March BBO Prime Tournament. Deal analysis.

Thank you for joining March’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 March’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.


Ten pairs lined up for the final stage of the trials to select the core of the England team for the European Open Championships, which will be staged in Funchal, Madeira this summer. The format was a double round robin of head-to-head matches with each pair scored against a datum calculated by averaging the results from all five tables. 

The leading two pairs were guaranteed a place in the team, along with a selected pair who will be named later. After 18 matches, there was little doubt which two pairs deserved their place on the plane, with Andrew Robson/David Gold and Alex Hydes/Ben Handley-Pritchard more than 50 IMPs clear of the third-placed pair. This week, we take a look at some of the interesting deals faced by the winners over the course of the four days.

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

With just the opponents vulnerable, you hold as South:


West’s cue-bid shows a maximum pass with a spade fit. What do you lead?

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

As a passed hand, partner’s double of the Unusual 2NT shows spades and a diamond fit. What action, if any, do you take now?

While you mull those over, we start with the Round 4 match featuring Robson/Gold and Ben Green/Ankush Khandelwal. Although my good friend and fellow BBO commentator refuses to write up any deal played in One Notrump or Two Diamonds, this ‘dull partscore deal’ had rather more at stake than usual. We start with the action from the second table shown on BBO VuGraph.

N/S VulnerableDealer North

When Mike Bell backed in with a double showing both majors, Ben Norton decided that defending looked like the best action. Norton led the ♣A and then switched to the 9. Phil King won in hand with the A, cashed one high diamond, and then exited with his second club, thus removing West’s only entry. Bell did not have much option but to play a spade, Norton winning with the ♠A and returning a spade to dummy’s king. The 9 was now run to East’s queen, and Norton exited with the ♣Q. King ruffed this and rattled off his trumps. In the end position, he had the ♠9 and a heart in his hand and K-J in dummy. With West holding sole control of both majors, Bell was squeezed when the last trump was cashed, so declarer emerged with an overtrick. E/W -380.

The stakes were even higher when Robson/Gold held the East/West cards:

West – Robson North – Kahnd’wal East – Gold SouthGreen

Ankush Kahndelwal chose to push the boat out even further, jumping to Three Diamonds at his second turn. Here, too, West then balanced with a double that ended the auction. 

Gold opened the 9, which went to jack, queen and king. Declarer cashed one high trump and then played a heart towards dummy. Gold pitched his low spade and dummy’s K took the trick. Again, declarer ran the 9 to East’s queen, and now Gold played two rounds of clubs. When Robson won the second club and returned the 10, declarer’s goose was truly cooked. He tried discarding his spade loser, but Robson simply continued with another high heart, promoting a trick for his partner’s 8. E/W +500 when, as we have seen, things could have gone so much worse.

Our next deal comes from Robson/Gold’s second match against Neil Rosen/John Atthey. Again, though, we start at the other BBO table:

None VulnerableDealer South

After Artur Malinowski had opened a five-card weak two bid in third seat, would you be brave enough to pass on that East hand, hoping that partner will find a re-opening double? Presumably not, and nor was Michael Byrne. He started with a 2NT overcall and a transfer sequence quickly led to 3NT. South led the Q and declarer was soon claiming ten tricks: E/W +430.

West – Robson North – Rosen East – Gold South Atthey

Opening bids have been getting lighter and lighter for some time: Andrew Robson had no hesitation both in opening this West hand and then re-opening with a double when North’s spade overcall was passed back to him.

Gold tried to collect what surely would have been a substantial penalty, but John Atthey was having none of it. When the opponents tell you that you are in the wrong contract at a low level, they are usually right. Whilst the Two Diamond bid came with no guarantees, how much worse that One Spade Doubled could it be? 

With the opponents having successfully escaped, Gold showed his good hand with a cue-bid. Robson admitted to a second suit and moments later found himself in a slam. If North finds a trump lead, declarer can succeed by taking the two high trumps in dummy and then playing two high hearts and ruffing the third round of hearts with dummy’s low trump. Hearts split 4-2 but the hand with the outstanding trump has to follow suit. (If North can ruff in front of dummy, then declarer succeeds by discarding the losing diamond.) 

Rosen opened the ♠K against Robson’s slam, so the tall declarer was able to win with the ♠A and ruff a spade. Back to dummy with the A and a second spade ruff was followed by the king and queen of hearts, ruffed and overruffed with the ♣7. After ruffing a third spade, Robson crossed back to dummy with the A and took a fourth spade ruff in hand. He made three more tricks on a high crossruff to give him three aces, the K and eight trump tricks. An impressive E/W +920 for England’s number one pair.

On our next deal, the two pairs who will certainly represent England in Madeira were effectively playing as a team. And what a dream team they proved to be on this deal. If this were a Sherlock Holmes novel, it would perhaps be entitled “The Strange Case of the Missing Ruff”.

