Marc Smith visits the Round Robin stage of Minor Alt Invitational II
The year’s second Major Alt event, MontreAlt, attracted 48 teams and it is expected that at least that number will begin the quest to win the year’s last Major Alt, TampAlt, in November. In the meantime, the Minor Alt events (alternately Open and Mixed) return to entertain the thousands of kibitzers who enjoy watching the stars in action on BBO VuGraph.
With so many players interested in participating, the event returns to action with a new format and with the guarantee of a new champion. Previously, the Open Alt and the Mixed Alt had both been limited to just eight teams. This revamped format allows almost twice that number to participate, with a field divided into two pools of seven teams. The unique feature of this event is that in the qualifying round teams will play a complete round robin of 24-board matches against the teams in the opposite pool. The leading four teams from each pool will then advance to the knockout stage.
I also mentioned that there will be a new champion. The GUPTA team, who won the last Open Alt and has won both of the Major Alt events held so far, decided not to compete in this new event. Depending on which version of the explanation you believe, this was either because they just felt like a break, they thought it was time to let someone else win, or because they didn’t like the new format.
This week and next, we will take a look at the best of the action from the round robin stage. As usual, we begin our coverage with some problems for you to consider. First, with both sides vulnerable, you hold as West:
Your One Club opening guarantees only a doubleton club, but partner’s jump to game suggests at least four-card support as he has denied being able to bid any other suit, What action, if any, do you take?
Next, with neither side vulnerable, you are West holding:
What action, if any, do you take now?
Finally, with just your side vulnerable, you hold as West:
What action, if any, do you take?
While you mull those over, let’s dive straight into the action from Match One. We begin with a match between two teams playing under the Union Jack of Great Britain: an ever-present team during the Alt events, DE BOTTON (England, Norway and Poland), and a newcomer to the field, HARRIS (England and Bulgaria). DE BOTTON led 27-5 after the first, but the second 12-board set was to be a rude introduction to life at the top for the newcomers.
Both Vul – Dealer South
Jonathan Harris opened a 2+ One Club and, when his partner jumped to 3NT, he was then faced with the first of this week’s bidding problems.
I suppose it depends on how disciplined partner is but one should, I think, be able to rely on finding at least four clubs opposite (although I have seen plenty of people make this bid with 3-3-4-3 shape too). Facing a balanced 12-14 count with at least four clubs, how do you assess the various contracts opposite this West hand? The important question is how likely is it that 3NT will make when Five Clubs will not? I suspect the answer is close to zero. More likely, I would have thought, was that a heart lead beats 3NT with game in clubs an easy make. On this basis, it is surely right to advance with, say, Four Clubs or a Four Diamond cue-bid. You can still stop in game, but you also keep slam in the picture. How easy it is to reach slam after this start is another matter.
South had an easy heart lead against 3NT, so declarer could do no more than cash his ten top winners: E/W +630. If not playing inverted minor-suit raises, then inventing a One Diamond response seems to be the best way to treat this East hand. Just because partner’s One Club opening only promises two clubs does not mean that he will always be short in the suit. It surely seems right to find out more about partner’s hand before using up so much bidding space, so I would apportion the majority of blame with East on this deal.
West – Bakhshi North – Isporski East – Townsend South – Trendafilov
Tom Townsend’s inverted raise to Two Clubs was clearly a much more sensible way to start. When David Bakhshi then made a splinter jump to Three Hearts, East/West were off to the races. They exchanged a series of cue-bids before Townsend Blackwooded to the excellent slam. There was nothing to the play: E/W +1370 and 12 IMPs to DE BOTTON.
DE BOTTON won the second half 55-23 and the tie 83-28 to top their pool with 18.64 VPs from their opening match. The other group was also topped by team flying the British flag, BLACK (England and Sweden), who collected 18.47 VPs from their match against BALDURSSON (Iceland and Sweden). It so happened that the vagaries of the draw meant that those two leading teams met head on in Match Two:
A third-seat opening bid set DE BOTTON’s Swedish contingent the second of the bidding problems from the top of this article:
None Vul – Dealer North
Based on trends we have seen in the year since the World Championships in Wuhan, I am amazed that not one of the 14 North players opened this hand with a weak Two Spades, non-vulnerable in first seat. That meant that all 14 Souths had to decide what action to take after two passes. There was one vote each for One Club and One Diamond, and three passers, but everyone else opened the chunky four-card heart suit.
