April BBO Prime Tournament. Deal analysis.

Thank you for joining April’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, 5 and 8 in April’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.

Last week, we saw Andrew Robson/David Gold in action during the final stages of the trials to select the England team for the European Open Championships, which will be staged in Funchal, Madeira this summer. This week, we follow the other pair who earned selection to that team, Alex Hydes and Ben Handley-Pritchard.

E/W VulnerableDealer South

Alex Hydes doubled South’s natural weak two opening, and Ben Handley-Pritchard made a responsive double of North’s pre-emptive raise. Hydes opted for offense with 4NT, showing two places to play. Ben offered clubs and Alex corrected to diamonds, showing both red suits. Although he knows about the heart fit, Ben’s diamonds are quite adequate, and his decision to play the more robust trumps suit with bad breaks suggested by the auction seems like a sensible one.

Hydes was not tested in the play after North’s lead, the ♥A. With problems solved in one red suit, declarer won the spade switch, ruffed a spade, and played king and another diamond. The appearance of the queen enabled him to claim 12 tricks: E/W +620.

North/South were not so active at the other table shown on BBO Vugraph:

West – Kendrick North – Norton East – Barden SouthBell

Here, South began with a Multi Two Diamonds, and Dave Kendrick opted to enter with a natural overcall. Paul Barden advanced with Three Hearts, although whether this was intended as natural or as a cue-bid (South’s suit being unknown) agreeing diamonds is unclear. Kendrick obviously thought it was natural: he cue-bid first his spade control and then his club control and, when Barden then jumped to slam, Kendrick corrected back to his partner’s major.

Declarer can make this contract, but he needs to guess both red suits, and South’s lead of the ♣3 did little to assist. Declarer won with the ♣A and led a heart to the queen and ace. Winning the spade return, declarer now played the J, getting the bad news that he had another loser in that suit. What was declarer to make of North’s failure to ruff, though?

With South marked with six spades from the bidding and having shown up with four hearts, you can hardly blame Barden for playing a diamond to the ten. South won with the Q and still had a heart trick to come: two down. E/W -200.

Auctions involving quantitative 4NT bids are rarely discussed by bridge writers, so the action at both tables on our next deal merits some thought.

Both VulnerableDealer North

This is the first of the bidding problems presented at the start of this article. At this table, South took one extra round of bidding, forcing to game with an artificial Two Diamonds before making the quantitative jump to 4NT. How did you evaluate the North hand?

You generally want to avoid reaching slam on a finesse, but 6NT here is appreciably better than 50%. Diamonds 3-3 or the jack dropping is, in itself, close to a 50-50 proposition. Ducking a heart and then cashing your winners to squeeze either defender who holds four cards in both spades and diamonds pushes the odds up sufficiently to make slam worth bidding.

The problem generally with quantitative notrump raises, whether 1NT-4NT, 2NT-4NT or 1NT-2NT, is that it is usually not whether opener has one or even two extra high-card points that makes the difference, but how the hands fit together. Here, for example, South’s cxJ is worth a whole trick, Swap it for the hxJ, and slam would be appreciably poorer, but South would have bid both hands in identical fashion. Similarly, give North the hxJ rather than the hx10 and he would have had a maximum and would surely have raised to 6NT, but that extra HCP makes no difference at all to the contract. Swap the dx10 for the dxJ, though, and there are then twelve top tricks.

With diamonds 3-3 here, declarer had an easy ride to twelve tricks: N/S +690.

West – Robson North – Malinowski East – Gold SouthBakhshi

David Bakhshi essentially bid the same as Handley-Pritchard had at the other table, but Artur Malinowski decided that the North hand was good enough to accept the slam try. He did so, though, by showing his four-card club suit. (A useful method is that if you are accepting the invitation, you can show a five-card suit by jumping to the six-level or a four-card suit by bidding it at the five-level.) This keeps alternative contracts in the picture, and Bakhshi here opted to play slam in clubs, even though he knew it was a Moysian fit.

Is Six Clubs better than 6NT? Perhaps, marginally. It needs clubs to break no worse than 4-2 and hearts 4-3 (with the small additional chance that if hearts are 5-2 then the defender with the doubleton holds only two trumps). Malinowski won the opening trump lead in dummy with the ♣K and played ace and another heart. He then won the trump continuation with the ♣J, crossed to hand with the ♠A, and ruffed a heart with dummy’s last trump. He could now return to hand in diamonds, draw the outstanding trumps, and claim 12 tricks. N/W +1370.

