May BBO Prime Tournament. Deal analysis.

Thank you for joining May’s BBO Prime Tournament. We hope you enjoyed it!

There were 10 deals in this tournament and 5 of them were taken from a real life event, featured on BBO vugraph. Want to know which deals were “cooked” and see how they were played originally?

The “surprise” deals were boards 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 in May’s BBO Prime Tournament.


Read below BBO star player and bridge writer extraordinaire Marc Smith’s analysis, along with the context in which the hands were played in real life.


The 3rd European Winter Games was staged in the beautiful city of Monte Carlo, and 65 teams lined up for the main event, the Zimmermann Cup. The format was a two-day Swiss event, with the top 16 teams advancing to the knockout stage. The field included most of the top European players along with a smattering of big names from around the world. 

This week, we concentrate on what turned out to be the closest of the quarter-final matches, featuring SWISS TEAM (Pierre Zimmermann-Franck Multon, Sjoert Brink-Bas Drijver and Piotr Gawrys-Michal Klukowski). Despite a line-up packed with former World Champions, they had survived the qualifying stage by just 0.29 of a Victory Point, advancing to the knockout phase in 16th place. Up against them was the experienced Irish contingent, MORAN (Mark Moran-John Carroll, Tom Hanlon-Hugh McGann and Adam Mesbur-Nick Fitzgibbon). 

We will also keep an eye on the quarter-final featuring the major challengers from across the Atlantic. Many of you will remember when Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson lined up at the Olympics as part of what became known as “The Dream Team”. The bridge equivalent, whilst perhaps a bit greyer and with a combined age in excess of 135, are the legend that is Jeff Meckstroth and the mercurial Zia Mahmood playing in partnership. Surely worth watching, they are part of the transnational GUPTA team (along with Naren Gupta, Debbie Rosenberg, Geir Helgemo and Cedric Lorenzini) that led the field by a 17-VP margin at the end of the qualifying stage. Their quarter-final opponents were the dangerous USA/Polish team that included four former World title winners of their own, PEPSI (Jacek Pszczola, Michal Kwiecien, May Sakr, Jacek Kalita and Michal Nowosadzki),.

As usual, we begin with some teasers for you to consider. We will find out later how your choices would have turned out. For a change, this week we have two very different problems on the same hand; With both side vulnerable, you hold as East:

What action, if any, do you take?

If you bid Three Spades (forcing to game, presumably), partner then bids Four Clubs. What do you do now?

If you bid Four Spades at either of your turns, South doubles, partner essays 4NT, and North doubles that. Would you take one more bid or give up here?

Now suppose, instead, that the auction goes rather differently:

At this table, North overcalls at the one-level, and you decide to pre-empt in spades, although you have to do so via a Three Heart transfer. South doubles, partner bids 3NT, and RHO carries on to Four Hearts. Do you bid again and, if so, what? 

If you pass, partner doubles. If you pass again, what do you lead?

While you mull those over, let’s get straight into the action. On our first board, the auction started in identical fashion at all four tables:

N/S VulDealer East

When his partner doubled Two Spades, ostensibly for takeout, John Carroll chose to emphasize the minimum nature of his hand by rebidding 2NT. With little to spare for his double, Mark Moran saw no reason to bid again. 

Despite only 23 HCPs, the North/South hands fit very well for playing in hearts, with ten tricks available on a 3-2 trump break and a finesse through the opening bidder. Notrumps plays less well: Gawrys led the ♠3 to his partner’s ace and Klukowski smartly switched to a low club, enabling the defenders to take the first six tricks. N/S -50.

West – Fitzgibbon North – Drijver East – Mesbur SouthBrink

Bas Drijver also rebid 2NT after the same start to the auction. Perhaps based on his five-card diamond suit, Sjoert Brink decided that he had enough to justify a raise. Just when it looked as if the Dutch/Swiss pair was going to concede a couple of IMPs for an extra undertrick, Drijver righted the ship and landed his side in the top spot. N/S +620 and an interesting 12 IMPs to SWISS TEAM.

In the other match, both North players guided their partnership safely to the right game without the excitement provided by the Dutch:

West – Kalita North – Helgemo East – Nowo’dzki SouthLorenzini
West – Rosenberg North – Pzsczola East – Gupta SouthKwiecien

Both Gier Helgemo and Jacek Pzsczola bid their hearts in response to their partner’s takeout double, and thus the top spot was easily reached at both tables. N/S +620 for a push in this match.

