Marc Smith visits the first heat of the 2021 Alt NewCo tournament
This week sees the first heat of a brand new Alt tournament. Simply called ‘NewCo’ (or New Competition), this is an event that will run over 12 heats, played once a month throughout the year. In this first heat, the field is divided into three divisions (although this will become four in future months). Group 1A and Group 1B, each consisting of six selected teams, are theoretically of equal strength. They will play a complete double round robin of ten 16-board matches. The remaining 22 teams form Group C and will play a 10-round Swiss of 16-board matches.
At the end of this first heat, teams will be put into one of four divisions. In future months the leading six teams will play in Group A, the next six in Group B and the third six in Group C, each playing a double round robin. Group D will contain the remaining teams playing a Swiss. At the end of each heat, there will be promotion and relegation between the groups.
Teams gain points both 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.
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 only your side vulnerable, you hold this hand in the North seat:
What action, if any, do you take?
Again, only your side is vulnerable and you hold as North:
What action do you take?
While you mull those over, let’s get into the action from Round 1. Our first deal features the Group 1A match between two teams flying the Union Jack, BLACK and GILLIS. With N/S vulnerable and North the dealer, many pairs scored N/S +140 in a spade partscore, although par on the deal was only N/S +50.
Boye Brogeland opened a 2+clubs 1♣ in third seat and Espen Lindqvist’s jump after West’s takeout double was fit-showing, about 6-10 HCP with 5♠ and 4+♣ . When East’s Three Hearts ran around to Lindqvist, though, he had nothing more than he had already shown. Does this mean that Brogeland has to bid 3♠ on this very moderate hand? Certainly, the English pair had stolen the auction.
Brogeland started the defence with a top diamond. At trick two, he cashed the ♣ A but then made the fatal switch to a spade. Lindqvist won and could only return a spade to declarer’s king. With diamonds 3-3, McIntosh was able to set up dummy’s motley suit for club discards: E/W +140. To go plus, South has to force dummy in clubs twice to remove the entry to the long diamonds. This can happen if he switches to a spade at trick two and the defenders then play a club to the ace and a second club or, having cashed the ♣ A at trick two, South must then continue that suit. A below par result for the Norwegians, but how much would it cost?
Hallberg either did not have a fit-showing jump available at his first turn or chose not to use it, instead just showing five or more spades. Simon Gillis upped the ante all the way to game and Simon Hult certainly did not have enough to bid at this level on the South hand. However, Gunnar Hallberg was still there, and bravely backed in with Four Spades as a two-way shot. Most Norths around the room were making nine tricks in spades, but Hallberg showed the way.
He ruffed a heart at trick two, crossed to dummy in diamonds, and played a trump to the nine. This produced the first good news for declarer when East had to win with the ♠ K. Gillis continued with a third round of hearts and again declarer ruffed. Hallberg then found the excellent play of a low club from both hands. West won with the ♣ Q but could not play another heart as dummy would be able to ruff. Hallberg won the diamond return, draw trumps, and duly picked up the clubs by cashing the ace and taking the proven finesse against East’s ♣ J. N/S +620 meant 13 IMPs to BLACK. Only two other North players in the 34-table field managed to bid and make Four Spades, Nick Nickell and Dennis Bilde, curiously in the same match for a flat board.
Fortune favoured the brave on this deal from Round 2, which created swings in numerous matches:
At the top table in Group C:
South opened a random-style weak two in first seat non-vulnerable and, once West passed the Polish pair were in trouble. David Jones’ raise to game left neither opponent sure who the hand belonged to. No double, no trouble: E/W +150.
Once Leonardo Cima passed as Dealer, things depended on whether Welsh international Adrian Thomas viewed the West hand as an opening bid. Once he did so, East was always going to bid game. The defence was not the most testing: North led a high heart and switched to a trump at trick two. Declarer could now draw trumps, cash three rounds of diamonds, and exit with his second heart. Whichever defender won, he was endplayed to open the clubs, ensuring declarer a second trick in that suit. E/W +620 and 10 IMPs to JEDI KNIGHTS.
In the match between BLACK and GUPTA in Group 1A:
At this table, Andrew Black did not open the West hand. Simon de Wijs started with a mini 9-13 HCP 1NT and Bauke Muller responded with a natural and non-invitational 2♥ . Now Black introduced his spade suit but all David Gold could do was compete the partscore facing a passed partner. E/W +140.
