Marc Smith visits the qualifying stages of the OCBL June Cup
Last week, we saw the action from the early rounds of the Online Contract Bridge League June Cup. With a number of world-class players in the field, there was plenty for the large crowds of kibitzers watching on BBO VuGraph to enjoy. The field was divided into two nine-team groups, playing a nine-round qualifying event of 16-board matches. The top four teams in each group would advance to the knockout stage at the end of the week-long event.
After four of the nine matches, these were the leading teams in each group:
|GROUP A:||GROUP B:|
|APRES-BRIDGE CHAMPS||52.08 VPs||HUNGARY||66.09 VPs|
|CALCIO & FOOTBALL||47.42||ZHAO||47.62|
As usual. We begin with some problems. How your choices would work, we shall find out later. Firstly, with both sides vulnerable, you are North with:
What action do you take?
Next, with both side vulnerable, you hold as West:
What do you bid?
Next, a lead problem. You are East and hear this auction:
Why you double, I cannot say. However, you now have to find the winning lead to justify your optimism. What do you lead?
Finally, with both sides vulnerable, you are North holding:
What action, if any, do you take?
While you consider those, we start in Round 5, where the top match featured APRES-BRIDGE CHAMPS, the leaders in Group A, against TILLY, lying second in Group B. And what a match of two halves it turned out to be. Board 4 was a bidding challenge for the E/W pairs:
Stefano Thommasini used Smollen to show a game-forcing hand with four spades and five or more hearts. Marcos Thoma had no reason to do anything other than bid 4♥ , and there matters rested. Declarer won the spade lead, drew trumps, cashed the top diamonds and took a spade finesse. South won and declarer claimed eleven tricks, conceding a trick to the ♦Q. E/W +650
Roy Welland also opened 1NT, but Sabine Auken had rather more sophisticated methods at her disposal. She began with a transfer and then advanced with 2NT, showing four spades. Welland relayed with 3♣, allowing Auken to show a club shortage. That was great news for Welland’s hand so he bid 4♣, systemically a slam-try agreeing hearts. Auken accepted, showing two key-cards and a void with her jump to 5NT, although that was academic by that stage since they were already committed to bidding 6♥.
There might have been challenges in the play, but the defenders solved any problems declarer may have had at trick one: North led the ♦6 and South played the queen. South later made the ♠Q but that was all: E/W +1430 and 13 IMPs to APRES-BRIDGE CHAMPS, who led 34-5 at the midway point of the match.
Faced with the first of this week’s problems, Rafal Jagniewski missed a difficult chance to save some IMPs on Board 13:
I don’t know about you, but I would find it very difficult to play with anyone who even thought about making a takeout double on that East hand. It’s a matter of style, I guess, but how is partner ever supposed to judge the subsequent auction if you can have such a hand so far from what would normally be expected?
Wotjek Gawel had an unusual tool in his bag, a two-level transfer that showed a game-force with at least three spades. When Thoma jumped to 4♦, Jagniewski simply showed a minimum hand by bidding 4♠ in a fast-arrival style. However, the E/W hands do not fit well and the cards lie well for N/S, so the defenders can make six tricks (one in each black suit and two in each of the reds) against 4♦-X for +800. Perhaps just too difficult!
Meanwhile, Jagniewski had to contend with a red-hot defence against his 4♠ contract. Declarer won the ♦J lad with the ace, crossed to his hand in trumps, and led his heart up. Thommasini went in with the ♥A, crossed to his partner’s hand with the ♦K, and Thoma now led the ♣2. After East’s original takeout double, declarer was never likely to get this right and, when he misguessed, he was one down: N/S -50.
Sometimes, the opponents just leave you no choice:
Sabine Auken did not double North’s 1♠ opening, instead overcalling 2♥ as many would. South advanced with 2NT, showing an invitational or better four-card spade raise, leaving West with the second of this week’s problems.
Not unreasonably, Welland assumed that North would bid 4♠ at his next turn. So, is there any point in bidding 4♥? Welland decided that he was going to save over 4♠, so he should do so now, perhaps pressurizing the opponents to misjudge. Alas for the Germans, on this occasion there was not a lot of judgement required: Phil King had no reason to think his side could make eleven tricks and Keven Castner, with an ace and two likely trump tricks, had as obvious double.
Five Hearts just seems like too much on this hand, and so it proved to be (even if 4♠ was making). The defence had two trump tricks, the ♣K and the two pointed-suit aces: N/S +800 and 14 IMPs to TILLY, who won the second half 37-3 and thus earned a 5-IMP victory in the match. Perhaps the answer on this West hand is to try to involve partner in the decision over 4♠ by making a fit-showing jump to 4♦ if you have that weapon in your arsenal. (The BBO Prime expert panel expressed their view on this deal in their discussion of the hand in the November competition.)
