Marc Smith visits the Round Robin stage of Minor Alt Invitational II
Minor Alt Invitational II returned to BBO VuGraph after the excitement of MontreAlt with a new format, which allowed 14 teams to participate rather than the eight to which earlier events had been limited. In the round robin stage, the field was divided into two pools with each team playing a complete round robin of 24-board matches against the seven teams in the opposite pool. Last week, we left things after four matches. These were the standings in the two pools:
|POOL A||VPs||POOL B||VPs|
|Ch. Bertheau||31.22||De Botton||42.98|
With the leading four teams from each pool qualifying for the knockout stage, just about everyone was still in with a chance of advancing with three matches remaining.
As usual, we begin our coverage with some problems for you to consider. First, with only the opponents vulnerable, you hold as North:
This auction might produce a few questions for you to consider. To which side does this hand belong? Which pair, if either, is sacrificing? Would a pass from you now be forcing? If so, what message does it send to partner?
What action, if any, do you take?
Next, with only your side vulnerable, you are North holding this promising collection:
East’s 1NT is a 9-12 HCP mini and West’s Two Spades is natural and non-invitational. What action do you take?
Whether you jump to Four Hearts or make a Three Spade cue-bid (hearts and a minor), East bids Four Spades and your partner doubles. What now?
Finally, with just your side vulnerable, you hold as North:
Your Two Club opening shows either 20-21 balanced or any game-forcing hand. Partner’s double of Three Clubs probably means the same as it would with your regular partner, so either takeout or just showing a weak hand.
What action, if any, do you take?
While you mull those over, let’s dive straight into the action from Round Five, where the top match features the two teams in second place in their respective pools, BLACK (England and Sweden) against FREDIN (Sweden, Norway and South Africa). Board 3 presented one North player with the first of this week’s bidding problems:
E/W Vul – Dealer South
Top players will give you a chance for a good board more often than you might expect. Taking those chances, though, is not always so easy. Consider the problem from Andrew McIntosh’s position. Who does this hand belong to? Which side is sacrificing? Surely, West must have some expectation of making eleven tricks at this vulnerability, mustn’t he?
We can all see from the full diagram that it is the South African, Alon Apteker, who has floated the boat out on a bunch of tram tickets despite the vulnerability. West did indeed expect to get close to making eleven tricks when he competed to the five-level, but McIntosh could still have collected a massive +800 by doubling. Instead, he decided to take a two-way shot at Six Diamonds, hoping that either (or both) Five Hearts and/or Six Diamonds would be making. Neither East nor South had quite the distribution for which he hoped. Peter Fredin led the ♣K and continued with the ♣A at trick two: N/S -50.
Around the room, exactly half of the 14 North/South pairs played this deal in Five Diamonds for N/S +400. One stopped to double Four Hearts for N/S +500 and a couple played diamond partscores for N/S +150. The only other North/South pairs to go minus were in 3NT and Four Spades. Perhaps unsurprisingly, no other East/West pair ventured to the five-level. Indeed, in the replay they bid only once, at the two-level, so North/South virtually had the auction to themselves:
West – Black North – Livgard East – D.Gold South – Aa
Allan Livgard self-alerted his Four Club bid with the explanation ‘good raise in ♠ or ♦ I hope’. After cue-bidding in hearts, Livgard then attempted to sign off in Five Diamonds, but it soon became apparent that Terje Aa had got only half of the message, as he clearly thought that spades was the agreed suit.
All was not lost, though. Andrew Black led the ♣A and then had a problem. His partner’s ♣8 was not particularly helpful, since would he not play that card both when it was a singleton and when he held ♣Q-8 doubleton? (My fellow commentator, David Bird, suggests that at the five-level or higher you should play the queen from Q-x if you are playing standard count.) I have not come across this idea before, but there is plenty of logic too it, so another question for you to ask your regular parner.
The question faced by Andrew Black was, ‘Does declarer hold his actual hand, or something like ♠AQ9xx ♥x ♦AKQ10xx ♣10?’ If the latter, then trying to cash a second club would enable declarer to ruff, draw trumps in two rounds, and then discard all three of dummy’s hearts on his spades before and then ruffing his heart loser in dummy. There seems to be little choose between the two options other than as little as four spades to the nine opposite would still be enough to defeat the contract if you try to cash a club and declarer ruffs.
Black tried to cash the ♥A at trick two. Declarer ruffed, cashed the top spades, and played a third spade. Black ruffed with the ♦6 but declarer overruffed with the ♦J, threw his club on the ♥K, then played one round of trumps before leading a fourth round of spades. With East holding both the remaining spade and the missing trump, declarer was able to ruff successfully with the ♦3 and claim twelve tricks. A spectacular N/S +920 and 14 IMPs to FREDIN.
