Marc Smith visits the final of the TampAlt
The two teams that had led the 38-team field in the Swiss survived the knockout rounds to reach the final of the third and last Major Alt event of 2021, TampAlt. CLEMENT (Greece, Lebanon, Canada, Egypt), who had taken an early lead and remained as front-runners throughout the event, had seen off the Anglo-American SELIGMAN and the Scandinavians, SWEICE, to reach the final. RED DEVILS (Belgium) had climbed to second place in the Swiss and beaten the Austrians, ULI, and the multinational BERNAL (Colombia, Brazil, Italy) to reach this stage. CLEMENT began the 32-board final with a 0.1-IMP advantage.
As usual, we start with some problems for you to consider. We will find out later how your choices would have worked out. With your side only vulnerable, your hand as North is:
What action, if any, do you take?
Next, a couple of lead problems for you. With neither side vulnerable, you are on lead as West after this auction:
What do you lead?
Finally, you are again on the hot spot as West:
What do you lead?
While you mull those over, let’s dive right into the action from the first half, where both North players were called upon to evaluate the North hand in the first of this week’s bidding problems.
Did you pass Three Diamonds, make some sort of game try, or bid game? The two North players in the final, in similar positions, each took an action at one end of that scale:
The Belgian North decided that he had already done enough, and chose not to punish his partner for competing. That was rather a conservative action, although if North advances with Three Spades and his partner only retreats to Four Diamonds is he then worth a raise to game. It’s certainly close, but the hands fit well and fortune favoured the brave. Only a 3-0 trump break offside would have beaten game in diamonds: N/S +150.
The Belgian competition perhaps made things a little easier here. Even so, it would seem that Clement Maamarbachi, a member of the Lebanon Open team since 2015, judged the value of the North hand more accurately than had his counterpart. He could, presumably, have doubled Four Clubs as a game try, but he decided that this hand justified bidding game on his own. Right he was: N/S +600 and 10 IMPs to CLEMENT, off and running.
“The five-level belongs to the opponents” is an age-old maxim, but players on both teams chose to ignore that dictum on our next deal:
EW Vul. Dealer North
Philippe Caputo’s 2NT bid was a takeout bid, showing 5+♠ and two or three diamonds. Looking at just the East/West hands, your first concern may be that you might have three defensive tricks against Five Hearts. With the North/South diamonds breaking 3-0, though, East/West are destined to concede 650 on the deal. So, Mike Vandervorst did the right thing by bidding on, or did he?
He would have done so, except for a thoughtful opening lead by the young Greek star in the South seat. Between 2004 and 2009, Vassilis Vroustis represented Greece in five European and one World championship as a junior. He made his debut in the Greek Open team in 2010 and represented his country in three World Championship events. He has since switched his allegiances, and he has been a regular member of the Lebanese national team since 2016. When Vandervorst ventured to the five-level, Vroustis doubled and tabled the ♥K. When his partner signalled with the ♥J, Vroustis switched accurately to a diamond. Maarmarbachi ruffed, cashed the ♣A, put Vroustis back in with the ♣K, and received a second diamond ruff to beat the contract by three tricks: N/S +800.
At this table, the jump overcall by Egypt’s Ahmed Samir prevented South showing his moderate heart fit at his first turn. No matter, as Steven De Donder had a good enough hand to bid game on his own. When the auction came back to Reda Amiry, he decided he was going to save in Five Diamonds but took the opportunity to show his spades on the way there. When Sam Bahbout took the push to the five-level on the South cards, the spotlight now fell on Samir in the East chair.
As we have already seen, the defence can theoretically collect a larger penalty from Five Spades than their game is worth. However, would they manage to do so with West as declarer? Samir took the push but both Belgians then felt they had already bid their hands, and neither could find a double. The Egyptians were now free-rolling with undertricks only costing 100 apiece, but that doesn’t take away from a second excellent opening lead on the same deal: Steven De Donder opened with the ♥6, from his AQxxxxx.
