March BBO Prime Tournament. Deal analysis.

Thank you for joining March’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, 4 and 5 in March’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 four tournaments in the ‘Invitational Alt Online’ Open series completed, it is now time for the inaugural round of the Mixed series. The eight-team field featured most of the world’s best Mixed pairs, including representatives from the winning teams at all recent European and World Mixed Teams events. The format is the same as that used in the Open series, a seven-match round robin followed by semi-finals and final. In coming weeks, it is planned that the Open and the Mixed series will alternate weekly.

As usual, we begin with some problems for you to consider. Firstly, with neither side vulnerable, you hold as South:

North opens a natural weak two and, in response to your 2NT inquiry, he then shows a non-minimum with a club feature, How do you proceed?

Next, with just your side vulnerable, your hand as South is:

What action, if any, do you now take?

Lastly, with just your side vulnerable, you hold as South:

What do you bid now?

The very first deal of the round robin match between COLE (Italy/USA/Sweden) and KOEPPEL (France/USA/Denmark) saw the respective captains both faced with the first of the bidding problems above:

None VulDealer North

In both rooms, South started with a 2NT inquiry after partner’s weak Two Heart opening, and both Norths responded Three Clubs, showing a non-minimum with a club feature. Margie Cole decided that she had heard enough, and shut up shop with a jump to game. The hands fit well, though: N/S +480.

WestBotta NorthGossack EastManno SouthKoeppel

After an identical start, Lynne Koeppel thought she was too strong to simply bid game, although exactly what her jump to the five-level asked for is unclear. Presumably hoping that his partner was not asking about the quality of his trump suit, Zach Gossack decided that he had enough to accept the invitation and raised himself to slam.

East led a spade to dummy’s ace. Declarer cashed the top trumps, ruffed a spade, and played a third round of hearts, discarding the J from dummy. Gossack ruffed the spade continuation, unblocked the A-K, crossed to the ♣K, and began running his trumps. Declarer would have the rest of the tricks if clubs split 3-3, if the ♣J came down doubleton, or if the same defender held four clubs and the Q. Realizing the position for the defense was hopeless, Giorgia Botta speeded up play by discarding the Q, allowing declarer to claim: E/W +980 and 11 IMPs to KOEPPEL. This swing contributed to a 76-26 win, which moved KOEPPEL up into fifth place with just two matches remaining in the round robin. 

In a close-run race to top the round robin table, and thus earn choice of opponents in the semi-final, it was PEPSI (Russia/USA/Poland) who emerged victorious with 90.92 VPs. Close behind were MANGOES (France/Germany/Switzerland/Italy) with 88.13 VPs and MELTZER (France/USA) on 87.67VPs. Behind the top three, DONNER (USA/Sweden), with 76.51VPs, grabbed the final spot in the knockout stage ahead of FERM (USA/Netherlands/Switzerland/Denmark), 67.93VPs.

PEPSI chose to play DONNER, against whom they would start with a 10.1-IMP carry-forward as a reward for their round robin performance. Meanwhile, MANGOES began their semi-final against MELTZER with a 6.1-IMP advantage. Both semi-final matches turned out to be wild affairs. DONNER recovered 2 IMPs of their 10.1-IMP deficit on the first deal, but wiped out the rest and more on Board 2 when they managed to tempt a greedy declarer:

N/S VulDealer East

Poland’s Danuta Kazmucha came in with a pre-emptive Two Spade overcall of the artificial Strong Club opening, but the Swedes had the system to cope adequately with this situation. Marion Michelsen’s Three Heart bid showed game-forcing values with 5+♣ and fewer than 4, opposite which, Per-Ola Cullin had a clear 3NT bid. 

After a spade lead to the ace and a spade continuation, Cullin also had an obvious nine tricks once the clubs behaved: N/S +600.

WestS.Rimstedt NorthPszczola EastDonner SouthSakr

Here, East’s Precision-style opening showed 11-15 HCP (or thereabouts) with two or more diamonds, and West’s One Heart bid promised spades. 

Swedish star Sanrda Rimstedt duly led a spade, East winning with the ace. A spade was returned to jack and queen, and a third round of spades cleared the suit for the defense. Declarer then cashed her six club tricks and, convinced by Gary Donner’s opening bid that he must hold the K, she then led the J from dummy and ran it when East did not cover. Rimstedt duly won with the K and cashed two spades to put the contract one down. N/S -100 and 12 IMPs to DONNER, now ahead by 3.9 IMPs after just two deals of the semi-final. 

In the other semi-final, MELTZER scored 11 IMPs on the first deal, completely wiping out their 6.1 carryover deficit. Here too, the second board also generated a significant swing when life was made much more difficult for one North/South pair than the other.

