Marc Smith visits the final matches at the first Alt Swiss Teams-Pairs
We return to the first Alt Swiss IMP Teams-Pairs with four matches remaining in the 13-round Swiss event. A reminder of the format, which is effectively IMP Pairs, where results in head-to-head matches are compared to a datum result, calculated by dropping the top and bottom scores and averaging the remaining results on the board. The main difference is that each ‘pair’ consists of a team of between two and ten players, with any two playing in each match. After nine matches, the 22-team field was led by:
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 hand in the South seat:
West’s opening bid is either artificial and very strong or weak with both major suits. What action, if any, do you take?
Secondly, with both sides vulnerable, you hold as West:
Your 3♣ is just regular Stayman, so partner has denied a four-card or longer major. What action do you now take?
While you consider those problems, let’s take a look at the action from Round 10. Team SEAMON-MOLSON have dominated the competition thus far, winning seven of their nine matches, and losing the other two each by just 1 IMP, 23-24 against REYNOLDS in Round 5 and 14-15 against ISRAEL in Round 2. Having already played the five teams immediately behind them, they faced EDMONDS in Round 10.
One can always trust Dutch opponents to come up with something designed to make life difficult for their opponents. Kees Rentes’ two-way 2♣ opening set America’s Stewart Rubenstein the first of this week’s bidding problems.
Even at relatively low levels, players these days bid well enough that they will reach a decent contract more often than not if you leave them alone. The game has thus become one on which many pairs adopt the strategy of bidding with any excuse, particularly non-vulnerable in first seat, where the odds are 2-1 that one of the opponents has a good hand. Kees Rentes’ 2♣ opening on this deal, which showed either a very strong hand, like a standard 2♣ opening, or a weak hand with both majors, unquestionably adhered to that theory. And make life difficult for their American opponents it certainly did.
Perhaps most players would take a shot at 3NT on this South hand but, with a singleton in partner’s suit, one can certainly see how passing could be right. Declarer made 12 tricks in his lowly partscore: N/S +190 and 12 IMPs to NETBRIDGE when the datum on the deal was N/S +790.
Only one other North/South pair had to contend with an opening bid from West:
Marusa Gold’s 2♦ opening showed a weak hand with at least 5-4 in the majors. After his partner’s 3♣ overcall, David Chechelashvili did advance with 3NT. Ahmed Soliman retreated to 4♣ , but Chechelashvili decided that he now had enough to roll out RKCB. The 4NT response showed two key cards and the ♣ Q, so the Georgian took a shot at 6NT.
Clearly, you would rather be in clubs, particularly on a heart lead. With the club position as it was, though, playing in notrumps was just worth a couple more IMPs. N/S +1020 and a somewhat fortunate 6 IMPs to CHECHELASHVILI-SOLIMAN.
The leaders had the auction to themselves, and duly cruised into the best contract.
Janice Molson opened 1♣ and reversed to show extra strength at her second turn. Sylvia Shi’s 2NT was game-forcing with a heart stop and, when Molson then rebid her club suit, Shi made a quantitative jump to 4NT. Molson decided that her extra club length justified acceptance, and her jump to the club slam ended the auction. Well judged from both sides of the table. N/S +920 and 4 IMPs to SEAMON-MOLSON, whose 37-6 win was their fifth consecutive victory and moved them more than 20 VPs clear of the field.
Board 7 of Round 11 required not only methods, but judgement too.
The Polish auction began with a weak 1NT and Stayman. Sophia’s 2♠ was then a game-forcing inquiry and Cathie’s 2NT denied a five-card minor. Three Clubs was, presumably, natural although, with very limited possibilities remaining, quite what more opener is supposed to say about her hand now is unclear. Perhaps, though, Cathie would have bid 3♦ with four of that suit, so she is known to be 3-3-3-4 shape when she fails to do so.
