Marc Smith visits the Swiss stage of Alt Trophy I
A total of 22 teams lined up at the start of the week for the first running of The Alt Trophy. The format was a ten-round Swiss of 12-board matches, with the leading eight teams advancing to the knockout stage at the end of the week.
As usual, we begin with some problems. We shall discover later how your choices would have worked. Firstly, with just your side vulnerable, you are West holding:
What action, if any, do you take?
What would you do if, instead, South jumped to 3♥
Next, with neither side vulnerable, you hold as East:
What do you bid?
While you consider those, we kick off the action in Round 1, where a number of West players had to deal with the first of this week’s problems.
Matthew Gustawsson passed on the West cards, effectively ending the auction. Whichever suit the defenders attack, declarer can establish a diamond winner for a discard from the other black suit. With three trumps to lose, though, the defenders were always able to collect six tricks: E/W +50.
Rob Cliffe was a member of the England sextet that reached the quarter-finals of the Seniors Teams at the 2018 European Championships in Ostend. After the same start, he was not prepared to go quietly on the West cards. Cliffe’s takeout double prompted Alan Mayo to jump to 3NT, against which Alon Apteker led the ♦Q. Declarer won with the ♦A and continued with the ♦J (rarely good news for the defence). The ♦ J won, so Mayo switched his attention to clubs and, when that suit behaved, declarer was home. E/W +600 and 11 IMPs to JEDI KNIGHTS, off and running with a 23-12 win against what rated to be one of the strongest teams in the field.
In the match between a strong French team, VINO ROSSO and another team flying the flag of St George, THE SENIORS, Cedric Lorenzini made the same takeout double on the West cards. This also led to a 3NT contract from the East seat, and Thomas Bessis wrangled an extra trick: E/W +630.
Herve Vinciguerra was a member of the French Open team at the 2010 European championships. He became a European champion almost a decade later, with victory in the Open Teams at the 2019 European Transnational Championships in Istanbul. Playing with Philippe Soulet, he also collected a silver medal from the Open Pairs at the same event.
In the replay here, he set John Hassett a much tougher examination:
Vinciguerra’s pre-emptive jump to 3♥ put much more pressure on the Englishman. When Hassett not unreasonably decided that his hand did not justify a takeout doubled at the three-level, the French had stolen the board cheaply. E/W +100 and 11 IMPs to VINO ROSSO, who recorded the largest victory of the opening round, winning 46-8 to top the leaderboard at this early stage.
Next up for the French was a strong Polish outfit, BRIDGE24,PL MIXED. There was only one significant swing, on a deal where the French beat par in both rooms.
The Poles at this table seemed to be allergic to the club suit, refusing either to bid them or lead them. The auction began this way at a number of tables, but at every other one North competed with 3♣ at his second turn. Bartosz Chmurski preferred to take his chances in defence, and he kept his side’s chances of a plus score alive when he opened the ♦5 (low from a doubleton in the Polish style). Declarer finessed, so South won with the ♦K and returned the ♦8. Igor Chalupec then won the first round of trumps and delivered his partner’s diamond ruff. Obviously, the defenders now have two club winners to take, but Chalupec had signalled suit preference with the ♦7 on the third round of the suit, so his partner exited with a spade. Declarer won with the ♠A and played a second trump. Again, Chalupec won and could have cashed two clubs to put the contract one down. When, instead, he exited with his remaining trump, declarer was able to pitch a club from dummy on the ♦J and take a winning spade finesse for his contract. With most N/S pairs scoring either +120 in 1NT or +110 in 3♣, N/S -110 looked like an good result for the French.
I do not know whether the French were playing a 14-17 1NT opening or whether Herve Vinciguerra decided to upgraded this moderate-looking 14-count for some reason. Either way, Philippe Soulet simply checked for five-card majors and then bid 3NT.
Understandably, Danuta Kazmucha did not find the spade lead needed to beat this contract, preferring instead a heart. At least she chose the ♥Q, rather than a low one, which would have conceded the ninth trick right away. However, this French pair had clearly done something meritorious in a previous life, as Lady Luck was beaming down at them. Not only was the ♦A onside, but the spade layout was such that dummy’s lone queen was sufficient to stop the defenders cashing four tricks in that suit. N/S +400 and 11 IMPs to VINO ROSSO, who won a tight match 15-13 on the back of this one deal.
That small win was enough to keep the French in second place, less than 2 VPs behind KRUSE’S CARDCIRCUS (Denmark) who blanked BLACK 33-0. Just 0.03 VPs separated the French from the two teams right behind them, JEDI KNIGHTS (England/Wales) moving up into third place with a 35-14 victory over AMATEURS and MORAN (Ireland) defeating CANTOR 10-3.
In Round 3, Board 8 created a significant swing in more than half of the matches. The direction of the IMPs often depended on the East players’ solution to the second of this week’s problem hands. The auction was identical at one table in each of the two top matches:
Both Stig Werdelin for KRUSE’S CARDCIRCUS and Graham Orsmond for JEDI KNIGHTS jumped to 4♣ over their partner’s 18-19 2NT rebid. When opener then suggested 4♠ as an alternative contract, they both then jumped to slam. There were two trump losers to start with, and the losing spade finesse meant that even game in clubs was too high: E/W -100.
