BBO Vugraph #170
Welcome to Wroclaw, a university city about the size of Detroit located in southwestern Poland. People have lived along the banks of the Oder River for more than a thousand years, and the historic capital of Silesia and Lower Silesia acquired city status in 1214. The World Championships were last held here in 2016, at the same time as the city was designated as a European Capital of Culture.
These championships begin with the Open Teams (for the Rosenblum Cup) and the Women’s Teams (the McConnell Cup). The Rosenblum Cup begins with a qualifying stage of ten, 10-board matches played on the Swiss principle over two days. From this, 32 of the original 78 teams will advance to the knockout rounds.
We begin our coverage with a look at the best of the action from a couple of the qualifying matches shown on BBO VuGraph. As usual, though, we start with some problems for you to consider. Firstly, with only the opponents vulnerable, you are West holding:
Your 2NT bid was an invitational or better raise with at least four spades. Do you take your chances defending 6♥, or do you bid on to 6♠?
Next, with both sides vulnerable, you are sitting South with these cards:
What action, if any, do you take?
Next, an opening lead. You are East and hear the following auction:
What do you lead?
Finally, one more bidding problem. With only your side vulnerable, you hold as East:
What action, if any, do you take?
While you mull those over, we begin on the opening day of qualifying, and a Round 2 match between a relatively young English team, SANDFIA, and the experienced German/Polish quartet, APRES BRIDGE CHAMPS.
This looks like a well-judged auction to the par contract (absent the final double). Mike Bell started with a Michaels bid showing hearts and a minor, and Tim Leslie bid up to 5♥, which was the limit of what N/S could make. Rafal Jagniewski’s 5♠ bid left the English pair with no legitimate winning option (other than converting +50 into +100). N/S +50.
The average player can take some solace in realizing that even world class players do not get high-level competitive decisions right all the time. One reason for this is that you sometimes cannot tell what is right even looking at both your hand and partner’s, let alone just at one of them.
Tom Townsend started with 2NT, showing an invitational or better spade raise with at least four trumps. Sabine Auken showed a good hand with a 3♠ cue-bid and then competed to 5♥. When Ben Norton’s 5♠ came back to her, although she knew that bidding again might turn a small plus into a small minus, she did not expect to get rich from defending 5♠-X and the potential upsides of bidding were significant.
And so it was that Townsend then had to deal with the first of this week’s bidding problems. Notice that, even looking at both the East AND West hands, you do not know whether to defend 6♥ or take the relatively cheap save in 6♠-X. For example, if the South hand is 2-5-5-1, then you will make just a club trick against North’s heart slam. On the actual hand, the defenders would have had a trick in each black suit, but Townsend understandably took the insurance. N/S +300 and 6 IMPs to APRES BRIDGE CHAMPS, who led 17-8 with two boards remaining.
The final deal of the match produced the second of this week’s bidding problems:
With the vulnerable East unlikely to be messing around, Roy Welland chose discretion. He led the ♥Q against 3NT, and continued with a low heart when declarer ducked. Ben Norton won the ♥A and cashed his diamonds for one down: N/S +100.
Mike Bell first represented England as a junior in 2009. He has been a member of the English team at the European Champions Cup three times, finishing fifth in 2015, fourth in 2017 and second in 2019. On this deal, after the same start to the auction, he adopted the glass-half-full attitude and braved the four-level on his less-than robust suit.
Rafal Jagniewski duly doubled on his 17-count and Wojciech Gawel led the ♠Q. Bell took a full ten minutes before playing to trick one, presumably considering whether he could manage to ruff two clubs without running into a second trump loser. Having decided that the answer was ‘no’, he eventually won with the ♠A and played a club to the queen. When that won, he was soon claiming ten tricks: N/S +790 and 12 IMPs to SANDFIA, who emerged with a narrow victory, 20-17.