Everyone doubled on the West hand and the Norths all raised to Two Hearts. At three of the nine tables where the auction began this way, East/West managed to double and defend, collecting +500 for an excellent result. East’s positive move meant that defending was not an option for Gunnar Hallberg. He was one of a number of West players faced with the second of the bidding problems presented at the top of this article.
Most cue-bid Three Hearts and got to 3NT. Hallberg tried an invitational raise to Four Diamonds and, understandably, Simon Hult saw no reason to bid again on his effective six-count. With the spade finesse into the opening bidder working, trumps 3-2 and the ♣J coming down, declarer had a straightforward eleven tricks in diamonds: E/W +150. Advantage DE BOTTON, it would seem, but a strange thing happened on the way to the forum:
West – Malinowski North – D.Gold East – De Botton South – Black
This was one of the three tables where South passed in third seat. When East/West then conducted a transfer auction in which East showed an invitational hand with hearts, Andrew Black emerged from the undergrowth with a double of the final contract.
David Gold led the ♥J and continued with a second heart to Black’s ten at trick two. When Black switched to a club, Malinowski finessed, losing to North’s doubleton ♣J. When North was able to produce a third heart to play through dummy’s king, the defenders had six tricks. That was a spectacular N/S +300 and 10 IMPs to BLACK.
Unsurprisingly, 3NT was the popular contract on this deal, and most declarers managed to bring home their game. The only other exception was in the match between POTTER (USA) and CHATEAU BERTHEAU (Sweden, USA and Switzerland):
West – Brink North – Dwyer East – Drijver South – Huang
South here also passed. With no double to guide him, North led a spade, dummy winning with the ♠9. Declarer knocked out the ♦A, won the spade return, cashed one high club from his hand, and then finished diamonds ending in dummy. By this stage, declarer had a fairly accurate count of the hand, and knew that South had started with at least four clubs. A little learning can be a dangerous thing, though, as Brink quite rightly took a second round club finesse, losing to North’s doubleton jack. The defenders now had three spades and two hearts to take for three down: E/W -150 and 12 IMPs to POTTER.
BLACK won the all-British clash 70-39 and thus collected 15.97 VPs. Their two-match total of 34.44 gave them a narrow advantage over DONNER (USA, Sweden and Romania), who had thumped ROBINSON (USA, Denmark and Israel) 85-28 to give them 33.74 VPs after two matches. In the other group, ZHAO (China, Singapore and Netherlands) had collected 34.21 VPs from big wins, against OBEZIT INT (Turkey) and IRELAND, to lead by almost 10 VPs from FREDIN (Sweden and South Africa).
Board 3 of the third match created mayhem around the room. We’ll take a look at the action from two matches. First, one in which one team could consider themselves at least a little unlucky:
E/W Vul – Dealer South
It is hard to fault this auction. Of course, declarer can make the contract by picking up the trumps, but he is never going to do so in reality. Unlucky: N/S -50. Indeed, in the only two matches where this was a flat board, both sides when one down in Seven Clubs.
West – Bertheau North – Loo East – Zagorin South – Tan
Gideon Tan started with an artificial, strong club and Choon Chau Loo forced to game with a natural Two Hearts after West’s intervention. The key bid in this auction was Loo’s decision to rebid his good six-card suit at his second turn, rather than introduce his moderate clubs. Tan agreed hearts and Blackwood then carried them to the seven level. Although in much the same situation as their counterparts at the other table, in an eight-card fit missing the jack, the Singaporans had chosen the trumps suit that split 3-2: N/S +1510 and a massive 17 IMPs to ZHAO.
Three of the 14 pairs played this hand in hearts, and only the Singapore pair reached the grand slam. Nine pairs went down in Seven Clubs. BLACK gained an undeserved 10-IMP swing against ROBINSON when their North/South pair stopped in Five Clubs, but the most bizarre swing occurred in the match between DONNER and MACAVITY (Netherlands and Belgium).
