Great BBO Vugraph Deals #69

Marc Smith visits the knockout stage of Alt Mixed V

Just four teams advanced to the knockout stage of Alt Mixed V. The round robin winners, ALPERTS (USA, Italy, Colombia) would start with a 10.1-IMP advantage over the other surviving American-flagged team, WILSON (USA, Sweden). In the other semi-final, SILLA (Norway) began 6.1 IMPs ahead of ISRAEL.

In a first half lacking in particularly interesting deals, WILSON halved their carryforward disadvantage by winning the stanza 30-25 to trail by 5.1 IMPs at the midway point of the 32-board match. The first half of the other sem-final, though, was all one-way traffic, with SILLA gaining 42-5 to lead by 43.1 at the break.

As usual, before we get to the action, a couple of problems for you to consider. First, with only your side vulnerable, you hold as South:

What do you bid now?

Secondly, with only the opponents vulnerable, you are East holding this collection:

Your partner’s Two Spade bid shows an invitational or better hand with at least five hearts. What do you bid?

Enough from me, it’s time for some action, and things got underway early in the second half:

NS Vul – Dealer East

West – Fuglestad  North – Barel  East – Saelens’de  South – D.Tal

Alison Wilson was left to play peacefully in Four Spades and Alfredo Versace opened with the not-unfriendly A lead, ruffed in dummy. Wilson crossed to hand with the ♣A and played a low diamond towards dummy. It makes no difference what West does, but Versace’s decision to ruff and switch to the ♠10 was not overly testing for declarer. The ♠J was covered by the queen and king. Declarer then cashed the K and ruffed her last heart with dummy’s ♠A. A club ruff to hand allowed Wilson to draw East’s remaining trumps and exit with the 10. With only diamonds left, East had to give declarer the marked diamond finesse for the overtrick. An excellent N/S +450.

Back to this match momentarily. In the other semi-final, this auction was duplicated at the table where the Norwegians held the North/South cards. Noga Tal led the A and Lisa Blagestad discarded a diamond from dummy at trick one. She won the clubs switch perforce in hand with her ace and can still make the contract now if she can play trumps for no loser. A spade to the jack and queen was not the winning option, though.

Yaniz Zack played the K to declarer’s ace and West ruffed. Declarer ruffed the heart continuation in dummy and ran the ♣Q, ditching a diamond. West won with the king and played a third round of hearts and, when declarer declined to ruff with dummy’s lone ace, East had a choice of ways to make another trick for the defense. At the table, he declined to ruff, so declarer won with the K and crossed to the lone ♠A. When East then ruffed the forced club play from dummy, though, declarer was still left with a diamond loser in the endgame: N/S -300.

The Israelis were given a chance for a decent plus at the other table too:

West – Fuglestad  North – Barel  East – Saelens’de  South – D.Tal

Ann Karin Fuglestad

Ann Karin Fuglestad put Michael Barel to the test at the five-level, and he could have settled for a matching +300 by doubling Five Hearts. Pressing on to Five Spades in the quest for a vulnerable game bonus offered far less certainty. Fuglestad also began with the A, ruffed. At trick two, Dana Tal led the Q, covered by the king and ace, and ruffed by West. Fuglestad now avoided the helpful trump switch and, instead, continued hearts. Declarer could do little except ruff with dummy’s ♠J, ensuring a trump trick for East to go along with his high diamond. That was one down, N/S -100 but still 5 IMPs to ISRAEL.

North/South’s bidding earned a chance for a big gain (or a substantial loss) at the second table in the USA matchup, where East got the auction started at an even higher level:

West – Wolpert  North – Hoyos  East – Kranyak  South – Seamon

John Kranyak’s four-level opening silenced South and thus kept North/South out of their spade contract. That was good news and bad news for East/West, as Colombian Carlos Hoyos backed in at the five-level despite a suggestion of strength from West. Janice Seamon-Molson probably checked the backs of the cards to make sure that everyone was playing with the same deck. In the end, though, she could not resist a raise to slam and Jenny Wolpert’s expression of doubt about that decision closed an explosive auction.