Timing in life is everything, so they say, and it is equally important at the bridge table. You will recognize the North hand from our next deal as the second bidding problem presented earlier. How was your timing?

None VulnerableDealer East

Artur Malinowski’s jump to Four Hearts would have been a popular choice, I am sure. The problem with that action was that East still felt he had something left to say, so he carried on to the five-level in his long suit. Bakhshi not unreasonably competed to Five Hearts, but that proved to be one too high. Gold led the A and continued with a second diamond for his partner to ruff. There was nowhere for declarer to dispose of his club loser: N/S -50.

Bidding Five Hearts is something of a two-way shot, as Five Diamonds may be making despite your three aces. As it happens leading partner’s suit against Five Diamond is not terminal, despite declarer ruffing yout ace. With no quick entry to dummy to take the trump finesse, South is bound to get a second chance to deliver his partner’s spade ruff to nip the contract by a trick.

West – Kendrick North – Hydes East – Barden SouthHandley-Pritchard

Alex Hydes settled for a gentle Two Hearts at his first turn. It would appear that there was then a misunderstanding surrounding the meaning of Paul Barden’s 2NT. He, presumably, intended it as a ‘Good/Bad 2NT’, showing a weak Three Club or Three Diamond bid. Dave Kendrick’s raise to 3NT suggests that he thought 2NT was natural. Having both described their hands, neither opponent then felt the need to take further action over North’s Four Heart bid. Hydes’ strategy meant that he was allowed to play peacefully in game. The defense was the same at the other table, holding declarer to ten tricks: N/S +420.

The deals so far have all been primarily about the bidding. On our next deal, Alex Hydes took advantage of a defensive slip to produce another major swing to his partnership.

None VulnerableDealer North

South showed four spades with his negative double, and Alex Hydes quickly installed himself in game after West’s simple heart raise. Michael Byrne expressed his opinion about declarer’s prospects and advanced the K.

Hydes ruffed the opening heart lead and immediately played the A and a second diamond, taken by East with the Q. A low heart to the ten and queen was ruffed by declarer, who then played a third diamond, covered by the K, ruffed in dummy with the ♠5 and overruffed by West with the ♠8.

Had Dyke returned a trump now, declarer would have been a trick short, but the club return gave Hydes a chance to shine. He won with the ♣A, cashed his second club winner, and ruffed a club in dummy. Next came a heart, ruffed with the ♠10, a diamond ruffed with dummy’s last low trump, and another heart, ruffed in hand with the ♠Q whilst Byrne had to impotently follow suit. The ♠A remained in dummy as declarer’s tenth trick. He had made three top winners in the minors and seven trump tricks including four heart ruffs in hand. N/S a massive +590.

We finish with another excellent demonstration of accurate slam bidding from our featured pair. First, an illustration of how easy it is to miss this slam without anyone doing anything particularly wrong from the other table shown on BBO VuGraph:

Both VulnerableDealer North

It is hard to disagree particularly with any of the actions taken, but the end result was a cold slam played in game. E/W +660.

West – Hydes North – Gold East – Handley-P SouthRobson

Although I would advocate for a One Club opening on this shape, Ben Handley-Pritchard’s One Diamond certainly worked much better on this layout. Hydes started with an inverted raise and Ben jumped to Three Spades, showing a shortage. An exchange of cue-bids now allowed the partnership to investigate grand slam possibilities before settling in the top spot.

There was nowhere to put the heart loser, so twelve tricks were the limit: E/W +1370 and an impressive way to round off what had been an excellent performance throughout the trials. 

By finishing a close second in the final stages of the trials, Ben Handley-Pritchard and Alex Hydes join Andrew Robson and David Gold in the England team for this summer’s European Championships in Madeira. The team will be completed by a pair to be selected later. Good luck to them in Funchal.

Next week, we will again be in the U.K., for the first weekend of the annual home international series for the Camrose Trophy. For a change, though, we will give the England players a break and follow the fortunes of the two main contenders, the teams from Scotland and Ireland.