Marc Smith visits the fourth heat of the monthly Alt New Co
Over the past two weeks, we have seen the best of the action from the first seven matches in heat four of the monthly Alt New-Co. With three matches left to play, the standings in Group A were:
|RED DEVILS||87.55 VPs|
As usual, we begin with a couple problems for you to mull over. We will find out later how your choices would have worked. Firstly, with just the opponents vulnerable, you are North with:
What action do you take?
Next, with neither side vulnerable, you hold as East:
What action, if any, do you take:
Whilst you consider those, we dive right into Round 8, where the match between RED DEVILS and DE BOTTON produced plenty of excitement, with ten double-figure swings and 122 IMPs changing hands over just 16 deals. Board 3 saw a couple of players faced with this week’s first bidding problem. We start with events in DONNER vs EDMONDS
Young American star Kevin Dwyer finished in the top 10 of the Schools Pairs at the 2006 World Youth Championships. In a distinguished career as a junior international, he collected medals of all three colours in World championship teams events, winning the title in 2013. That same year, whilst still officially a junior, he was also a member of the USA team that reached the semi-finals of the Bermuda Bowl.
Swedish Venice Cup winner Cecilia Rimstedt (herself a former World junior teams finalist although, remarkably, the only player at this table not to have won such an event) opened a natural, weak 2♦ and Dwyer raised the pre-empt to the four-level. That was not enough to keep Piotr Zatorski out, though. The Pole doubled and Michal Klukowski, (his countryman although now flying the Swiss flag) retreated to 5♣.
Klukowski ruffed the diamond lead and crossed to hand with a trump. With two top hearts missing, declarer had little option but to rely on the double spade finesse, so he advanced the ♠10, covered by king and ace. A second trump to hand and a successful finesse against the ♠J then enabled him to claim twelve tricks. E/W +620.
At the other table, were the rest of the Rimstedt family:
Mikael’s 2♣ opening was either strong and artificial or a weak two in diamonds, so Ola could not pre-empt at his first turn, which allowed Sandra to make a takeout double at the two-level. Gary Donner responded just 3♣ and now Ola jumped to 4♦. When that came back to Donner, though, he decided his hand was worth game after all. One has to think that perhaps Ola was persuaded to double by the auction more than by the actual contents of his hand.
The play here was not quite as secure, Donner ruffing the diamond lead and drawing two rounds of trumps before playing the ♠10. Again, it was covered by king and ace, but now declarer had to used dummy’s final trump to cross back to hand to repeat the finesse. When North turned up with the ♠J, all was rosy in the Donner garden, although the extra round of trumps meant there was no overtrick. Still, E/W +650 meant 4 IMPs to DONNER.
I guess the Belgians do not have a natural weak two in diamonds in their armoury. Even so, that would seem to leave a choice between either 1♦ and 3♦ on that South hand. Sam Bahbout’s pass certainly simplified the auction for East/West.
Not that 4♠ was such a great spot either: Artur Malinowski ruffed the diamond opening, crossed to a club and advanced the ♠10, covered by king and ace. He then needed a second round of clubs to stand up so that he could repeat the trump finesse. When all that worked, declarer was able to claim ten tricks: E/W +620.
You have probably noticed that the 5♦ sacrifice would save a small number of IMPs as it is just down 500 against the vulnerable game. Thor Erik Hoftaniska also faced the original bidding problem, and the Norwegian found a much more effective solution:
Tor Helness also opened a natural weak two in diamonds on the South hand. Hoftaniska, a silver-medallist in the Mens’ Pairs and a bronze medallist in the Mens’ Teams at the 2011 World Mind Games in Beijing, found an imaginative jump to 3NT on the North hand. Entering at the four-level at adverse vulnerability on a shapely 12-count is far from obvious, so one can hardly blame Geert Arts for passing.
Sure, the defenders can take the first ten trick against 3NT, if West uses two club entries to lead spades twice through declarer. Not cashing all five club tricks immediately, though, is clearly far too risky, as declarer would have nine top tricks if he held the ♠A rather than the ♠K. The Belgians might have collected a couple more 50s by switching to spades at trick six. When instead de Roos played a heart, declarer could claim the rest. E/W +50 and 11 IMPs to DE BOTTON, who led 46-0 after just five boards of this match.