At the other table in this match, Fredric Volcker did open the West hand and thus duly arrived in game. Here, Thomas Paske found the best defence, cashing both top hearts before exiting with a trump. Volcker played the percentages, drawing trumps, eliminating diamonds, and then leading a club to the ten. Declarer played low on the enforced club return and claimed ten tricks when North had to put up the king. This line of play is around 67%, needing either South to hold the ♣ 9 or North to hold both high honours. E/W +620 and 10 IMPs to GUPTA.
The DONNER quartet, Brad Moss/Joe Grue and Gary Donner/Sandra Rimstedt, produced one of the biggest single sets ever seen on Alt in Round 3. After 13 deals of their match against GILLIS, they led by a remarkable 91-0. GILLIS gained a modicum of respectability over the final three deals, but the final score of 92-15 still propelled the DONNER team to the top of Group 1A. The first of this week’s bidding problems produced one of the major swings in this match:
Pass, Double and 3NT are all possible actions on this balanced 15-count when Three Diamonds comes around to you in the North seat. Simon Gillis chose the most aggressive of those options and Brad Moss doubled on the way out.
Joe Grue led the ♠ 6 to the ten and ace, and Gillis immediately advanced the ♦ K. Grue won with the ♦ A and switched to a heart, taken in hand by declarer to play a diamond to dummy’s nine. Declarer then played a spade from dummy, but Moss won with the ♠ Q and switched to a low club. Declarer won with the ♣ K, repeated the marked diamond finesse, but could do more than cash his red-suit winners for one down. N/S -200.
Boye Brogeland was right in that 3♦ -X was going four down for -800 (losing three tricks in each red suit and one in each of the black suits). Not that 4♣ -X was a happy spot for declarer either. Sandra Rimstedt led a trump, won by the ♣ K and Gary Donner returned the suit. Declarer played a spade to the king and ace, and the defenders cashed their heart winners before exiting with a trump to dummy. Declarer drew the last trump and then exited with a low spade from dummy/ Donner won with the ♠ 9 but could now either lead into the spade tenace or play a red suit, giving declarer access to the two tricks in his hand. That was still only seven tricks for declarer, though: N/S +500 and 12 IMPs to DONNER.
Round 4 once again found GILLIS on the short end, going down 52-9 to MOSS, who climbed to the top of Group 1A. In Group 1B, a swingy match ended with a win for LEBOWITZ to narrow the gap behind runaway leaders, DE BOTTON. How did you cope with the second of this week’s bidding problems? In a battle of world class players, it was Switzerland vs Norway:
Bas Drijver’s 9-12 HCP 1NT opening had a devastating effect on the Norwegian auction. Lindqvist’s raise to game does seem rather feeble. Would a jump to 4♣ not have been control-showing agreeing spades? After 4♣ -4♦ -4♥ , South will surely drive to at least the six-level. N/S +710 did not look good for the Scandinavians
Unencumbered by an opening bid by East, Poland’s Bermuda Bowl winners had no problem reaching slam. Two Clubs was an artificial game force and Jacek Kalita’s Three Diamonds was a splinter, showing diamond shortage and at least 5-5 in the black suits. Three Spades set the suit and 4♦ showed a void. The heart cue-bid was exactly what Kalita wanted to hear, so he rolled out Blackwood, the 5NT response showing two key card plus the trump queen and a side suit king. Six Clubs was a grand slam try but without the ♣ Q North could not be sure.
With both black suits behaving, there was nothing to the play: N/S +1470 and 13 IMPs to MOSS.
The Belgians were the only pair in the top two groups to reach the grand slam:
Steve de Roos’s 2NT response was game forcing with at least three spades. Geert Arts now showed an unknown void with 3♦ (3♥ asked and 3NT showed short diamonds). De Roos rolled out Blackwood, found two key cards plus the ♠ Q, the ♣ K, and then asked for third round heart control. N/S +2210 and 13 IMPs to RED DEVILS.
With four matches played, there were just two teams undefeated teams remaining, DE BOTTON in Group 1B and JEDI KNIGHTS in Group C. This was how the top of each group looked after two days of play:
We will be back next week to see the best of the action as the first heat of the Alt NewCo draws towards its conclusion.