When Bahbout won the trick with the ♥K, it did not take a rocket scientist to work out what was going on, and he duly delivered his partner’s first ruff. Two rounds of clubs then put South back in to take the second ruff. Nicely defended, shame about the lack of a double: N/S +300 and another 11 IMPs to CLEMENT.
CLEMENT won the first stanza emphatically, 43-7, to take a commanding halftime lead. The second 16-board set was high-scoring, with eight swings of 9 IMPs or more, so there was scope for a Belgian comeback. Our previous deal proved to be just a precursor. In the second stanza, a huge number of IMPs were destined to swing on that aspect of the game that has been the subject of relatively few learned tomes – the opening lead. (Anyone wishing to read the definitive works on the subject is directed to “Winning Notrump Leads” and “Winning Suit Contract Leads” by David Bird and Taf Anthias, published by Masterpoint Press in 2011 and 2012).
Some 27 IMPs rested on the first of the opening lead problems posed earlier. Did you work out the winning solution? This was the full deal:
Nil Vul – Dealer South
At the first table, the Lebanese/Greek partnership for CLEMENT negotiated their way safely to the par contract.
Steve de Roos intervened showing both red suits, but North/South quickly brushed him aside. When Vroustis agreed spades right away, his partner essentially drove to the slam. Maamarbachi won the diamond lead, ruffed a heart in dummy, and ran the ♠J. De Roos won with the ♠K and declarer claimed twelve tricks: what looks like a fairly peaceful N/S +980.
The vagaries of system meant that this deal was far more than a dull flat board:
North’s One Heart response was a transfer to spades and South’s One Spade then showed an unbalanced hand with at least three-card support. Two Diamonds was an artificial game force and Bahbout’s jump to Three Spades promised four spades, heart shortage and a minimum opening bid. The Belgians then followed essentially the same route to slam as had their counterparts at the other table. There was, of course, one crucial difference at this table, in that South would be declaring.
When De Donder jumped to slam, Nikos Delimpaltadakis emerged with a Lightner double, asking for an unusual lead. Steven De Donder obviously realized the danger, but whether his side lost -100 or -200 was likely to be worth much the same in IMP terms, so he brazened things out with a redouble.
Now the spotlight was well and truly on Yankos Papakyriakpoulos, with a 27-IMP swing resting on his choice of opening lead. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to whether or not he should have found the club lead that would have seen 15 IMPs going into the CLEMENT plus column. When he chose the ♥9, though, declarer had little trouble wrapping up twelve tricks: a spectacular N/S +1620 and 12 IMPs to RED DEVILS.
With just three boards left to play, the Belgians had reduced the deficit to just 14 IMPs. Then came:
Nil Vul – Dealer East
A brief but explosive auction saw the Greeks left to play in Five Clubs doubled, against which South duly made his three aces: N/S +100. The action, though, was at the other table:
Steve de Roos’s Two Club opening was Precision-style, a limited hand (10-15 HCP) with at least five clubs and possibly a four-card major. Arts’ double of the Two Heart overcall suggested four spades, so East ruled our holding spades as a second suit with his Five Club bid. What did you lead against South’s 5♥-X?
A total of 16 IMPs rode of the Belgian’s choice of opening lead. When he fished out a not unreasonable club, declarer was able to win in hand with the ♣A whilst discarding one of his diamond losers from dummy. That left declarer with just one diamond and one spade to be lost. N/S +650 and 11 IMPs to CLEMENT. Some hands are just too difficult: had Arts somehow worked out the start with a diamond, the defenders could have cashed their two winners in the suit and waited for their spade to gain 5 IMPs on the deal.
Would that 16-IMP swing have been enough? Probably not. CLEMENT gained a further 11 IMPs on the final two deals to tie the second stanza 49-49 and win the match by 92.1-56. However, that margin looks much more comfortable than it really was.
Congratulations to the winners of Tampa Alt, Reda Amiry, Ahmed Samir, Clement Maamarbachi, Bassili Vroustis, Nikos Delimpaltadakis, Yankos Papakyriakopoulos and Michel Eidi.
We will be back again next week, bringing you the best action from the opening salvo of another major online event.