January BBO Prime Tournament. Deal analysis.

Thank you for joining January’s BBO Prime Tournament. We hope you enjoyed it!

There were 10 deals in this tournament and 5 of them were taken from a real life event, featured on BBO vugraph. Want to know which deals were “cooked” and see how they were played originally?

The “surprise” deals were boards 1,3,4,6 and 7 in January’s BBO Prime Tournament.


Read below BBO star player and bridge writer extraordinaire Marc Smith’s analysis, along with the context in which the hands were played in real life.


The largest event at the 2019 Michael Seamon Junior United States Bridge Championships in Atlanta was the Under-26 Open. The KAPLAN team (Adam Kaplan/Benjamin Kristensen, Zachary Grossack/Kevin Rosenberg, Arjun Dhir/Yichen Yin) dominated the round robin qualifying stage, losing just one of their eight matches. They then earned their place in the final with an emphatic 192-105 victory over the team captained by Yuchen Xu. The team who finished second behind KAPLAN in the round robin was HALLERMAN (Raphael Hallerman/Sean McNally, Gan Yang/Shaowu Li/Tak Chun Wong). Their semi-final against the team led by Kyle Rockoff (the only team to beat Kaplan in the round robin) finished in a 118-118 tie, with HALLERMAN advancing to the final by virtue of their round robin performance.

The winners of the title would earn the right to represent their country as USA-1 at the 2020 World Junior Championships in Salsomaggiore, Italy next summer. The losers would go into the semi-finals of the playoffs for the USA-2 spot in Italy.

As usual, we begin with some bidding problems for you to consider. We will find out later how your choices would have turned out.

With neither side vulnerable, you hold as West:

What do you bid? If you bid Three Hearts, partner advances with Three Spades. If you bid Four Clubs, partner cue-bids Four Spades. What is your plan?

Next, with only the opponents vulnerable, your hand as West is:

What action, if any, do you take now?

Finally, with neither side vulnerable you are North with this hand:

West’s jump cue-bid is a splinter in support of diamonds. What action do you take now, and what is your plan?

While you mull those over, let’s take a look at the early action. And what action there was, with an amazing nine double-figure swings in the opening 15-board stanza. The respective South players’ judgement was tested on the very first deal:

None VulnerableDealer North

North opened with a natural weak two bid and South advanced with a 2NT inquiry. When West’s Four Hearts came back to him, Kevin Rosenberg decided to take his chances in defense. 

North led the ♣K, ruffed by declarer. After cashing one high trump, Tak Chun Wong unblocked the spades before crossing to dummy in trumps. One diamond went on the ♠A and declarer could lead twice towards the Q for an overtrick. E/W +450.

West – Kaplan North – McNally East – Kristensen SouthHallerman

Raphael Hallerman settled for a defensive raise to Three Spades at his first turn. When that effort failed to buy the contract, he then had to decide whether to defend at the four-level. Despite his A-K-A, South did not rate his defensive chances so he soldiered on to the four-level in spades. With just three trumps and two hearts to be lost in a spade contract, this well-judged sacrifice was set to earn Hallerman a 3-IMP swing, but there was even better news to come. Adam Kaplan bid a fifth heart and Sean McNally opted for the singleton diamond as his opening lead. The defense quickly scored their two top diamonds and a ruff to go plus on the North/South cards: E/W -50 and 11 IMPS to HALLERMAN.

The score had reached 24-12 in favor of KAPLAN by the time Board 8 arrived:

None VulnerableDealer West

Uncontested, East/West conducted a controlled auction to the optimum contract. After four natural bids, Kaplan advanced with a ‘non-serious 3NT’, denying any extra values but preserving space in case his thus-far unlimited partner still harbored slam ambitions. With a minimum for his original 2/1, Ben Kristensen quickly signed off. There were three potential losers, but the diamond trick got away from the defense, so declarer scored an overtrick: E/W +450.

West – Wong North – Grossack East – Yang SouthRosenberg

Kevin Rosenberg’s modest Three Club intervention created a completely different scenario for East/West at this table. With such a minimum opening bid, Tak Chun Wong probably should just have bid just Three Hearts at his second turn. Four Clubs looks like a reasonable alternative, but does it not suggest a little bit more? Should Gan Yang now just sign off in Four Hearts? 

Replace the J with the ♠Q in the West hand and you surely want to get to slam, yet partner will surely pass Four Hearts, so Four Spades seems reasonable to me. Once Blackwood was unleashed, reaching the poor slam was inevitable

The defenders again failed to score the K, but declarer could not avoid a loser in each black suit: E/W -50 and 11 IMPS to KAPLAN. The Great Dealer was clearly in a vindictive mood today, and two deals later came another deal on which you might feel a bit aggrieved to lose IMPs: 

Both VulnerableDealer East

After a natural start to the auction, Kristensen used the fourth suit to try to find three-card heart support. (After 2NT, Three Hearts would be non-forcing, so using the fourth suit usually shows a forcing Three Heart bid.) When Kaplan could bid only 3NT, Kristensen quite sensibly gave up and produced dummy.

