Great BBO Vugraph Deals #65

Marc Smith visits the knockout stage of Minor Alt Invitational II

The 14-team field was divided into two pools of seven teams each. After three days of intense competition, four teams from each pool emerged to contest the knockout stage of Minor Alt Invitational II. The leading team in each pool had earned the right to choose their 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/Singapore/Netherlands vs Benelux in that tie. 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. As group winners, both DONNER and ZHAO began their quarter-final matches with a 10,1-IMP carryforward advantage. FREDIN and BLACK both started 6.1 IMPs in front in the other ties.

As usual, we begin our coverage with some problems for you to consider. First, with only your side vulnerable, you hold as East:


South’s 3NT opening is ‘Gambling’, showing a solid minor and little outside. What action, if any, do you take?

Next, vulnerable against not, you are North holding this collection:


What action do you take?

Finally, with neither side vulnerable, you hold as North:


What, if anything, do you open with this shapely eight-count?

While you mull those over, we’ll dive straight into the action, which began early in the first stanza of the 24-board quarter-finals. On Board 3 with just E/W vulnerable, three of the East players were faced with the first of the bidding problems above:


What do you do when LHOs Gambling 3NT opening comes around to you?

Two of the three, John Lesmeister for MACAVITY and Sylvia Moss for MOSS, went quietly and conceded a non-vulnerable game for their trouble. Only Janet De Botton climbed in with Four Spades. North doubled on the way out and partner put down a relatively flat six-count including the ♠J and the ♣K. Unfortunately for DE BOTTON, South was able to score two club ruffs with his 3-1-8-1 shape, so that was N/S +1100 and 12 IMPs to FREDIN.

The next deal produced a significant swing in three of the four matches:

Both Vul – Dealer West


In FREDIN vs DE BOTTON, Terje Aa’s Two Diamonds response was either a spade raise with 3-7 HCP or a natural game force. When he then showed the weak hand with his Two Spade rebid, Allan Livgard settled for the obvious game. Dummy was an ultra-suitable maximum, but slam still needed the diamond finesse and reasonable breaks in both majors. Everything worked: N/S +680.

West – McIntosh  North – Volcker  East – Paske South – Bessis


In MOSS vs BLACK, Thomas Bessis began with a standard simple raise of spades, and Thomas Volcker’s Three Hears was then a natural game force rather than a game try. This allowed Bessis to suggest some interest with Three Spades, and Volcker’s Four Diamonds then showed a diamond control and a club shortage. Volcker settled for Four Spades at his next turn and, when Bessis then made one more try, he decided he had already done enough, so he passed. Closer, but still no cigar: N/S +680.

In ZHAO vs MACAVITY, North/South were told that the diamond finesse was likely to be working, but the cost of that information was a level of bidding. It was a handicap they could not overcome:

West – Ros  North – De Wijs  East – Lesmeister  South – Zhao


Gert-Jan Ros’s Two Club opening was either strong and artificial or a weak two in diamonds. Simon de Wijs doubled and then doubled again when Lesmeister’s non-forcing Two Diamond relay came back to him. Chen Zhao’s predicable but unhelpful Three Club response left de Wijs with only unpalatable options, and 3NT seems like a reasonable choice. Perhaps a Three Diamond cue-bid on the second round would have shown both majors? If South then advances with a return cue-bid, perhaps you might get higher?

On a club lead, declarer in 3NT would have needed that suit either breaking 4-3 or blocked, but Lesmesiter led a diamond and declarer was soon claiming twelve tricks: N/S +690.

In the replays, only one of the three North/South pairs had the auction to themselves:

West – v.Prooijen  North – Dewitt  East – Verhees  South – Vandewiele


MACAVITY’s Belgian pair also started with a single raise, but Dennis Dewitt chose to show an undisclosed shortage (via 2NT) rather than bid his second suit. Emiel Vandewiele showed some interest when he relayed to ask which shortage and, when Dewitt showed a club shortage and a slam try (4♣), he showed his heart control. Dewitt had heard enough now, and Blackwooded himself to the slam.

