December BBO Prime Tournament. Deal analysis.

Thank you for joining December’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, 3, 5, and 6 in December’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.

Major bridge events across the world were shut down due to the corona virus, but there was still plenty of world-class bridge to be seen on BBO VuGraph thanks to the ‘Invitational Alt Online’ series. The third installment of this tournament again attracted eight teams packed with many of the world’s top players. The format was a complete seven-match round robin followed by 36-board semi-finals and final. 

As usual, we begin with a couple of bidding problems for you to consider. Firstly, with just your side vulnerable, you hold as East:

What action do you take?

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

What action, if any, do you now take?

Would it have made any difference had East’s opening bid been Three Hearts?

While you mull those over, let’s dive straight into the action. Bidding misunderstandings can happen to anyone, and it is always heartening for the average player to see that experts can be as accident-prone as anyone else. I include this deal from the round robin match between DE BOTTON and ROSENTHAL as it was a particularly spectacular example of what can happen when a partnership’s wires get crossed. 

Both VulDealer East

With three rounds of diamonds promoting a trump trick against a heart game, it seems that East/West are destined to go minus on this deal. The Norwegians Hoftaniska/Charlsen therefore did well to record a plus score for DE BOTTON, by defending Three Diamonds by North: E/W +200.

The auction began normally at the other table, but…

North made a lead-directional double of West’s Three Diamond transfer bid. Jan Jansma self-alerted his redouble as a re-transfer, showing a heart fit but wanting his partner to declare, catering to the possibility that West might hold the K. 

Unfortunately for the Dutch pair, Chris Willenken was not on the same page as his partner. He assumed that the redouble was natural so, with a three-card diamond fit, he was content to play there. On this occasion, Alex Hydes had a genuine lead-directional double, rather than the dubious K-J-x-x on which you sometimes see players make such calls. When the smoke cleared, declarer had managed to scramble just five tricks: E/W a spectacular -2200 and 19 IMPs to DE BOTTON.

Pre-empting is all about judging how high to bid to present your opponent with a dilemma. Bas Drijver judged perfectly on this deal from BLASS vs DE BOTTON in the round robin, presenting Thor Erik Hoftaniska with the first of the bidding problems posed at the top of this article:

E/W VulDealer South

The Dutch play a 9-12 1NT in first seat at favorable vulnerability and One Diamond promises an unbalanced hand, so usually shows a five-card or longer suit (unless 4441 shape). The almost-guaranteed ten-card fit allowed Drijver to pre-empt one level higher than would be normal for most pairs, leaving Hoftaniska in a very difficult position. Over a jump to Three Diamonds, most players would choose between bidding their spades and a responsive double on these East cards. Of course, those same two choices are also available at the four-level, but the pass chosen by  Hoftaniska’s at the table is now also a legitimate option, and would perhaps be the mainstream choice.

Sjoert Brink did not even consider raising: he has seen his partner’s pre-empts before. Declarer lost the obvious five tricks in Four Diamonds: E/W +100.

WestKalita NorthHydes EastNowos’zki SouthHackett

South opened a 15-17 1NT and Jacek Kalita intervened with Two Clubs, showing both majors. Michel Nowosadzki’s Two Diamonds then asked his partner to bid his better major. Having found a 5-4 fit, East invited game and Kalita accepted, perhaps tipped off by South’s double that his partner had few wasted values opposite his void. Declarer lost just two hearts and a club: E/W +620 and 11 IMPs to BLASS.

For the second consecutive Alt tournament, BLASS dominated the round robin, finishing more than a whole match (26 VPs) ahead of second place. This meant that BLASS had choice of opponent in the semi-final, and they chose to play RUSSIA, against whom they would start with a 10.1-IMP carryover advantage. This left STREET playing GUPTA in the other semi-final, with STREET holding a 6.1-IMP carryover lead.

In one semi-final, GUPTA overcame their deficit, winning 51-34 on the boards played and therefore 51-40.1 overall. In the other match, RUSSIA also managed to nullify their opponent’s carryover to lead narrowly going into the second half of the match. With a few deals remaining in their semi-final, the respective South players were faced with the second of the bidding problems posed earlier:

Both VulDealer West

For the BLASS team, it was their Dutch champions holding the North/South cards:

Yury Khokhlov opened a third-seat weak two for the Russians. Sjoert Brink made a takeout double and Alexander Dubinin raised to game. When Bas Drijver now competed with Four Spades, the spotlight fell on Brink. Partner has bid Four Spades under pressure, but you do not need that much from him to make slam good. Do you bid or not? Brink did not, but there were twelve easy tricks: N/S +680.

WestKalita NorthGromov EastNowos’zki SouthGulevich

Although Michel Nowosadzki’s pre-emptive opening was at the three-level here, South’s problem over her partner’s Four Spades was essentially the same: advance or not? Anna Gulevich decided to bid, discovered that her partner held one ace, then asked again and found the ♠Q too. N/S +1430 and 12 IMPs to RUSSIA.

RUSSIA won 49-19 over the boards played and, therefore, 49-29.1 overall. For the second Alt tournament in a row, the BLASS team had chosen their semi-final opponents and gone into the match with a double-digit carryover advantage, but still failed to make it to the final. The final of Alt III would be between RUSSIA and GUPTA. Although played over three 12-board stanzas, this final turned out to be a game of two halves.

This board typified the direction of travel in the first segment of the match:

None VulDealer West

Andrey Gromov’s Two Spade opening showed 8-12 HCP and a six card suit. His Three Spade response to his partner’s inquiry then showed a good suit in a non-minimum with no shortage. Gulevich raised to Four Spades and Naren Gupta led the K.

Declarer won the the A, cashed three rounds of diamonds pitching a heart from his hand, and then played dummy’s trump to South’s ace. Huub Bertens played a fourth round of diamonds to promote a trump trick for his partner: declarer ruffed with the ♠9 and North correctly discarded a club. 

When declarer played the king then jack of spades, though, North missed a chance. If he wins with the ♠Q, cashes his heart winner, and exits in either black suit, he is bound to come to another trump trick at the end. When Gupta allowed the ♠J to win, though, declarer was in with a chance of making the contract. Gromov accurately cashed his two high clubs and, had he then exited with a heart, North would have been endplayed to lead away from his ♠Q-7 of spades at trick twelve. Instead, declarer tried to ruff a club. Gupta overruffed with the ♠7 and claimed the last two tricks with his major-suit queens. E/W -50.

WestMuller NorthKhyupp’n de EastWijs SouthKholomeev

Simon de Wijs’s 1NT response was an artificial game force and West’s jump to Three Clubs showed precisely 6-3-2-2 shape. With nothing known about declarer’s shape, Vadim Kholomeev attacked with the ♣J. Declarer won in hand with the ♣A and led his spade, taken perforce by South, who continued with a second club to dummy’s now-bare king. The ♠K was cashed and North then allowed the ♠J to win. North took the next spade with his queen and cashed a club winner, but that was the end of the road for the defense. E/W +430 and 10 IMPs to GUPTA.

Remarkably, GUPTA won the first 12-board stanza 62-1. I did say it was a game of two halves, and the Russians mounted a spirited comeback over the remaining 24 boards of the final. RUSSIA won the second stanza 39-25 and the third 35-4, but it was not quite enough. GUPTA won the match and the title by a margin of 91-75. Congratulations to Naren Gupta, Huub Bertens, Bauke Muller, Simon de Wijs, Cedric Lorenzini and Thomas Bessis.

Next week we will return again to the ‘Alt Invitational’ series, bringing you the best of the action from ‘Alt IV’ when, again, eight teams featuring many of the world’s top players do battle online.