Hoyos ruffed the heart lead, crossed to the ♣A, ruffed a heart back to hand, and played the ♣Q to West’s king. He then ruffed the heart continuation and drew West’s last trump. When declarer then cashed his final two trumps, East reduced to the K-J and his three spades, whilst dummy kept A and ♠K-9-x-x. Declarer led a diamond to the ace and a spade back to the ace. In the three-card ending, he had only one legitimate line of play: since a doubleton ♠Q would block the suit, he had no option to lead the jack hoping to pin the doubleton ♠10 in the West hand. Instead, declarer exited with his diamond and finessed on the forced spade return, conceding one down when the cards lie in such a way that marked line would have brought home the slam. N/S -100 and a huge 13 IMPs to WILSON, moving ahead for the first time in the match, when it really should have been a similar number in the other direction.

A few deals later, after ALPERT had regained the lead in the all-American tie and the Israelis had moved a little closer in the other, this deal created a significant swing in both ties.

NS Vul – Dealer North

West – N.Tal  North – Eide  East – Zack  South – Blagestad

Even with a void in partner’s suit, Harald Eide’s non-forcing Two Club bid does seem conservative on this North hand, and it is hard to blame Lisa Blagestad for passing. East led a spade to the jack and king. Declarer cashed one high club, crossed to dummy in diamonds, took the trump finesse, and claimed twelve tricks. A rather inglorious N/S +170 for the Norwegians, but even that could have been a winning score on the deal.

West – Fuglestad  North – Barel  East – Saelens’de  South – D.Tal

Michael Barel’s game-forcing jump to Three Clubs seems a more reasonable description of this hand. Faced with the first of this week’s bidding problems, Dana Tal’s fourth-suit Three Spades seems, for me, a highly questionable choice. Do you really want to play 3NT when partner has shown at least ten cards in the minors (or a very strong 1-3-5-4 shape)? Is there not almost bound to be a weakness in one major or other? If 3NT is making, then surely a minor-suit game will also be safe. Indeed, on this layout, the defense has five tricks against 3NT but declarer can make twelve tricks in either minor thanks to the favorable club position.

My feeling is that South should advance with Three Diamonds over Three Clubs in order to allow partner to show three-card heart support if he has that hand type. If North then bids 3NT, it looks right to remove to Four Clubs, offering partner a choice of minor-suit games.

Not that Ann Karin Fuglestad did her side any favors with her double of Three Spades as it steered her partner away from the winning heart lead. Erik Saelensminde duly led the ♠3 and now the spotlight was on Fuglestad to rescue the Norwegians. She needed to rise with the ♠A and switch to a low heart. When, instead, she inserted the ♠J at trick one, declarer was able to win with the ♠K and cash his nine tricks. Bullet dodged: N/S +600 and 10 IMPs to ISRAEL who were quickly reducing the halftime deficit.

West – Versace  North – v.Prooijen  East – Alpert  South – Wilson

In the same situation, Alison Wilson also bid Three Spades at her second turn. Alfredo Versace was not tempted to double and Claire Alpert duly led the 10 at trick one. When that won the trick, declarer showing out, the defense was not difficult: N/S -100. Could ALPERT’s Colombia/USA combination find the correct denomination?

West – Wolpert  North – Hoyos  East – Kranyak  South – Seamon

Carlos Hoyos

Janice Seamon-Molson raised clubs immediately, thus virtually ensuring her side a plus score on the deal. That the partnership then also reached slam was just gilding the lily. Kranyak did not find the heart lead that would have tested declarer the most, bid instead opened a spade. Jenny Wolpert won with the ♠A and, understandably, tried to cash the A. Carlos Hoyos ruffed, cashed one high club, crossed to the ♠Q, and played a club to the jack. When East followed but could not produce the ♣Q, declarer claimed his twelve tricks: N/S +1370 and 16 IMPs to ALPERT, who were beginning to pull ahead now.

ALPERT won the second half 52-28 to win by what looks like a relatively comfortable 87.1-58. The other match was much closer, with the Israeli comeback falling just short. They won the second half 55-19 , meaning that the Norwegians won the actual match by just 1 IMP, and the tie by 67.1-60 once the carryforward advantage was included. So, the final would be contested by the two teams that had led the round robin stage of the event. It was Europe against the Americas, Norway vs USA/Colombia/Italy, SILLA vs ALPERT.

Having won the round robin stage of the event, ALPERT began with a carryforward advantage of 0.1 IMPs. With just two deals remaining in the 16-board first half, the ALPERT lead stood at 24.1 IMPs. Silla gained 12 IMPs on Board 15, and then came a bidding challenge for the East/West pairs:

EW Vul – Dealer West

West – Fruscoloni  North – Eide  East – Alpert  South – Blaagestad

Alpert’s fourth-suit Three Clubs did not really get the job done. She made one more try with 4NT but, with a minimum opening and no great fit for partner’s known suit, Leo Fruscoloni was never going to do anything but pass. North led a heart, and the Colombian was soon claiming his eleven tricks: E/W +660.

