Marc Smith visits the knockout stage of the Alt Board-a-Match Invitational
After a complete round robin qualifier, eight of the original 14 teams survived to contest the knockout stage of the Alt Board-a-Match Invitational. Six of the eight teams were flying the American flag: the round robins leaders AMATEURS would take on the mighty NICKELL, it was GUPTA vs RIPPEY, and DONNER vs CALIFIORNICATION. The fourth quarter-final matched ALTSHULER (Israel) against SALVO (Turkey). AMATEURS would start with a 2.1 VP carry-forward advantage, GUPTA and DONNER each with 1.1 VPs and ALTSHULER with 0.1 VP.
A reminder of the B-a-M format: one VP would be awarded on each deal to the team with the highest score and, unlike matchpoints, even a difference of 10 was sufficient to win the board.
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 collection in the West seat:
Partner’s opening bid promises 5-5 shape and 5-9 HCP. What action, if any, do you take?
Secondly, again with neither side vulnerable, you are East with this uninspiring hand:
What action, if any, do you take?
Finally, with only your side vulnerable, you hold as South:
What action, if any, do you take?
While you mull those over, let’s get onto the quarter-final action. Both teams who started with a 1.1-VP carryover won the first half 5-3 to lead 6.1-3 at the midway point. The other two quarter-finals finished 4.5-3.5 in favor of the higher-ranked team, so ALTSHULER led 4.6-3.5 against the Turks whilst AMATEURS led NICKELL 6.6-3.5. This deal from the second half set a number of interesting bidding decisions:
Egypt’s Ahmed Soliman was the only North to open in the two key matches, but the effect was to simplify the auction for the NICKELL East/West pair. After South’s pre-emptive Three Diamonds, Daniel Korbel’s takeout double showed hearts and clubs. South led the ♣J, and declarer won in dummy to lead a trump. Soliman rose with the ♥A, and cashed the ♦A, getting the 10 from his partner. Soliman delivered his partner’s spade ruff and still had a natural trump trick to come with the ♥Q-10 sitting over dummy’s ♥J. One down: E/W +100.
At the All-American table, Bill Pettis opened a 3+clubs 1♣ in second seat and then doubled back in when South’s pre-emptive ♦3 came back to him. Understandably, Ai-Tai Lo elected not to pick a random major on his pair of jack-high suits, but instead risked playing a level too high to ensure finding the best fit. Alas, Pettis also had equal length, so it was perhaps unfortunate that he chose the suit that was breaking 5-0. Bobby Levin duly doubled on the way out.
Levin won the diamond lead with the ♦A and found the expert switch to the ♥Q. Pettis won with the ♥K and cashed the ♠A to get the bad news. Declarer then switched to clubs and North ruffed the third round. Levin could make no more than his two heart winners from here, but the double had earned the point on the deal: E/W +200 and the VP went to NICKELL.
For the Israelis, Amir Levin opened 1♦ (natural and unbalanced or any 18-19 balanced), which stymied South’s pre-emptive intervention. I do not understand the thinking behind Zorlu’s One Spade overcall (lead-directional, perhaps), although it made no difference here as Levin already knew where he was going to play. He showed his hand type with his 1NT rebid and then corrected to hearts when Jossef Roll raised to game.
Compared to the first table above, here West had become declarer, so South scored a spade ruff at trick one. A diamond to the ace then allowed North to deliver a second ruff. North still had his two trump tricks to come, so that was two down: E/W +200.
West had passed at the other table where the auction began this way, but Bulent Aslan thought his hand was worth a three-level negative double. This encourage Alon Birman to raise diamonds gently to the four-level. Presumably, Nezih Kubac intended his double as offering a choice of majors, but I confess my sympathies lie with Aslan here. With West having already shown both majors (theoretically at least), surely East can just pick one so this double should strong suggest defending.
Declarer can always make ten tricks in diamonds, but the ♣K lead avoided any guesswork. E/W -710 and the VP goes to ALTSHULER.
This deal contributed to a 6-1 second-half drubbing by NICKELL, which carried them through to the semi-finals, overcoming the maximum carry-forward deficit to win by 10-8.1. SALVO also came from behind to win, knocking out the Israelis 8.5-7.6.
There was a comeback in one of the other two matches too, but it was a case of too little too late. DONNER advanced by just the carry-forward margin after a drawn match, 9.1-8, whilst GUPTA and RIPPEY drew the second half 4-4 so GUPTA advanced with a 10.1-7 win.
The semi-final lineup would be SALVO vs NICKELL and GUPTA vs DONNER, with SALVO and DONNER each starting with a 0.1-VP advantage. This early deal proved too difficult for most of the East/West pairs. At two of the tables, East did not open the bidding and he then had to deal with North’s overcall of his partner’s 1NT opening:
Aslan’s Two Diamond overcall showed hearts and Richie Coren’s Two Hearts was a transfer to spades. What action would you then take on this East hand? Three Diamonds would have been game-forcing, so Coren had to choose between 2NT (suggesting a heart stopper, perhaps) and Three Spades, showing a sixth spade. The latter seemed like the smaller lie, but Dan Korbel was still not persuaded to accept the invite on nis minimum despite the prime cards. A diamond lead might have held declarer to ten tricks but, after the ♥K, eleven tricks were easy: E/W +200.
After the same start, David Gold’s jump to Three Hearts was invitational (or better) with 5+♠. Here, too, West declined the invitation: E/W +200.
