February BBO Prime Tournament. Deal analysis.

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

There were 10 deals in this tournament and 4 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, 2, 3 and 4 in February’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.


We return this week for our final visit to the Michael Seamon Junior United States Bridge Championships in Atlanta. There was only one qualification spot on offer for the World Championships in Italy in the Under-16 and the Under-26 Girls categories, so it would be “Winner Takes All”.

In the Under-16 event, CEDRONE (Marley Cedrone/Zacharia Posternak, Michael Haas/Samuel Pahk, Eric Xiao/Arthur Gong) went into the final with a 16.83-IMP carryover advantage from the qualifying stages. Their opponents were GE (Brandon Ge/Olivia Schireson, Kayden Ge/Charlie Chen, Brian Zhang/Ethan Xie). 

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 East:

What do you bid now? Do you have a plan?

Next, vulnerable against not, your hand as West is:

Partner’s 2NT is natural (11-12 HCP with a heart stopper). What action, if any, do you take now?

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

Partner opens a 15-17 1NT and you transfer to hearts. What do you do now?

While you mull those over, let’s take a look at the early action. This deal from the opening stanza helped the GE team cut into their opponents’ carryforward advantage:

None VulnerableDealer West

Not unreasonably, Chen decided he was too strong for a natural overcall at any level, so he started with a takeout double of West’s One Club opening. How many clubs would you now bid on that East hand? Eric Xiao decided that three was the right number. South was happy to introduce his diamonds at the three-level but, quite rightly, judged he had done enough when North then jumped to game in spades. 

Xiao led the ♣10 to his partner’s ace. Lacking clairvoyance, Gong returned a trump, which allowed declarer to claim eleven tricks. With a Five Clubs-Doubled costing only 300, N/S +450 looked like a possible small gain for North/South.

West – B Ge North – Haas East – Schireson South Pahk

After the same start, Olivia Schireson upped the ante to the four-level on the East cards. Whilst not actually pushing the opponents overboard, this had the effect of injecting sufficient impetus into the auction that North/South landed themselves in the soup. Samuel Pahk not unreasonably thought his seven-card suit worthy of a mention facing a takeout double. Unfortunately, this was enough to enthuse his partner. 

Michael Haas tried RKCB for diamonds, but discovered that his partner held no key-cards. They were able to put the brakes on at the five-level, but that was already too high when Schireson led the 3. West won with the A and duly delivered his partner’s ruff. The club switch then garnered the third trick for the defense: N/S -50 and 11 IMPs to GE.

GE won the first stanza 47-34 to trail by just 3.83. CEDONE won the second set 51-31, though, to recover their advantage and slightly more. The ambitious nature of youthful bidding did not do the GE recovery any favors on this deal from the third stanza:

None VulnerableDealer South

This is the first problem posed at the start of this article. How good is this East hand?

Despite the nominal nature of One Club openings these days, partner is likely to hold some clubs, so the singleton in his suit is not an asset. Facing a minimum opening bid, you will need close to a perfect hand to make slam good (♠Axxx/xx/Kxx/♣Axxx for example, and even then you might have trouble ruffing both heart losers in dummy). What’s more, we are assuming not only that partner has short hearts, but also that he holds four trumps (when three is surely not uncommon on this auction) and the ♣A rather than, say, ♣K-Q or ♣K-J. As it is, partner has a perfectly respectable opening bid with four trumps and prime cards, and yet even the five-level is too high.

I think Eric Xiao’s evaluation of the hand is not far off the mark. South led the J and declarer eventually had to take the losing diamond finesse: E/W +420.

West – Zhang North – Posternak East – Xie SouthCedrone

If I decided I was too good just to bid game, I would prefer to start with Three Diamonds, to see what partner does. However, the jump to Four Diamonds chosen by Ethan Xie is not a disaster in itself, as you can then re-evaluate if partner produces a heart cue-bid. To bid on when all partner can do is to retreat to Four Spades, though, is asking for trouble. As we have already seen, even the five-level is too high. When partner admitted to two key-cards in response to Blackwood, it was inevitable that the hopeless slam would be reached.

