Pole Michel Kwiecien. He has since won the World Transnational Teams, the World Mixed Teams and the 2017 Bermuda Bowl. Brink and Drijver were both members of the Dutch team that won the 2011 Bermuda Bowl in Veldhoven. More recently, they won the 2016 World National Open Teams in Wroclaw. That this team was seeded #20 is testament to the strength of the field in this event.

As usual, we begin with a couple of problems for you to consider. We will find out later how your choices would have turned out.

With neither side vulnerable, you hold as West:

North’s 1NT opening is 14-16 and partner’s Two Diamond intervention shows diamonds and a major, at least 5-4 either way round. South’s Three Hearts is a transfer, showing spades. What action, if any, do you take?

Next, vulnerable against not, your hand as East is:

Your Two Club rebid shows either clubs or any 16+. Partner would have responded with an artificial, game-forcing 2 on any hand with at least 8 HCPs. What do you bid now?

Finally, a lead problem. With neither side vulnerable, you are West with this hand:

The opponents are playing natural methods. What do you lead?

While you cogitate over those, let’s take a look at the early action. Nickell jumped out to a 15-10 on the first three deals. This was the fourth board of the opening stanza:

Both Vulnerable – Dealer West

Curiously, two of my least-favorite conventions put in an appearance on this deal. Bas Drijver passed as Dealer and then used Drury to show a maximum with three-card heart support. Sjoert Brink could not envision anything beyond game facing a passed hand, so he simply bid what he thought he could make. And quite right too in theory, as slam probably needs the ruffing club finesse in addition to no spade ruff and, quite possibly, a 3-2 trump split too. Certainly against the odds but, with both majors 3-2 and the ♣A in the East hand, there were twelve fairly straightforward tricks: N/S +680.

I suppose it is unlikely that partner’s minors will be reversed with the opponents silent, but playing Two Clubs (or Two Diamonds) as natural with a maximum pass and a heart fit is perhaps a better method than traditional Drury. Knowing that there were club values opposite would surely dampen any thoughts beyond game for South here, whereas a diamond suit would have the opposite effect.

West – Kalita North – Nickell East – Pepsi SouthKatz

Ralph Katz opened with the convention whose name may not be mentioned, showing 11-16 HCP and 4+♠/5+. When Nickell jumped to game, Katz decided he was worth one more try, and he advanced with a cue-bid of his void. The problem here is that if the cue-bid is the ace then Nickell’s hand is huge. If it is shortage, though, you potentially have a handful of used tram tickets. When Nickell co-operated with a diamond cue-bid, Katz even made a grand slam try on his way to the small slam. N/S +1430 and 13 IMPs to NICKELL, now ahead 28-10 after just four deals. 

NICKELL led 48-28 after the first stanza. The next deal, from early in the second set, produced a very competitive auction at both tables, thanks to some innovative methods.

None VulnerableDealer North

Bas Drijver’s 1NT overcall showed 5+ and an undisclosed four-card major. Katz bid a forcing Two Spades and Brink jumped pre-emptively to Four Diamonds, Nickell now bid 4♠ under pressure and there matters rested. Brink led a diamond, ducked to the king, and Drijver switched immediately to hearts, establishing the defenders’ trick in that suit before the clubs were set up. Although the ♠K was worthless to them, that was still a well-judged E/W +50 for the Dutch.

West – Meckstroth North – Pepsi East – Rodwell SouthKalita

You will recognize this West hand as the first problem presented at the top of this article. When Four Spades came back to Meckstroth, he knew that his side had a double fit, so he backed in with 4NT, to play in his partner’s longer red suit. 

It is rare to see Meckwell lose IMPs on competitive, judgement deals like this. With good guesses in both red suits, declarer could have escaped for one down and held the loss to 5 IMPs, but Meckstroth also lost a second trump trick (South scored an overruff with the Q on the third round of clubs). E/W -300 and 8 IMPs to BLASS.

E/W VulnerableDealer East

Rodwell opened a Strong Club and the Polish system card just lists their defense as ‘crash’, so I would guess from his hand that Kalita’s double showed either majors or minors. Meckstroth’s One Diamond was now an artificial semi-positive, showing exactly 6-7 HCP. Rodwell bid a natural One Heart and Meckstroth jumped to Three Diamonds, which looks fairly descriptive. Rodwell then had to guess and took a punt at 3NT.

