June BBO Prime Tournament. Deal analysis.

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

There were 10 deals in this tournament and 4 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 and 4 in June’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.


Just four teams remained standing after four days of play in the Zimmermann Cup at the 3rd European Winter Games in Monte Carlo. One semi-final featured the team that had dominated the round robin qualifying stage, the multi-national GUPTA (Naren Gupta, Debbie Rosenberg, Geir Helgemo, Cedric Lorenzini, Jeff Meckstroth and Zia Mahmood). Their opponents were the only single-nation team still alive, RUSSIA (Alexander Dubinin, Andrey Gromov, Anna Gullevich, Yury Khiuppenen, Jouri Khokhlov and Vadim Kholomeev).

At the other end of the scale during the first two days of competition was SWISS TEAM (Pierre Zimmermann, Franck Multon, Sjoert Brink, Bas Drijver, Piotr Gawrys and 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, but here they were now in the semi-final. They would be taking on a dangerous Italian team containing just a hint of Denmark, LAVAZZA (Giorgio Duboin, Norberto Bocchi, Dennis Bilde, Agustin Madala, Antonio Sementa and Massimo Ortensi with Maria Teresa Lavazza performing the NPC duties).

Just one teaser for you to consider this week. We will find out later how your choice would have turned out. This is a common enough bidding problem. With both side vulnerable, you hold as West:

What action, if any, do you take?

While you think about that, let’s get straight into the action. We start in the first of the three 20-board stanzas with a deal that produced a double-digit swing in both matches.

None VulDealer West

Piotr Gawrys chose to start with a cue-bid raise, which promised only three-card heart support. Now, although his partner doubled Four Spades to show an unsuitable hand for the five-level, Gawrys clearly felt that his hand was too heart-oriented to risk defending. 

Dennis Bilde led his club. When Madala took the first round of trumps he delivered his partner’s ruff and Bilde cashed his ace for one down: N/S +50.

In the other match:

West – Khokhlov North – Gupta East – Dubinin SouthRosenberg

Alexander Dubinin raised hearts via a fit-jump which, although it would usually show four hearts and five or more clubs, seems to be the most descriptive bid on this hand. Knowing about the double fit, Khokhlov realized that there would be a lot of tricks made on this deal and understandably took out insurance against at least one of the contracts making. One down on a club ruff here too: N/S +50.

So, how good was +50 for North/South? With the defense able to defeat Four Spades by taking two diamond ruffs, it looks like a slightly above average result for North/South. Looks can be deceiving, though.

West – Sementa North – Drijver East – Bocchi SouthBrink

After the same fit-showing jump to Four Clubs, Antonio Sementa decided that he was only worth an invitational forcing pass. When his partner then expressed a willingness to defend, he saw no reason to overturn that decision. And right he was too, in theory at least.

Bocchi duly led the 10. It would seem that the bidding marks East with at least nine cards in hearts and clubs, and probably two or three trumps, ergo a singleton diamond. However, Sementa’s switch to a low club at trick two suggests that he expected short clubs opposite, and he catered for both a singleton ♣K or something like ♠QJx KQxxx 109xx ♣J. Bocchi won and played a second club, but declarer ruffed and although he later had to lose a trick to the J, that was still ten tricks: N/S +590 and 11 IMPs to SWISS TEAM.

So, +50 was a bad result for North/South?

West – Zia North – Gromov East – Meckstroth SouthGulevich

Playing against the likes of Zia and Meckstroth, you will often have the chance to score a good board. The problem is that you are always under pressure, and knowing when to zig and when to zag is never easy. This deal provides a typical example. Put yourself in Anna Gullevich’s shoes.

Andrey Gromov was the only one who decided that the North hand was two-suited, his 2NT showing specifically spades and diamonds. Jeff Meckstroth agreed hearts with a splinter-bid, and South showed what she thought was a good hand with a heart cue-bid. Zia now also thought he had a good hand, so he advanced to the five-level showing a club control. Meckstoth signed off in Five Hearts but South had not finished yet. Zia doubled Five Spades, clearly hoping to say that his Five Club cue-bid wasn’t that serious. Presumably expecting a spade void opposite, though, Meckstroth judged to bid a sixth heart. South really had no idea who could make what, but having pushed her opponents into what might well be a making slam, Gulevich felt that she could not afford to risk defending.

The bidding had clearly outlined the defense and Zia kicked off with the A. He delivered a diamond ruff at trick two, regained the lead in clubs and dealt Meckstroth a second ruff to collect the maximum. As is often the case, the American pair came up smelling of roses: N/S -500 and 11 IMPs to GUPTA. Perhaps +50 was not such a bad result for North/South after all.

After a first stanza in which more than 4 IMPs per board changed hand, GUTPA emerged with a 21-IMP lead (59-28). There was less variance in the other semi-final, which ended with SWISS TEAM ahead by 13 IMPs (40-27). 