Marley Cedrone has obviously not read David Bird’s excellent books on opening leads. His choice of the 7 when partner is marked with almost nothing, is almost like an effort to justify declarer’s bidding. Predictably, the lead gave away a trick. Luckily for the defense, declarer had started two tricks too high: E/W +50 and 11 IMPS to CEDONE.

CEDONE won the third set 53-30 to lead by 45.83 with 15 deals remaining. They had one foot on the plane to Italy, but the GE team still had other ideas. The CEDRONE team was, perhaps, a bit unlucky to lose IMPs on the first deal of the final set:

E/W VulnerableDealer West

When you have such wild distribution, perhaps it should be no great surprise to find that the bidding is at the four-level by the time you get to speak for a second time. Don’t you wish you had opened One Club when the auction goes like this? Well, it’s too late to be thinking about that now. Brandon Ge decided that the time was ripe to introduce his second suit.

He was favored with the opening lead of the ♠4, covered by 10, king and ace. When declarer drew trumps, South (who surely knew the distribution of the spade suit) discarded a spade, so declarer was able to unblock the queen and score the whole spade suit. There was just the A to be lost a0t0 the end, so South’s ill-conceived discard cost only the overtrick E/W +620.

West – Haas North – Chen East – Pahk SouthK Ge

Michael Haas saw no reason to risk the five-level when he had a respectable six-card major to rebid. After all, partner’s hand was likely to be balanced, wasn’t it? Not an unreasonable decision, perhaps, but it turned out to be disastrous despite partner producing much better trumps than perhaps declarer deserved.

In response to his partner’s adventurous double, Charlie Chen led the ♣8, ruffed by South. A diamond to the ace then put Chen back on lead to deliver a second club ruff. Keyden Ge then exited with the K. Declarer ruffed, but had no way to reach dummy in order to pick up South’s remaining ♠K-x, so he still had to lose another trump trick. E/W -200, a spectacular result for North/South and 13 IMPs to GE to open the final stanza.  

The final set was almost all one-way traffic, GE winning 55-11 over the 15 deals. Unfortunately, that still left them just short. GE had won the final by 164-149, but the 16.83-IMP carryforward earned in the qualifying stages meant that the CEDONE team won both the title and the seats on the plane to Italy by the slender margin of just 1.83 IMPs.

In the final of the RONA (Girls) event, teams had battled through a three-stage knockout to reach the final. The top seeds were LIN (Amber Lin/Emma Kolesnik, Sophia Chang/Lucy Zhang). Emma Kolesnik had additional, personal reason for wanting to make the plane to Italy, as her brother would be on it too, as captain of the team that would be USA-1 in the Under-21 event. Their opponents in the final were HSIEH (Helena Hsieh/Yichen Cai, Ellie Fashingbauer/Emma Miller).

None VulnerableDealer East

This is the last of the problems presented earlier. I think the hand is just a bit too good for the Four Heart bid chosen by Helena Hsieh at this table. My preference would be for a jump to Three Spades, which would/should be a self-agreeing cue-bid. When partner co-operates with Four Clubs, you can then bid Four Hearts, having made a slam try on the way to game. With good three-card trump support, a hand improved by your spade cue-bid and a diamond control, partner will surely now bid on and the good slam will be reached.

Declarer misguessed clubs and so made only twelve tricks: E/W +480.

West – Lin North – Fashingb’r East – Kolesnik SouthMiller

After the same start, North’s anemic Two Spade overcall helped her opponents, rather than inconveniencing them. With her partner having already shown a fit and a non-minimum, Amber Lin made a clear slam try with a jump to Four Spades at her second turn. Emma Kolesnik duly cue-bid her club control and then carried on to slam when it became clear that her partner desperately needed help in diamonds. There was little to the play: E/W +1010 and 11 IMPs to LIN.

The LIN team led 46-33 after the first stanza, and went on to win the three remaining sets of the match too. They eventually ran out winners by 147-90, meaning that Emma Kolesnik will be joining her brother on the plane to Italy in the summer. Congratulations to all the teams who qualified as well as to all of the players who competed in what was an excellent event.

Next week we will be in London for another set of trials, those to select the England teams for the European Championships in Madeira this summer.