Marc Smith visits the final of the 2022 French Division Nationale Open
The final of the Open section of the 2022 French National League was contested by teams captained by Pierre Zimmermann and Romain Zaleski. Last week, we saw the highlights from the first 48 boards, the result of which was a 117-92 halftime lead for ZIMMERMANN. This week, we will see the best of the action as the final builds towards its conclusion.
As usual, we begin with some problems. Firstly, with both sides vulnerable, you are South holding:
What action, if any, do you take?
Next, with just the opponents vulnerable, you hold as East:
What action, if any, do you take?
Then, with both sides vulnerable, you hold this collection in the North seat:
What strategy would you adopt, and thus what do you bid now?
Finally, with neither side vulnerable, you are East holding:
What action, if any, do you take?
While you mull those over, we join the action early in the first set of the second half. It is not unusual for the auction to end in 3NT at one table in a match and in a major-suit game at the other. What was unusual about events on this deal was that players from the same team declared at both tables. The difference occurred when the two South players, faced with the first of the problems posed above, found different solutions.
Michal Klukowski chose to overcall 1♠ on his 5-4-1-3 shape. Tom Hanlon supported diamonds and Piotr Gawrys raised to 2♠. When Frederic Volcker advanced with 2NT, Klukowski had no reason to bid again, and Hanlon’s raise to 3NT ended the brisk auction.
With his partner having supported spades, Klukowski had no reason not to lead the suit. Nor did Gawrys have any reason to switch after winning the first trick with the ♠K. Klukowski allowed declarer’s ♠Q to win in order the maintain communication in the suit, but declarer was now in position to make two more tricks than would have been the case had the defenders attacked in their best fit. After cashing his diamonds, Volcker advanced the ♣Q. Klukowski covered and declarer won with the ♣A. Klukowski could win the next round of clubs and cash his spade winners, but that was it for the defence. N/S +100.
When Romain Zaleski chose to double on the South hand, the momentum of the auction changed entirely. As at the first table, West raised diamonds, but now Philippe Cronier jumped to 3♥. East competed to the four-level in clubs, but Zaleski had not come this far to defend a minor-suit partscore, and his 4♥ bid closed the auction.
There was no winning defence at this table. Jean Charles Allavena led a club and dummy’s jack forced West’s ace. Kyzysztof Martens cashed a top diamond and then played ace and another trump. When trumps split, Cronier claimed ten tricks, his spade loser going on dummy’s ♣K. N/S +620 and 11 IMPs to ZALESKI.
Late in the set, both East players had to answer the second of this week’s bidding problems.
Despite the favourable vulnerability, Jean Charles Allavena did not like a double with only three spades, nor bid 4NT with only nine cards in the minors. Romain Zaleski was thus left to play peacefully in 4♥. The defenders could make two clubs and one spade, but that was all: N/S +620.
In the replay, Frederic Volcker chose to enter the fray with a takeout double. Tom Hanlon bid spades and Piotr Gawrys doubled on the North cards. When sacrificing at high levels, one usually holds a substantial trump fit, if little else, so dummy was presumably something of a disappointment for the Irish declarer. Still, a master craftsman has to make do with the tools with which he is provided.
Gawrys cashed the ♦A at trick one and switched to a heart. Klukowski won and played a second heart, giving an unwelcome ruff-and-discard and attacking declarer’s already rather shaky trump holding. Hanlon pitched a club from his hand, ruffed in dummy, and led the ♠Q, which was allowed to win. Had Hanlon continued trumps, he would have been in even deeper trouble, but he now switched to clubs, playing three top honours from dummy. It would not have helped Klukowski to ruff with the ♠A, so he pitched a diamond. Now declarer led a diamond, ruffed by Gawrys, who continue the heart attack. But declarer was in control now: he ruffed with dummy’s last trump and played the thirteenth club. Pitching the last diamond from his hand. Gawrys ruffed this trick, but the defenders could score no more than their top trump. Remarkably, declarer had managed to accrue eight tricks: N/S +300 and 8 IMPs to ZALESKI.
ZALESKI won the fourth stanza of the match 42-18, almost wiping out the entire halftime deficit. ZIMMERMANN still led, but now by a score of 135-134. All to play for over the final 32 boards!
