FeBBO Prime Tournament. Deal analysis.

Thank you for joining February’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 February’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.

With all major competition suspended due to the corona virus, it has been up to the ‘Invitational Alt Online’ series to keep addicts of high-class bridge sustained on BBO VuGraph. The field for this fourth event featured a handful of new teams: Jeff Meckstroth and Geir Helgemo were both playing as members of Team Smart Shots, the Israeli national Open squad were here, as were two teams featuring strong Swedish contingents.

As usual, we begin with a couple of problems for you to consider. Firstly, with both sides vulnerable, you hold as West:

What is your plan and what action do you take now?

Next, a strangely similar auction, again with both sides vulnerable, your hand as East this time is:

What action, if any, do you now take?

While you mull those over, let’s dive straight into the action from the round robin stage. Despite the influx of new teams, it would be two teams familiar to spectators of the earlier Alt events that would contest the final later in the week. Those same two teams met early in the round robin, with STREET leading BLASS by just 5 IMPs as the penultimate deal flashed onto the screens. After identical starts to the auctions, both West players faced the first of the bidding problems posed above:

Both VulDealer South

As it so happened, each team had a member of their Polish contingent sitting in the West seat. For BLASS, it was Jacek Kalita, a former World Junior champion (he won the World University Teams in 2004) and a two-time winner of the Bermuda Bowl, in 2015 and 2019. Opposite Kalita was his partner from those Bowl victories, Michal Nowosadzki. For STREET, West was the Polish protégé, Piotr Zatorski, European Schools (2007) and European Universities (2009) champion, and winner of the Open Teams at the 1st European Winter Games, in 2016. Opposite Zatorski was his partner from that 2016 victory, experienced Israeli international Ron Pachtman.

WestKalita NorthL’Ecuyer EastNowos’zki SouthStreet

Kalita decided that his hand was worth no more than a competitive Five Heart bid. Indeed, Nowosadzki might have raised to the small slam, but even that was would have been a level too low. E/W +710 did not look promising for the Polish world champions.

WestZatorski NorthDrijver EastPachtman SouthBrink

Zatorski thought that this passed hand merited a slam try, so he began with 4NT, ostensibly asking his partner to choose between the minors. When he then converted Five Clubs to Five Hearts, Zatorski showed a hand too good for just a competitive Five Heart bid on the previous round. Getting the message, Pachtman confirmed both his suitability and his spade void with a cue-bid in that suit. Zatorski decided that he needed to hear no more, and jumped to the grand slam. With trumps behaving, that was a straightforward E/W =+2210 and 17 IMPs to STREET, who won the match by 22 IMPs (61-39).

That was 14.60 VPs to STREET, who had lost to DE BOTTON in the final of Alt-II and again in the first round of this event. They were now back above average at the end of the first day. Meanwhile, BLASS were left languishing in seventh place with just 12.86 VPs from their first two matches. There was still a long way to go, though.

On Day 2, the kibitzers lucky enough to be watching the action on BBO VuGraph witnessed an excellent piece of technical declarer play from the young French superstar, Thomas Bessis, that would have been worthy of his illustrious partner.

None VulDealer North

With the Swedes having scored +490 for VENTIN at the other table, 21 IMPs rested on the young Frenchman’s play in his slam contract. Bessis won the opening spade lead perforce and got off to an excellent start by immediately playing a low diamond to the jack. When that finesse won, taking care of declarer’s heart loser, all that remained was to safety play the trumps for one lower. Any sensible play would work if trumps broke 3-2, and the only 4-1 break that declarer can handle is a singleton king, so Bessis played a trump to his ace and was rewarded with the fall of South’s ♣K. Chapeau! E/W +920 and 10 IMPs to TEAM SMART SHOTS.

This was an excellent demonstration of combining chances. Had the early diamond finesse lost, then declarer could have arranged to discard his heart loser on dummy’s K before trying to bring in the trump suit by finding the doubleton ♣K onside.

Five teams went into the last match of the round robin with a chance of making the knockout stage. Remarkably, four of those five lost, but DE BOTTON’s 12-IMP victory over VENTIN meant that it was the Spanish/Portuguese/Swedish team led by Juan Carlos Ventin who missed out on the final stages as they slipped a tantalizing 0.54 VPs behind fourth-placed BLASS,

In the end, it was the team captained by Paul Street, the most multi-national team in the competition (with representation from USA, Canada, Poland and Israel) who led the field at the end of the round robin. That gave them choice of opponents in the semi-final, a privilege that had proved to be something of a poisoned chalice in previous Alt events. STREET opted to take on the winners of Alt-II, DE BOTTON (England, Poland and Norway), who had finished third in the round robin this time around. STREET would go into the match with a 10.1-IMP carry-forward advantage by virtue of their round robin performance. That meant that the other semi-final would be ‘The Battle of the Low Country’, with BLASS (USA/Poland/Netherlands) opposing ZHAO (China/Netherlands), with the latter starting 6.1 IMPs ahead..