Both trailing teams came back strongly in a second stanza that contained a plethora of deals with big swing potential.

Both VulDealer East

We start at the only table with an East player who had not received the memo that you are supposed to open a pre-empt in first seat with any excuse these days. After Kholomeev’s initial pass, he then settled for a non-forcing Three Club bid after Meckstroth’s natural overcall of West’s 1NT opening. Not that you would necessarily want to get higher than Three Clubs on these East/West cards. With the black suits lying very favorably, though, there were eleven easy tricks in clubs: E/W +150.

The other three West players were all faced with the problem posed at the top of this article:

West – Helgemo North – Khokhlov East – Lorenzini SouthDubinin

West seems to have a number of options over his partner’s Three Clubs: Pass, Three Spades and 3NT are probably the choices that most players would consider. In my own partnership, we have a rule that if responder bids a major in this auction, opener cannot bid higher than 3NT (unless agreeing responder’s major). Responder can thus look for a 5-3 spade fit on this sort of hand and still play 3NT (albeit perhaps from the wrong side) if one is not found. Not that 3NT is likely to be a great success on this deal. With both defenders likely to lead a heart you will quickly be down, so neither Three Spades nor 3NT work well. We’ll come back to passing later.

Geir Helgemo opted for an imaginative Three Diamond bid, perhaps looking for his partner to show something useful in one of the majors. Maybe he intended to bid 3NT over Three Hearts and to raise Three Spades to game, but the effect was to keep Five Clubs in the picture, which worked like a dream on this layout.  

When North bid Three Hearts, Cedric Lorenzini decided that he could show his diamond fit and his heart control in one bid. Helgemo had little choice but to retreat to clubs now, despite his meager trump support. 

Dubinin led a heart to his partner’s queen but North’s diamond return picked up that suit for declarer. A trump was played from dummy and North rose with the ace to play a second diamond. When North’s ♣Q appeared on the second round of trumps, declarer was then able to claim eleven tricks: N/S +600 and 10 IMPs to GUPTA.

A spade switch at trick two works no better: declarer wins and plays a trump, wins the spade continuation and play a second trump, and eventually ruffs the spades good to discard his diamond loser. A fortunate eleven tricks, perhaps, but if you are going to play game then Five Clubs is clearly the best choice. An even better option, though, is not to play the hand at all:

West – Brink North – Bilde East – Drijver SouthDuboin

Sjoert Brink also began with Three Diamonds in response to the Three Club opening. Once again, North intervened with Three Hearts, but Bas Drijver opted to say no more having already opened vulnerable on this East hand. When Three Hearts was passed back around, Brink had a fairly clear double, and there matters rested.

Drijver led a spade and the defense played three rounds, East scoring his singleton heart with the ruff. A diamond to the ace was now followed by a club through declarer’s A-Q. Declarer had to lose one more trick in each minor and, with no entry to dummy, a trump trick to West’s king too: E/W +800. 

Isn’t that so much better than getting to a dubious Five Clubs? The auction at the fourth table produced yet another variation, though, and perhaps answers the original question posed.

West – Sementa North – Multon East – Bocchi South – Zimmermann

Antonio Sementa settled for a quiet pass of his partner’s Three Club opening. Multon might have backed in with Three Hearts which would, presumably, have led to a flat board. It is hard, though, to be overly critical of the 3NT bid. When Sementa doubled, Multon decide that he might be better off in his long suit after all (and correct he was if Bocchi found a spade or diamond lead against 3NT-Doubled). To say that Four Hearts-Doubled was a good spot, though, would be overstating things, The defense was much as it had been at the other table, so Multon was four down: E/W +1100 and 7 IMPs to LAVAZZA.

Do you want to be in a slam on a finesse? Usually not, and surely no one would manage to make their contract on our next deal by dropping the singleton king of trumps offside…

N/S VulDealer East

With an apparently unavoidable diamond loser, it seems that slam depends on finding the ♠K onside. Meckstroth won the opening heart lead with dummy’s king and ran the ♠10 at trick two. Vadim Kholomeev won with his singleton king and has to play a club now to defeat the contract legitimately (as it removes an entry to declarer’s hand prematurely). When he returned a heart, Meckstroth was still in with a chance. Drawing trumps was not the winning line, though, and declarer was soon settling for one down: N/S -100.

West – Helgemo North – Khokhlov East – Lorenzini SouthDubinin

After the same start, Jouri Khokhlov had to start with a negative double, which made South declarer in a spade contract. The Russians cue-bid their way to game and when Blackwood then revealed a missing key-card they stopped at the five-level. Helgemo’s diamond lead had all the hallmarks of a singleton and so, able to afford one trump loser but not two, declarer here was never tempted to take the trump finesse. Dubinin led a spade to the ace and claimed twelve tricks when the king dropped: N/S +680 and 13 IMPs to RUSSIA. 

