Marc Smith visits the Grand Final of the Australian National Open Teams
For a rare change, we step away from the Alt events this week to see the best of the action from a real, live, face-to-face event. We are in Adelaide, South Australia for the Grand Final of the 2021 Australian NOT. It was MILNE vs FOSTER, played over four 14-board stanzas, with MILNE enjoying a 0.1-IMP carryforward advantage.
As usual, we begin with some problems for you to mull over. We will find out later how your choices would have worked. Firstly, with just your side vulnerable, you are North with:
What action do you take?
Next, with both sides vulnerable, you hold as North:
What action, if any, do you take:
Lastly, with neither side vulnerable, you are West holding:
What action, if any, do you take?
Whilst you consider those, we dive right into the opening stanza, where both North players had to contend with the first of this week’s problems.
Bruce Neill had no sophisticated weaponry to deal with this hand, so he contented himself with a straightforward jump rebid of 3♦. Kim Morrison advanced with 3♠ and now Neill cue-bid his club control, presumably intending it to agree spades. However, not having received that message, Morrison jumped to game in diamonds. Neill had no reason to think there were not two aces missing, so he passed. Declarer had no problems scoring all 13 tricks on a heart lead: N/S +640.
Had Morrison advanced with a 4♥cue-bid over 4♠, the partnership would have been well on their way to reaching one of the decent slams available. Spades is, of course, the better of the two, as you can survive both a 4-1 spade split and a 3-1 diamond break, whereas the trumps have to play for no loser in a diamond slam.
Although not alerted, the commentary team on BBO VuGraph were under the impression that Liam Milne’s 2NT rebid showed 6+♦/3♠. That is consistent with James Coutts’ 3♥ advance, presumably value-showing and denying a club control. Over 3sx, Coutts’ 3NT seems well thought out, leaving partner room to cue-bid in clubs. Perhaps Milne thought he was just being offered a choice of games or maybe he decided that he had already bid to the limit of his values. Either way, his retreat to 4♠ left his partner with nowhere to go. Here, too, declarer received a heart lead and therefore made all 13 tricks: N/S +710 and 2 IMPs to MILNE, but a chance for a big much larger swing missed by both teams.
As an aside, it is interesting to note that North/South were given a free ride at both tables. That would not have been the case across much of Europe and even amongst expert circles in North America over the past couple of years, where a 2♥ opening on that West hand would be regarded as almost routine. Getting to slam with assuredness would certainly be more difficult when you are forced to start your auction at the three-level.
FOSTER claimed the early lead, winning a rather quiet opening stanza 22-3.
The auction started normally and James Coutts advanced with a natural game try of 2NT, showing invitational values and only four spades. With four-card support and a maximum, Milne had a clear jump to game in spades. The defenders began with two high hearts followed by a club exit from South.
Coutts won with the ♣A, crossed to the ♠K and played a second round of trumps to the ace, revealing the 4-1 break. He returned to hand with a third round of trumps, taking the marked finesse, and led the ♣J. The VuGraph commentators thought that declarer should rise with the ♣K, but Coutts was quite prepared to lose the trick to North, who could do no damage. North exited with a fourth round of trumps, enabling declarer to claim: E/W +620.
There was some discussion about whether North could cause a problem by playing a heart for a ruff-and-discard after making his club trick, as the clubs are blocked and North could ruff the third round. I assume, though, that declarer had spotted that he could ruff in dummy, return to hand with the ♦A, and draw North’s last trump, discarding the ♣K to unblock the suit.
A combination of a more attacking opening lead and some inferior technique created a swing. The auction here began with a weak notrump opening, Stayman, and an invitational raise accepted.
Tony Nunn’s diamond lead began what would prove to be a damaging attack on declarer’s entries. Not that declarer helped the situation by winning in hand with the ♦K and starting trumps by cashing the ace and playing a second round to the king. Now he was in the wrong hand to take a third-round finesse in the suit. When declarer now ran the ♣J. Nunn won with the queen and played a second diamond. There was now no way for declarer to draw trumps and deal with the club blockage. Weston tried to cash two more rounds of clubs, but Nunn ruffed to set the contract a trick: E/W -100 and 12 IMPs to MILNE.
MILNE won the second set 30-15. At the midway point of the match, FOSTER clung to a slender lead, ahead 38-33.1. All still to play for.
The match was effectively decided as a contest in the third stanza. After a quiet start to the set, there came a string of five deals on which MILNE outscored their opponents 52-0. This was the last of the five:
Nunn/Dalley conducted an everyday auction to the obvious 3NT, where the favourable minor-suit positions mean that declarer can make at least ten tricks on any lead. When Morrison opened the ♥3, Paul Dalley was soon claiming eleven tricks: N/S a fairly routine +660.
At the other table, though, things were far from routine, and David Weston was faced with the second of this week’s bidding problems:
James Coutts 1♠ opening truly put the cat amongst North/South’s pigeons. Julian Foster’s takeout double is not a thing of beauty but, with a 15-count and not far from perfect shape, it’s a bid we’d surely all make. Liam Milne’s pre-emptive raise to 3♠ then really stuck it to Weston.
There are four options, Pass, 4♥ or a responsive Double are all reasonable options, but it is only the last and least likely choice, 3NT, that will hold the loss on the deal to just 1 IMP. If North makes a responsive double, I would guess South is likely to defend with this hand, so you would collect +500 and just lose 4 IMPs. When Weston opted for door number three, though, he was in trouble. Even with all the minor-suit cards well-placed for him, declarer cannot avoid losing three trumps and the ♣A in 4 ♥. Another trick got away in the wash and Weston eventually finished two down: N/S -200 and 13 IMPs to MILNE.
The last board of the set was the final nail in the FOSTER coffin:
After a normal start to the auction, each side getting their major into play, Liam Milne made a game try on the West hand. North competed to 3♠ but gave up when James Coutts bid game in hearts. There were no problems in the play, declarer losing just two diamonds and the king of trumps: E/W +420.
Perhaps the most important difference here was the systemic choice of opening bid by East. Facing a 1♦ opening, the West hand looks much better offensively, so Kim Morrison did not mess around with a game try but just bid 4♥. When Tony Nunn carried on to 4♠ and Bruce Neill doubled, Morrison was then faced with the last of this week’s problems.
Looking at all four hands, it is easy to see that defending is the big winner. Not only because East/West can make only ten tricks in hearts, but because they have two clubs, a club ruff, two red aces and the ♠Q against 4♠-X for E/W +500. No doubt influence by the expected double fit in the red suits, though, Morrison bid on. Declarer here also lost the three obvious tricks in hearts: E/W -50 and another 10 IMPs to MILNE.
MILNE won the third stanza 69-16 to lead by 48 with 14 boards left to play. The final set was fairly dull and finished 13-14 to FOSTER. MILNE thus won the match and title by a score of 115.1-68. Congratulations to Liam Milne, Tony Nunn, James Coutts and Paul Dalley.
Next week, we return to the online world and, specifically, to this month’s early event in the Alt calendar, the Midi Alt Swiss Teams.