All four North/South pairs reached the same contract on our next deal. Two declarers were successful whereas the other two were not, producing a game swing in each match. One declarer’s failure was, perhaps, more understandable, though:

E/W VulDealer East

West – Kalita North – Helgemo East – Nowo’dzki SouthLorenzini
West – Rosenberg North – Pzsczola East – Gupta SouthKwiecien

Both East players led the ♣2. Both declarers won with the ♣A and immediately played a second club, East ruffing with the 9 in front of dummy and switching to a low spade.

Gier Helgemo rose with the ♠A, drew the remaining trumps in two rounds, and advanced the ♠10. East could make the ♠K and the A, but that was all. N/S +420.

At the other table, Pepsi inexplicably played low from dummy on the spade switch. West won with the ♠Q, returned a second club for his partner to ruff with the J. East cashed the A and then played a second spade, allowing West to ruff declarer’s ace. N/S -100 and 11 IMPs to GUPTA.

In the other match, the Irish bid uncontested to Four Hearts played by North and John Carroll duplicated Helgemo’s line of play to make ten tricks. N/S +420.

West – Fitzgibbon North – Drijver East – Mesbur SouthBrink

Drijver was again alone, preferring a negative double rather than the natural Three Heart bid chosen at the other tables where West had intervened. The result was, therefore, that South declared at this table, and West opened the 6.

East won with the A and returned a diamond to declarer’s king. Although he had been warned to some extent of the uneven club break, Brink did not expect West to hold an eight-card suit. It looks safe enough to take one club ruff, doesn’t it?

It wasn’t! East ruffed the second round of clubs too high for declarer. Unlike at the tables in the other match, though, declarer here was given no more chances: East delivered his partner’s diamond ruff, and a third round of clubs enabled Adam Mesbur to take the setting trick with the J. N/S -50 and 10 IMPs to MORAN.

With one of the three 20-board seats played, SWISS TEAM had opened up a 34-IMP lead (73-39) on the Irish. Meanwhile, GUPTA led the other match by 12 IMPs (39-27) after a much lower-scoring set.

The second stanza had plenty of relatively dull deals, but a couple of real doozies. This early board produced a big swing in both matches:

Both VulDealer West

Carroll’s One Heart bid was a transfer, showing spades and Zimmermann declined the chance to get his long suit into the auction cheaply with a double. Mark Moran’s jump to 3NT, showing a hand based on long clubs rather than a strong balanced hand, now ended the brief auction.

Multon led the A, and when that went three, ten, deuce, he continued with the K and a third diamond to declarer’s queen. Moran could cash his seven club tricks but, with no entry to dummy’s ♠A, that was the end of the line for declarer. Multon scored the last three tricks with the A and winning diamonds. E/W -100.

Let’s switch matches before checking the action at the second table in this one.

West – Helgemo North – Pzsczola East – Lorenzini SouthKwiecien

Cedric Lorenzini jumped to Two Hearts to show spades, but that did not stop Michal Kwiecien doubling. Here too, West rebid 3NT and, again, everyone passed.

Pepsi also led a high diamond but Helgemo, noting the appearance of the 10 from South, unblocked the jack. Unable to continue diamonds without allowing declarer into dummy, it looks like North can exit safely with a club, as he can always then prevent declarer from reaching dummy in diamonds. The run of the clubs, though, would then have caused North acute discomfort and he would eventually find himself endplayed to give declarer a ninth trick in one of the majors. 

One way of beating the contract now is for North to lead a low heart at trick two. South overtakes, which forces declarer to take his king immediately. After cashing his clubs, declarer can try building a diamond trick but the defenders will have hearts to cash. Pepsi found the other route to success, the ♠J. This allowed declarer to make a trick with the ♠A, but he has no diamond trick. Helgemo cashed his seven clubs, but when he then played a diamond, North had kept just his high diamond, a spade and the A-J. The defenders took the last four tricks: E/W -100 here too.

Back to the first match now, and the first of the problems posed at the top of this article:

West – Klukowski North – Hanlon East – Gawrys SouthMcGann

This was the only one of the four tables where East could bid spades naturally. It was also the only one at which North chose pre-emptive action at his first turn, and what a bonus that produced. When you saw the hand earlier, did you manage to pass Three Diamonds? 

Once Piotr Gawrys was unwilling to be shut out by Tom Hanlon’s Three Diamonds, his side was in trouble. Yes, Klukowsi might have bid 3NT but, despite his void, perhaps he had thoughts of slam facing a partner who had forced to game. Yes, Gawrys might have passed Four Clubs, but did you?