ZHAO’s carry-forward advantage lasted just two deals of their semi-final, Opposition pre-emption meant that Jacek Pszczola faced the second of the bidding problems posed at the top of this article. First, though, we see how a pair of Dutch Bermuda Bowl winners from 2011 handled this tricky combination with no opposition bidding:

Both VulDealer South

Over the past year, we have seen players willing to pre-empt in first seat at just about any excuse, but I fully understand Jack Kalita’s reticence to do so vulnerable on this South hand. The result was that the Dutch pair had the auction to themselves. They finally uncovered their 4-4 club fit at the four-level, which allowed East to show mild slam interest (his 4NT was an invitational Five Club bid). However, Louk Verhees felt that he had already shown all of his values with his earlier reverse. And quite right he was, since there proved to be two unavoidable trump losers in Five Clubs: E/W +600.

WestPszczola Northde Wijs EastBlass SouthMuller

The English and the Scandinavians tend to be forward bidders, but if anyone is going to pre-empt on a hand that no one else would, it is probably a Dutchman, and 1993 Bermuda Bowl winner Bauke Muller did exactly that here. No wishy-washy weak two bid either, but a full-blooded three-level opening, and Simon de Wijs upped the ante still further after Pepsi’s double on the West cards. Josef Blass doubled Four Spades, leaving Pepsi with the problem presented earlier. 

Passing the double would have netted East/West at least +800 and + 5 IMPs, but probably +1100, and an 11-IMP gain on the deal. You might think, therefore, that Pepsi’s decision to bid Five Diamonds had little going for it. When Blass raised to the small slam, there was now a significant swing in one direction or the other resting on declarer’s play, and the mercurial Americanized Pole did not disappoint those watching on BBO VuGraph.

On North’s spadelead, Pepsi played low from dummy and ruffed in his hand. He then played four rounds of trumps, South discarding two spades. Then came a heart to dummy and a club to the king and ace. North took the ♣J continuation with the queen and exited with the J, won in dummy with the queen. Pepsi cashed the ♠A, discarding his club loser, and played a heart, finessing the nine to complete a virtuoso performance and score up his slam. E/W +1370 and 13 IMPs to BLASS.

BLASS outscored their opponents 25-0 over the first half of the segment, but ZHAO battled back to reclaim the advantage by 5.1 IMPs as the set drew to a close. Big swings on the final two deals again established a halftime lead for BLASS, by 45-30.1. The second half was more sedate, BLASS winning it 28-20 to take their place in the final with victory by 22.9 IMPs (73-50.1).

In the other semi-final, STREET won the first half 28-21 to lead by 17.1 IMPs with their carryover advantage. The second set finished 28-16 in favor of STREET, so the round robin winners had at last made it into the final of an Alt event.

For both of these teams, this was their fourth appearance in the Alt series, and both were still seeking their first win. Our final deal proved to be a battle between a natural bidding system with a strong, artificial Two Club opening and the multi-purpose One Club opening of the Polish Club.

N/S VulDealer North

For STREET, the Canadians’ Two Club method failed to get the job done. Fred Pollack opened Two Clubs and rebid 2NT (balanced 22-24). Kamel Fergani advanced with Puppet Stayman and showed his four-card spade suit, but he then gave up the slam hunt when he failed to uncover a fit. Quite right too, as Kalita led a heart which, in theory, should have held declarer in notrumps to eleven tricks. Errant discarding from both of the Poles in the endgame, though, allowed declarer to emerge with all thirteen tricks: E/W +520.

At the other tables, the BLASS team’s American representatives held the East/West cards, but the methods in use were those from Pepsi’s homeland, the Polish Club:

WestPszczola NorthL’Ecuyer EastBlass SouthStreet

Josef Blass began with his system’s three-way opening, most often a weak notrump, but also either natural clubs with 15+ HCP or any 18+ hand. After the natural, positive (7+ HCP) response, Two Diamonds showed the 18+ hand with at least three spades and asked about responder’s hand, Two Spades showing a minimum with only four spades. Three Diamonds was now natural and left Pepsi with a tricky decision. When he opted to raise diamonds, his partnerships was off to the races. Blass contemplated a Four Heart cue-bid since that would let him find out about the ♣K, but he eventually opted for RKCB. The Five Diamond response showed one key card and Blass now made a grand slam try with Five Hearts. South’s double allowed Pepsi to pass, denying both the Q and the ♠Q, which dampened Blass’s enthusiasm and he settled for the small slam.

And an excellent contract it was too, with eleven top tricks and chances of a twelfth in both black suits. Blass won the heart lead, drew trumps, and played three rounds of spades. The ♠J duly became declarer’s twelfth trick: E/W +1370 and 9 IMPs to BLASS.

BLASS led 20-10 after a fairly quiet opening stanza, but STREET won the second set 43-28 to take a 5-IMP lead into the final 12 deals. The third segment was all one-way traffic, though, BLASS winning the set 36-3 and the match 84-56 to record their first Alt-series title. Beaten finalist for the second time in four attempts, the STREET team will be back in two weeks for their fifth attempt to break their duck.

We will be here to follow their efforts, but next week we will be bringing you the action from the inaugural ‘Alt Invitational Mixed’ event, in which eight teams featuring many of the world’s best mixed pairs battle it out online.