The defense is a favorite as long as Kalita avoids a heart lead, which is probably not so difficult on this auction. His actual choice was the ♠3, and although the defenders let declarer score a diamond trick and Rodwell guessed to play a heart to the ten, the defense still had time to score two tricks in each major plus the A to beat the contract a trick. E/W -100.

West – Brink North – Nickell East – Drijver SouthKatz

Although not alerted in the VuGraph record, it looks like Drijver’s Two Clubs was Gazilli or something similar (showing either clubs or any 16+). Two Diamonds from responder would usually now be artificial, showing 8+ HCP and establishing a game force. Brink’s jump to Three Diamonds was, presumably, non-forcing with at least a six-card suit. It seems that Drijver was in just about the same position as Rodwell was at the other table. The Dutchman’s guess was to jump to game in diamonds. 

Whilst Five Diamonds is hardly cold, it is certainly better than 3NT in that it has some chance. Indeed, as the defensive cards lie it can, at least in theory, always be made. Nickell led the ♠J and Katz broke one of the golden rules of good defense when he signaled with a card he could not afford, the ♠8. Declarer played trumps and Katz won the second round to continue with the ♠Q. Declarer won again, ruffed a club back to hand, drew trumps, and exited with the ♠9. Katz could win with the ♠10 but now dummy was left with the winning ♠5, on which declarer could dispose of his heart loser. With the heart finesse failing, would declarer have gone down without the defensive help? We shall never know, of course, but at the table that was E/W +600 and 12 IMPs to BLASS.

BLASS won the second set 36-30 to trail by 14 IMPs (64-78) at the midway point, NICKELL then won a very dull third set 14-8 to lead by 20 IMPs with 15 deals remaining. How often have we watched the Nickell team come back from 30 or 40 behind to win a big match in the final set? This match was not only something of a rarity in that they led going into the final set, but also that it was their opponents who finished with a storming final stanza.

N/S VulnerableDealer East

Vulnerable against not, would you come in over Two Hearts with that North hand? Bobby Levin did not do so, and who can really blame him?

The defense started with two top spades and three rounds of trumps. Whatever declarer did from here, he had two minor-suit tricks still to lose. N/S +50.

West – Rodwell North – Nowas’dzki East – Meckstroth SouthKalita

Rodwell’s One Spade response certainly made bidding more attractive for North. Not that 3NT was a thing of beauty, and Meckstroth surely would have beaten it had he led his partner’s suit. His actual heart lead gave declarer both a trick and a tempo, though, and Michal Nowasadzki took full advantage by simply ducking two rounds of clubs. When Meckstroth’s ♣A popped up, declarer had nine tricks. N/S +600 and 11 IMPs to BLASS, who had now reduced the deficit to just 4 IMPs with 12 deals still to be played.

The Europeans edged slowly ahead, and led by 8 IMPs with four deals remaining. The destination of the trophy essentially came down to Rodwell’s choice of opening lead in the situation set as a problem at the beginning of this article.

None VulnerableDealer South

With a fairly uninspiring 12-count facing 18-19 balanced, Levin’s raise of 2NT to game seems eminently sensible. Brink led a spade and declarer now had time to set up the diamonds for four tricks: N/S +490.

The stakes were significantly higher at the second table, after Michal Nowasadzki took a much rosier view of the North cards:

West – Rodwell North – Nowas’dzki East – Meckstroth SouthKalita

Obviously, a heart lead would have given the defenders at least three tricks. A lead from this heart holding may be quite attractive against 3NT on some auctions, but it is far less so against a slam, particularly with a strong balanced hand on your right and partner known to be virtually broke. 

Predictably, Rodwell also opened a spade. Declarer had eight tricks outside of diamonds, and although that suit splits 4-1, it is onside and dummy’s spots are good enough to limit West to just one diamond trick. N/S +990 and 11 IMPs to BLASS.

The final deals were just about flat, so BLASS won the fourth stanza by an amazing 51-9 and the match by a score of 123-101. Congratulations to both teams for producing an absorbing final.

The inaugural Soloway Trophy was an outstanding success, with a field strong enough to make the seedings almost irrelevant, since every team was capable of beating just about anybody. It was fitting that every player in the final was a former World Champion, and the match lived up to all expectations. The Soloway Trophy duly takes its place alongside the Spingold and the Vanderbilt as the centerpieces of the three annual North American Bridge Championships.