August BBO Prime Tournament. Deal analysis.

Thank you for joining August’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, 5, 6, 7 and 10 in JAugust’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.


Teams representing the five nations of the British Isles congregated in Belfast for the second half of the 2020 Camrose Trophy. After a huge first weekend in Edinburgh, England topped the table with 90.5 VPs from a possible 100. The Republic of Ireland (with 66.14 VPs) led the trailing pack, with Scotland in third place (on 52.37).

As the hosts for the second weekend, the Northern Ireland Bridge Union fielded a second team in order to even up the numbers. Over the course of the weekend, teams played a 32-board match against each of the other five, with matches split into two stanzas. This week, we will see the Irish team in action as they try to close the gap. A team packed with international experience, they arrived in Belfast hot off their quarter-final appearance at the 3rd European Winter Games in Monte Carlo earlier in the week. As usual, we begin with a couple of problems for you to consider. We will find out later how your choices would have turned out. 

With just the opponents vulnerable, you hold as East:

South’s Two Clubs is natural and limited (10-15, either 6+♣ or 5+♣ and a four-card major) and North’s Three Diamond bid is a transfer, showing hearts. What action do you take now?

Next, with both sides vulnerable, your hand as West is:

South’s 3NT is the ‘Gambling’ variety, showing a solid minor. What action do you take?

If you double, North advances with Four Clubs (pass or correct) and South bids Four Diamonds. If you now double again, partner bids Four Hearts. Are you now passing or bidding again?

While you mull those over, we jump straight into the action with the Friday evening match between the two Celtic rivals, Ireland and Scotland. The Scots led 24-13 after a relatively dull first 16 deals, but The Great Dealer was just teasing the hundreds watching the action on BBO VuGraph. The second set began with consecutive boards that posed high-level decisions:

Both VulDealer North

Nick Fitzgibbon’s 4NT showed both minors and began a high-level search for the best strain when the harsh reality was that none of the alternatives was particularly attractive. The good news for the Irish was that the defense against Six Clubs-Doubled was not as robust as it might have been. Even though declarer ruffed a diamond with dummy’s ♣10, South inexplicably still failed to score a trick with the ♣8. Declarer was allowed to escape with eleven tricks, losing only the two top trumps: N/S +200.

This is an extreme example of the concept that when it becomes apparent that the hands are a misfit, stop bidding as soon as possible. I confess that I much prefer Mesbur’s approach to that chosen by his Scottish counterpart:

West Stephens NorthHanlon EastMorgan SouthMcGann

The defense against spades was harder to get wrong and the Irish pair totally failed to do so. McGann led a top club and then switched accurately to his heart. Declarer led the ♣Q, ruffed and overruffed, played a diamond to the ace, and played another club, North again ruffing. A heart towards dummy’s king allowed McGann to score one of his small trumps and a diamond to the ace then effectively killed dummy. Declarer still had two trumps and a heart to lose: N/S +1100 and 12 IMPs to IRELAND to open the second half of the match.

The very next deal produced the first of the bidding problems posed earlier:

N/S VulDealer East

Hugh McGann opened with a natural and limited Two Clubs (10-15, either 6+♣ or 5+♣ and 4-card major) and Tom Hanlon’s Three Diamond bid was a transfer, showing hearts. When McGann then bid Five Hearts over Frazer Morgan’s pre-emptive jump to game in spades, Phil Stephens doubled and the spotlight fell on Morgan. Not unreasonably, he elected to pass, but with a void in each hand declarer had just two clubs to lose: N/S +850.

WestFitzgibbon NorthPeterkin EastMesbur SouthPunch

Sam Punch opened the South hand with a natural One Club, but Adam Mesbur was essentially faced with the same decision at the five-level. When he decided to press on to Five Spades, the Scots could have doubled and collected +100 in defense rather than bidding on and going minus, but the damage was already done and the IMP difference was negligible. N/S -200 and 14 IMPs to IRELAND.

26-0 ahead after two boards of the set, the Irish pressed home their advantage and eventually won the stanza 64-10. They won the match by 43 IMPs (77-34), which translated to 16.79 VPs for the Irish. Off and running!

The next opponents were the NIBU team and the match began disastrously for the Republic team: they managed to play slam in a 5-0 fit when someone passed what I suspect was intended as Exclusion Blackwood. That’s one that I have never seen before and the tariff was 15 IMPs down the Swanee. Later in the set, though, they presented an opponent with the second of the bidding problems from the top of this article:

Both VulDealer North

South’s Three Diamond pre-empt failed to unduly inconvenience the Irish pair: Grainne Barton overcalled with a non-leaping Michels Four Clubs, showing clubs and a major. John Carroll’s Four Diamonds asked which major and thus the routine spade game was reached. Declarer played safely for ten tricks: E/W +620.

WestO’Shea NorthFitzgibbon EastCoffey SouthMesbur

Adam Mesbur’s ‘Gambling 3NT’ opening proved more challenging. Even if you play non-leaping Michaels over natural three-level openings, do you also do so over a Gambling 3NT? I suspect not: the most widely-played defense is probably ‘longer minor for takeout’. 

Ferghal O’Shea started with a value-showing double, over which Nick Fitzgibbon bid a ‘pass or correct’ Four Clubs, and Adam Mesbur revealed his long suit. What now? O’Shea opted for a takeout double now.

The best option for the NIBU pair was for Michael Coffey to convert his partner’s double for penalties and, arguably, he really should do so on this flat East hand. Four Diamonds-doubled would have been two down for E/W +500 and close to a flat board. When Coffey removed to Four Hearts, O’Shea had to decide whether to stick or twist. Passing was the losing decision: Four Hearts was not a happy spot for declarer and he drifted two down: E/W -200 and 13 IMPs to IRELAND. 