North’s heart lead threatened declarer’s communications, but declarer’s club holding is just robust enough. Kaplan won in his hand with the J and immediately set about clubs. South won with the second round with the ♣A and had to cash his spade winners to prevent overtricks. E/W +600.

West – Wong North – Grossack East – Yang SouthRosenberg

I’m not sure that I really understand West’s Three Club bid. Are you really looking for a contract other than 3NT? The 2NT chosen at the other table does look perfectly normal. Having bid Three Clubs rather than 2NT, to then raise hearts on J-5 doubleton does seem a little eccentric. But, still, Four Hearts is hardly a bad contract. You can certainly feel unlucky if it goes down but, when you are struggling to keep pace, bad luck seems to follow you around too. And so it was here. 

Rosenberg led the ♠A and continued with the ♠Q, ruffed in dummy with the 5 and overruffed by North with the 6. A club was returned to South’s ace and Rosenberg continued with a low spade, ruffed with dummy’s J. Normally, declarer would still be okay even after such an unfortunate start but, when he crossed back to the Q to draw trumps, South showed out on the second round. A further trick now had to be lost to the 10: E/W -100 and another 12 IMPs to KAPLAN.

HAMMERMAN had certainly not enjoyed the rub of the green so far, but not all of their bad results could be put down to unfortunate circumstances. Some were entirely self-inflicted. Witness:

N/S VulnerableDealer West

North’s Two Diamond bid was either a normal transfer or exactly invitational with only four hearts. South’s Two Spades showed a maximum with at least four-card heart support and Four Diamonds was a re-transfer. So, what looks like the normal contract was reached. With both spade honors wrong for declarer, the defense seems destined to come to two spade tricks and two aces. Not unreasonably, though, Kaplan opened with the only lead to give declarer a chance, a spade.

Now declarer had a shot. All he had to do was pick up the trumps. Raphael Hallerman won the spade lead with the ace (10 from East, udca), crossed to dummy in diamonds and led a heart to his king. He then crossed back in diamonds and played a second trump. East produced the last missing low card, so now declarer had to guess: put up the queen or finesse against the jack?

Hallerman went up with the queen and now the defenders had four tricks again: E/W +100. It would be unlucky to lose a game swing on this deal, wouldn’t it? Well. Not exactly…

West – Wong North – Grossack East – Yang SouthRosenberg

Psyching was much more prevalent many moons ago, when I was playing junior bridge, but I have plenty of sympathy with East’s One Spade opening here. In this position and vulnerability, I suspect that an expert bidding panel would vote about half to pass and half to take some action with choices including One Heart, One Spade, 1NT and perhaps even a weak two. So, whilst some people might blame East for this debacle, I would lay very little of the blame in that quarter.

Warned by South’s 1NT overcall, Wong bid his hand with Two Spades. If he had wanted to be super aggressive, he might have chosen something like a Three Club fit-jump, but he is a spade short for that action. Two Spades is essentially what the hand is worth. 

I presented this situation to you in the problems at the start, and I’m sure you all passed quietly, wondering what else you might do. In my opinion, to bid again over Four Hearts is truly… I’ll leave you to insert your own adjectives here.

To say that the play in Four Spades Doubled was not pretty would be an understatement. Declarer managed just four tricks, two trumps and two aces. E/W a -1400 phantom sacrifice and a massive 17 IMPs to KAPLAN with no complaints about bad luck this time.

The set closed with another super-firecracker from The Great Dealer. Time to back your judgement:

None VulnerableDealer East

This is the last of the problems presented at the start of this article. You have zero defense and enormous support for partner’s suit. Just how many spades are you prepared to bid? To my mind, selling out at the six-level is just too dangerous. Yes, you might push the opponents into a grand slam, but you are probably going to save over that too and risk losing an extra 200 rather than take a chance defending a high-level contract that might make. Having said that, this deal was just about the only misstep made by Grossack/Rosenberg, who turned in an otherwise exceptional set.

South led a spade but declarer has only three discards, so the defenders came to the A at the end anyway. E/W +920.

West – Kaplan North – McNally East – Kristensen SouthHallerman

At this table, West only showed a high-card invitational or better diamond raise on his first turn, and I have plenty of respect for Sean McNally’s initial pass. Yes, you might pre-empt now but if the opponents bid again do you have a plan? Once he found out that West had a really good hand, McNally took a unilateral decision to save, and quite right he was too.

West cashed his two club winners, but declarer had the rest once the heart finesse worked. E/W +100 and 13 IMPs to HALLERMAN.

KAPLAN had enjoyed a huge first stanza and had one foot on the plane to Italy already, leading by 67 IMPs (92-25). KAPLAN made further gains in the second and third set and eventually won the match by 96 IMPs (214-118), earning themselves the berth as USA-1 at the World Championships in Italy next summer. 

The HALLERMAN team lost in the semi-final of the playoffs to decide the second US team for Italy. The final came down to a match between the teams captained by Isaac Stephani and Yewen Fan. By a margin of 177-109, STEPHANI (Isaac Stephani, Hakan Berk, Louis-Amaury Beauchet, Nolan Chang, David Soukup) earned the trip to Italy as USA-2.  

Next week we will be back in Atlanta again, to see who will qualify to represent the USA in the Under-16 and the Under-26 Girls events in Italy.