Marc Smith visits the Round Robin stage of the Alt Board-a-Match Invitational
The first Alt event of 2021 saw a brand new competition, the Alt Board-a-Match Invitational. A total of 14 teams lined up for a complete Round Robin of 13 x 8-board matches, with the leading eight teams advancing to the knockout stage at the end of the week. For those not familiar with the Board-a-Match format, it is essentially matchpoints with teammates (some would say, the worst of all worlds). This means that a flat board results in each team earning 0.5 VPs on the deal, whilst a team that outscores its opponents by any margin wins the deal 1-0.
As usual, we start with some problems for you to consider. We will find out later how your choices would have worked out. First, with neither side vulnerable, you hold this uninspiring collection in the East seat:
What action, if any, do you take?
Secondly, with both sides vulnerable, you deal as West with this hand:
What action, if any, do you take in first seat?
Finally, you are again on the hot spot as West, with just the opponents vulnerable:
Do you bid on to Six Diamonds or do you Pass?
While you mull those over, let’s dive right into the action with the very first deal of the event. Having just taken your seat and still sorting out your coffee, your scorecard, your opponents’ system, etc., you pick up a balanced 3-count that turns into the first of this week’s bidding problems. We begin with the match between GREECE, which includes many members of the victorious team in the recent TampAlt, and CALIFORNICATION, a team containing many familiar names from the USA and Canada.
Mitch Dunitz entered with a pre-emptive jump to Three Spades, but the Greek pair brushed his intervention aside and drove to slam. We have often discussed in these pages the perils of sacrificing on balanced hands as the penalty is frequently higher than one might expect, At equal vulnerability, Ross Grabel elected to take his chances in defence. The defenders collected their spade at trick one, but that was all they were entitled to: N/S +920.
In the replay, Dinos Doxiadis entered at the four-level, but the extra pre-emption did not keep the two American multiple World champions out of slam. Petros Roussos, a junior international as recently as 2011 and a silver medallist at the European Transnational Teams in 2017, was essentially faced with the same decision as his American counterpart at the other table. The young Greek opted for positive action and saved in Six Spades.
Jill Meyers cashed two high diamonds, but when she then switched to a low club at trick three it was no longer possible for the defenders to score both of their heart tricks. Kerri Sanborn tried a low heart to the ten and queen, but declarer drew trumps and eliminated the minors before playing a second round of hearts. With hearts 4-2, there was then no way for declarer to lose more than one trick from here: N/S +500 and the VP to GREECE, who took the early lead in the tournament with a 4-1 win (5.5-2.5 in VPs) in Match 1.
The pair who were most disappointed to lose on the board was surely Alex Kolesnik and Franco Baseggio from team AMATEURS (USA/Georgia/Egypt). They saw their opponents, Dutch World champions Bauke Muller and Simon de Wijs, stop in Five Diamonds. Although they did not cash their spade winner, E/W -440 still looked like a good result for the Americans. Unfortunately, their teammates defended just 5♠-X. When they also failed to find their second heart trick, that was E/W -300 and the VP on the deal went to GUPTA.
This spectacular deal from Round 2 may have been insignificant in a regular team match, but playing in the right suit was critical at B-a-M.
Nil Vul. Dealer East
What initial action would you take on this South hand after East opens One Heart?
In the match between ULI (Austria/Italy) and the multinational CANTOR:
Austria’s Ulrike Schuster chose to start with a Two Club overcall. Federico Primavera advanced with 2NT, but the partnership was soon locked into clubs. The small slam was a decent proposition with the ♣K virtually marked onside by East’s opening bid, but there was still a trump loser that could not be avoided. N/S +920.
Germany’s Martin Cantor preferred to start with a two-suited overcall, showing both minors. Former Danish international Peter Lund did not have any obvious scientific way forward, so he bid what he thought he could make, and Cantor gave him one for the road. With declarer able to ruff the clubs good, there were thirteen tricks available in diamonds: N/S +940, which was all that was needed to give CANTOR the VP from the deal. CANTOR won the 8-board match 7-0 to lead the field after two rounds.
In the match between MIXTURE (Netherlands) and GUPTA (USA/England/Netherlands), both pairs found their diamond fit:
Hester Gast was not quite as optimistic as Peter Lund, jumping only to the four-level, but Bas van Roosmalen still took a pot at the small slam. N/S +940. One pair demonstrated how to reach the top spot:
Bauke Muller started with 2NT and Simon de Wijs advanced with Three Spades, showing an invitational or better hand agreeing diamonds. (Three Hearts would have agreed clubs.) Muller ostensibly made a game try with Four Clubs but de Wijs thought he had already done enough. Now Muller jumped to Five Spades, exclusion Blackwood. When de Wijs showed one key-card outside the spade suit, Muller jumped to the grand slam. N/S +1440 and the VP to GUPTA, who won the match 6-1 to move into second place, just 0.5 VPs behind the early leaders.