WestBaroni NorthDemirev EastBessis SouthMeltzer

Nick Demirev had no sensible systemic action over West’s One Spade overcall. When Rose Meltzer then showed a good hand via a double of East’s 1NT, Demirev not unreasonably made the decision that 3NT was likely to have chances if his partner could stop the opponents’ suit. Right he was, and declarer duly cashed her nine top tricks after a spade lead.

WestBompis NorthFrances’tti EastWillard SouthSetton

Note what a huge difference is made by the extra level of bidding taken up by Marc Bompis’s jump intervention. After a defensive raise from East, Hilda Setton was now confronted by the second of the bidding problems outlined at the top of this article. Is she really supposed to bid 3NT on her own, opposite a partner who has volunteered nothing? When Setton chose to show her good hand with a double, what else was Pierre Franceschetti to do but bid his club suit?

The apparently-routine +600 in 3NT was nothing like as straightforward to achieve against this French defensive barrage. When Sylvie Willard led the K, declarer in Five Clubs had no way to avoid a loser in each side suit. N/S -100 and 12 IMPs to MELTZER. Perhaps Setton should pass Four Clubs, although doing so would have saved only 2 IMPs. MELTZER now led by 16.9 IMPs after two deals, despite starting the match behind.

Board 4 of the set was this apparently innocuous-looking deal which swung a combined 27 IMPs in the two matches:

Both VulDealer West

Rimstedt opened a nebulous but limited One Diamond and then showed three spades with her second-round support double. Although he had some extras, Gary Donner correctly judged to pass Three Hearts, with no guarantee of a fit and a combined maximum of 25 HCP. The defenders duly collected two diamonds and a trick in each of the other suits to nip Three Hearts by a trick. E/W +100 looked like a good result for DONNER on a layout where it was not easy for East/West to go plus declaring.

WestKazmucha NorthMichielsen EastFilipowicz SouthCullin

Marion Michelsen did not raise heart immediately here and Dominic Filipowicz judged well to bid just Two Spades at his second turn. Whether East makes eight tricks in spades or North competes belatedly and South goes down in Three Hearts, it was looking like the Poles had earned a flat board for their team.

Quite why Danuta Kazmucha thought she should take another bid on her minimum opening, I have no idea. The result, though, was that her partner (quite rightly, in my opinion) expected her to have a game try so, with his extra values, he accepted the invitation. Michelsen expressed her opinion of declarer’s chances in the traditional way and Filipowicz ran to clubs, but that was no better. 

North led the ♠J and declarer won in hand to take the trump finesse. Cullin won with the ♣K, crossed to the A and received a spade ruff. The A was the fourth defensive trick: E/W -500 and 12 IMPs to DONNER. Eschewing the trump finesse would have avoided the spade ruff, but that would have given up the only real chance of making the contract and still saved only a small number of IMPs. DONNER had now accumulated 30 unanswered IMPs in the first four deals of the match.

Neither East/West pair managed to avoid trouble in the bidding in the other match:

WestBaroni NorthDemirev EastBessis SouthMeltzer

Rose Meltzer did not intervene on the South hand, so East/West hand the auction to themselves. Did that make things easier? 

Is that East hand really worth a game try facing a minimum opening bid with three- or four-card spade support? French superstar Thomas Bessis decided that it was. Irene Baroni made a value-showing diamond bid but, when Bessis then signed off, she seems to have accepted her own game try. At this point, Nick Demirev decided that he had heard enough and produced a red card. Declarer could manage only eight tricks: E/W -500.

Whilst experts from just about anywhere else in the world would consider Irene Baroni’s raise to Two Spades on this West hand automatic, the French have a style that is uniquely theirs. Not that the final result should have proved any better:

WestBompis NorthFrances’tti EastWillard SouthSetton

The best thing that can be said about this auction is that it was sufficiently confident-sounding to avoid a double. There was more good news to come for the French, though. As against this contract (albeit doubled) in the other match, North led the ♠J and declarer won in hand and to take a trump finesse. After winning with the ♣K, Hilda Setton tried the A next. A discouraging 3 from her partner should, perhaps, have led to the heart switch that was needed to defeat the contact by two. When, instead, she continued diamonds, the defenders had now lost their spade ruff. Worse news was to come, though, as Marc Bompis quickly demonstrated: he won with the K, ruffed a diamond in dummy, and started cashing his minor-suit winners. When the last trump was played, North was squeezed in the majors and forced to relinquish either the A or his spade stopper. E/W a spectacular +600 and 15 IMPs to MELTZER. In this match, the score was 42-0 after four deals, and there was still another disaster right around le corner

N/S VulDealer North

This was the third of the bidding problems posed earlier. When Hilda Setton raised to Four Hearts, Pierre Franceschetti had no reason to bid again and thus North/South found themselves three levels too low. E/W +710 rather summed up the session for the MANGOES team, which had played so well for four days to get this far.

