Great BBO Vugraph Deals #62

Marc Smith visits the final of the MontreAlt

A total of 48 teams competed in the MontreAlt, which effectively replaced the NABC Summer Nationals that would have been staged in the Quebec capital but for the ongoing pandemic. The leading eight teams from the 24-team qualifying event joined the 24 invited teams to play a three-day Swiss Teams to open the main event. The top eight teams from that Swiss advanced to the knockout stage. Now just two remain.

GUPTA (USA/France/Netherlands) came in as the defending champions, having won the first Alt Major, and finished ahead of the pack in the Swiss Teams stage of the event. RED DEVILS (Belgium), on the other hand, finished eighth in the Swiss, thus claiming the last place in the knockout stage. The two teams had met head on in the tenth and final round of the Swiss, with GUPTA winning 37-21 over 14 boards. In this 32-board final, though, the favorites start with an advantage of just 0.1 IMPs.

As usual, we begin our coverage with a couple of problems for you to consider. First, with both sides vulnerable, you hold as South:

Partner opens One Heart in third seat and RHO doubles. How do you evaluate your hand?

If you start with a redouble, it goes (Pass)-Pass-(2♣)-? If, instead, you start with 2 (a constructive raise to 2 or better), it goes (Pass)-2-(Pass)-?

In either scenario, what do you bid now?

Next, with just your side vulnerable, you are East holding:

In third seat at favorable vulnerability, you strongly suspect that your opponents can make at least game. What action, if any, do you take to make life difficult for them?

While you mull those over, let’s dive straight into the first half action. The Europeans jumped out to an early lead and after six deals led 22-9.1. Board seven came down to a question of hand evaluation:

Both Vul – Dealer South

Zvi Engel had to start with a redouble to show his maximum pass, and he then judged to jump to Three Hearts at his next turn. With an 11-count facing a passed hand, though, it is hard to blame Steven de Donder for not raising to game.

The defense started with a top diamond and a spade switch, dummy’s ♠K winning. Declarer played a club to the ace and ruffed a club. He then ruffed a diamond in hand and ruffed a second club, ruffed another diamond, and ruffed his last club with the K. A fourth round of diamonds enabled declarer to score the 10 with a ruff and he then exited with a spade. Down to just his three trumps, West now had to give declarer the trump finesse for his tenth trick. N/S +170.

West – Arts  North – Lorenzini  East – De Roose  South – Bessis

Thomas Bessis started with a Two Diamond transfer, showing at least a good three-card raise. With no game interest facing a passed partner, Cedric Lorenzini simply signed off, but Bessis decided that his hand was worth game anyway.

Steve de Roos also led the A and, when his partner showed an odd number, he gambled that it was declarer who held three cards in the suit. Lorenzini ruffed the K continuation, played a heart to the king and finessed on the way back. He then knocked out the ♠A and claimed his eleven tricks: N/S +650 and 10 IMPs to GUPTA, reducing the deficit to 2.9 IMPs. Two deals later came:

E/W Vul – Dealer North

Naren Gupta’s pass of North’s Two Diamond overcall denied as many as three spades. He would also, presumably, have rebid a decent six-card heart suit. Even though his diamond holding may not have been as robust as he might have wished, Zia was thus left with 3NT as the only practical bid.

North led diamonds and Zia ducked two rounds of the suit. When he then played a spade, declarer’s luck was in: the hand with the short diamonds held the ªA. By the time he had to guess the club suit, North had already shown up with ten non-clubs, so it was easy to pick that suit up for four tricks: E/W +630. It was not a great contract, but it would be the same in both rooms and, besides, where else were you likely to end up? Surely a flat board…

West – Arts  North – Lorenzini  East – De Roose  South – Bessis

The auction began similarly at the other table, except that South raised to Three Diamonds. With the same information available about partner’s major-suit length, it is not clear that this should materially affect West’s decision, but Geert Arts chose to make a takeout double at his second turn. Quite how he expected his partner to respond to this is unclear, but the result was that the Belgians found themselves in a six-card fit. Not that this was necessarily the wrong place to be: put the ♠A with the long diamonds (so that 3NT fails) and make the defensive clubs break 3-2, and reaching Four Spades would have been a great success. On the actual layout, though, North could defeat Four Spades by leading either minor. Lorenzini chose his singleton club.

Declarer won in hand and played a trump to the jack and ace, and South delivered his partner’s club ruff. Now North switched to diamonds. Declarer ducked, won the diamond continuation with the ace and ruffed his third diamond, but now could not get back to hand without forcing himself, thus promoting a trump trick for South. E/W -100 and 12 IMPs to GUPTA, who moved ahead for the first time in the match,

The match still hung in the balance at the halfway break, GUPTA leading by just 4.1 IMPs, 41.1-37.They had added another 9 IMPs to that advantage by the time Board 7 of the second half arrived at the tables. This time, it was the Belgians who bid to what looked like a mundane game contract:

Both Vul – Dealer South

Everything about this auction looks normal and declarer duly made the obvious ten tricks: N/S +630. It is the sort of deal that you mentally mark down as a flat board. I suppose it is conceivable that North/South may find their way to Five Clubs instead but, even then, with the K onside they are destined to make eleven tricks, losing just one trick in each major. Strange things can happen, though:

West – Arts  North – Lorenzini  East – De Roose  South – Bessis

Cedric Lorenzini set the tone when he elected to open with his system strong bid, an artificial Two Diamonds, He then self-alerted Three Clubs as showing ‘about 8 tricks’. Perhaps they count differently in France but, by my reckoning, eight plus two does not equal twelve. If Lorenzini’s description is an accurate summation of the partnership agreement, it would seem that Bessis was too ambitious, but my guess is that he (not unreasonably, perhaps) expected a better hand opposite.

