Marc Smith visits the opening rounds of Heat 10 of the Alt New-Co
This is the last heat of the monthly 2021 Alt New-Co before the Finale event. The leading two teams from Heat 9, BLACK and FREDIN, return along with AMATEURS. They are joined by three teams promoted from Group B. Teams will play each other twice in a double round robin of ten 16-board matches.
As usual, we begin with some problems for you to consider. Firstly, with both sides vulnerable, you are North holding:
What do you bid?
Next, with neither side vulnerable, you hold as South:
What, if anything, do you bid?
Finally, with neither side vulnerable, you are sitting South with:
What action, if any, do you take now?
While you consider those, we kick off the action in Round 1, with the defending champions taking on one of the other surviving teams from Heat 9’s Group A. North players had to deal with the first of this week’s problem hands as the match drew to a close.
This a common enough auction, but I wonder how many players have considered how opener should continue after responder shows an invitational-or-better raise of his minor. Just how strong do you think David Chechelashvilli needs to be to jump to 3NT in this auction. With South showing around 10+ HCP, would opener not want to commit to game with anything from about 14+? Assuming no inverted raises (yes, I am old enough to remember when we all played limit raises), is this situation not analogous to 1♦-3♦-3NT?
With balanced hands of 15 HCP facing 18, you would surely expect everyone at this level to get to slam, but a surprising number of pairs (5 out of 18 including two in Group A) failed to do so. (Five pairs also played in 6♦, all of them managing to overcome the 5-0 trump break to make the contract.) N/S +690.
After the same start, Tom Paske marked time with a 2♠ waiting bid and Andrew McIntosh now jumped to game, showing more than the invitational values he had already promised. Paske now raised quantitatively to 4NT and Tosh had enough extras to accept the slam try. N/S +1440 and a perhaps unexpected 13 IMPs to BLACK, who won a relatively low-scoring match 32-8 to open the defence of their title back on top of the leaderboard.
The tough start for AMATEURS continued in Round 2, where they met the team that finished second in Heat 9, FREDIN, who were seeking their fourth consecutive Top-Two finish in the monthly Alt events. The very first deal was a good slam for East/West, needing either trumps 3-2 or the diamond finesse.
Alon Apteker raised spades at his second turn and Peter Fredin effectively then Blackwooded himself to slam. On the way, though, he took a leaf out of the Zia playbook, making a psychic splinter on his doubleton diamond with the idea of steering his LHO away from a potentially fatal opening lead. Of course, it mattered not on this layout, but the thought behind the idea is still worthy of commendation. The play was straightforward, declarer ruffing his club loser in dummy and taking the diamond finesse for an overtrick. E/W +1010.
At the other table, the diamond finesse was just about nailed on to succeed by North’s opening bid, but getting to slam still proved beyond the Americans.
Thomas Karlsson opened the bidding for the Swedes and John Lusky overcalled 1 ♥. Not playing a change of suit as forcing, Allan Falk had to start with a cue-bid on the West hand. Lusky made a return cue-bid to show extra values, and now Falk bid his suit. Lusky agreed spades with a 4♣ control-showing bid, but Falk had no diamond control and did not want to cue-bid a shortage in his partner’s suit. With such good trumps, perhaps he should do more. When he did not, Lusky felt he had nothing more to say, so the auction petered out in game. E/W +510 and 11 IMPs to FREDIN.
In the match between BLACK and LEBOWITZ, both North players bid, virtually ensuring the diamond finesse would work for East/West. One East player took full advantage of that information, whilst the other did not.
After the same start, Andrew McIntosh was able to bid a forcing 1♠. Paske showed his extra values via a 2♦ cue-bid and Tosh set trumps with a jump to 3♠. Paske showed his club control and Tosh judged well to advance beyond game with a return club cue-bid. When Paske then declined to show his diamond control, perhaps concerned that he had already shown a good hand and worried about bad trumps, Tosh had no reason to go on when there could easily be two top diamonds to cash or two red-suit aces missing. E/W +510.
David Gold did not open the North hand, but he backed in with a diamond overcall at his second turn. Adam Grossack showed his three-card spade support via a double and Larry Lebowitz then made two cue-bids. When Grossack showed a diamond control, Lebowitz jumped to slam. Grossack correctly reasoned that his partner must have two losing diamonds. He clearly had the perfect holding if that was his partner’s concern, so he duly raised to the grand slam. E/W +1510 and 14 IMPs to LEBOWITZ.
The deals in this set produced plenty of swings, and Board 8 caused carnage in all three Group A matches, At a couple of tables, South had to deal with the second of this week’s bidding problems (although I could have set quite a few problem positions on this deal).
Representing Sweden, Alexander Sandin won the Youngsters Teams titles at both the 2017 European Young Championships and the 2018 World Championships. Here he was the first player to face the second of the bidding problems set earlier. When he jumped to 6♠, everyone passed and East/West cashed their two aces: E/W +50. With the par result on the deal 5♠-X down one for E/W +100, it is unclear which side was best pleased with their result.
At the other table, South African Alon Apteker demonstrated that Peter Fredin is not the only member of their partnership with imagination.