TILLY remained in second place in Group B, but the Hungarians stretched their lead at the top with a 75-49 win over LION. In Group A, APRES-BRIDGE CHAMPS slipped to second, overtaken by ORCA, who defeated HARRIS 52-21. TILLY will again feature in the top match of Round 9, as they face-off against ORCA. We begin, though, in another key matchup, DONNER against Group B leaders, HUNGARY. How did you fare with the lead problem posed at the beginning? As you might have guessed, a large number of IMPs rested on the decision:
Joe Grue bid 3NT over West’s 3♠ overcall, presumably showing a spade stop. Gyorgy Kemeny did not raise spades on the East cards, so it appears that the Americans were able cue-bid to identify the diamond weakness. (However, Grue alerted his 4♠ bid as showing ‘1 with Q’, suggesting that Moss’s 4♣ may have been RKCB even though it was not alerted.)
Kemeny led his partner’s suit and Grue made quick work of things. He ruffed the spade lead in dummy, drew trumps, played clubs from the top and, when the ♣Q fell, ruffed a club. He then claimed 13 tricks, his diamonds going on dummy’s club winners. N/S +510.
After the same start, Gabor Winkler bid 4♥ over 3♠ and Gary Donner then competed to 4♠ on the East hand. When the bidding tray came back to him, Miklos Dumbovich had jumped to 6♥, so Donner doubled and then had to find a winning lead. Perhaps Cecilia Rimstedt might have risked a double on the West cards, presumably Lightner, which would at least have given Donner an even-money shot of choosing the right minor. When he opened with a spade, Winkler followed the same line as Grue at the other table and was soon claiming 13 tricks. Here, though, it was N/S +1310 and 13 IMPs to HUNGARY, on their way to a 36-14 win, extending their lead at the top of Group B.
In the other top match, King/Castner reached 4♥ and made the usual 13 tricks on a spade lead. At the other table, though, the unfamiliar English/Turkish partnership had just the sort of accident that can happen to pairs playing the Multi unless you really know your partner.
Nafiz Zorlu’s 2♥ bid was the first indication that perhaps things were not as they should be. After all, do you really want to stop in 2♥ if partner’s weak two is in that suit? Of course, you expect him to have spades, and most of the time he will, however…
Marcos Thoma overcalled 2♠ and Stefano Thommasini did wonders for the Brazilian cause by failing to raise, despite his helpful shape. When 2♠ came back to Zorlu, he doubled and self-alerted it as ‘negative’.
What is Peter Crouch to make of this auction? Partner denied interest in game in hearts on the first round, but now he doubles 2♠. In a regular partnership, these things would be clear, but here they obviously were not. Crouch passed and the defence lost a trick in the play too, but it was only the overtrick: N/S -870 and 16 IMPs to TILLY.
This week’s final bidding problem occurred on the very next deal. We start at the table where TILLY were sitting N/S:
Phil King overcalled 1♠ and Kevin Castner advanced with 2NT, showing a maximum pass with at least four-card support. Richard Plackett showed extra values and likely short spades with a double, but Espec Erichsen was not sufficiently encouraged to bid at the four-level after King’s 3♠ bid. Plackett felt he had done enough, too, so that was that. Declarer lost the obvious four tricks: N/S +140.
In the replay, the Brazilians were not willing to go quietly. Crouch overcalled with a vulnerable 2♠ and Zorlu advanced with a cue-bid. Thoma doubled for takeout and Zorlu retreated to 3♠. When Thoma doubled again, though, Thommasini now had no choice but to bid 4♥. When this came around to Crouch his expectation was that he would make at most nine tricks facing a passed hand. The question, though, was whether 4♥ was beatable. Deciding that the odds were against his side’s defensive prospects, he saved in 4♠. As expected, that was doubled and one down: N/S -200 and 8 IMPs to TILLY.
4♥ was played at seven of the 18 tables, and only one declarer managed to make it. A diamond lead or a spade to North and a diamond switch enables the defenders to score two diamond ruffs in addition to their three aces. So, passing gains you 2 IMPs, doubling gets you +9 IMPs and, as we have seen, bidding 4♠ produces -8.
TILLY won an otherwise low-scoring encounter 29-11 to stay in second place in Group B, whilst ORCA dropped back to second in Group A. With six of the nine matches played in the qualifying event, these are the leading teams in each group:
|Group A||Group B|
|APRES-BRIDGE CHAMPS||72.92 VPs||HUNGARY||92.16 VPs|
|CALCIO & FOOTBALL||67.89||COMPTON||72.58|
Next week, we will be back to see the final stages of the qualifying rounds as teams battle not only for their place in the knockout stage, but also to earn the not-insignificant carryforward advantages that go to the highest finishers.