The defense led spades and declarer eventually led towards the Q for an eleventh trick: N/S -100 and 12 IMPs from nowhere to RED DEVILS closing the gap. At the midway point of the second half, the Belgians trailed by just 1.1 IMPs. That, though, was to be as close as they would get. Board 9 was the first of a four-deal run that decided the outcome…

E/W Vul – Dealer North

North’s first-seat pre-empt set Bauke Muller a two-way guess, double or 3NT. Double might find a heart fit although, with such sterile shape and club ruff(s) a very real possibility, it is not clear that you particularly want to play in a 4-4 fit. The other downside of double is what to do if partner responds Four Diamonds. All things considered, I think I prefer an immediate 3NT.

Simon de Wijs’s Three Spade response meant that Muller got to have his cake and eat it, and he did not turn down a second opportunity to visit the house. South was allowed to win trick one with the ♣J. Muller won the heart switch and continued the suit, setting up three winners there. The defenders eventually came to their three aces: E/W +600.

West – Arts  North – Lorenzini  East – De Roose  South – Bessis

Steve de Roos also started with a double, but his decision to raise spades at his second turn seems particularly obtuse. For a start, his square shape warns that there may not be any extra tricks to be made by playing in the suit game, even if partner does hold a five-card suit. Then there is the risk of club ruffs to consider,.

North led his singleton diamond and declarer was immediately in jeopardy. Geert Arts played a trump at trick two, but Bessis won immediately and returned the 9 for his partner to ruff. Bessis regained the lead with the A to deliver a second diamond ruff. Now came the ♣A and a club ruff to put the contract three down: E/W +300 and 14 IMPs to GUPTA.

GUPTA gained a further 11 IMPs on the next two deal, extending their lead to 26.1. Then came this layout:

N/S Vul – Dealer West

Simon de Wijs opened a mini-notrump (9-12 HCP). Muller used Stayman and Zvi Engel doubled to show a strong hand (i.e a penalty double of 1NT). West’s Two Spades found the fit and now Engel had to decide whether to take the penalty or to go for the vulnerable game bonus. He chose the latter, describing his hand with 2NT.

De Donder duly raised to game, and West led the ♠Q. 3NT can always be made, but I suspect that a large majority would go down (most of them at trick one). There are two ways in which to go immediately wrong: you need to duck the first round of spades, and you must also discard a heart from dummy.

Suppose you discard a diamond from dummy and, instead of continuing spades, West switches safely to a diamond. You can win and lead the K (which wins) and then play three rounds of clubs, setting up your third trick in that suit. When you then win the diamond exit, though, you need to be able to cash four rounds of diamonds ending in dummy. You can then cash your club winner and exit with a high heart to drive out the ace. The defenders will then have to give you a ninth trick in one of the majors. If you discard a diamond at trick one, though, you will only be able to cash three diamonds and you will finish a trick short.

So, you throw a heart from dummy. We’ve seen how to make nine tricks if West switches, so let’s suppose he continues spades. This time, you win with the ♠K and advance the K. West has to duck, or you have nine easy tricks. You can now play a spade. Although East can win both the third and fourth rounds of the suit and play clubs, you will have established your ninth trick (your fifth spade) before the defenders can set up their fifth (the ♣Q).

At the table, Engel made the mistake of winning with the ♠K at trick one. He led the K and, when that won, he had no winning option. If he played on clubs, the defenders would have one club, one heart and three spades to cash. If he played on spades, the defenders would be able to establish their club trick before he could set up his long card in spades. N/S -50.

The good news for the Belgians was that it made virtually no difference how many tricks Engel made in 3NT. Curiously, the mini notrump had saved the Dutch pair from a far worse fate:

West – Arts  North – Lorenzini  East – De Roose  South – Bessis

Let’s be honest, when it starts with two passes to us at favorable vulnerability and we have a four-count, just about all of us are going to bid something. Steve de Roos probably considered numerous options, ranging from One Heart or One Spade or, perhaps, a strong 1NT to some kind of pre-empt. I cannot really criticize him for choosing Three Hearts, as it is certainly one of the possibilities. When you live by the sword, though, you sometimes also die by it. On this layout, you get completely massacred.

Bessis led a top diamond and switched to the K. Declarer won with the A and led the ♠Q. When North pitched a club, de Roos rose with the ♠A and played a second spade. South won with the ♠K and forced declarer with a diamond. Declarer now played a third spade, but North could ruff low and still had enough heart winners to draw all of declarer’s remaining trumps, South scored the remaining tricks with minor-suit winners. Declarer had managed to make just two aces and one other trump trick, six down. N/S +1400 is surely one of the largest penalties in a phantom sacrifice seen for some time. That was another 17 IMPs to GUPTA and the final nail in the Belgian coffin.

GUPTA won the second half 58-29 and the final by a score of 99.1-66 to retain their Alt Majors title. The GUPTA team has now won both Alt Majors played since this pandemic began in March. The next Major will be the TampAlt, which replaces the NABC Fall Nationals, originally scheduled for Florida in November.

GUPTA also leads all-comers in the Alt Minors. Next week, we will catch up on the action from the next event in that series.