Great BBO Vugraph Deals #61

Marc Smith visits the knockout stages of the MontreAlt

Last week, we saw the number of surviving teams at the MontreAlt reduced from eight to four. The first of the semi-finals pitted together the two American-influenced teams, GUPTA (USA/France/Netherlands) and KOEPPEL (USA/Italy), who had finished first and fourth respectively in the Swiss qualifying stage of this event. That meant that GUPTA started with the nominal 0.1-IMP advantage in the semi-final. The other half of the draw was all-European, with SWEICE (Sweden/Iceland) taking on RED DEVILS (Belgium). These two teams had occupied the bottom two qualifying places in the Swiss, but had both defeated their favored British opponents to reach this stage. The Scandinavians held the advantage in the event that this match finished in a tie.

As usual, we begin with a couple of problems for you to consider. With just your side vulnerable, you hold as West:

North’s Two Diamond bid shows spades and another suit. Partner’s Two Hearts is natural and forcing for one round. What action, if any, do you take?

Again, with just your side vulnerable, you are West holding:

North’s One Club is artificial, showing 15+ HCP, and South’s One Diamond is negative, 0-7 points. 1NT shows 15-17. What action, if any, do you take now?

While you mull those over, let’s see some action from the first half of the semi-final matches. Board 3 generated a swing that might, perhaps, have gone in the other direction and a relatively flat board that should have been a sizeable swing. This was the layout:

E/W Vul – Dealer South

We start at the table where East/West were given the easiest ride:

West – Arts  North – Nilsland  East – de Roos  South – Fallenius

Bjorn Fallenius opted not to open the South hand, which allowed Geert Arts to start with an artificial, strong club. Mats Nilsland overcalled a natural One Spade and Steve de Roos forced to game with a transfer bid, showing 7+ HCP and at least five hearts. Fallenius again chose the conservative option when he raised only to Two Spades, and Arts showed his suit. Nilsland competed to the three-level and Arts had a fairly comfortable 3NT bid, which closed the auction.

Nilsland led the ♣K, which allowed declarer to score an overtrick. With a Four Spade sacrifice costing only 300, E/W +630 looked like a decent score for the Belgians.

The Icemen at the other table were given a tougher time:

West – Baldursson  North – Coenreats  East – Judjohnsen  South – Engel

Zvi Engel also passed the South hand but, when his partner showed spades and another suit, he sprang to life with a full-blooded jump to game. Jon Baldursson was thus faced with the first of the bidding problems posed above. In theory, the winning action was to double and collect +300 for E/W, which would have resulted in an 8-IMP gain for RED DEVILS.

Instead, Baldrursson opted for offense in his long suit. Had Philippe Coenreats doubled and led the ♣K, that would have been N/S +500 and 15 IMPs to RED DEVILS. However, there was no double and Conreats instead opted to open his singleton heart, but that still seems to be good enough to collect +100 and gain 12 IMPs.

Declarer won with the A and played a trump to the queen and ace. Most continuations defeat the contract but Conreats switched dangerously to a low club, won in dummy’s with the ♣J. Declarer could now have drawn a second round of trumps, cashed his spade winners, and played ace and another club, forcing North to lead a black-suit for a ruff-and-discard to dispose of his heart loser. Instead, though, Baldursson gave the Belgians a second chance by leading a low heart from dummy.

Had Engel played low, his partner would have been able to ruff declarer’s 9 and the defenders would eventually have come to a club trick. When, instead, South rose with the Q, he set up a ruffing finesse against himself. Declarer won the club continuation with the ace, crossed to the 10, drawing the outstanding trumps, and advanced the J. South covered with the king and declarer ruffed. The ¨5 provided declarer with an entry to dummy and his club loser disappeared on the 10. E/W +600 meant that it was just a 1-IMP gain to RED DEVILS.

In the other match, Zia was faced with a similar bidding problem on the West cards.

West – Zia  North – Koeppel  East – Gupta  South – Tokay

Three clubs showed both black suits and again, the theoretical best that Zia could do over Four Spades was to take the +300. Instead, he opted to try to collect the vulnerable game bonus in notrumps. The defense here made no mistake: Lynne Koeppel led a spade, won the first round of diamonds and led a second spade. Declarer could do no more than cash his nine tricks and the defenders claimed the last three. E/W -100.

