Marc Smith visits the final stages of Heat 6 in the New Alt Competition
Over the past three weeks, we have followed the best of the action from Heat 6 of the New Alt Competition. BLACK (England, Sweden) built a substantial lead by the midway point, but two heavy losses coupled with two big wins by the other team flying the Cross of St George, DE BOTTON, have seen a significant upheaval in the leaderboard. These were the standings in Group A when we left with seven of the ten matches played:
|DE BOTTON||89.03 VPs|
Elsewhere, LEBOWITZ (USA, Italy, Sweden, Denmark) leads Group B, trailed by ORCA (England, Norway) and JEDI KNIGHTS (England, Wales). In Group C, BUQQY (China, Pakistan, Bulgaria) have overtaken PARSLY (France), with the rest of the field miles behind. Group D is still headed by LION (Spain, Singapore), with BRIDGE24.PL MIXED (Poland) just behind them.
As usual, we begin with some problems. We shall discover later how your choices would have worked. First, with just your side vulnerable, you are East with:
What bid do you make?
Next, with just the opponents vulnerable, you hold as South:
What bid do you make?
Finally, with both sides vulnerable, you are North with this collection:
What action, if any, do you take?
While you consider those, we start with the action from Round 8, in which the two leading teams are each playing one the two teams currently fighting to avoid relegation. A number of players faced the first of this week’s problem hands in this round:
First up were the young Danes, Soren Bilde and Andreas Plejdrup, who as a pair represented their country first at Schools level (in 2013) and in 2019 as members of the Under-26 team. Plejdrup’s 3NT bid in the situation set earlier as a problem does perhaps seem rather precipitous, and did not get the job done on this layout. Declarer made eleven tricks: E/W +660.
Alon Apteker first represented South Africa in 2004. Playing with long-time partner Craig Gower, he has twice collected a bronze medal from the Open Teams at a European Transnational Championship, in 2007 and 2019, and he was a member of the Springbok team that reached the semi-finals of the 2007 Bermuda Bowl. In the same situation, Apteker advanced with 3♦. Swedish star Peter Fredin set the suit with 4♦ and then Blackwooded to the good slam after Apteker had cue-bid in hearts.
The opening spade lead was covered by the king and ace, declarer ruffing. The ♣A, a club ruff, a trump to the ace and a second club ruff with the ♦9 left the defence with a trump trick, but that was all. E/W +1370 and 12 IMPs to FREDIN.
Not that East’s 3♦ bid was necessarily the end of things. Here Kevin Bathurst bid 3♦, but John Hurd decided to keep the notrump game in the picture by advancing with a fourth-suit 3♥. With both majors adequately stopped, Bathurst had a clear 3NT bid and, when Hurd passed, the Americans had also missed the boat. E/W +660.
Not that things were straightforward for the English pair at the other table, where there was plenty of science involved:
The New Orleans Saints (if Andrew played with Joey Silver, they would be the Las Vegas Raiders) established a game-force at the two-level, and quickly worked out that there was no spade fit. David Gold’s natural 3♥ bid then seemed to throw a spanner in the works, though, and they were apparently unable to investigate other possible trump suits thereafter.
Here, too, North led a spade, covered twice and ruffed. Andrew Black played trumps immediately and, when that suit split 3-3, he ran the ♦9. With the ♦Q onside, declarer had thirteen tricks, via five trumps, five diamonds, two clubs and one spade: E/W +1460 and 13 IMPs to BLACK
Never count out a team that includes the legendary Bob Hamman: VINITA’s 55-23 victory over FREDIN carried them well away from the relegation zone and knocked the Swedes down into fourth place. DE BOTTON defeated DONNER 49-33 to maintain their place at the top and leave their opponents mired in the cellar. In the other match, BLACK saw off the challenge of MOSS, 62-44, and climbed back up to second spot, although 15 VPs behind the leaders.