At the other two tables, East was equipped with a two-suited opening:
Celia Rimstedt’s Two Spade opening showed spades and a minor in the range for a normal weak two. Gary Donner started with a 2NT inquiry but Simon de Wijs was not to be shut out on the North hand. When Three Hearts came back to Donner, he was faced with the first of this week’s bidding problems. Obviously expecting his partner to hold both black suits, it is hard to criticize the decision to just compete to the three-level. Predictably, South led his partner’s suit: E/W +200, so a push board in the match between DONNER and GUPTA
We are not told the exact meaning of West’s 2NT, but there is a technical lesson to be learned here. Many partnerships simply play 2NT as asking partner to reveal his minor, but that is not the right approach. If West simply wants to play at the three-level in opener’s minor, he should be able to bid 3♣, pass-or-correct. That leaves 2NT to show at least game try values. Opener responds by bidding 3m with a minimum, but with a better hand he bids 3♥ with clubs and 3♠ with diamonds. Thus opener shows not only which minor he holds but also differentiates between minimum hands and those with extra values.
Perhaps, here, Enver Koksoy did know that his partner held positive values, hence he could justify his four-level bid, whereas East at the first table did not. Suffice it to say, though, that Omer Umur had an easy raise to game at this table. There was no lead to stop twelve tricks in diamonds: E/W +420 and the VP to SALVO.
SALVO won the first half 6-2 to take a commanding lead. Although NICKELL mounted a comeback in the second segment, they could win only 5.5-2.5 so the Turks advanced to the final with victory by 8.6-7.5. The other semi-final was closer at halftime, GUPTA winning the first stanza 4.5-3.5. The second half of the match was one-way traffic, though, GUPTA winning it 6-2 to claim victory by 10.5-5.6. The 24-board final would be SALVO (Turkey) against GUPTA (USA, England and Netherlands).
After nine deals in the first 12-board stanza, GUPTA led by just the carry-forward, 4.6-4.5. Zia and Naren Gupta first bid a slam missed by the Turks, and then came:
At both tables, the auction began in similar fashion, leaving Naren Gupta and Enver Koksoy with the second of the bidding problems posed earlier.
This all seems fairly normal, and there was little to the play. Declarer lost just one trick in each black suit and was soon claiming his contract: N/S +400.
Naren Gupta displayed the sort of imagination we would more often associate with his illustrious partner:
Rather than simply raise spades, Gupta decided to transfer to clubs, presumably intending to then support spades at the two-level having shown where his values lie. His hand considerably improved, Zia now jumped all the way to game at his second turn. As at the other table, North bid his diamonds at the five-level, but Gupta was not finished. Despite all of the mantras warning against such actions (‘the five-level belongs to the opponents’, ‘don’t sacrifice on balanced hands’), Gupta took the bull by the horns, virtually certain that the deal was a double-double fit of sorts. Quite right he was too: North cashed his three red-suit winners and Zia duly guessed the club suit to get out for one down: N/S +100 and the VP to GUPTA.
GUPTA collected the VP on each of the last three boards of the first half to lead 7.6-4.5 at the midway point. The first eight deals of the second half were flat at 4-4, leaving GUPTA still ahead by 3.1 VPs with four deals to play. However, SALVO won each of the next three boards to narrow the gap to 11.6-11.5 with just one deal remaining. The Turkish South would surely win the board, and with it the title, if he could find the winning answer to the last of the bidding problems posed at the top of this article. This was the final deal:
Zia opened a ‘weak Multi’ on the West hand and North’s initial double showed either a balanced hand in the 12-15 range or a very strong hand. David Gold’s pass of the double was neutral, so Zia duly revealed his major. Nafiz Zorlu’s second double then showed a very strong hand and now the spotlight fell on Ali Ucar: could he find the winning decision to convert the double for penalties?
Defending against 2♥-X, North/South could score at least two tricks in each black suit, three top trumps and two diamond ruffs for +800 with, perhaps, the ♦K still to come too. When Ucar jumped to 3NT, it seemed likely that the board was headed for a push, which would leave GUPTA ahead by the smallest possible margin, the 0.1 VP carryforward, after a tied match.
Zia led the ♠9, which gave declarer his eleventh trick, although not one that he could not have made himself. Declarer could not force either a fourth heart trick or a diamond and had to concede two tricks at the end: N/S +660.
Simon de Wijs opened at artificial strong club and Bauke Muller’s Two Club bid after East’s overcall was described as ‘game-forcing, artificial, like a takeout double’.
Having not opened the West hand, Bulent Aslan could not resist the temptation to enter the fray at his second turn in what is, surely, a far more exposed position after the opponents have opened the bidding and forced to game. So, here too, North/South had the opportunity too take +800/1100. A double of Two Hearts by North would, presumably, have been for takeout, so de Wijs passed. Unfortunately for the Dutch, Muller could not find a re-opening double, which was surely a possibility on this hand with the opponents having bid both majors.
Having passed up the big penalty, the former World champion could still have halved the board to secure the title by passing 3NT. When Muller raised himself to slam, GUPTA’s hopes rested on Aslan leading either a low heart or a diamond, both somewhat unlikely choices. When he too fished out the ♠9, declarer had eleven tricks but no way to produce a twelfth. That meant N/S -100 and the VP to SALVO, who had completed a remarkable comeback by winning all of the last four deals to win the second half 8-4 and claim the title by a score of 12.5-11.6.
We will be back next week with the first heat of a brand new Alt tournament. Simply called ‘NewCo’, this is an event that will run over 12 heats, played once a month throughout the year. The field will be split into four divisions with promotion and relegation after each round. Teams will gain points for participation and for their finishing place in each heat, with a place in the grand final the prize for the teams that accrue the most points throughout the year.