E/W VulnerableDealer West

Paul Barden led the ♠J and David Kendrick won with the ace and switched to a trump. East’s hopes of scoring a heart ruff were dashed, though, when declarer ruffed the club switch. Declarer could now draw trumps but, with hearts not breaking, there was nowhere to put his two spade losers. E/W +300.

Had West switched to a heart, East would have scored a ruff. However, he cannot then profitably play trumps to stop declarer ruffing one of his spade losers in dummy, so declarer would still score the same nine tricks. A defensive ruff was much more important at the other table:

West – Robson North – Malinowski East – Gold SouthBakhshi

You will recognize this South hand as the lead problem presented earlier. Is Arthur Malinowski’s double here asking for an unusual lead or just saying that he expects to beat the contract? 

It is hard to be too critical of David Bakhashi’s decision to lead the singleton in his partner’s suit, but it turned out to be an expensive choice. Malinowski won with the A and returned a diamond. Bakhshi ruffed and gave his partner a club ruff, but it was too little, too late. An opening club lead is needed: the defense can then score a club ruff, the A, a diamond ruff and a second club ruff to pip the contract by a trick. E/W +790.

This layout was a tricky one for aggressive East/West pairs:

None VulnerableDealer West

Kieran Dyke opened One Club (clubs or balanced outside the 15-17 1NT range) and soon found himself declaring 1NT. North led the Q and declarer immediately realized that this contact was not a thing of beauty. “That’ll teach you for opening that garbage,” might say the purists. Declarer won the heart lead with the king and tried the effect of returning the suit. North switched to clubs and the defenders quickly collected their eight tricks: At least they were non-vulnerable: E/W -100.

West – Robson North – King East – Gold SouthMcIntosh

Robson is old enough to have played the game when this West hand was not considered close to an opening bid, so he passed. When Phil King’s weak Two Spades was passed back to him, though, he could not restrain himself. What action would you take with that East hand after partner’s reopening double?

If you considered defending Two Spades Doubled, you could have done worse. You cannot beat it, of course, but -470 is not such a bad score.

“At least I have four hearts,” perhaps you would think, grateful for small mercies. David Gold probably had similar thoughts, until he saw dummy in Three Hearts Doubled. The defense was deadly: McIntosh led his spade and declarer won in hand with the jack to lead a diamond towards dummy. South ducked and the K won, and declarer then tried, hopefully, to cash the ♠K. South ruffed and switched to club, the defenders playing three rounds, which allowed North to pitch a diamond. The A was then followed by a third diamond, North ruffing too high for declarer, with the J. King now played a spade, which Tosh ruffed with the A to play a fourth round of diamonds, promoting a trick for the Q. The defenders had scored eight tricks, one diamond, three clubs and four trumps: E/W -800.

Kieran Dyke’s One Club opening is perhaps not looking so bad after all. It is, perhaps, less dangerous to open these marginal hands than it is back in on them later.

We finish with a deal on which both sides could make a large number of tricks, a scenario which frequently generates substantial swings. See what you make of the approach by the two East players here, where one employed a rapier, the other a bludgeon:

N/S VulnerableDealer North

First, a technical point on the auction. Most readers, I suspect, use a double of an Unusual Two Notrumps to suggest taking a penalty. That’s fine when you are an unpassed hand, but having passed you are unlikely to hold that hand. On grounds of frequency, double is best used here as a fit bit, showing both the unclaimed suit and a fit for partner.

At favorable vulnerability, what approach would you take on this East hand? Ben Handley-Pritchard decided on all-out pre-emption, and jumped directly to Five Hearts. Robson was not to be shut out, though, and he carried on with a five-over-five bid in spades. Yes, you might have three top losers, but Five Hearts might well be making anyway (you don’t, but it still is).

Alex Hydes didn’t rate his side’s defensive prospects on this auction, so he saved at the six level. Gold liked his hand more for defense than for offense, so applied the axe. Excellent judgement all round, with both sides able to make eleven tricks in their respective major. Robson led a high spade, but Gold switched to diamonds after declarer had ruffed and played two rounds of trumps. E/W -100.

At the other table on BBO VuGraph, Andrew ‘Tosh’ McIntosh tried the softly, softly, catchy monkey approach as East. 

West – King North – Norton East – McIntosh SouthBell

By giving Mike Bell two chances to bid game, first in spades and then in diamonds, McIntosh hoped that his opponent would feel that he had bid his hand by the time the bidding got to Five Hearts. Excellent strategy and wonderfully judged by Tosh. E/W +650.

The final standings were Andrew Robson/David Gold +132.44 IMPs, Alex Hydes/Ben Handley-Pritchard +117.44 IMPs, and Mike Bell/Ben Norton +66.56 IMPs. Congratulations to the first two pairs on their automatic selection, and good luck to all of the England teams selected to represent their country in Madeira.

Next week, we will be back in London to see more of Alex Hydes and Ben Handley-Pritchard in action during these final trials.