East led a club to declarer’s ace. Dewitt knocked out the ace of trumps, tested hearts and took the diamond finesse. Everything was hunky-dory for the Belgians: N/S +1430 and 12 IMPs to MACAVITY.

West – Lee  North – Gold  East – Moss  South – Black


David Gold

Roger Lee opened a natural weak two and David Gold cue-bid to show both majors. Andrew Black showed excellent appreciation for his meager values and forced to game. Gold now decided his hand was worth slam and invited his partner to choose a denomination. Black, with equal length, and perhaps preferring that his esteemed partner declared, advanced with Six Clubs. East led a diamond, although there never was a spade ruff available anyway, and when trumps behaved declarer was home: N/S +1430 and 13 IMPs to BLACK.

It is always entertaining for the masses watching on BBO VuGraph when an expert fails in a contract that every average club player would make easily. In FREDIN vs DE BOTTON:

West – Fredin  North – Hoftaniska  East – Apteker  South – Charlsen


Peter Fredin did not open with a weak two, but he backed in with a diamond overcall at the three-level at his second turn. A couple of cue-bids and an RKCB later and the Norwegians were in slam.

Alon Apteker led the ♣J to the ace. He then won the second round of trumps and exited with a third round. Declare won in dummy, took the diamond finesse, and cashed the A, East following with the 10 and then the 3. Hoftaniska now cashed the K and played a second heart… to dummy’s 9, a surprised West won with the J to put the slam one down.

Declarer clearly decided that West must hold a shortage somewhere for his vulnerable three-level intervention on a poor suit. The opening lead placed West with the ♣Q (and probably the king) and he had followed twice in spades, ergo he must be 2-1-7-3. I can see the logic, but it does seem to be a fairly extreme position to take particularly when Fredin, hardly the world’s most conservative bidder, would surely have bid on the first round with that shape. Perhaps declarer failed to notice that West had passed as Dealer: the upshot was N/S -100 and 13 IMPs to FREDIN.

The action continued apace, with the very next deal generating a double-digit swing in all four matches:

N/S VUL – Dealer North


Slam in either pointed suit is an excellent contract, but the two results in the FREDIN vs DE BOTTON match were duplicated in two of the other ties:

West – Fredin  North – Hoftaniska  East – Apteker  South – Charlsen


The problem is clearly in South’s failure to appreciate the significance of A-Q-x in the suit his partner opened and rebid. For me, a Three Heart splinter over Two Diamonds would have described this hand quite well. Advancing with Four Diamonds over 3NT would, I suspect, also have led to slam. Indeed, it is hard to see what or when North could have done anything differently. N/S +680.

West – Malinowksi  North – Livgard  East – De Botton  South – Aa


After the same start, Terje Aa did advance with Four Diamonds over 3NT. Four Spades was alerted as a cue (noting also that Four Hearts would have been Blackwood) and Aa now checked via RKCB and bid the slam once his partner showed two key cards. An opening heart lead might have slowed declarer down, but DE BOTTON kicked off with the ♣A before switching to a heart. With the ♣K now an entry to dummy’s high spades, declarer could simply draw trumps and claim. N/S +1370 and 12 IMPs to FREDIN. HARRIS and BLACK both gained in the same way.

In ZHAO vs MACAVITY, De Wijs/Zhao bid unopposed to Four Spades (N/S +680) at one table. Their East/West pair managed to set the Belgians a problem, though,

West – c.Prooijen  North – Dewitt  East – Verhees  South – Vandewiele


Ricco van Prooijen decided that his shapely four-count justified action, so he entered with a Two Diamond cue-bid, showing at least 5-5 in the rounded suits. Louk Verhees jumped to game and now Vandewiele advanced with 4NT, self-alerted as “Blackwood for spades, I think”.