This is one of those slams that can be made on any lead, but there are plenty of chances for declarer to do the wrong thing. Baldysz was off to a promising start when Molson opened the ♥ 4, giving her four tricks in that suit: declarer now had 11 tricks with the clubs breaking. Baldysz cashed three rounds of clubs (keeping an entry in dummy), and then played a spade to her king. The winning line of play now is far from obvious: declarer has to cash her club winner and her three hearts, squeezing South down to a singleton diamond in order to keep all of her spades. (If South throws a spade instead, declarer can just duck a spade while she still has the ♦ A.) She can then play a diamond to the ace and a spade to the nine, endplaying South to lead into the ♠A-J at the end.
When declarer not unreasonably continued with a second round of spades, she could no longer make the contract. The ♠J lost to South’s queen and a diamond came back. Baldysz correctly eschewed the finesse but, when spades failed to break in the endgame, she was one down. E/W -100 and a massive 14 IMPs to SEAMON-MOLSON when the datum on the deal was a whopping E/W +970. Despite this setback, team IMP managed to tie this match 24-24, ending the leaders’ five-match win streak but putting only a minor dent in their lead atop the table.
Holding the East cards in the match between REYNOLDS and HARRIS, America’s Lance Kerr was armed with similar knowledge:
The 1NT opening here was 14-15 and, again, the 2♠ after Stayman was a shape inquiry. Tom Reynolds’ 2NT denied a five-card minor and his 3♠ bid then showed precisely 3-3-3-4 shape. Armed with similar knowledge to East at the table above, Kerr chose the slam in clubs. What a difference: no help on the opening lead required, and no X-ray vision to pull off a spectacular end position either. Declarer won the opening diamond lead with the ace and ruffed a diamond. The ♣ A-Q came next, and then declarer crossed to the ♥ Q to ruff dummy’s remaining diamond with his last trump. The ♠ K provided access to dummy in order to draw North’s last trump with the ♣ K. Declarer had scored six top tricks outside the trump suit and six trump tricks: E/W +1370 and 9 IMPs to REYNOLDS.
With the event played on Swiss lines with Danish (teams can play teams they have previously met in the final round), Round 12 was the last chance for any of the top teams to beat up on a team further down the table. Life at the top can be tough, though, and third-placed FREDIN-GOTTLIEB drew GAL, who had themselves been in the top five just a couple of rounds earlier. Those West players using natural systems all faced the evaluation problem posed in the second of this week’s bidding problems. The match between USA/Sweden and Hungary at Table 3 was no exception:
Regular Stayman discovered no four-card major opposite and Peter Gal then settled for a gentle raise to game. South attacked with a heart on this auction, so declarer scored 12 tricks: E/W +690 and 5 IMPs to GAL when the datum was E/W +500. One of the frustrating things about IMP Swiss Pairs is that there is little you can do if the opponents do the right thing against you on the big boards. Of course, as often seems to be the case in many sports, the better you are doing the better your luck seems to run.
Phil King started with Muppet Stayman, and Kevin Castner’s 3♥ response denied a four- or five-card major. Now King thought he was worth a quantitative raise to 4NT and Kastner thought he had an acceptance of the invite. As usual, when both members of the partnership have even marginally overbid, the contract needed some luck. Molson led a give-nothing-away spade, and declarer immediately got the diamonds right. Declarer then marked time by running the ♣ Q, but the location of that king was not particularly relevant as declarer always has two club tricks, no more and no less. It would all boil down to the heart finesse, and when it lost that was curtains for declarer. E/W -100 and 12 IMPs to SEAMON-MOLSON, who won 27-13 to maintain a significant but not insurmountable lead over their nearest rival.
It is not always the big-name star who produces a spectacular result.
Cecilia Rimstedt, a member of the Swedish team that won the 2019 Venice Cup in Wuhan, China, opened proceedings with a strong/artificial 1♣ . Gary Donner’s 1♥ response showed either a positive response with 5+♠ or 11-13 balanced. 1NT was a relay and 2♥ confirmed the balanced option with four spades but not four hearts. 2NT was waiting and Donner showed his second suit. Now Rimstedt was interested: she showed her slam suitability with a raise and then jumped to 6♦ when Donner cue-bid a spade control.