FREDIN won the match 60-31, collecting 15.69 VPs in the process. At the top of Pool B, ZHAO did even better, collecting 17.25 VPs from a 70-29 win against HARRIS. A 53-64 loss by POTTER against the Turks, OBEZIT INT, meant that the gap between second and third widened in Pool B. At the top of Pool A, DONNER collected 14.92 VPs from a 57-33 win against BALDURSSON to extend their lead at the top, while MOSS beat DE BOTTON to move into third spot in Pool A.
Round 6 heralded the clash of the two leading teams, DONNER (USA, Sweden and Romania) and ZHAO (China, Singapore and Netherlands).
Most East/West pairs struggled with the bidding challenge presented by Board 2:
N/S Vul – Dealer East
Slam (in notumps or clubs) essentially needs clubs 3-2 with a chance of a winning finesse (depending on who declares and the opening lead) bolstering the odds if clubs do not break. Getting to slam is rarely easy, though, when a suit like the clubs here is involved. And so it proved:
West – Hult North – Dwyer East – Hallberg South – Potter
West – Baldursson North – Hanlon East – Gudjohnson South – McGann
Or, in the top match:
West – Verhees North – C.Rimstedt East – v.Prooijen South – Donner
A succession of E/W +490 when, although the clubs do not behave, the spade finesse provides the twelfth trick. The star American pair in the DONNER team did have the machinery to solve the conundrum, though:
West – Grue North – Zhao East – Moss South – Muller
One Club was strong and artificial and Joe Grue’s One Heart showed any hand with 12+ HCP. Thereafter, Brad Moss just asked (including with his pass of North’s spade overcall). Grue showed 6+ clubs with no second suit (with 2NT), and then either 3-3-1-6 or (32)-1-7 (with 4♣). Four Spades was RKC for diamonds, so Five Diamonds showed two key cards without the ♦Q. Six Diamonds left room for Grue to show a major-suit king, but he had none so the partnership alighted safely in the top spot.
On a spade lead, declarer could afford to finesse, as he will need the king onside anyway if clubs do not break. On the heart lead found at the table, Grue won with the jack, established his clubs, and eventually finessed in spades for his contract. E/W +990 and 11 IMPs to DONNER.
Only one other pair managed to reach slam successfully. (Two others reached slam, but the pair who got to Six Diamonds were not happy with the result).
West – Malinowski North – Ogus East – De Botton South – Mumcuoglu
Rah! Let’s hear it for strong jump shifts, which are, to my mind, the only way to get the playing strength of this sort of responding hand across. Yes, they do not come up often but at least when they do so they help. It seems to me that the modern treatment of intermediate jump shifts to the three-level always leave opener with an impossible guess whenever he has extra values, so I would question their actual effectiveness. They may solve one problem but, in doing so, they create another. 10 IMPs to DE BOTTON when the Turks played 3NT at the other table.
DONNER won the top-of-the-tables clash against ZHAO but by only a modest margin, 58-46, meaning that both teams retained their place atop their respective groups. In Pool A, BLACK returned to winning ways with a vengeance by whitewashing POTTER 20-0 (99-19). FREDIN remained comfortably in second place in Pool B despite a narrow (57-69) loss to CHATEAU BERTHEAU.
With one match remaining, these were the standings:
|POOL A||VPs||POOL B||VPs|
|Ch. Bertheau||48.58||De Botton||65.01|
Surprisingly, all but two teams were still in with a chance of making the knockout stage, although POTTER would probably need a big win in their final match (against IRELAND) if they were to catch either of the teams ahead of them in Pool B. With only 8.58 VPs separating the bottom four teams in Pool A, though, a big win for any of those four could elevate them into the last knockout spot.
At the top, ZHAO vs BLACK and FREDIN vs MOSS rated to provide excellent entertainment for those tuning in to watch the final round on BBO VuGraph. They did not have to wait long for the action to start. This was Board 2:
N/S Vul – Dealer East
The North hand surely looked like a really promising collection when Chen Zhao picked it up, but by the time the auction got to him on the first round it had all-but turned to dust. A One Diamond opening on his left and a pre-emptive jump in clubs by his partner rather stymied Zhao’s ambitions, and he settled for the practical jump to game in his strong suit, aware that even that might be too high.
David Gold’s trump lead put paid to the possibility of declarer scoring a diamond ruff in dummy, so Zhao drew trumps and led a club towards the king. Gold took his ace and the ♦K provided declarer with an entry to his tenth trick: N/S +620.
North was given a much tougher ride by the Dutch world champions at the other table, where Gunnar Hallberg was faced with the second of this week’s bidding problems:
Bauke Muller opened a 9-12 mini notrump and Simon de Wijs removed via an old-fashioned (pre-transfers) natural and non-invitational Two Spades. Hallberg’s first decision was whether to start with a Three Spade cue-bid, showing hearts and a minor, or just to settle for a natural jump to game in his long suit. Despite the huge disparity between his two suits, Hallberg opted for the former, and then had to decide what to do when his partner doubled East’s Four Spade bid.