When Gawrys bid Four Spades, Hugh McGann decided he had heard enough and produced a red card. Best defense gives declarer no chance of guessing the trumps: after ace and king of diamonds (South discarding a club) and a diamond ruff, South exits with his second club. Stuck in dummy, declarer can try the K, but North wins and gives his partner a club ruff. With the ♠K still to come, that is E/W -800.

Theoretically, Michal Klukowski did the right thing by bidding 4NT. As we have already seen, declarer can make eight tricks in that contract, for ‘only’ a 500 penalty, holding the loss to 9 IMPs. When Gawrys rescued to Five Clubs, though, the Poles had truly jumped from the frying pan into the fire. The defense started with three rounds of diamonds, South ruffing. McGann now exited with a trump. Klukowski valiantly tried the K, hoping that the defender with the A did not have the outstanding trump, but it was not to be, Hanlon won with the A and played his club. Declarer made just his seven trump tricks: four down, E/W -1100 and 14 IMPs to MORAN.

At the fourth table, it was again East who was in the spotlight, this time with the second of the problems posed earlier:

West – Kalita North – Meckstroth East – –Nowos’zki SouthZia

At this table, it was not North who pre-empted, but Michal Nowosadzki on the East cards. Unfortunately, he had to do so via a transfer, which allowed Zia to double on the South cards. Again, West tried his luck in 3NT, but Jeff Meckstroth wasn’t willing to defend. Nowosadzki avoided the large penalty that bidding Four Spades probably would have led to, but then had to find a lead against Four Hearts Doubled, with 20 IMPs resting on the decision. 

Did you find the winning lead of the ♠A? Had he done so, Nowosadzki could then have given his partner a spade ruff at trick two. Kalita would have cashed two clubs to beat the contract by a trick. With teammates +100 at the other table, E/W +200 would have been worth 7 IMPs to PEPSI. 

Instead, Nowosadzki chose to lead his partner’s suit. Kalta took his two club tricks and switched to a deceptive J. Zia took dummy’s two top diamonds and ruffed the third round, establishing the suit, He then ran the 10 and, when that won, he repeated the trump finesse and claimed his eleven tricks. E/W -990 and an exciting 13 IMPs to GUPTA.

Each table on BBO’s VuGraph coverage attracted a crowd of close to 2,000 kibitzers, and their patience was rewarded on the final deal of the second stanza. Although all four North/South pairs reached the same contract, there was still plenty of excitement.

Both VulDealer West

When Pepsi jumped in spades after his partner’s game-forcing 2/1 response, he showed a good suit, so what else did Michal Kwiecien need to know?

With both majors breaking, there is no defense. East can remove the ♣A by leading that suit, or the trump entry with a diamond lead, but he cannot dislodge both. Lorenzini led the ♣K, so declarer won, cashed two top hearts and ruffed a heart. When trumps split 2-2 he was then able to claim: N/S +2210.

Astute readers will have noted that this was not the best play, as declarer can cater for a 4-1 heart break by ruffing a low heart at trick three. With two trump entries to dummy, he could then cross to dummy and ruff a second heart should he need to.

West – Kalita North – Meckstroth East – Nowos’zki SouthZia

After the same start, Zia thought for a very long time before eventually emerging with his jump to 5NT. It seems that Zia intended this as asking for two top trump honors (although it is hard to imagine that partner’s suit could not be headed by the king-queen after his jump rebid) whereas Meckstroth thought he was being offered a choice of six-level contracts. 

You may wonder why Jacek Kalita doubled: he surely didn’t think his ace would stand up after this auction. This was that rare bird, a psychic Lightner Double: his hope was that by showing the ability to ruff something at trick one, one of his opponents might be persuaded to convert to 7NT against which, of course, he would be on lead. An imaginative effort!

Neither opponent had a hand suitable for conversion so they stood their ground. Michal Nowosadzki deliberated for a very long time, trying to work out which red suit his partner was most likely to be ruffing, before eventually trying his luck with a heart. With dummy’s club entry still intact, Meckstroth now needed nothing more than East to follow suit at trick one. He won with the A and ruffed a heart with a high trump. When everyone followed, Meckstroth simply drew trumps and claimed: N/S +2470 and 6 IMPs to GUPTA, who won the second set 35-25 and stretched their lead to 22 IMPs (74-52) with 20 boards left.

