Great BBO Vugraph Deals #132

Marc Smith visits the Italian Women’s Trials Final 

The final of the trials to select the Italian Women’s team was more of a marathon than a sprint, played over 112 boards divided into seven 16-board stanzas. The two teams contained a wealth of international experience between them, all twelve players having previously represented Italy in major championships, with a glut of World and European championship medals and even a few World titles between them.  

The match could be considered something of a battle between the old guard and the young upstarts. The FORNACIARI team featured such stalwarts of Italian Women’s bridge as Gabriella Olivieri, who first represented her country in 1987 and won a World title in 2012, and Gianna Arrigoni, who made her debut in 1981 and has collected four medals from European Championships. Neither, though, has played in the national team for more than a decade. On the VINCI team, were two members of the Italian team from the last European Teams Championship, in 2018 in Ostend, Monica Aghemo and Monica Buratti. Aghemo collected a European Championship title as recently as 2019, from the Open BAM Teams at the European Transnational Championship in Istanbul. 

It promised to be an interesting contest. Indeed, spectators watching live on BBO VuGraph might have felt they were perched high in the galleries of The Colosseum, as the match turned out to be an epic battle between two well-matched gladiators. 

As usual, we begin with some problems. Firstly, with just your side vulnerable, you are South holding: 

What do you bid? 

Next, with just your side vulnerable, you hold as West: 

What action do you take? 

Finally, with just your side vulnerable, you are sitting West with: 

What do you bid? 

While you consider those problems, we kick off the action in the opening stanza. With just a couple of overtrick IMPs on the scorecard, the first firecracker did not take long to arrive, and you had better hold on to your hats if the players are going to play 112 boards at this pace.  

Monica Aghemo’s 2 overcall left Luigina Gentili with no particularly good choice. She might have advanced with a 3 cue-bid, presumably showing three-card spade support and at least invitational values but, of course, if 6 turns out to be the best spot there would be virtually no chance of getting there after that start. She tried to keep all options open with a negative double which, whilst it may have led to problems later in the auction, was at least a flexible way forward. Monica Buratti redoubled (there are no alerts in the hand records for this event, but it probably showed Ax or Kx of hearts) and Enza Rossano jumped to 3♠, emphasizing her playing strength despite a minimum opening in terms of high cards. That left Gentili with a straightforward raise to game.

The defence started with a heart to the ace and another back to the ten and jack. When East then continued with the K at trick three, Rossano correctly discarded a club from dummy and there was then no way for the defenders to score another trick. N/S +620. 

Things were not so straightforward for North/South in the replay. 

Christina Golin

Christina Golin made her international debut as part of the Italian team that collected bronze medals at the 1993 European Championships in Menton. She became a European champion with victory in the Women’s Teams at the 2003 European Transnational Championships. She last played for Italy in the 2017 Venice Cup in Lyon. 

Golin’s 3 overcall on this deal set Donatella Gigliotti with the first of this week’s bidding problems. I used this deal as a problem in Set 2022-4 of the BBO Bidding Challenge. With the odd exception, the panel mostly felt that the hand was too good for 3♠ but not good enough for a 4 cue-bid, so most of the expert panel simply jumped to 4♠, the practical choice, giving up on the chance of a high diamond contract.

After Gigliotti’s 4 cue-bid, perhaps Simonetta Paoluzi would have ventured beyond the safe waters of the four-level on her own. With the auction already accelerating faster than anything you would see at Imola, Claudia Pomares compounded her partner’s good work with an imaginative raise to 5 despite only holding a doubleton trump. It was surely now almost impossible for Paoluzi to do the right thing and settle for just a 3-IMP loss on the deal by defending. (Two rounds of spades promotes a trump winner for the defence, giving the defenders five tricks against 5-X). Clearly convinced by her opponents that she would find at most a singleton heart opposite, can you blame Paoluzi for her jump to slam? Is it really too much to hope for (or expect?) something like Axx/x/Axxxx/KQxx opposite?  There was still a little drama to come, as the defence began with Golin leading the K, a not unreasonably choice, as you expect a singleton in dummy and may need to then switch to one of the minors at trick two. When Pomares overtook with the A and returned a second heart to declarer’s queen, there must have been some queezy stomachs in the East/West seats. All was well, though, as declarer still had an unavoidable club loser: N/S +100, 12 IMPs and first blood to FORNACIARI, who led 41-10 at the end of the first 16-board set. 

Bridge can be both a fascinating game, but also a frustrating one. Just doing what is technically the right thing is not always the winning action. Sometimes it pays to invest a little equity to give an opponent a chance to do the wrong thing. Thinking about it, isn’t that exactly how you play winning poker too? 

On this deal from the second stanza, both West players were faced with variations on the second of the problems posed earlier. (At one table East doubled 5, at the other she did not.) 

At this table, Gianna Arrigoni made what was presumably a forcing pass of North’s 5. Despite the invitation to bid on, though, Gabriella Olivieri elected to defend. North was the opening bidder, so 5 is odds-on to make but, with the trump finesse failing, Olivieri’s decision is theoretically correct. The defence duly collected a trump and two spades to beat the contract by one and record absolute par on this layout: E/W +100. 

Monica Buratti

Monica Buratti became a European champion before being selected for her national team, winning the Women’s Team event at the 2003 European Transnational Championships. She was a member of the Italian Women’s team at the European Team Championship in both 2004 and 2018. She also played on Italy’s Mixed Team at the 2016 World Championships in Wroclaw.  