Despite the bad start, the Republic team won the first stanza 49-36. The second half was mostly one-way traffic and IRELAND ran out victors by 47 IMPs (103-56), adding a further 17.78 VPs to their tally. The second match on Saturday was the big one, against ENGLAND, with the Irish needing a substantial win if they were to have any chance of closing the gap.

If you play a Multi, would you have solved the problem faced by East/West on this early deal?

Both VulDealer West

System dictated that Mike Bell open a Multi with his weak two. How should East advance? Ben Norton settled for a natural and invitational Three Clubs bid. Might Bell have bid again and, if so, what? Reverse partner’s majors and you surely do not want to get any higher. All very guessy but, with both black suits breaking 3-2, ten tricks are easy in spades. With the A onside (permitting entry to the established spades, once you have ruffed them good) the defenders also cannot take more than their two aces against a club contract. E/W +150.

WestMcGann NorthSmall EastHanlon SouthCooke

Knowing which suit opener held drastically affected East’s view of this hand: McGann opened a natural weak two and Tom Hanlon advanced with a 2NT inquiry. Jon Cooke came in with a dubious three-level intervention and McGann showed a good hand in context by cue-bidding. Having reached their making game, the Irish were already assured of a good board but, when Cameron Small decided to save at the five-level, Hanlon was able to guild the lily. As we have observed numerous times in this column, sacrificing when your side has two balanced hands inevitably proves to be too expensive, and so it was here. The defense scored one diamond and two tricks in each black suit, so that was E/W +800 and 12 IMPs to IRELAND.

The Irish edged the first half 36-27 but, with 10 boards of the second half played, ENGLAND had moved into an 11-IMP lead (68-57).

N/S VulDealer South

John Cox opened a natural or balanced One Club and Peter Taylor transferred to hearts after West’s spade overcall. One can hardly blame Cox for deciding that his hand was a minimum opening bid, his Two Hearts saying nothing much other than that he would have passed a non-forcing Two Heart response. Fitzgibbon doubled for takeout and Mesbur bid diamonds. Cox probably should have competed to Three Hearts now, and perhaps Taylor might also have done so, although he had no particular reason to think the deal was anything other than a misfit. Declarer duly lost a trick in each suit: N/S -110 and a fairly soft result for North/South on what looks like a partscore deal.

WestBell NorthHanlon EastNorton SouthMcGann

Hanlon’s Two Hearts was a one-round force, but this Irish pair are not shy in the bidding and McGann raised all the way to game despite his threadbare opening bid. For sure, it is hard to fault Ben Norton for failing to find the killing club lead. Hanlon won trick one with the ♠A and advanced his diamond. Norton won with the ace and continued spades. If West switches to trumps now, limiting declarer to one spade ruff in dummy, declarer discards a club on the K, ruffs a diamond to hand, and runs his trumps to squeeze West in the black suits.

When Bell returned a low spade at trick four, East’s 9 forced an overruff with the king. Declarer pitched his club loser, ruffed back to hand, and led his fourth spade. When East could not ruff higher than dummy’s 6, declarer was home. N/S an impressive +620 and 12 IMPS to IRELAND.

The Irish won the final six deals 42-0 to win the match by 31 IMPs (99-68). That was 14.54 VPs to IRELAND and their third consecutive victory of the weekend, keeping their hopes alive with two matches to play.

The Irish continued their good work in Sunday morning’s match, with a 75-38 defeat of Northern Ireland, adding a further 16.12 VPs to their total. Their final opponents in this second weekend were a Welsh team against whom they had collected 19.9 VPs in the first weekend. Things did not start well for the Irish, though, and they were down 20-0 after just five deals. Things did not improve either and they trailed 53-19 at the midway point of the match.

E/W VulDealer South


Mike Dunn showed spades and a minor with his Two Heart cue-bid and Dafydd Jones decided that his hand was worth a game try. Hanlon now took advantage of the vulnerability to introduce his diamond suit in case his partner was interested in saving over Four Spades. When no one had anything more to say, Hanlon could have guessed that he had stepped into the wrong auction.

The defenders led a spade to dummy’s ace, won the second round of hearts and played a second spade, forcing declarer to ruff. Now declarer set about trying to ruff a club, but West won and played a third spade. When East then won the second round of clubs, he continued with the ♠K, which allowed West to discard his remaining club. Declarer could now avoid losing a third club, but Jones was guaranteed to score both of this trump honors: two down, N/S -100.

WestFitzgibbon NorthRees EastMesbur SouthSalisbury

After the same start to the auction, Nick Fitzgibbon saw no value in messing around with game tries. A heart was the only lead that threatens the contract and Tim Rees duly tabled the J. Declarer won and played a diamond to king and ace, but the defense now played two more rounds of hearts, forcing declarer. Mesbur now played a trump and could have escaped for one down by inserting dummy’s ♠10. When, instead, rose with the ♠Q and then played a second trump towards his hand, he had lost control. John Salisbury won with the ♠J, cashed the ♠A and then played hearts. All declarer could do was discard winning clubs: E/W -300 and another 9 IMPs drifted into the WALES plus column.

WALES won the second half 56-29 and the match by 61 IMPs (109-48), which left the Irish with just 1.55 VPs from their final match. Not only did IRELAND fail to close the gap on ENGLAND over the course of this second weekend, but they also trailed WALES by 6 VPs over the five matches, despite four wins out of five.

Next week, we will remain in Belfast to see how ENGLAND battled to hold their lead over the second weekend of the event to retain the trophy.