In the other match, both declarers got the lead of the ♣K against their grand slam:

West – Klukowski North – Hanlon East – Gawrys SouthMcGann

Tom Hanlon won with the ♣A and looked no further than trumps breaking: top heart, heart ruff, ♠K and a trump to the ace. An easy thirteen tricks: N/S +2210.

West – Moran North – Multon East – Carroll SouthZimmermann

Bridge can be a most frustrating game sometimes. I really cannot argue with Franck Multon’s reasoning that the diamond finesse offers better odds than the 2-2 spade break. He won with the ♣A and immediately ruffed a club to hand in order to lead the K. The idea was to take the ruffing finesse and eventually ruff two diamonds in dummy. The fourth diamond would later go on dummy’s second high heart. Of course, this plan failed spectacularly when West showed up with the A. N/S -100 and a massive 20 IMPs to MORAN.

MORAN won the second stanza 58-25 and were right back in the match. They trailed by just 1 IMP (97-98) going into the final set. When Hanlon-McGann bid and made a slam on a finesse on the first board, the Irish stormed into a 10-IMP lead. Now just 19 deals left. Two boards later, Drijver-Brink bid and made a 50% slam to restore their team’s 1-IMP advantage. Great stuff for the thousands of kibitzers enthralled by this match on BBO VuGraph, 

Our final deal this week produced a swing in both matches even though, again, the contract was the same at all four tables. If you want to test yourself, cover the North/South hands and decide how you would play Four Hearts from the East seat on the lead of the ♣J.

Both VulDealer West

Both Jacek Pszczola for PEPSI and Adam Mesbur for MORAN were faced with lead of the ♣J. Both declarers won, cashed their second high club, then played three rounds of diamonds. Both South players ruffed with the 6 in front of dummy, so declarer pitched a spade. 

Against Pepsi, South now played a third round of clubs to dummy’s king. What would you discard from your hand on this trick? Pepsi threw his diamond and, in dummy for the last time, led a trump to his king. That won, but North now had two trump tricks and the ♠A meant declarer was one down. The winning play is to discard a spade on the third round of clubs. You can then lead a heart to the jack, ruff your fourth diamond to get back to dummy, and play a second heart, limiting North to only one trump trick.

Against Mesbur, after ruffing the third round of diamonds South cashed the ♠A and continued with a second spade. The Irishman correctly unblocked an honor from hand under the ace and won the second round of spades with dummy’s jack. He then continued the good work by cashing the ♣K to discard the spade winner from his hand. When he then led a trump from dummy and North played low, Mesbur fell at the final hurdle when he rose with the king. Had he managed to put in the jack on the first round of trumps, would he not have produced a contender for a “Best Played Hand” award?

Unfortunately for both of the teams trailing in their respective matches, that was E/W -50.

At the other table in the match between PEPSI and MORAN, Hugh McGann led the 8 against Piotr Gawrys. The Pole won and immediately led the ♠9 towards dummy. Going in with the ace would not have helped McGann, so he played low and dummy’s ♠J won. Gawrys now led a heart to his jack and, when that held, he exited with the K. North could score two trump tricks and South the ♠A later, but that was all. Declarer was able to ruff one diamond loser and pitch the other on dummy’s ♣K. E/W +420 and 10 IMPs to SWISS TEAM.

At the fourth table, the vagaries of system meant that Cedric Lorenzini declared Four Hearts from the West seat. Nowosadzki led the ♠10, declarer called for the king from dummy, and Kalita allowed that to hold. Lorenzini now made the excellent play of the ♠Q from dummy. Kalita won with the ♠A and delivered his partner’s spade ruff, but declarer was now in control. North exited with a club and Lorenzini made his second fine play, overtaking dummy’s queen with his king to play a trump towards dummy. North rose with the A and exited with a diamond, but declarer won and cashed the K, drawing the outstanding trumps, and claimed his ten tricks. E/W +420 and 10 IMPs to GUPTA.

GUPTA finished the match strongly, winning the third set 48-35 and the match by 35 IMPs (122-87). It was a much closer run thing in the other match: SWISS TEAM won the final stanza 58-51 to claim an 8-IMP victory (156-148). 

In tomorrow’s semi-finals, GUPTA will take on RUSSIA, who saw off NETHERLANDS 136-91 in their quarter-final. Meanwhile, SWISS TEAM will be faced with the strong Italian team, LAVAZZA, who defeated the multi-national TEAM VENTIN (Portugal, Chile, Sweden and Spain) 156-105 in the fourth of the quarter-final matches. We will return next week with the best of the action from the semi-finals.