In Round 9, the leaders faced FREDIN. Board 6 was a bidding challenge for the North/South pairs. Since readers always enjoy seeing the world’s best with egg on their face, we’ll also take a look at one of the largest swings in Alt history. A number of players faced the second of this week’s problems on this deal:
I have quite a bit of sympathy for Alon Apteker here. A club void is not such great news opposite this holding. You find out that partner holds the ♥Q and the ♠A-K, which takes care of the red suits, but what are you going to do with five clubs? The South Africans were the only pair in Group A to stop at the six-level: N/S +1010.
Although a number of players started with 4♣, showing the void, I am far from convinced that is the right way to go with this North hand. Having said that, this is perhaps the price one pays for playing weak jump shifts, as this is exactly the sort of hand that would otherwise have started 1♥-2♠-any-3♥, showing a primary heart fit with a good spade suit in a game-forcing hand. It is for this sort of hand that I still play strong jump shifts, and probably always will.
Rich in controls, the South hand does perhaps look ideal for Blackwood, but the 4♦ cue-bid worked out much better as it enabled North to take control. After all, he was the only one who knew about his huge source of tricks. South is, presumably, expected to ignore the ♣A when responding to Blackwood after his partner has shown a void – perhaps something worth checking with your regular partner! Assuming that South’s 5♣ response showed the three red-suit key cards, it is clear for North to jump to the grand slam.
Tor Helness won the diamond lead, played a trump to the queen to see the 4-0 break, and led a second trump back to the ace. He then played a spade, intending to win the ace and ruff a spade with the ♥K before leading the ♥9 through West to draw the remaining trumps. The appearance of the ♠Q on the first round obviously simplified matters for declarer. An opening lead of a low club would perhaps have made things more interesting with trumps breaking 4-0. N/S +1510 and 11 IMPs to DE BOTTON.
You may be mystified by the fact that I said only one pair stopped at the six-level, and yet I promised you a huge swing. In BLACK vs VINITA, David Gold and Andrew Black duly bid and made 7♥: N/S +1510. At the other table:
So much for persuading everyone about the merits of strong jump shifts! Hermann Lall did indeed start with 2♠ and then rebid 3♥ over 3♣ (although I think this sequence should show 4+♥, their agreement was that it only promised three). There was obviously then some confusion over the meaning of North’s 5NT. Lall self-alerted it as an old-fashioned Grand Slam Force, clearly assuming that he had already agreed hearts. Hamman evidently took it as some sort of pick-a-slam move. When Lall then made one more try with 6♦, Hamman accepted the grand slam try, but he did so in notrumps.
Unfortunately for West, he was not on lead with his ace, but he doubled anyway, presumably hoping that it was a Lightner double for a club lead. That message fell on deaf ears, though, and Gunnar Hallberg opened a diamond. Looking at all four hands, it is clear that declarer now has 14 easy tricks with the spades coming in. However, Lall won with the ♦A and played a low heart to the queen. Presumably, he did not notice that the red card played by East on this trick was a diamond, as he continued with a heart back to the king and then unblocked the ♥J under the ♥A. When declarer then tried to cash the ♥9, West won with the ♥10. I wonder who was more surprised, West or declarer! An avalanche of minor-suit tricks came next: N/S -1400 and a massive 21 IMPs to BLACK.
I suppose if you are going to have a couple of major accidents in an event, it is best to have them both on the same deal. It is also perhaps heartening to see quite so graphically that even multiple World Champions sometimes get the kind of brain-freeze that seems to happen to the rest of us more regularly. Deals such as this surely confirm there is hope for us all.
Later in the set, a number of North players were faced with the last of this week’s bidding problems:
I could also have set the South hand as the problem because, for me, the 3NT bid is far from clear. If South advances with 3♦ instead, the question then revolves around the meaning of North’s bids in either major. When Alon Apteker chose 3NT, though, Craig Gower looked no further.
David Bakhshi led a spade, but Tom Townsend won with the ♠A and switched to hearts. The defenders thus took the first seven tricks: N/S -300.
After the same start, Kevin Dwyer for DONNER bid 3♠ at his second turn on the South hand and Cecilia Rimstedt bid 3NT. At the other table, Roger Lee bid 3♦ over South’s 2♠ club raise, over which Sylvia Moss bid 3NT to show her spade stopper. Thus, the deal was a push at 3NT-3 in this match.