I am glad to report that at least someone other than me thought this South hand was an opening bid, and it comes as no surprise to find that it was a Dutchman:

West – Sementa  North – de Wijs  East – Madala  South – Muller

Antonio Sementa doubled Bauke Muller’s weak Two Heart opening for takeout and it is hard to see how Augustin Madala could do anything other than convert for penalties. The Italians still had a chance to beat the par result on the deal (+300 for East/West defending Four Spades Doubled). West led a top spade, switched to the K, which held, and then cashed his other high spade before playing a second diamond.

After winning with the A, declarer led dummy’s trump. Had Madala played low, declarer would have been hard-pressed to make more than five tricks. Instead, though, East rose with the A and forced declarer with a third round of diamonds. Muller was in control now: he played a club to dummy’s king and continued with the ♣Q to the ace. West continued with the 9 but declarer won and started forcing East by playing spade winners. Whatever the Italians did now, declarer was bound to score his remaining low trump for his sixth trick. E/W +300 and 9 IMPs to KOEPPEL.

Board 13 looked like a mundane flat game in Four Spades for East/West, and yet it proved to be ‘unlucky’ for two teams.

Both Vul – Dealer North

Muller led a heart to his partner’s king, but Simon de Wijs’s switch to the ♣K did not cause declarer to quake with fear. Madala won with the ♣A, drew three rounds of trumps and led a diamond toward dummy. He still had one heart to lose at the end: E/W +620.

West – Zia  North – Koeppel  East – Gupta  South – Tokay

Again, South led a heart to the king, but here Lynne Koeppel switched to a trump at trick two. Naren Gupta won cheaply in dummy, crossed back to hand with a high trump, and ran the ♣J to North’s king. North returned a club to the ten and declarer then ruffed a heart in dummy. Crossing back to the ♣Q left this six-card ending with declarer needing five more tricks:

Perhaps remembering only that North had opened the bidding, but not having noticed that South had thus far shown up with only the two major-suit jacks for his negative double, declarer thought he could see a way home without guessing the diamonds. Alas, when he now ruffed his heart in dummy, South was able to pitch his last club. South was now bound to make two more tricks: E/W -100 and 12 IMPs to KOEPPEL.

In the other match, Mats Nilsland also opened One Heart and the Belgians quickly reached game in spades. Again, North won the K and switched to a club, but the Swede chose the ♣2 rather than the king. Steve de Roos won with the ♣Q, cashed the two top spades from his hand, and then ran the ♣J. North won with the king but, with only red suits left, he now had to allay declarer’s fears about the diamonds by opening the suit. South won with the A, but declarer could now ruff the heart continuation, draw South’s last trump, unblock the clubs, and return to dummy with the K to pitch his remaining heart on the ♣A. E/W +620.

It is always entertaining for the hundreds of mere mortals watching on BBO VuGraph when a top player makes an unsuccessful play that only an expert (or, perhaps, a complete beginner) would think of. For three players to take such an action on the same deal was worth the price of admission just for this one deal.

West – Baldursson  North – Coenreats  East – Judjohnsen  South – Engel

The Belgian North was the only one not to open One Heart:, but if his decision was slightly off-centre it prompted (with apologies to Kipling) all of those around to lose their heads.

My students and regular readers of this column are used to hearing me prattle on about sacrificing on balanced hands, as the penalty is often higher than you expect. Here, South’s decision to bid on to the five-level also disregards the excellent principle that you should let the opponents take the last guess. After all, partner’s pre-empt has made the opponents guess at a high level. If they have guessed right then you should get a flat board: whereas bidding Five Hearts not only risks undoing partner’s good work, but offers the opponents fielder’s choice, to use a baseball expression.

Any sensible defense would hold declarer to eight tricks, resulting in E/W +800 and 5 IMPs to SWEICE. One of those vulnerable undertricks disappeared at trick one when Einar Judjohnsen chose the spectacularly unsuccessful Q as his opening lead. Who’d be a commentator, with hundreds of kibitzers asking you to explain the unexplainable?

