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. When we left the match last week, ZALESKI held an 8-IMP lead, 171-163, with five boards still to play in the penultimate set. The lead had already changed hands numerous times, including four times in the first 11 boards of this stanza, and a large crowd had gathered to watch the dénoûment on BBO VuGraph.
As usual, we begin with a couple of hands for you to consider but, for a change, we start with an opening lead problem. With neither side vulnerable, you are West and hear this auction:
What do you lead?
Next, with just the opponents vulnerable, you hold as East:
What is your strategy?
If you play some form or XYZ, you have to choose between signing off, inviting game and forcing to game. If you play New Minor Forcing, you can bid 2♦ and hear 2♥ from partner, showing three-card support. What do you then bid?
While you mull those over, we join the action for Board 13.
The almost-uniquely French style of opener bidding two suits even on balanced hands led to Romain Zaleski jumping to 3NT at his second turn, thus putting West on lead against slam. Michal Klukowski opted to broach the unbid suit which, on the surface, appears to help declarer. The crucial point, though, is that it does not give him anything that he cannot do for himself. (A spade opening would also have beaten the hand.) Zaleski won in hand with the ♣J and led a heart towards dummy’s king. Klukowski went in with the ♥K and exited with another club, and that was that. Declarer had two hearts and three tricks in each of the other suits but, with the spades and diamonds both sitting behind dummy, and thus immune from a squeeze, there was no way for him to generate a twelfth trick. N/S -100.
After the same start, Pierre Zimmermann’s decision to advance with a game-forcing ‘fourth-suit’ 2♦ worked superbly for his side. Franck Multon denied three-card hearts support and, crucially, showed his club stopper with 2NT. Zimmermann just raised to game, but Multon had extra values, and he advanced with an invitational 4NT. Zimmerman was happy to accept the invite and, catering to a fifth diamond in the North hand, gave his partner one last chance to suggest an alternative denomination.
The effect of playing from the North seat was enormous. A spade lead from that side would immediately give declarer his twelfth trick. Only a club keeps the defence in with a chance, and that was much tougher to find from the East seat. Frederick Volcker chose the ♦6 as his opening salvo and now declarer was in with a chance. Not that Multon didn’t still have plenty to do.
Having captured West’s ♦J with his ace, Multon crossed to the ♠A and led a heart towards his queen. Hanlon hopped up with the ♥K and exited safely with a spade to declarer’s king, but Multon was not to be denied now. He cashed the ♠Q and then created his fourth diamond trick by finessing against East’s ten. A heart to the queen unblocked that suit, and the ♦Q then proved an entry to the ♥A. The opening lead (the suit declarer had opened from a relatively dangerous holding) virtually marked East with the ♣Q, so Multon crossed to the ♣A and cashed the ♦K. He didn’t even need to take the club finesse now – East had to reduce to the singleton ♣Q in order to keep his spade winner, so the queen appeared when Multon led a club at trick twelve. N/S +1440 and a massive 17 IMPs to ZIMMERMANN, who retook the lead once again.
Two boards later, both West players found themselves with the opening lead problem presented at the top of this article.
The auction was identical at both tables, and so was the opening lead: both Michal Klukowski and Tom Hanlon found the spectacular ♣Q to put their respective declarers under pressure.
There are some layouts on which it will not matter what declarer does. For example, East may have xx/QJ10xxxx/xx/Ax, in which case the defenders will be able to score two clubs, a ruff and the ♥A irrespective of how declarer plays. However, it would seem that the most dangerous situation is when East has opened with something like xx/AJxxxxx/xx/Ax. In this situation, only if you cover with dummy’s ♣K at trick one can the defenders score a ruff to go with their three obvious winners.
Not unreasonably, therefore, Pierre Zimmermann called for a low club from dummy. Hanlon needed no second invitation: he promptly continued with the ♣A and gave his partner a ruff with a third round of clubs. The ♥A was then the fourth defensive trick. A spectacular E/W +50.
At the other table, perhaps Romain Zaleski did not see the danger. More likely, though, he had played against Michal Klukowski enough to know that he was quite capable of finding such an opening lead from the holding that he actually had. Zaleski covered with the ♣K at trick one. When it won, he simply drew trumps and claimed ten tricks, conceding just one heart and two clubs at the end. E/W -420 and 10 IMPs to ZALESKI.