RUSSIA won the second, high-scoring stanza 63-39, so they would go into the final set trailing by just 6 IMPs (107-101).

In the other match, both North/South pairs got to the slam:

West – Sementa North – Multon East – Bocchi SouthZimmermann

Readers may be interested to note how much the game has changed of late, in that all four West players made a jump overcall on this meager collection. Only Sementa, though, thought it was worth a three-level intervention. The added impetus encouraged the French/Swiss pair quickly into slam.

West led his singleton diamond here too, East’s nine forcing declarer’s king. In slam, Zimmerman felt he could not afford to reject the trump finesse, so Bocchi won with the ♠K and returned the J. Sementa ruffed declarer’s ace and Zimmermann still had later to lose a diamond to the queen: two down, N/S -200.

West – Brink North – Bilde East – Drijver SouthDuboin

The Danish/Italian combination in the Lavazza team bid efficiently to the slam and Dennis Bilde then demonstrated how twelve tricks could be made without guessing the trumps. He won the opening heart lead with dummy’s king and immediately played a second heart to his ace. He then ruffed a heart in dummy (East pitching a club), and played a spade to the queen and king. Declarer won the Q switch with dummy’s king, crossed to his hand in trumps, and ruffed his remaining heart with dummy’s last trump. A club to the ace now allowed Bilde to draw West’s last trump. When he then cashed his remaining spade winners, East was squeezed in the minors: having to discard in front of dummy, he was unable to keep both his diamond guard and the ♣K. A magnificent N/S +1430 and 17 IMPs to LAVAZZA.

LAVAZZA won the second stanza 66-54. With 20 deals left in this match, SWISS TEAM clung to the lead by just a single IMP, 94-93.

On our next deal, no one was tempted by a slam on the trump finesse and a bit more:

E/W VulDealer East

West – Zia North – Khiupp’en East – Meckstroth SouthKholomeev
West – Gromov North – Helgemo East – Gulevich SouthLorenzini
West – Madala North – Drijver East – Sementa SouthBrink

The above auction was duplicated at three of the four tables. West’s 2NT showed a constructive heart raise or better so East had a fairly routine Five Heart bid over North’s pre-emptive jump to game.

Lorenzini opened a trump to the king and ace. Gulevich cashed the K and led a spade, taken by North, who returned a club into dummy’s tenace. When declarer played a second round of trumps and everyone followed he could claim a comfortable twelve tricks: E/W +680.

For the Russians, Kholomeev started with two rounds of spades, which was perhaps slightly more testing. Meckstroth ruffed, rook a winning trump finesse, played a club to the jack, and led a second heart. A routine E/W +680 and a flat board in that match.

Sementa also got two rounds of spades and, like Meckstroth, he took a winning trump finesse at trick three. With trumps apparently playing for no loser, declarer appears to have eleven easy tricks, but Sementa now set about disposing of his potential club losers. He overtook the K and led the J from dummy, discarding a club from his hand when North followed low. Brink won with the Q and played a third round of spades. Apparently convinced that trumps were breaking 3-1, declarer could not afford to ruff in dummy, so he pitched a diamond and ruffed in his hand. Now came a club to the king and the 10, pitching his last club loser. When South was able to ruff with the 10, though, declarer was one down. E/W -100.

West – Klukowski North – Bilde East – Gawrys SouthDuboin

Duboin was the only South who overcalled at the one-level, and it changed the entire tempo of the auction. Klukowski showed a constructive or better three-card heart raise with a Two Spade cue-bid, and Bilde now showed a constructive or better four-card spade raise with 2NT. East/West duly wended their way to game in hearts and South soldiered on to Four Spades. At this table, though, East/West had enough information not to simply be bounced into declaring at the five-level and, instead, decided to stop and take a penalty, the vulnerability notwithstanding.

As happens so often when two relatively balanced hands sacrifice at a high level, the penalty proved to be more than expected. The defenders had no problem collecting two hearts, two diamonds and three clubs. Declarer made just his six trump tricks: E/W +800 and 14 IMPs to SWISS TEAM.

Although both matches were potential nailbiters, with little to choose between the teams going into the final stanza, both were virtually over by halfway through the set. SWISS TEAM won the third set 83-43 and the match by 41 IMPs (177-136). GUPTA produced a devastating final 20 deals, hammering the Russians 77-9 to win their semi-final 184-110.

Remarkably, the final would be contested by the team that has been runaway winners of the qualifying stage and the team that just crept into the knockout phase by grabbing the last qualifying spot. With both teams packed with former World champions, it should be a fascinating matchup, and we will return to Monte Carlo next week to see the best of the action.