Adam Grossack could have spoiled the party had he found a heart lead. (Indeed, at the only other table where East/West played in diamonds, North led a heart and declarer ended up one down in game!) Grossack, though, opened a low club. Donner rose with the ♣ A and immediately started trumps, guessing right when the nine appeared on the first round from North. With little alternative, Donner turned the contract into notrumps by playing four rounds of diamonds. Next came four rounds of spades, throwing the low heart from dummy. If declarer was going to take the heart finesse, now was his last chance. When Donner instead played a club, South won with the king but, having only hearts left, had to give declarer his twelfth trick by leading into dummy’s ♥ A-Q. Were Cecilia Rimstedt French, she would no doubt have said “Chapeau!”. Perhaps she did anyway. E/W +1370 and 13 IMPs to DONNER.
The Danish format meant that it would be first against second at Table 1 in Round 13. SELIGMAN exactly kept pace with the leaders by winning their penultimate match 22-8, which left them marginally less than 16 VPs behind going into the final match. This meant that SELIGMAN could overcome the deficit and win the event with a victory by 30 IMPs or more. That would be a tough ask against a team whose worst result over the preceding 12 matches was a 1-IMP loss and, indeed, it was a credit to SELIGMAN than they had managed to stay this close considering the form shown by the leaders.
Martin Seligman ensured that there was no drama on this deal at Table 1.
Seligman had no intentions beyond game. The defence did not take their ruff, so that was 11 tricks: E/W +450 and 7 IMPs to SELIGMAN when the datum score on the deal was a surprisingly low E/W +160.
Most of the damage was self-inflicted, with some West players making a Bergen Raise and East then launching into RKCB. True, you could count yourself a bit unlucky to go down in 5♠ , particularly with two discards available in dummy on which to dispose of the low hearts.
Profitable sacrifices at adverse vulnerability (or ‘Red Saves’ as they are often called) are always hard to judge. It was possible that the Dutch got this one mathematically right, so they certainly deserved their IMPs at the only table where East/West did not have the auction to themselves.
Cecilia Rimstedt opened with a Strong Club and Marina Witvliev climbed in with a jump overcall in diamonds. Gary Donner’s double showed game-forcing values without a suit to bid, but it was Jan van Cleeff’s amazing advanced save at this vulnerability that created the swing. I will leave you to select your own adjective to describe Jan’s 5♦ bid, and the options seem to range all the way from brilliant or adventurous to bonkers or downright insane.
Van Cleef was quite right, though, in that the defence could get only +200 from doubling and defending. Declarer ruffs a spade lead or wins a club lead with the ace, plays the ♥ A and ♥ J, covered and ruffed, spade ruff, ♥ 10 covered and ruffed, takes a third spade ruff and cashes the ♥ 9 for a club discard. West can ruff this, but it is at the expense of his trump trick, as the ♦ A and ♦ K then fall together. The defence make just one club and two diamonds.
Whether Rimstedt bids 5♠ or 6♠ , either is theoretically too high. Indeed, her jump to slam is far from unreasonable: dummy is known to hold 8+ HCP, and the last thing she expects to find there after this auction is the ♦ K. South not unreasonably led a diamond, so the defenders did not find their ruff, but they didn’t need to: E/W -50 and 5 IMPs to BID72.
Team SEAMON-MOLSON suffered by far their heaviest defeat (9 IMPs) of the entire event, SELIGMAN winning by a score of 15-6, but that was far short of the margin needed to rob the pre-match favourites of their title. Congratulations to Janice Seamon-Molson, Sylvia Shi, Richard Coren and Dan Korbel.
The final standings were:
Next week, we will return with the best of the action from the early rounds of the second heat of the Alt ‘NewCo’. This will be the first time we have seen teams playing in the four-division format that will be standard for the rest of the year. With promotion and relegation after each heat, the competition should be intense.