West – Grue North – Dewit East – Moss South – Vandewiele
Two Diamonds showed hearts, either invitation plus with a six-card suit or game-forcing with five. South’s Two Spades showed a six-card suit and less than three hearts. Dennis Dewit’s 2NT denied as many as two spades and Three Clubs was natural. Although North knows about the eight-card club fit, the deal seems to be a misfit in the majors. Of course, Dewit could have uncovered the partial heart fit by advancing with a fourth-suit Three Diamonds at his third turn, but is his 3NT bid so unreasonable? And, what about South? Yes, Emiel Vandewieile has extra values, but he has no indication at all that his side has a fit, so can you really fault his pass of 3NT?
Although N/S +520 in 3NT is a terrible result with twelve tricks huge in three denominations and the grand slams also odds on, but I don’t see that either of the Belgians did anything that falls into the ‘stupid’ category. That, though, is more than can be said for their teammates. I know that Dutch players love to bid and no one takes much notice of vulnerability these days, but I will leave you to judge which member of the Dutch partnership is just insane and which is completely barking mad:
West – Bijsterveldt North – S.Rimsted East – Schols South – Rotaru
Regular readers of this column will know how often I have pointed out the folly of taking sacrifices on balanced hands, and examples do not come much clearer than this East hand. You can certainly question the merits of West’s Three Diamond overcall this vulnerability, but there seems little doubt that the raise to Four Diamonds has absolutely nothing to commend it. N/S +1100 and 11 IMPs to DONNER.
DONNER scored the biggest win of this round, 96-28, which translated to 19.65 VPs, and they overtook BLACK, who also won, to head Pool A after three matches, ZHAO also recorded a large win, collecting 18.19 VPs, to extend their lead over FREDIN in Pool B.
The big match-up in Round 4 pitted leaders DONNER against second-placed FREDIN.
E/W Vul – Dealer North
At most tables, North opened a weak Two Hearts, East doubled, and West Lebensohled his way to Three Diamonds. Most North/South pairs collected +100, although a couple of declarers dropped an extra trick. In the top match, though, the two Scandinavians in the North seat set the West players the third of this week’s bidding problems. What did you decide to do? Did you retreat to Four Diamonds, take a shot at 3NT or opt to defend?
West – Grue North – Livgard East – Moss South – Aa
Norway’s Alan Livgard’s attempt to take advantage of the vulnerability backfired when Joe Grue made the winning decision to pass his partner’s three-level takeout double. The defense is entitled to two tricks in each minor suit, the ♠A, a club ruff and the ♥Q. The Americans duly collected all seven of those winners to beat the contract by three: E/W +500.
At the other table, Sweden’s Cecilia Rimstedt duplicated Livgard’s opening bid, but her countryman in the West seat opted to play:
West – Fredin North – C.Rimstedt East – Apteker South – Donner
Theoretically, declarer is destined to fail by two tricks on just about any lead. Rimstedt led the ♣5, declarer inserted the eight from dummy, and one of the defenders’ tricks evaporated when Gary Donner won with the queen rather than the nine. Donner cashed the ♥A at trick two but he then had a problem. As it happens, exiting safely with a club or attacking with a low spade would both have taken the contract one down. Even switching to the ♦K is okay too. When Donner, instead, opted for the ♦9, declarer was in the box seat. Fredin won in dummy with the ♦J and and cashed his four club winners.
Declarer’s first discard was a diamond, which perhaps encouraged Donner to discard from that suit when dummy’s last club was cashed. This left declarer with an easy ride to nine tricks: an unlikely E/W +600 and 3 IMPs to FREDIN.
FREDIN won the match 55-34, halting DONNER’s unbeaten run. The other leading team in Pool A, BLACK, also suffered a heavy defeat, collecting just 0.86 VPs from a 79-18 drubbing by MACAVITY, demonstrating that there are no easy matches in this field. At the top of Pool B, ZHAO lost, but narrowly (50-48), to MOSS.
After four of the seven matches in the Round Robin stage, these were the standings:
|POOL A||VPs||POOL B||VPs|
|Ch. Bertheau||31.22||De Botton||42.98|
Four teams from each pool will qualify for the knockout stage. We will be back next week with the best of the action from the remaining three matches, starting with BLACK vs FREDIN as the top match in Round 5.