The penultimate stanza started with a substantial swing in each direction, both of which were due at least in part to pilot error. Then the North players both had to deal with the third of this week’s problem hands.
What do you think of that North hand facing a 15-17 1NT opening? Holding a flat eight-count, passing is certainly one possible option. If the allure of a possible vulnerable game bonus proves too much to resist, you have two more decisions to make: the first is whether to follow an invitational route or to bid game. The second question is whether to use Stayman or to just raise notrumps.
Cedric Lorenzini opted for the middle ground, inviting game, and in his methods that meant starting with 2♣. When Romain Zaleski responded in spades, Lorenzini then had another decision to make: having located a 4-4 fit, should he raise spades or simply invite in notrumps with 2NT? Lorenzini opted for an invitational 3♠. Although not minimum, Zaleski passed which, at least, gave him a chance for a plus score.
Michal Klukowski opened the ♦3 (low from an even number). The winning line of play is to start on hearts right away. However, one can hardly blame Zaleski for winning the diamond with dummy’s king and leading the ♠J. Klukowski won with the ♠Q and continued diamonds. When he regained the lead with the ♠K he was then able to cross to his partner’s hand in hearts to receive his diamond ruff. One down: N/S -100.
Faced with the same scenario, Franck Multon had an invitational raise to 2NT available. Pierre Zimmermann duly accepted the invite, which left Tom Hanlon on lead against 3NT after an uninformative auction.
The contract can be made on any lead, but declarer’s job was certainly made easier when the Irish star fished out the ♠K as his opening salvo. The first four tricks were all spades, declarer making three of them. Although Zimmermann’s next move was to run the ♥10 to West, thus misguessing that suit, he was still in control. The defence played a heart to the ace and a third round of the suit back to dummy’s king. Zimmermann now led the ♦10 from dummy to the queen in his hand. A diamond back to dummy’s king was followed by a third round of the suit and, when declarer finessed East for the ♦J, he had amassed four diamond tricks to bring his tally to nine: N/S +600 and 12 IMPs to ZIMMERMANN, who retook the lead with a 4-IMP advantage.
They were still 2 IMPs ahead when Board 11 arrived at the tables.
Franck Multon opened 4 ♥ in fourth seat. Both Volcker’s double and Hanlon’s 4♠ bid look fairly routine. The tricky decision fell to Zimmermann when 4♠ was passed back to him. Clearly, his heart length virtually guaranteed that his side would have no defensive tricks in that suit. His spade holding, though, must have persuaded him that they had chances in defence, so he declined to take the five-level sacrifice. Had he done so, the odds are that E/W would take the money after this auction. If he had bid 5 ♥ immediately over Volcker’s double of 4♥, though, might Hanlon not have been sorely tempted to bid a fifth spade?
Hanlon ruffed the opening heart lead in dummy and immediately called for the ♠K. Zimmermann played low, won the second spade, drew a third round of trumps, and forced declarer with a second round of hearts. Hanlon was not unduly troubled, though. There was a club to lose at the end, but that was it: E/W +420.
At the other table, Polish Bermuda Bowl winner Piotr Gawrys faced the last of the problems posed at the top of this article.
Michal Klukowski opened the West hand with a weak 2♠, showing spades and a minor. Cedric Lorenzini overcalled in hearts and Gawrys raised to 4♠. When Romain Zaleski’s 5♥ bid was passed back to the Polish world champion, though, he had to make the critical decision. He knew that his side had a double fit, and with first round control in both of his partner’s short suits, where were their losers going to be? I suspect that an expert panel would concur overwhelmingly with Gawrys’ 5♠ bid, but it was not the winning option on this occasion.
The best Gawrys could have done would be to double, collect +300, and take his 3-IMP loss on the deal. With three unavoidable losers in 5♠, that was E/W -50 and 10 IMPs to ZALESKI, who once again inched back into the lead.
I had intended to complete the report of this final today, but the Great Dealer blessed us with such a good set of boards that it seemed a shame to waste many of them by limiting you to just four in the second half of the match. After four lead changes already in this set alone, we therefore leave play with five boards remaining in the penultimate stanza and ZALESKI ahead by 171-163. We will be back next week for the final 21 boards of this enthralling final.