A grateful declarer drew three rounds of trumps and the play proceeded normally for a few tricks: a diamond finesse losing to the king, a spade to the king, a club to the ace and a second club to declarer’s king. Now declarer ran his trumps in the hope that East would be caught in a minor-suit suit squeeze. Instead, West decided that it was his turn to join in the fun and games by catching himself in a pseudo squeeze, baring his J to cling onto the thirteenth spade in the three-card ending.

Declarer played a diamond to the ace and was as bemused as the Rueful Rabbit to claim the last trick with the 10 even though his squeeze had failed. E/W +200 and 9 IMPs to RED DEVILS.

KOEPPEL led 38-35 to take a slender 2.9-IMP lead against the bookies’ tournament favorites at the midway point of their match. On the European side of the draw the underdogs were also ahead, RED DEVILS leading 33-22.1. Still all to play for in both matches.

I include the first hand of the second half here because it generated something very unusual, a squeeze position that I had never seen before, in more than 40 years playing this wonderful game. It took a strange bid by one young French superstar to give his partner the chance to put in a bid for the year’s best-played hand. Unfortunately, he didn’t find the winning line of play. I wonder in anyone would have knowingly done so. This was the layout:

N/S Vul – Dealer South

All four Souths pre-empted in hearts, two with a weak two, one via a Multi and one at the three-level. All Wests overcalled in spades and three of the four East players bid what looks like a fairly obvious 3NT. There were nine top tricks on any lead: E/W +600. The exception:

West – Lorenzini  North – Versace  East – Bessis  South – Tokay

Alfredi Versace led his heart against Four Spades. Cedric Lorenzini won with dummy’s ace and exited with the Q. Mustafa Cem Tokay won with the K (North pitching a diamond) and returned the 9, declaring winning in hand with the ace. It seems that ruffing a heart now just endplays dummy, so Lorenzini chose to draw four rounds of trumps and then tried unsuccessfully to squeeze someone in the endgame: E/W -50 and 10 IMPs to KOEPPEL.

A backwash squeeze, as described by Kelsey & Ottlik in their 1979 classic, “Adventures in Card Play”, occurs when declarer ruffs high, promoting a trump trick for his LHO but simultaneously squeezing him in three suits, including trumps. I suppose, therefore, that this deal is a variant of a backwash squeeze, but not one I had seen before. Let’s go back to trick four and observe the strange thing that happens if declarer ruffs his third heart at trick four. It is true that dummy is now endplayed but have you considered North’s dilemma when the third heart is played? What can he discard?

Clearly, if he ruffs in front of dummy, declarer can overruff and simply draw trumps with the three top honors in his hand. Declarer will just lose two clubs at the end. Four winners in the side suits, one ruff in dummy and five trumps in hand add up to ten.

Suppose, North discards a second diamond. Declarer ruffs the heart in dummy and then overtakes the ♠J, promoting a trump trick for North. After taking his three top trumps, declarer then plays a diamond to the king and ruffs a diamond, setting up two diamond winners in dummy. He then exits with his last trump to North, who has only clubs left. Declarer scores an overtrick as both club losers disappear on dummy’s long diamonds.

Finally, what if North releases a club on the third round of hearts. Again, declarer ruffs the heart in dummy and again overtakes in spades, promoting North’s ♠10. However, now declarer scores ten tricks via an unusual type of elopement: a diamond to dummy’s king allows him to ruff a diamond, and a club to dummy’s ace then lets declarer score his last trump via a diamond ruff as North has to impotently follow suit. Again, declarer scores all of the trumps in his hand in addition to a heart ruff in dummy and four outside winners.

Note that if South returns a trumps at trick three, declarer can produce the same ending by winning in hand and leading his heart.

I have to thank Thomas Bessis for not following the sheep and simply bidding 3NT. His 10-IMP investment meant that a really beautiful hand did not go completely unnoticed as everyone just cashed nine top tricks in 3NT.

With four deals remaining, the pre-match underdogs still led in both semi-finals. KOEPPEL had extended their halftime advantage over GUPTA to 7.9 IMPs. In the all-European clash, RED DEVILS were sitting more comfortably, ahead by 24.9 IMPs.

Our second bidding problem comes from Board 25, with two world-class pairs facing off. It was KOEPPEL’s Italian Renaissance men opposing a couple of Dutch masters representing GUPTA.