West – Fuglestad  North – Hoyos  East – Saelensmide  South – Seamon

Erik Saelensminde

For the Norwegians, Erik Saelensminde showed a club stopper with 2NT at his second turn. Ann Karin Fuglestad made the obvious raise to 3NT, but Saelensminde continued with Four Clubs, painting a fairly accurate description of his hand. Having already limited her hand, Fuglestad co-operated with a heart cue-bid and, thus encouraged, Saelensminde offered her a choice of minor-suit slams. South speeded up play by leading the ♠A, but that was always going to be the only defensive trick: E/W +1370 and another 12 IMPs to SILLA, who drew the first set 49-49 to trail by just the 0.1-IMP carryforward at the half.

What a wonderful game bridge can be: it is so easy to go from hero to goat in the blink of an eye. The Norwegians moved into the lead for the first time in the match with a 2-IMPs gain on the opening board of the second half, and then came another tricky deal for East/West.

Nil Vul – Dealer East

West – Versace  North – Eide  East – Alpert  South – Blaagestad

Lise Blaagstad chose to overcall in her five-card major. Alfredo Versace showed his five-card heart suit and, with excellent spade stoppers, Claire Alpert had an obvious 2NT bid. Versace’s raise to game ended what looks like a fairly routine auction and the spotlight fell on Blaagstad to find a winning lead. Unfortunately for her, a club stood out by a mile, but it was also the only lead (other than an unlikely ♠K) to give away the contract.

Declarer captured North’s ♣J with her king, and prospects looked poor. Sure, the spade finesse was likely to working, but that was still only seven tricks unless declarer could bring in the hearts. If North should gain the lead, he would surely shoot a club through declarer’s ten and the contract would go whistling down, Even so, it looks like declarer has little chose but to play on hearts. In fact, Alpert started with the ♠Q at trick two. South covered, and there went dummy’s outside entry. Now declarer played a heart to her king and continued with a second heart. South discarded, but what choice did Alpert have but to let North in with the Q?

Of course, this was declarer’s lucky day: even though she had effectively cut herself off from dummy, the distribution was such that North was endplayed after winning his heart trick. He exited with a heart, resurrecting dummy, and declarer was later able to build a diamond for her ninth trick. E/W +400 and advantage ALPERT, it would seem.

West – Fuglestad  North – Hoyos  East – Saelensmide  South – Seamon

At this table, Janice Seamon-Molson chose to overcall in her six-card minor, leaving in reserve the possibility of introducing her spades later depending on how the auction went, and I confess that this is a strategy that I agree with on this hand. Indeed, it worked fantastically well on this deal, for a bizarre reason.

Fuglestad bid Two Spades, showing hearts, a method that is growing in popularity and has some real benefits. (After a suit opening bid and a black-suit overcall up to Three Clubs, the meaning of bids in the two previously unmentioned suits are reversed. As with most transfer-type methods, this allows you to describe many more hand types, and particularly conveniently when responder has the higher-ranking of the two suits.)

The East hand was the second of this week’s bidding problems from the top of this article. My guess is that most of you scratched your head and wondered why I had presented it as a problem when you hold the world’s most obvious 2NT bid.

One problem with the Alt events, and particularly the Mixed, is that a number of the players hook up in non-regular partnerships. My guess is that this is what has happened here, and that Erik simply forgot that Two Spades showed hearts: there simply is no other explanation for his Three Spade and Four Spade bids. Therein lies a word of warning for everyone out there: no matter how good a method or a convention is, it is worse than useless if one of you might forget it. This is particularly true of obscure agreements you may make despite the fact that the situation will reoccur next in five years. Are you really 100% sure that you will both remember what you discussed? If not, then you are better off without specific methods, just playing by the seat of your pants and doing what seems logical. Suffice it to say that the play in 5-X was not pretty: declarer managed to come to just six tricks, which meant E/W -1100 and 17 IMPs to ALPERT.

This time, there was no comeback for the Norwegians. ALPERT won the second half 46-22 and the match by 95.1-71 to take the title.

Next week we will take a look at the most interesting deals from the TampAlt Qualifying event, as teams vie to make it into the main field of the online replacement event for the Fall NABC Nationals, which had originally been scheduled to take place in Tampa, Florida.