Passing and collecting +500 for a 3-IMP loss on the deal is the best that North can do in theory, but it is hard to criticize the Swede’s decision to bid again. Not that all was lost, as Muller opened the defense with the ♠A. Declarer ruffed, crossed to dummy with the ♦K, and advanced the ♠Q on which West followed with a low card.
Looking at the full diagram, it is easy to see that the winning line of play is pitch a minor-suit loser on the ♠Q. Declarer can then ruff back to hand, ruff a diamond with dummy’s singleton trump, return hand with a ruff and draw trumps. Unfortunately for Hallberg, there was an equally viable line for the contract, simply playing for diamonds to split 4-3, which did not need West to hold the ♠K.
There are two conflicting arguments. East clearly holds four spades, which makes a 4-3 diamond break more likely as many pairs prefer not to open 1NT on 5422 shapes. Against that, in this position would East not have led the ♠K if he held A-K? Knowing your opponents methods would obviously help here.
Not unreasonably, Hallberg ruffed the spade, ruffed a diamond, and ruffed a spade back to hand. When West showed out .on the third round of diamonds, though, he was one down: N/S -100 and 12 IMPs to ZHAO.
Only one other East/West pair forced this decision on North, and that was in the other top match:
West – Moss North – Livgard East – Lee South – Aa
Allan Livgard had a much easier pass of the double, so now it came down to whether the defenders could manage to collect all of their six tricks. Livgard began with two top hearts (South pitching a club) and then needed to switch to his club at trick three. When, instead, he continued with a third high heart, declarer was in with a chance. Sylvia Moss ruffed in dummy and Terje Aa declined to overruff. When Moss then led a diamond from dummy, Aa won with the ♦K and was apparently endplayed. He tried the ♣K, which surrendered his trick in that suit. Exiting with a low trump would not have given a trick away, but the odds are that he would then later have been endplayed with his trump winner to give up his club trick. N/S +300 and 8 IMPs to MOSS when Jacek Kalita made eleven tricks in Four Hearts in the replay.
A couple of deals later, Gunnar Hallberg was again in the hot seat, asked to solve the last of the problems from the top of this article:
Hallberg’s Two Club opening showed either 20-21 balanced or any game-forcing hand and Simon Hult self-alerted his double of Three Clubs as takeout. I suspect that many pairs would play South’s double as just showing a weak hand, which leaves North with a similar problem, although perhaps the chances of a heart fit are improved facing the takeout double.
The Swedes chose to defend and found themselves able to take only five tricks, two trumps and three major-suit winners. N/S +100 was poor recompense for the vulnerable game bonus available in hearts. In the replay, North/South also had the chance to defend at the three-level:
West – Black North – Zhao East – D.Gold South – Verhees
Chen Zhao started with a strong, artificial One Club. David Gold’s 1NT overcall showed both minors and Loul Verhees’s pass limited his hand to 0-5 HCP. Here, too, the opponents were at the three-level in a minor but, with diamonds trumps, defending was far less attractive on this North hand. Zhao bid his five-card major and Verhees, with a maximum and a fit, had an easy raise to game. There was little to the play: the defenders made their three minor-suit winners and declarer claimed the rest: N/S a painless +620 and 11 IMPs to ZHAO.
ZHAO won the match 78-25 to cement their position at the top of Pool B. Despite this loss, BLACK was still comfortably installed safely in the second spot in Pool A. MOSS beat FREDIN 36-16 and DE BOTTON scored a 57-37 win against DONNER. Those two winning sides ensured that they would finish third in their respective groups, whilst the losers had already secured their places in the top two.
The major interest was in the race for the final qualifying spot in Pool A. The fourth-placed team going in, CHATEAU BERTHEAU, suffered a 31-56 loss to BALDURSSON whilst both of the teams behind them picked up wins. IRELAND beat POTTER 38-25 and HARRIS saw off MACAVITY 46-25. Close, but no cigar! The upshot was that the British quartet advanced whilst the Irish had to settle for fifth place, just 0.12 VPs behind.
These were the final standings:
|POOL A||VPs||POOL B||VPs|
The leading teams each had first choice of quarter-final opponents from the remaining three qualifiers in their group. From Pool A, DONNER chose to play HARRIS, leaving BLACK to take on MOSS. So, two USA vs GB ties there. In Pool B, ZHAO also opted to play the fourth-placed finishers, MACAVITY, so it was China vs Benelux. That left the third team flying the Union Jack, DE BOTTON, against FREDIN (who have switched back and forth between the Swedish and South African flags) in the remaining quarter-final.
We will be back next week with the best of the action from those quarter-final matches.