WestBaroni NorthDemirev EastBessis SouthMeltzer

After the same start, Rose Meltzer made a splinter bid of Three Spades, agreeing hearts and showing her shortage. Although Nick Demirev advanced with a non-serious 3NT, Meltzer was not deterred. She cue-bid in clubs, heard a diamond cue-bid from her partner, and then launched into RKCB. When she found two key cards and the trump queen opposite, she jumped confidently to the grand slam.

Declarer won the spade lead, cashed one high trump from hand and, when everyone followed, ruffed a spade in dummy for his thirteenth trick. E/W +2210 and another 17 IMPs to MELTZER. 

After just eight deals of this semi-final, MELTZER had scored a remarkable 90 unanswered IMPs. The half-time score was 94-6.1 with their 6.1-IMP carry-forward the only score in the MANGOES’ plus column. MANGOES did recover in the second half, winning it 34-9, but it was all far too little, too late to affect the outcome.

In the other semi-final, where PEPSI began with a 10.1-IMP carry-forward advantage, DONNER led 30-10.1 after four deals. Board 5 was flat at E/W +2210 in this match, though, and proved to be the signal for a complete about-face, as PEPSI won the rest of the set 29-0 to restore all but one IMP of their carry-forward lead at the halftime break. With the floodgates now well and truly open, PEPSI proceeded to dominate, outscoring their opponents 57-0 over the first nine deals of the second half. Remarkably, we had witnessed a 94-0 run over twelve boards in one semi-final and an 86-0 whitewash over 13 deals of the other. DONNER came back in the closing stages but PEPSI advanced to the final by the margin of 96.1-43.

PEPSI began the 36-board final with a carry-forward advantage of 0.1 IMPs (just to ensure that no extra boards would be needed). PEPSI won the first stanza 40-10, but MELTZER came back to win the second 29-13, so PEPSI led by 14.1 going into the final 12 deals of this inaugural Alt Mixed event. The final set of the week began in spectacular fashion:

None VulDealer North

It is hard to argue much with any of the actions taken in this auction. Jacek Pszczola overcalled Two Diamonds, showing a single-suited hand with either major, and Benedicte Cronier bid a non-forcing, non-invitational, competitive Two Hearts. Pepsi wasn’t having any of that, and again tried to buy the hand in Two Spades, but Michel Abecassis had enough to compete to the three-level.

Pepsi won the opening spade lead and switched to the K, which was allowed to win. Now came another two rounds of spades, dummy ruffing. Declarer drew trumps ending in hand and ran the ♣J to East’s king. With the clubs splitting evenly, declarer now had a discard for her diamond loser: N/S +140. Accurate bidding!

Whilst the North hand had been a minimum 1NT opening for the French, at the other table it was an artificial Strong Club (albeit a very minimum one) for the Russians. Non-vulnerable, the French East/West pair felt at liberty to bid aggressively over that, thus making things very difficult for Anna Gulevich:

WestBompis NorthGromov EastWillard SouthGulevich

Gulevich’s pass of East’s One Spade overcall showed a semi-positive (5-7 HCP) and any shape. By the time she had a second chance to speak, though, the auction was already at Three Spades. It is often said that fortune favors the brave. Alt/hough Sylvie Willard expressed her misgivings about the contract’s prospects, the defensive cards lie perfectly for declarer.

The French defense began with three rounds of spades, declarer ruffing the third in dummy. Gulevich then drew trumps and ran the ♣J. The finesse failed but the suit broke 3-3, so away went the Russian’s two diamond losers. 

This was not the most testing defense. If East switches to the K at trick two or three, declarer must win, which removes a late entry from dummy. Declarer then has to find a way back to her hand twice, once to ruff a spade and once to draw trumps. If East then ducks the first round of clubs, declarer can still get home but only with very careful play. 

N/S +590 meant 10 IMPs to PEPSI, stretching their lead to 24.1. On the very next deal, Gromov/Gulevich again got to a thin game (another one needing clubs 3-3, as it happens) whilst the French auction petered out in Two Clubs at the other table. That was another 11 IMPs to PEPSI, 35.1 IMPs ahead with 10 deals left.

MELTZER picked up two 11-IMP swings later in the stanza to keep things close, entertaining the hundreds watching the action on BBO VuGraph. MELTZER won the final set, but only by 24-23, which meant that the first Invitational Alt Mixed title went to PEPSI by a score of 76.1-63.

Congratulations to Jacek Pszczola/May Sakr, Andrei Gromov/Anna Gulevich and Danuta Kazmucha/Dominic Filipowicz. The Mixed teams will be back in action for the second time in two weeks. Next week, the Open teams return to the screens to entertain the lockdown masses.