Everyone faced the tactical problem posed by the second of this week’s problem deals. Of course, when you live by the sword you also sometimes die by it, and this was one of those deals where the weak, unimaginative and poorly-armed came up smelling of roses:
To my mind, when you hold this East hand in third seat, non-vulnerable facing a passed partner, passing is losing tactics: you are just making things too easy for the opponents. Whether you open 1♥, a weak 2♥ or feel like being more creative (1♠ or 1NT anyone?), anything feels better than passing. On this layout, though, Geert Arts pass could not have worked better. With his partner having responded 1♥, Tor Helness had no reason to look at any other contract than 3NT. Arts duly led the ♥10 and the defenders cashed the first five tricks: N/S -50.
In the replay, Artur Malinowski opened 1♥ on the East cards. With hearts bid and supported by their opponents, the Belgians were never going to play game in notrumps. Steered away from that doomed spot, they efficiently made their way to the minor-suit game against which there was no defence. N/S +400 and 10 IMPs to RED DEVILS.
IN SALVO vs MOSS, Michal Nowosazki also opened 1♥ and, after a similar auction, the Turks played 5♣ for N/S +400. At the other table, the Turkish East was equipped with a weapon that proved effective on this occasion:
A bronze-medallist in the Open Teams at the 2016 European Winter Games, Gokhan Yilmaz was able to open the East hand and take up space without revealing his suit. Kevin Bathurst ovecalled 3♣ and Omer Unur showed a willingness to compete in either major at the three-level. Perhaps a double would have been the winning action, but one cannot be too critical of John Hurd’s decision to bid 3NT. With a club fit implied by the passed hand action, should Bathurst correct to the club game? All much more difficult than at many other tables: N/S -50 and 10 IMPs to SALVO.
DE BOTTON won the O.K. Corral shootout 73-49 to knock the Belgians out of first place. MOSS defeated SALVO 48-27 to move up close behind the RED DEVILS in third. EDMONDS climbed to the head of the leader-board with a close-fought 27-26 victory over DONNER, but only a handful of VPs now separated the top three. Fittingly, the top two teams were scheduled to meet head on in Round 9.
Board 10 created a major swing in all three matches in Group A:
With only eight-card fits, a combined 27 HCP, and hands that did not fit particularly well, it was no great surprise that the Belgians looked no further than game. Mikael Rimstedt’s trump lead went to the king and ace. Declarer cashed the ♠A, crossed to dummy with a second round of trumps, and played a spade to the king. Although South ruffed, declarer was still able to establish the spades and discard his club loser on the ♦K for twelve tricks: E/W +680.
The young Poles demonstrated yet again that they were at a different level. Piotr Zatorski began with a Polish Club and then showed 18+ HCP and at least three-card heart support with his 2♦ bid. Klukowski’s 2♠ limit his hand and confirmed only four hearts, but Zatorski set the suit with 3♥. After Klukowski had showed a hand with no shortage and a club control, Zatorski checked on key cards, found only one missing, and bid the slam. The confidence of youth!
Steven De Donder led the ♠Q to dummy’s ace and Klukowski continued with the ♠A, ruffed by South. Bahbout returned his low club, but declarer won with the ace, crossed to the ♦A, and nonchalantly led a third round of spades. When South could not ruff with the ♥K, declarer was home: he ruffed, pitched dummy’s club loser on the ♦K, took a heart finesse, and ruffed another spade. A second round of trumps left dummy high and declarer claimed the rest: E/W +1430 and 13 IMPs to EDMONDS, who won 48-39 to widen the gap at the top. MOSS gained no ground either as they went down 32-36 to DONNER. In the third match, SALVO thumped DE BOTTON 62-24 to drag the English team into a potential relegation fight.
With one match to play, the top of the table looks like this:
In Round 10, MOSS took on RED DEVILS whilst the leaders played DE BOTTON. Board 12 was decisive in both matches:
Steve de Roos opened an ultra-featherweight 1♥ and it says a great deal about the Belgian pair’s style that Geert Arts contented himself with a one-level negative double and thereafter went quietly on his misfitting but chunky 13-count. It would certainly have been easy for East/West to get too high after this start.
Perhaps thinking that the jack may prove significant in its own right, Arts did not lead the singleton in his partner’s suit. Instead, he chose the ♦9, clearly hoping to play a forcing game with such good trumps. John Hurd immediately played three rounds of diamonds, taking his ruff in dummy, before exiting with a trump to West’s bare ace. Arts won the club switch, cashed the ♠K to remove dummy’s last trump, and forced declarer with a diamond. He defence had to make two more trumps and a heart at the end: one down. E/W +100 was not far off a par result on the deal, which is more than can be said for what happened at the other table.
Here, it was not West who opened with a heart bid, but North, Tine Dobbels’ 2♥ showing a weak hand with both majors. When Michael Nowosadzki doubled for takeout, Jacek Kalita opted to defend, correctly inferring that his partner would have spades well held.