Dewitt’s Five Diamond response was not alerted or annotated, but it seems clear that he interpreted 4NT as some sort of takeout bid, and thus he simply picked his preferred trump suit. For his part, Vandewiele thought Five Diamonds showed 0/3 key cards. His 5NT was described as asking for specific kings so, when Dewitt again expressed a wish to play in diamonds, Vandewiele thought he had found three aces and the K opposite, so who can blame him for bidding the grand. The first sign that something had gone wrong was East’s double. The second was that West had an ace to lead.

So shocked was he by the sight of dummy, that declarer failed to realize that he had been gifted the only lead to let the contract make. He can ruff the A, cross to dummy’s trump, and run the Q, setting up his thirteenth trick: declarer makes six spades, six diamonds and one heart. Instead, declarer simply led dummy’s low heart from dummy at trick three, ruffed it and drew trumps. With two diamond entries to dummy, declarer could still have recovered, but he simply conceded a trick to the ♣A and claimed one down. N/S -200 meant 13 IMPs to ZHAO, whereas scoring N/S +2470 would have been 18 IMPs in the other direction. Indeed, had N/S even just flattened this board, they would have won the match by 1 IMP.

After just five deals, HARRIS led DONNER 20-12.1 (having started 10.1 behind), and they would win the first stanza 21-5 to lead by 5.9 IMPs at the midway point. ZHAO led MACAVITY 25.1-18, so they had lost a couple of IMPs from their carryforward and, by halftime, MACAVITY had edged ahead, by 7.9 IMPs.

In the two matches where the initial carryforward had been 6.1, the trailing teams both now had a mountain to climb. FREDIN outscored DE BOTTON 37-2 over the first five deals and by halftime the lead was 50.1 IMPs. MOSS conceded 41 unanswered IMPs over the same five deals against BLACK, and the British team led by 43.1 at the break.

Those two matches, though, would head in completely opposite directions in the second half. In the first, FREDIN continued to pile on the IMPs and eventually ran out winners by an emphatic 106.1-17. In the other, the MOSS fight back began on the third deal of the second half, another which produced a swing in every match:

N/S Vul – Dealer South


It was the BLACK North/South pair that was given the toughest ride on this deal:

West – Kalita  North – Hallberg  East – Klukowski  South – Hult


Even the failing grand slam is a decent proposition after West’s takeout double, but the Swedes failed to get beyond game, and who can really blame them? Can Gunnar Hallberg really guess that there are no major-suit losers on this auction? N/S +620.

West – McIntosh  North – Volcker  East – Paske  South – Bessis


Thomas Bessis

Thomas Volcker was one of a number of players called upon to solve the second of this week’s bidding problems. Facing only a one-level response, Bessis had committed to the four-level. Trusting the opponents for at least a ten-card fit, Volcker rolled out Blackwood and bid the excellent slam. N/S +1370 and 13 IMPs to MOSS.

All four matches produced an identical pair of results, many after an auction similar to the second table here. Those who did something akin to Volcker at their second turn gained 13 IMPs, whilst those who bid only Five Clubs conceded a slam swing.

With the set drawing to a close, Volcker/Bessis successfully bid and made a slam off a cashing ace-king, 12 IMPs to MOSS, and then came:

None Vul – Dealer West


Gunnar Hallberg

The last of the bidding problems presented at the top of this article constituted the first decision on this deal: what, if anything, to open on North’s shapely eight-count. The problem with Two Spades is that you have so much more playing strength than would usually be the case, which creates a dilemma when the auction comes back to you at the five-level. Although Five Hearts was booked to go two or three down, surely only the strictest of adherents to the old-fashioned idea that having pre-empted you don’t then bid again would pass to enable South to extract the penalty.

Gunnar Hallberg pressed on to Five Spades and the spotlight then fell on Michal Klukowski: could he find the spade or diamond lead needed to hold declarer to ten tricks? No. He fished out the A, setting up the king for a diamond discard. Declarer ruffed, cashed the ♣A, crossed to the A , took his discard and played a second round of clubs. West ruffed and returned a trump, but declarer was still able to ruff two of his losing clubs in dummy: N/S +450.