With half of the Round Robin matches played, the leading contenders were beginning to emerge, with AMATEURS, DONNER (USA/Sweden) and GUPTA topping the table. The dilemmas for West on our next layout only began with the second of the bidding problems posed at the top of this article, what action to take as Dealer.
Both Vul. Dealer West.
West players tried various approaches as the opening bidder on this deal. Let’s take a look at a selection to see how the various options fared. In the match between the leaders, AMATEURS, and SALVO (Turkey):
Alex Kolesnki opened One Spade for the Americans and raised his partner’s hearts to game at his second turn. Having already opened the bidding on this hand, though, it seems far from clear that you should then pull partner’s penalty double at the five-level.
A low club lead would have beaten the contract by three to collect the magic +800. After ace and another trump, though, declarer took a heart ruff and played a diamond to the ten. With no further entries to dummy, West still had to make a trick with the ♦Q, but that was still only four trick for the defence, so E/W +500 with at least +650 available in hearts.
For the Turks, Omer Celal Umer started with a pass and then splintered in support of hearts at his second turn. He, too, then had to decide what to do when his partner doubled North’s Five Club bid. Umer also passed and Enver Koksoy opened with the ♦A and a second diamond. Declarer won, took his heart ruff, and then played trumps. Winning the second round, Koksoy switched to the ♠10 but, when declarer astutely played low from dummy, so did West, and that was the end of his entry for the defensive diamond ruff. N/S +200 and the VP went to AMATEURS.
At three tables where West opened One Spade, the partnership climbed into the heart slam. At two tables, East declared. For GUPTA, Bauke Muller led a diamond through dummy’s queen, giving declarer no chance. For CANTOR, Martin Cantor led a club so, theoretically, declarer could have made the contract by taking the double finesse against the ♠Q-J in order to dispose of his diamond loser. Not unreasonably, though, declarer played for spades to break no worse than 4-2, and thus also went one down.
The Swedish contingent on the DONNER team played it from the other side:
Per-Ola Cullin showed no restraint, first opening the hand, then jumping to game in response to his partner’s negative double, then committing the partnership to slam by showing his void in response to Blackwood. Perhaps he had heard that the excellent book by David Bird and Taf Anthias (“Winning Suit Contract Leads”) had not yet made it to Austria. Suffice it to say that the Austrian North’s rather strange choice of the ♦J was not optimum for his team: E/W +1430 and the VP to DONNER.
This seemed to me to be the best of the auctions:
Zia’s jump to Two Spades having passed as the Dealer was fit-showing. He then judged to press on to the five-level after David Gold had jumped to game at his second turn. E/W +650 and the VP to GUPTA when slam went down at the other table.
If that was the best effort by East/West, this was without doubt the worst:
I am all in favour of pre-empting as often as possible, particularly in first seat, but this one is too much of a distortion, even for me. I suppose when you live by the sword you must sometimes expect to die by the sword, and many would say that Dutchman Aris Bremer’s opening bid was not only suicidal but also wiped out his partner too. E/W -870 and the VP to GREECE.
With one match remaining, the same three teams still occupied the top three places. Below them, just 2 VPs separated NICKELL (USA) in fourth place from SALVO in ninth, so it looked like there were six teams fighting for the last five places in the knockout rounds.
The last of this week’s bidding problems comes from our final deal, from Round 13, which created a swing in every match. The match between GUPTA and CANTOR was typical:
Denmark’s Leif Nygaard was faced with the bidding problem posed earlier. Having opted to defend, he then had to find an opening lead. When he selected the ♦A, it seemed as if the defenders’ club ruff may have disappeared, when the difference between winning and losing the board could easily be just the overtrick. However, entries were such that declarer had no choice but to play a club to the queen himself. Nygaard won with the ♣A and delivered his partner’s ruff, but that was all for the defence: N/S +650.
Unlike at IMPs, at this form of scoring it made no difference what Mike Graham did when Zia’s Six Diamond bid came back to him. The penalty from the save was sure to be insufficient to compensate for the vulnerable game, so the board was already lost. To make sure, Zia opened the ♣A and delivered his partner’s ruff at trick two: N/S -100 and the VP to GUPTA. GUPTA won the match 4-2, which meant that CANTOR’s chances of grabbing one of the qualifying places were hanging by a thread.
In other key matches, NICKELL lost 5-1 to ALTSHULER (Israel), whilst SALVO, despite losing this board by conceding -550 defending 5♦-X after the same start to the auction, beat DONNER 5-1.
The final ranking list was:
With their big win in the last match, the Turkish team, SALVO, climbed all the way from ninth up to fourth. Despite their final round loss, NICKELL just clung on to the final qualifying place, whilst it was CANTOR who missed out, finishing tantalisingly short, by just half a board (one overtrick over more than 100 deals).
The quarter-finals promise some mouth-watering line-ups:
- AMATEURS vs NICKELL
- ALTSHULER vs SALVO
- GUPTA vs RIPPEY
- DONNER vs CALIFIORNICATION
We will be back next week with the best of the action from these matches and the latter stages of the knockout rounds.