The fortunes of those two teams went in opposite directions for the rest of Day One. After five matches, APRES BRIDGE CHAMPS had climbed to second place. They trailed just THE MAVERICKS (New Zealand, Hungary, USA, Argentina), who won their opening match 20-0 and led the field for most of the day. Those two teams will play each other in the first match of Day 2 of qualifying. SANDFIA lost two of their remaining three matches and finished the first day just outside the qualifying places, in 38th. Work to do still for the English team
Moving into Day 2, we take a look at the action from a Round 7 meeting between a familiar American team and a primarily Irish team with just a hint of French added. Both teams came into the encounter lying in the relative safety of the Top 12. The match began with the Irish pair stopping in 2♠ at one table, whilst the Americans reached a 3NT that could have been made, but was not. The result was 6 IMPs to MORAN but, thereafter, the match turned into a demonstration of why members of this NICKELL team have been serious contenders at almost every event for so many years.
Game in spades is not an unreasonable contract, essentially needing the trump finesse to work, with the additional chance that finding the ♥A onside might also see you home.
The defence started with a club to the ace and the ♣9 returned to dummy. Frederik Volcker took a losing trump finesse, and Ralph Katz found the only continuation to defeat the contract, a low heart. East’s suit-preference signal at trick two perhaps makes it likely that he holds the ♥A but, if that is the case, then guessing the hearts right will not help as a third round of clubs will enable the defenders to kill the discard and leave declarer with a diamond loser. Volcker therefore went up with the ♥K and the defenders quickly took their two tricks in that suit to put the game one down: N/S -100.
Geoff Hampson started with an artificial, game-forcing 2♣ response and then rebid 2NT when his partner rebid spades. Whilst Volcker, in a similar position, had bid his spades for a third time, Eric Greco simply raised to game in no-trumps.
Had South become declarer in 3NT, West has an obvious heart lead, which would have left declarer needing the spade finesse for his contract. With North as declarer, though, Tommy Garvey was left with the opening lead problem posed at the top of this article. Did you find the killing heart opening? Nor did Garvey. On the club lead, Hampson had time to concede a spade to West’s king to establish his nine tricks. N/S +400 and 10 IMPs to NICKELL.
Competitive bidding is a balance, and timing is often everything. Our final deal illustrates not only the importance of knowing when to bid, but also of knowing when not to do so. The Americans struck the first blow, with Geoff Hampson demonstrating that he knew when to take action:
Hampson’s weak 2♥ opening on this North hand would have certain members of North America’s bridge teaching fraternity tearing their hair out for various reasons. Perhaps, though, it is just time for them to accept that this is how the game is played in the 2020s.
And 4♥ was not such a bad contract either. Hampson won the opening spade lead in dummy, cashed the ♥A to reveal the 4-0 trump break, and continued with a heart to the nine. The only winning continuation now is to play on spades, which is perhaps counter-intuitive. When Hampson played a club, seeking to ruff his loser in that suit, West won and switched to a diamond through declarer’s queen. The defence was now a step ahead, and declarer eventually ran out of trumps and thus never scored a long spade trick. E/W +50
In the replay, Nick Nickell had to deal with the last of this week’s bidding problems.
Having passed as Dealer, Tom Hanlon made a pre-emptive raise after Katz’s takeout double of South’s 1♠ opening. This left Nickell with the problem posed earlier. One option is, perhaps, a jump to 4NT, asking partner to pick a minor. When Nickell chose to bid just 4♦, it fell to the French star on the predominantly Irish team to illustrate for those watching on BBO VuGraph the importance of knowing when not to bid. Alas, it is hardly obvious that conceding a diamond partscore is the best you can do from here on that South hand. Volcker could not help himself and thus ploughed on to 4♠. When this came back to Nickell, he unveiled the second string to his bow. Not surprisingly, the Frenchman doubled 5♣, but he was to be quickly disillusioned.
Volcker cashed a high spade at trick one and then tried the ♥A at trick two. Declarer duly ruffed, drew trumps, and took a finesse against the ♦Q. The Irish had obviously forgotten to bring their famed luck with them to this match: the only relevant card in the North hand turned out to be the one declarer needed there. That was 11 tricks: E/W +750 and yet another 12 IMPs to NICKELL.
The Americans scored an emphatic win, by 41-8, to move up into fifth spot, consolidating their place in the knockout stage of this event. To be sure, no one will be hoping to draw them in the next couple of days. Meanwhile, the Irish dropped all the way down to 28th, only just above the bubble with three matches left in the qualifying stage. Time to get out that four-leaf clover, boys!
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