West – McIntosh  North – Volcker  East – Paske  South – Bessis


Thomas Volcker started with One Spade. After Tom Paske’s Michaels cue-bid (hearts and a minor), Thomas Bessis advanced with 2NT, showing either an invitational spade raise with four trumps or an invitational plus raise with three. When the auction came back to him, Bessis decided that he was worth one more try, and he advanced with a diamond cue-bid. With first-round control in both other side suits and perhaps knowing they were probably still behind, Volcker accepted the invitation with a jump to slam.

Here, too, Paske opened the A and the early play followed the same line as the first table. When he ruffed the second round of clubs, though, Andrew McIntosh (perhaps feeling the need to get his name into this report just to prove there was someone not named Thomas at the table) exited with a diamond rather than a trump. Now Volcker had three trumps left in dummy and could make the rest of the tricks on a crossruff: N/S a spectacular +980 and another 12 IMPs to MOSS.

In FREDIN vs DE BOTTON, one North also opened One Spade:

West – Fredin  North – Bakshi  East – Apteker  South – Townsend


David Bakhshi started with One Spade but was then allowed to show a minimum opening after Tom Townsend’s invitational-plus cue-bid raise and Peter Fredin’s pass. Fredin’s thinking was probably that he was prepared to defend if the opponents did not bid game, whereas biding Four Hearts over Three Hearts was all too likely to push them into it. The effect of his delayed Five Heart bid, though, was that North could now pass, having already shown the nature of his hand. South was, thus, able to take the easy plus score available on defense rather than risking the five-level.

The defense began with two top spades, forcing dummy. Declarer advanced the K, and Townsend won to play another spade. Declarer ruffed with dummy’s Q, played a diamond to his hand, and needed to continue playing minors to get out for two down. When Fredin tried the J he was in trouble. He ran the jack so South’s king and Townsend returned a trump. Declarer won in hand to lead a club up, but North won and delivered an unwelcome ruff and discard with a fourth round of spades, allowing South to pitch his second club. Whatever he did, declarer now had to lose a trick to the 10: N/S +500.

For the record, three players opened that North hand One Spade and only one chose Two Spades. Two opted for Three Spades and one passed. At only one of the eight tables was North saved that particular decision:

West – Malinowksi  North – Livgard  East – De Botton  South – Aa


Artur Malinowki opened the West hand with a natural, weak Two Diamonds, which had the effect of adding sufficient impetus to the Norwegian auction to send them overboard without either player doing anything obviously wrong.

Like so many before, Janet De Botton also started with the A. Allan Livgard ruffed and immediately crossed to the A to take his discard. He then played a club to the queen and king. With declarer having not scored a trick with the ♣A, East was under no pressure to find a trump return. Her heart exit was ruffed by declarer, who now tried to cash the ♣A. Malinowski ruffed to put the contract one down and he could have collected an additional undertrick by removing one of dummy’s trumps at this stage. When he played a diamond, declarer could crossruff for eleven tricks: N/S -50 and 11 IMPs to DE BOTTON.

The MOSS comeback proved to be just too little, too late: they won the second half 48-11 to tie the match 52-52, meaning that BLACK’s 6.1-IMP carryforward advantage was the margin by which they advanced to the semi-final.

The other two quarter-finals both featured a group winner who had thus begun with a 10.1-IMP advantage. Having lost the first half 34-16 to MACAVITY, ZHAO won the second half 34-14 to edge the match by 2 IMPs without needing their carryforward. Remembering the first-half deal that swung 31 IMPs, though, it is clear that the Dutch/Belgian combination who reached MontreAlt via the qualifying stage were proving formidable opponents in these events. Having wiped out the deficit to lead by 5.9 IMPs at halftime, HARRIS won the second half 29-26 too, thus ending the challenge from DONNER, the winners of Pool B earlier in the week.

The semi-final lineup would be FREDIN (Sweden, South Africa and Norway) against HARRIS (England and Bulgaria), and BLACK (England and Sweden) against ZHAO (China, Singapore and Netherlands). This would be the first Alt event of the year with no American team in the semi-final. We will be back next week to see the best of the action from the closing stages.