E/W Vul – Dealer North

Antonio Sementa bid his five-card major after North’s strong club and South’s negative One Diamond. He then had to decide what action to take when Simon de Wijs’s 15-17 1NT was passed back to him. When Sementa chose to pass, his side was on the back foot.

Madala led a diamond. Declarer cashed three winners in the suit and then played a heart to the ace and a heart back. Sementa won with the K and switched to spades. The defenders took their tricks in that suit and then exited passively with a fourth round of diamonds. Declarer could cash the Q, but had then to lead clubs from his hand: E/W +50.

West – Lorenzini  North – Versace  East – Bessis  South – Tokay

Versace’s natural One Diamond opening ran around to Lorenzini and the Frenchman reopened with a natural One Heart. When Tomas Bessis then introduced his spade suit, Lorenzini made what looks like a fairly conservative raise to the three-level. No harm done, though, as Bessis had enough to accept the game try.

Bessis ruffed the opening diamond lead in dummy and promptly advanced the 9. It was not obvious for Versace to go in with the Q, so Tokayt was forced to win with the ace. The club switch was ducked to North’s king, and declarer won the continuation in hand with the ♣Q, enabling him to take a second diamond ruff. Bessis could now draw trumps and claim his ten tricks. E/W +620 and 11 IMPs to GUPTA, who moved into the lead for the first time in the match.

In the other match, both North players opened 1NT. Both Wests showed majors and accepted the invitation when their partner jumped to Three Spades. A flat board at E/W +620.

The next deal generated a swing in both matches:

Both Vul – Dealer East

Simon de Wijs made a pre-emptive jump overcall of West’s strong notrump opening and Bauke Muller judged well to raise to game. The hands fitted perfectly and declarer had only three losers: N/S +620.

West – Lorenzini  North – Versace  East – Bessis  South – Tokay

More good judgement by the GUPTA pair, this time the team’s French contingent. Lorenzini showed a good hand with his double of Four Hearts and Thomas Bessis offered him a choice of minors. Lorenini’s pass of South’s double suggested no strong preference, so Bessis retreated into his six-card suit. The defense led a heart and Bessis immediately claimed ten tricks: N/S +200 and 9 IMPs to GUPTA, who now led by 12.1 IMPs with two deals remaining.

West – Arts  North – Nilsland  East – de Roos  South – Fallenius

Mats Nilsland’s decision to overcall at the two-level via a Two Diamond transfer gave the Belgians a chance to find their profitable sacrifice, and Steve de Roos’s 2NT (showing an invitational or better hand with clubs) seemed to pave the way for that to happen. However, Geert Acts failed to appreciate that his partner’s club length was bad news for his defensive prospects, and his double of Four Hearts served to increase the negative rather than accentuate the positive. N/S +790.

West – Baldursson  North – Coenreats  East – Judjohnsen  South – Engel

Birkir Jon Jonsson’s 2NT opening showed a weak club pre-empt, so Jon Baldursson’s raise to 3NT was a fairly ambitious move in itself. Undeterred by his RHO’s show of strength, Steven de Donder was not to be shut out. Nor too, though, was Baldursson, who brazenly ploughed on to 4NT when Four Hearts came back to him. One suspects that he would have retreated to the relative safety of his partner’s long suit had anyone doubled 4NT, but the Belgians judged well in that the penalty from 4NT undoubled was more than they could get from doubling Five Clubs. After winning with the A, declarer could do no more than cash his six club tricksand concede the rest: N/S +300 but still 10 IMPs to SWEIC|E, who closed the gap to 14.9 IMPs with two deals left.

That was as close as either of the trailing teams would get, though, the final two deals producing only minor swings. GUPTA won the second half 42-25 to win by 77.1-63 and move into their second consecutive Major Alt final. In the all-European clash, RED DEVILS won the second half 20-18 to claim victory by 53-40.1.

The final would be contested by the defending champions, who had also finished top of the Swiss qualifying in this event, and the team that had finished eighth in the qualifying stage an claimed the last place in the knockout rounds. We will be back next week with the best of the action from that final. Spoiler alert: there should be plenty of interest as 165 IMPs changed hands over the 32-deal match.