Only Thor Erik Hoftaniska solved the problem successfully:
After an identical start, the Norwegian advanced with a shortage-showing 4♥ bid on the North hand. Tor Helness had no interest beyond game, so he simply corrected to 5♣. The defence had two major-suit aces to take, but that was all. N/S +600 and 14 IMPs to DE BOTTON.
DE BOTTON defeated FREDIN 50-17 to take a stranglehold on first place. BLACK beat VINITA 48-19 to keep the chance of winning mathematically alive, but they were 15 VPs behind the leaders going into the final match. BLACK would need close to a maximum win in their final match, against DONNER. Even then DE BOTTON could ensure victory if they did anything better than a 20-IMP loss to VINITA. In the third match of Round 9, MOSS won 43-19 to ensure that DONNER, who were now more than 20 VPs behind the field, would finish in the relegation place.
In Round 10, Board 5 was a bidding test for the North/South pairs:
Having already essayed 2♥ as a passed hand, it is hard for Artur Malinowski to do more than just raise to game at his next turn with such minimal support for his partner’s suits. The two aces, though, were just about all the help that Janet De Botton needed. With both minor suits breaking, there were twelve easy tricks: N/S +620.
The optimism of the young means that they believe in the possibility of world peace and that they are going to live forever. They also bid on the assumption that partner will always show up with the right hand. That approach certainly paid dividends for Soren Bilde here. After an identical auction to the other table in the match, he raised himself to slam on the South cards. Dummy duly produced two aces, so that was N/S +1370 and 13 IMPs to VINITA.
The Polish world champions were given extra space when Anders Morath raised his partner’s spade overcall only to the two-level. Michel Nowosadzki started with a good/bad 2NT (showing a strong 3♣ or 3♦ bid, whereas a direct bid in either of those suits would have been just competitive). Jacek Kalita bid only 3♣ but Nowosadzki was not done. He started with a cue-bid and then continued with 4♣ to show slam interest when his partner bid 3NT. With two aces, it was clear for Kalita to accept the invitation with his partner bidding so strongly. The only question was which suit to play, and Kalita passed that decision back to his partner via a pick-a-slam 5NT. As it happens, slam in clubs is better as you can handle a 4-1 diamond split. On this occasion, though, both minors behaved and either slam was an easy make: N/S +1370.
The South African auction began scientifically enough, and then Craig Gower jumped to slam, clearly offering a choice of minors. Alon Apteker decided that the ♠A was what was needed for a grand slam but, alas, there was also a gaping hole in the trump suit. Indeed, with the ♣8-7 also missing, even a singleton honor is the West hand would not have been enough to save declarer, and Gower was reduced to hoping for ♣ Q-J doubleton either side. It was not to be: N/S -100 and 16 IMPs to MOSS.
VINITA did their part in keeping things interesting, defeating DE BOTTON 44-8 and restricting the leaders to just 2.41 VPs from the match. BLACK could not score the big win necessary to leapfrog their compatriots, though: they beat DONNER, but only by a score of 29-26.
The final standings were:
|DE BOTTON||122.79 VPs|
Congratulations to the DE BOTTON team on their first victory in this event: Janet De Botton, Artur Malinowski, David Bakhshi, Tom Townsend, Thomas Charlsen, Thor Erik Hoftaniska and Tor Helness.
Elsewhere, LEBOWITZ (USA, Italy, Sweden, Denmark) headed Group B, but due to absentees amongst the Group A teams for Heat 7, ORCA (England, Norway), SALVO (Turkey) and JEDI KNIGHTS (England, Wales) are all to be promoted. BUQQY (China, Pakistan, Bulgaria) held on to win Group C, with PARSLY (France) close behind them. Group D was won by LION (Spain, Singapore), who led throughout, with second-placed BIG CLUB (USA/Australia) also earning promotion.
Next week, we will step away from the Alt briefly to take in the best of the action from the Online Contract Bridge League July Cup.