2♥ was not a great spot, but things did not appear to start well for the Poles. Declarer won the trump lead in hand and played a spade, on which Nowosadzki rose with the king only to see it overtaken by his partner’s bare ace. In fact, though, it was the Poles who had gained from this exchange, as declarer needs to play a minor at trick two to get out for one down. West continued with a second trump, won in dummy with the ♥Q, and declarer played three rounds of diamonds, ruffing. Having not previously played a club, though, she could not now score her low trump via a ruff. Dobbels ended with just her three high trumps, two diamonds and a diamond ruff: two down. E/W +500 and 9 IMPs to MOSS.
MOSS won the head-to-head encounter 57-14 to move well ahead of the Belgians. That left EDMONDS needing to avoid defeat by more than 15 IMPs against DE BOTTON if they were to hold off the late challenge by the defending champions.
David Bakhshi also opened as West, but with 2 ♥ showing a weak hand with hearts and a minor. Tom Townsend quite sensibly chose to play at the three-level in his partner’s minor, but Joel Wooldridge upped the stakes with a double on the way out.
Jodi Edmonds kept the defence in with a chance of beating this contract by two by leading ace and another diamond. To collect the maximum, though, Wooldridge must switch to his trump at trick three, which was far from obvious. When he gave Edmonds her ruff, declarer was off the hook to some extent. Townsend won the spade switch with dummy’s bare ace and led a heart, taken by North. Wooldridge played a second heart now, at least ensuring that they beat the contract. Declarer could make the ♠K and score one of dummy’s low trumps with a spade ruff, but South’s trump spots were just good enough that she had to make one more trick. E/W -100 and perhaps advantage EDMONDS.
The auction in the all-Scandinavian battle began in an eminently sensible manner, with East opening in third seat and a normal response from West. Having passed initially, though, Thor Erik Hoftaniska could not restrain himself and overcalled 1♠, despite holding something more akin to a waistcoat than an actual suit. Tor Helness raised gently (he was facing a passed partner, of course) to the two-level, and Mikael Rimstedt made a takeout double. Ola Rimstedt judged accurately to defend insofar as the defence can nip 2♠ by a trick (as we saw from the other match) and East/West cannot legitimately make anything at the three-level.
As we have seen so often during Alt events, things seldom seem to turn out as expected when Hoftaniska is involved. He won the opening heart lead in hand and played a club, West overtook with the ♣J and played the only card in his hand that will defeat the contract, the ♠A. Unfortunately for the Swedes, the second half of the defensive problem (West has to switch to diamonds at this point to disrupt declarer’s entries) proved too difficult.
When Mikael continued hearts, declarer played low from his hand. Ruffing with a natural trump trick would not help, so Ola pitched the ♣Q and Hoftaniska won in dummy with the ♥Q. He then ruffed a club and played a trump towards the queen. East won with the ♠K and exited with a trump to the queen. Dummy’s club spots had become significant now: when declarer led the ♣6 from dummy, West needs to cover with the king to save the overtrick. When he played low, declarer pitched a diamond loser and East was forced to ruff with his trump trick. Hoftaniska won the forced diamond return in hand, cashed his last trump and, when he then played a diamond to the ace, West was squeezed in hearts and clubs. Nine spectacular tricks for the Norwegian star. E/W -870 and 13 IMPs to DE BOTTON.
The final score in this match was 66-26 to DE BOTTON, which meant that MOSS retained their title despite lying in last place at the halfway point of the event. A spectacular, grandstand finish from a team who have become perennial winners in Alt events. The final table looked like this:
Congratulations to the MOSS team on another victory: Sylvia Moss, Roger Lee, Kevin Bathurst, John Hurd, Jacek Kalita and Michal Nowosadzki.
For heat 5, SALVO will be relegated to Group B, to be replaced by BLACK (England, Sweden). DE BOTTON will also not play next month and their place will be taken by a new all-star team captained by Nick Nickell. VINITA (USA, Denmark) a team that includes Bob Hamman and a couple of members of the Bilde family, win Group C to earn promotion to Group B. Meanwhile, LEBOWITZ (USA, Denmark, Italy, Sweden) which includes Denis Bilde, go in the other direction. RIPPEY (USA, Poland) and JEDI KNIGHTS (England, Wales) earn promotion to Group C.
Next week, we will take a brief sojourn from the Alt events in order to pay a flying visit to Adelaide in South Australia. There, we will see the action from the Grand Final of the Australian National Open Teams, one of the world’s first post-pandemic face-to-face events. Of course, as with most major events these days, the play was also broadcast around the world on BBO VuGraph.