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September BBO Prime Tournament. Deal analysis.

Thank you for joining September’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, and 6 in September’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). Last week, we followed the Irish team, as they won their first four matches but fell at the final hurdle in their attempt to close the gap. This week, we check out the best of the action from the matches involving the victorious England team. Representing England for this second weekend are Cameron Small/Jon Cooke, Mike Bell/Ben Norton and John Cox/Peter Taylor.

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. As usual, we begin with some problems for you to consider. We will find out later how your choices would have turned out. We start this week with two opening lead problems. Firstly, with just your side vulnerable, you hold as East:

What do you lead?

Next, with just the opponents vulnerable, your hand as North is:

What do you lead?

Finally, a bidding problem. With just your side vulnerable, you hold as West:

East’s One Club opening promised no more than a doubleton club. What action do you take?

While you mull those over, we jump straight into the action with the Friday evening match against WALES. ENGLAND led 53-11 at the midway point. This deal did not assist the Welsh recovery:

E/W VulDealer West

Even at averse vulnerability, it would not have been surprising had Cameron Small opened this West hand. Having not done so, it was no shock to see him get involved at his second turn. Tim Rees’s jump to game was a reasonable description of his hand, but John Salisbury was never likely to be tempted to take another bid with almost half of his high card points apparently wasted in the diamond suit bid on his left.

Small’s diamond overcall made it a virtual certainty that East would not find the best lead for the defense, but the damage had already been done and we were only talking overtricks. N/S +480.

WestG Jones NorthTaylor EastLamford SouthCox

For Wales, Gary Jones did not bid at all on the West hand, so John Cox had no reason to dismiss his diamond-suit values. Even so, bidding on is still an optimistic move, but who can argue with success. The upshot was that Paul Lamford was faced with the opening lead problem posed earlier, with 22 IMPs resting on his decision. 

An opening club lead, certainly a real contender, would have exposed declarer’s loser in that suit before he could establish a discard on the ♠K. Any other lead concedes twelve tricks. Lamford’s choice of the ♠A served only to hasten the speed of declarer’s claim. N/S +980 and 11 IMPs to ENGLAND.

ENGLAND won the second half 38-21 and the match 91-32, which translated to 18.29-1.71 in VPs. For both teams, the second weekend had begun in the same vein as the first had finished. Next up for ENGLAND was ‘The Auld Enemy” from north of the border.

This deal was a bidding challenge for the East/West pairs:

E/W VulDealer East

For the Scots, Phil Stephens started with a game-forcing spade raise and Frazer Morgan’s Three Hearts then showed a non-minimum with short clubs. Stephens cue-bid in hearts and Morgan now felt that he had done enough, so he retreated to Four Spades. Quite what hand Morgan could hold which is a non-minimum opening bid but at least eleven tricks is not safe is beyond me, but Stephens decided that he had nothing more to say. Trumps broke 2-1 so that was E/W +680.

WestBell NorthPeterkin EastNorton SouthPunch

The Bell/Norton system card does not explain exactly what Three Hearts shows, but it looks like extra values and an undisclosed singleton, with Three Spades asking and 3NT showing a shortage in clubs. Again, West cue-bid in hearts and now Norton took control on the East cards. RKCB found two key cards opposite and Norton bid the slam. E/W +1430 and 13 IMPs to ENGLAND.

ENGLAND led 51-26 at the midway point and added another 15 IMPs in the second half to win the match 87-47. Another 14.39 VPs to the ENGLAND total with the big match against second-placed IRELAND next on the schedule. 

IRELAND led narrowly, 36-27, after the first 16 deals and added another 15 IMPs to their lead early in the second stanza. Then came an ENGLAND resurgence, with three double-digit swings in quick succession. This was the most spectacular:

E/W VulDealer North

Despite Tom Hanlon’s four-level opening, the English pair found their way to Six Spades played from the West seat. At favorable vulnerability, Hugh McGann decided that the insurance premium was worth paying, and sacrificed in Seven Hearts.

Norton led a top spade and smartly switched to a trump. Declarer won in dummy, ruffed a club, and led a diamond, but Norton rose with the J to play a second trump. Declarer could now make just eight trump tricks. E/W +1100. Although the penalty was probably higher than South might have expected, it was still significantly cheaper than conceding a vulnerable Six Spades.

WestFitzgibbon NorthTaylor EastMesbur SouthCox

Peter Taylor’s three-level opening gave John Cox the chance to show heart support at a lower level. When the Irish then reached slam, Cox felt he had already done his bit and opted for defense. Theoretically, this was excellently judged by Cox, assuming that his partner could solve the second of the opening lead conundrums presented at the top of this article.

Indeed he could: Taylor bravely opted for the 3 as his opening lead. Winning with the Q, John Cox was not hard-pressed to work out that his partner wanted a club return. E/W -100 and a superb 15 IMPs to ENGLAND.

With just six deals remaining, ENGLAND led the match by 11 IMPs, 68-57, and Irish hopes of closing the gap seemed to have slipped away. A grandstand finish by the Irish saw them score 42 unanswered IMPs over those final six deals, though, so IRELAND emerged with a victory by 99-68. That translated into 14.54 VPs for IRELAND and just 5.46 for ENGLAND. Game still on.

Sunday began with a comfortable win (89-21) for ENGLAND against the NIBU team whilst IRELAND recorded their fourth consecutive win of the weekend, against NORTHERN IRELAND. The teams went into the final match with ENGLAND on 149.89 VPs and IRELAND on 131.37, so it was still mathematically possible for the Republic to capture the trophy. It would require a big win against WALES and a resounding victory by NORTHERN IRELAND over ENGLAND.

ENGLAND quickly ended the hopes of the large hometown audience. After two deals, ENGLAND led 22-0 whilst IRELAND trailed by a similar margin early against WALES. ENGLAND continued to pile on the IMPs. Our final deal was a question of judgment: did you solve the bidding problem posed at the top of this article?

E/W VulDealer East

Wayne Somerville’s One Club opening promised no more than a doubleton in the suit. Paul Tranmer made an inverted club raise over South’s double and, when North’s jump to Four Hearts came back to him, he decided he had already done enough. The defense had to score two spade tricks and one in each minor, so that was one down: E/W +50.

WestBell NorthLindsay EastNorton SouthHamilton

Ben Norton’s One Club could also have been short, so the five-level decision faced by Mike Bell at this table was much the same. However, Bell correctly reasoned that his partner would be fairly short in hearts and thus he was guaranteed to hold real clubs. With the A where you would expect it to be (with the takeout doubler), there were just two red-suit aces to lose: E/W +600 and a well-judged 11 IMPs to ENGLAND.

ENGLAND had a huge first half to the match and led 83-21 after 16 deals. NORTHERN IRELAND staged something of a recovery in the second half, winning it 62-23, but ENGLAND still won the match by 106-83. ENGLAND had won four of their five matches in this second weekend, so retained the trophy by a comfortable margin.

The final table looked like this:

First w/eSecond w/eTOTAL VPs
NORTHERN IRELAND30.1850.7580.93

Congratulations to all six ENGLAND pairs who played over the two weekends. They retain the trophy by a significant margin having scored nine wins from their ten matches. IRELAND were consistent over the two weekends to finish second, albeit a fair distance behind the leaders. An excellent recovery by WALES in the second weekend saw them overhaul SCOTLAND to take third place.