Monica Aghemo doubled 5 on the East hand, suggesting that her hand was unsuitable for bidding on. Perhaps realizing that the penalty from defending was unlikely to be substantial, Buratti decided to bid on despite her partner’s misgivings. Although technically the wrong decision as the cards lie, Buratti’s decision turned the spotlight on Luigina Gentili in the South seat.  

Leading the ♣K would have netted three tricks for the defence and, with a known diamond shortage in dummy, perhaps that is the marked choice. When Gentili chose to lead her partner’s suit, though, declarer was in with a chance. Aghemo won with the A, ruffed a diamond, and played a trump from dummy. When North discarded a diamond, there was no longer any decision to make: declarer rose with the A and started on spades. It was her lucky day as South had to follow to four rounds, and thus Aghemo disposed of a club loser from her hand before South could regain the lead. It was then just a case of driving out the K and claiming eleven tricks: E/W +650 and 11 IMPs to VINCI, who had stormed back to win the second stanza 54-25, leaving FORNACIARI ahead by just 2 IMPs, 66-64, after two of the seven sets. 

The third set began in explosive fashion, with six double-digit swings in the first ten deals. Both West players were faced with the third of this week’s bidding problems, and 13 IMPs depended on their choice: 

Gianna Arrigoni missed her best chance to make life difficult for her opponents by failing to open 3♣ at favourable vulnerability. Maralina Vanuzzi was not strong enough to bid 2♠ after South’s 2♣ overcall, so she had to settle for a negative double. Annalise Rosetta forced with a 3♣ cue-bid and Vanuzzi showed delayed heart support. When Rosetta then continued with a second cue-bid, Vanuzzi had reached the critical point in the auction. Perhaps deciding that she had already shown most of her values (she had not just bid 2 after South’s 2♣ overcall), Vanuzzi  retreated to 4 and her partner gave up. Although the heart finesse failed, both majors split evenly so declarer had no problems making 12 tricks: E/W +680. 

Claudia Pomares

Claudia Pomares y de Morant made her debut in the Italian Women’s team at the 2004 Olympiad in Istanbul. She played in the 2006 European Championships and the 2008 World Games, but was absent until returning to the national team for the 2018 European Team Championship in Ostend (on the team that also included two of her opponents in this final). 

We have already seen that Pomares does not lack imagination in the bidding, and her effort on this deal earned another major swing in her team’s favour. After an identical auction to the other room, Pomares decided that her hand had too much potential to just sign off in 4. She did not feel she had enough to venture beyond game independently with a 4♠ cue-bid, so she temporized with a ‘Last Train’ 4 bid. That was all partner needed to hear, and Christina Golin promptly Blackwooded the partnership to slam. Same twelve tricks here: E/W +1430 and 13 IMPs to FORNACIARI. 

After a set in which 95 IMPs changed hands over 16 boards, VINCI emerged with a 13-IMP lead. After the fourth stanza, that advantage had grown to 36. However, the experienced FORNACIARI team were far from done, and by the end of the fifth stanza they had reduced the deficit to just 9 IMPs. A flat sixth stanza saw VINCI heading into the final 16 boards ahead by 203-194, still all to play for.  

I am pleased to report that the outcome of this epic battle was not determined by someone succumbing to the pressure in a hard-fought final set. On our final deal, I suspect some variation on the auction at the first table would have been repeated at many tables in any major championship. 

Arrigoni 2♣ rebid was the Gazilli convention, showing either natural clubs or any hand with 17+ HCP. Olivieri’s 2 was artificial, showing 8+ HCP and creating a game-force if opener held the strong variation. Arrigoni confirmed her hand type with 2NT and Olivieri raised to game. This is effectively the same as 1♠-1NT-2NT-3NT in many systems, 2NT showing 18-19 balanced, and who would argue with that auction either? 

Unfortunately for declarer, on this occasion East had been dealt an automatic club lead: Paoluzi opened the ♣6. Declarer tried the queen from dummy, and why not? West won with the ♣A and returned the ♣10 for her partner to overtake and cash three more winners in the suit along with the A. N/S -200. 

After an identical start to the auction, Monica Buratti made use of the space created by the low-level game force to probe for more information. With no alerts/explanations available in the hand records, I cannot tell you exactly what 3♣ meant. It seems clear, though, that whatever South’s 3 response meant, it provided Buratti with some key information, as she then insisted on game in the 5-2 major-suit fit rather than the doomed 3NT. 

For those with methods not quite so sophisticated, over 2NT you can easily probe with a natural 3 having already established a game force. When partner then continues with 3, showing heart values but, presumably, concern about clubs, it becomes clear to North that 3NT may be in jeopardy.

There was no defence to 4♠. The defenders could score just two clubs and the A, but no more. N/S +620 and 13 IMPs to VINCI, a massive swing in the context of a very close match. Indeed, without it, victory would have gone to FORNACIARI. As it was, the final set ended in a 27-27 tie, leaving the final result 230-221 in favour of VINCI. 

Congratulations to the VINCI team: Monica Buratti, Monica Aghemo, Simonetta Paoluzi, Donatella Gigliotti, Annalise Rosetta and Marilina Vanuzzi. Assuming that the event delayed from last summer can go ahead this year, we look forward to seeing you waving il Tricolore in Madeira at this summer’s European Team Championship. 

And, since we are on the subject of the upcoming European Championships… Next week, I take a quick metaphorical road trip through the Alps to bring you the best of the action from a major French teams event. This is the final of the Division Naionale Open, in which three French stars and an Irish interloper take on the might of the pre-tournament European Championship favourites from Switzerland. Don’t miss it!