On the very next deal, both East players had to evaluate the hand presented as this week’s bidding sole problem.
Facing an 11-14 1NT rebid, Piotr Gawrys chose an invitational sequence on the East hand. Despite three-card heart support and a ruffing value, the West hand was otherwise a featureless minimum, so Michael Klukowski’s decision to pass looks eminently sensible. Indeed, an opening club lead would hold declarer to nine tricks (losing one club, one heart, a club ruff and a slow diamond).
Zaleski’s lead of the ♠Q looks normal from that South hand, so declarer could have made a second overtrick as the cards lie. However, after drawing trumps, Gawrys broached clubs by playing ace and another, so the defenders came to four tricks after all. E/W +140 and not a particularly significant deal, you might imagine.
North ensured that there was more action at the other table:
I suppose it is a matter of style whether you think this North hand is a takeout double of a minor-suit opening. I confess it’s not for me (particularly vulnerable against not facing a passed partner) as it makes it much more difficult for partner to judge when and how to advance if you might have either a real takeout double or this sort of garbage. However, each to his own, and Frank Multon waded in where many would fear to tread, and in doing so ignited the blue touch-paper on the auction.
Having seen his partner’s takeout doubles before, perhaps, Pierre Zimmermann bid only 1♠ at his first turn. Multon’s 2♠ bid would surely not be the choice of many, having already doubled, as it should surely show at least something more than the absolute minimum you have already shown/suggested. The result, though, was that when Frederic Volcker jumped to game in hearts, Zimmermann now felt compelled to bid on in spades.
Volcker doubled on the way out and Hanlon led ace and another trump. With two diamonds and a heart to lose, declarer had then to guess the club position just to escape for two down. E/W+500 is perhaps not a disaster as South would have to find the club lead here to defeat 4♥, North’s double marking the position in that suit for declarer. With only a partscore at the other table, though, that was another 8 IMPs to ZALESKI, who won the segment 55-51 and squeezed back ahead in the match once again.
With one 16-board stanza remaining, ZALESKI led by a score of 189-186. Sad to say, the final stanza did not deliver the exciting finish that the match deserved and the large crowd watching on BBO VuGraph was hoping for. The set started with three big swings but, with all three going in the same direction. the stanza was one-way traffic and the match was over as a contest whilst the overweight soprano was still clearing her throat.
We finish with a fine defensive play that produced one of the deciding swings early in the final set. The auction and early play were identical at both tables:
Both East players declared 4♠ after the same brisk auction, and both Souths opened the ♦K. At both tables, declarer won with the ♦A and immediately played a second diamond towards dummy. Continuing the symmetry, both South players ruffed and underled their ♣A.
Winning with the ♣10, Gawrys returned a third round of diamond. Klukowski ruffed but Frederic Volcker leaned forward and showed his hand, claiming the rest. E/W +620.
At the other table, Cedric Lorenzini looked more deeply into the hand, and realized that taking the diamond ruff would effectively end defensive chances. Instead, he returned a second club, ruffed by declarer. When Pierre Zimmermann then led a trump towards dummy and Philippe Cronier followed with a low card, what was he to make of the trump position? Why had North not taken his cheap diamond ruff? Did South perhaps hold all of the outstanding trumps? Whatever the reasoning, declarer was persuaded to play the ♠J from dummy. Lorenzini duly won with the ♠Q and returned the only card in his hand to defeat the contract, his remaining spade. With the ♦Q the only remaining entry to dummy, declarer could no longer establish the long card in that suit for a heart discard. He had already lost a club and two trumps and had now to concede a heart at the end: E/W -100 and 12 IMPs to ZALESKI.
ZALESKI won the final stanza 55-16 and the match by a score of 244-203. The final score, though, does not reflect what a competitive final this was. Congratulations to Romain Zaleski, Frederic Volker, Tom Hanlon, Philippe Cronier, Cedric Lorenzini and Thomas Bessis.
Next week we return to action from the Alt, and to Heat 10, the last heat before the end-of-year Finale event.