After the same start, Thomas Bessis showed his club support at the three-level. When Cedric Lorenzini then showed heart values, Bessis made an invitational jump to 4NT which, to me, seems much closer to what this East hand is worth.
Cedric Lorenzini won the diamond lead in dummy and played ace and another club. He then won the diamond continuation and knocked out North’s second club stopper. One spade trick and three winners in each of the other suits added up to ten: E/W +430 and 11 IMPs to VINO ROSSO, who won the match 43-18 to take over at the top of the leaderboard.
The Irish Precision system was equally up to the task:
A similar line of play led to ten tricks here too. E/W +430 and 11 IMPs to MORAN, although it was the Anglo-Welsh team that eked out a narrow victory in this match, JEDI KNIGHTS edging it 38-35.
The biggest winner in this round was BRIDGE24.PL MIXED: the Polish team climbed into second place with a 23-2 win over ECF HOLDING (Norway). The Poles were rewarded with a match against CANTOR in Round 4, whilst it was the turn of third-placed JEDI KNIGHTS to take on the French leaders.
It was a round of interesting deals, and only a couple of tables avoided a double-digit swing on Board 9. At most tables, West got to open in fourth seat after three passes, but more of that later. At those tables, it was a question of what West opened:
Danuta Kazmucha became a World Champion at her first attempt, winning the Girls Teams event representing Poland at the 2010 World Series. A year later, she won the same event at the European Championships (and finished second in the Girls Pairs) before collecting her second world title in 2012. She made her debut in the Polish Womens Team at the 2011 Venice Cup, whilst still a junior. She collected a bronze medal from the Womens Teams at the 2012 Olympiad, and claimed her first major title with victory at the 2018 European Championships. Most recently, she was a member of the Polish team that finished second in the European qualifying event for the 2022 World Teams Championships.
Kazmucha started with a Precision-style 2♣ opening for the Poles. North/South competed to the four-level in diamonds, and although 5♦-X would have been a cheap save (just -300), the English pair chose to take their chances in defence.
Two rounds of diamonds forced declarer. The ♥J, covered by queen and king was then followed by a club finesse. Winning with the ♣K, North persisted with a third diamond, but Kazmucha ruffed, cashed the ♥K, crossed to the ♠A, and drew South’s remaining trumps. When South’s ♣J appeared on the second round, declarer could claim the rest: E/W +650
After three passes, Flemming Dahl opted for a 3♣ opening on his shapely 10-count. Having passed initially, Bartosz Chmurski then braved a three-level overcall. With no negative double available after an opening pre-empt, Thomas Berg had no easy way into the auction, and thus the Poles were allowed to buy the board cheaply.
East led a club and the defenders found their spade ruff to hold declarer to nine tricks, but that was still E/W -110 and 13 IMPs to BRIDGE24.PL MIXED. It was CANTOR who enjoyed the last laugh, though, winning the match 42-32 to haul themselves up into the top three.
For the French, Cedric tried a third variation, opening the West hand with a simple 1♣. Pat Shields entered with a weak jump overcall in diamonds and Thomas Bessis showed his majors with a negative double. When Dan MacIntosh chose not to compete, that was the end of the chances of finding the cheap save, and the French were allowed to bid peacefully to their game.
Lorenzini won the spade lead with the ace and immediately took a club finesse. Shields won with the ♣K and continued spades, but declarer ruffed, picked up the trumps, and had twelve tricks when the clubs behaved. E/W +680.
If you had to guess the nationality of the only player at the top tables to open the South hand, I would think that French would be somewhere near the bottom of your list. Unlike those who had come before him, though, Herve Vinciguerra was not prepared to go quietly at favourable vulnerability. The result was an exciting high-level competitive biding battle
Vinciguerra’s third-seat 1♠ opening lit the blue touch-paper. Rob Cliffe overcalled in clubs and Philippe Soulet showed a maximum pass with at least four-card spade support. Alan Mayo got hearts into the auction with a double, and Cliffe jumped to game. Soulet was not done, though, and essayed 4♠, which was promptly doubled by Mayo, do doubt licking his lips at the thought of a substantial penalty. However, Cliffe was not prepared to defend on his Eau de Cologne hand, and quite right he was too, as South was booked to make +590 in 4♠-X. Cliffe pulled the double to 5♣, and now if was Soulet’s turn to wield the axe. Mayo corrected back to hearts and Vinciguerra joined in with the doubling.
Not that 5hx was certain to go down: only a diamond lead and continuation beats the contract. Despite having bid to game in spades, Soulet was not tempted to lead that suit and duly tabled the ♦K. A second round of diamonds then forced declarer. A high trump or a low club at trick three would have enabled declarer to take ten tricks, but Cliffe instead played ace and another club. Soulet won with the ♣K and forced declarer again with a third round of diamonds. Cliffe could crossruff the black suits now, but he could never score a second club trick. He eventually ran out of steam with just nine tricks: E/W -500 and a huge 15 IMPs to VINO ROSSO.
However, that was to be the only good board for the French in the entire match. JEDI KNIGHTS won 31-17 and after four matches they were the only unbeaten team. The big winners in this round, though, are the appropriately-named MULTI (Denmark, England, Israel), who hammered RIPPEY 58-0 to leapfrog everyone above them in the rankings.
With eight teams to qualify for the knockout stage, these were the standings after four matches:
We will be back next week with the best of the actions from the remaining matches in the qualifying stage.