If the auction at the first table was explosive, the one here had a comparatively serene start. Fredin started with a Multi and Apteker quietly passed David Yang’s 2♠ overcall. Franco Baseggio’s heart cue-bid showed an invitational or better raise in spades, and Fredin’s double probably showed a good suit rather than just confirming that hearts was his suit. Still, though, Apteker kept his powder dry. Baseggio advanced with a club cue-bid but Yang chose not to show his diamond control, and simply signed off in game. Now Apteker decided that he had heard enough, and made his first foray into the auction at the five-level. Baseggio’s forcing pass showed a willingness for his partner to carry on to 5♠, but Yang quite correctly judged that his side could not make eleven tricks. However, the one thing missing from the decision-making of the young American pair, and perhaps understandably with the way the auction had gone, was whether they could actually defeat 5♥. Sadly for the Americans, the answer to that question was no – they scored their two black-suit aces but, with the diamond finesse working for declarer, that was it: E/W +750 and 12 IMPs to FREDIN, who won the match 56-40.
At only one of the six Group A tables was the par contract reached (although undoubled):
Well judged by everyone. Tom Paske led the ♥9 to his partner’s ace, and Andrew McIntosh duly switched to a diamond at trick two. E/W +50.
At the other table in this match, Andrew Black was the second South player to face the original bidding problem:
Like the young Swedish star at the first table, Black also jumped to 6♠. With his partner having made a pre-emptive heart raise to the five-level, though, Larry Lebowitz decided that he did not like his defensive chances, so he took out the insurance with a seven-level sacrifice. Alas, this time it was a phantom: E/W +300 and 8 IMPs to BLACK, who won the match 65-38 to retain their place at the top of the leaderboard.
In the third Group A match, EDMONDS defeated RIPPEY 61-19 to move ahead of FREDIN into second place. As things worked out, that perfectly set up a head-to-head meeting between the leading two teams in Round 3. Midway through the match, a number of South players had to deal with some variation on the last of this week’s bidding problems:
Paske led the ♣K. It looks like declarer needs to set up his club trick in order to pitch a spade from dummy, enabling him to ruff his spade loser, so Joel Wooldridge won with the ♣A and promptly returned the suit to jack and queen. Paske needed no second invitation, and now switched to his singleton heart. McIntosh won with the ♥A, delivered his partner’s heart ruff, regained the lead with the ♠A, and played a third round of hearts. Wooldridge guessed correctly to save the second undertrick, ruffing with the ♦K and playing a trump to queen and ace. N/S -50.
Faced with essentially the same decision, Gunnar Hallberg chose the option with the biggest upside and rebid his hearts at the four-level. If you are going to bid like Gunnar Hallberg, though, you will also need to be a superb declarer.
Michael Klukowski led the ♠A and switched at trick two to a low club, to the ten, king and ace. Hallberg’s first move, perhaps tipped off by West’s double, was to lead the ♥9, and run if when West played low. He then played his club, perhaps hoping to establish dummy’s ♣J for a diamond discard if West held he ♠Q. The jack lost to the queen and East played a third round of the suit, declarer ruffing. When Hallberg now played a second round of trumps, West again played low and dummy’s king won.
Declarer has a rough count of the hand and, with diamonds known to be either 1-3 or 2-2, you might think how you played the suit was a guess. However, after cashing the ♠K, Hallberg correctly led a diamond and put in the nine from his hand. When he then drove out the ♥A, West had no winning option. Nicely played: N/S +420 and 12 IMPs to BLACK.
Note the difference if declarer plays a diamond to the ace instead: even though the suit breaks 2-2, when West wins with the ♥A he would be able to strand declarer in dummy by exiting with his remaining diamond. With declarer unable to reach his hand to draw the last trump, West would score the setting trick with the ♥10.
In the match between FREDIN and RIPPEY, Mike Rippey played 4♥-X after a similar auction. He was given virtually no chance of making his contract, though, when Fredin led the ♠6 at trick one. Needless to say, declarer did not guess right and thus ended two down: N/S -300.
In a kind of symmetry, North also played 4♦ at the other table in that match. There, though, East led his singleton heart at trick one and thus got his ruff right away. A spade to the ace and a third round of hearts left declarer, Johan Sylvan, with the same guess that Joel Wooldridge had faced in the first match. When Sylvan also guessed to ruff high, though, it was for the contract, as he had not lost a club trick. N/S +130 and 10 IMPs to FREDIN.
BLACK defeated EDMONDS 50-26 to record their third win. You may recall that they won Heat 9 without losing a match, so this wa their 14th consecutive match without defeat, dating back to Round 9 of Heat 8. FREDIN also won, but narrowly, 25-23 over RIPPEY, and LEBOWITZ also won a tight one, 36-33 over AMATEURS. After three matches, these were the standings:
Elsewhere, BRIDGE24.PL MIXED (Poland) lead HARRIS (England/USA/Bulgria) in Group B, whilst THE MAGICIANS (Turkey) lead ahead of KRUSE’S CARDCIRCUS (Denmark) in Group C.
In Group A, the teams who had finished in the top two places in Heat 9 still occupy those same two places after three matches in Heat 10. They are also the only two teams with three victories to their name in this heat, although that winning run is destined to end for one of them as they meet head-on in Round 4. We will be back next week with the best of the action from that match and the other highlights from the middle rounds of this heat.