BBO Vugraph - Semifinals of Rosenblum Cup

BBO Vugraph #174

Vugraph #174

Welcome back to Wroclaw in southwestern Poland. And then there were four!

After the excitement of TEAM BLACK’s dramatic elimination of the Bermuda Bowl champions, the big question is can they again bring their A-game against perennial contenders NICKELL. In the other semi-final, VENTIN have perhaps flown under the radar, despite qualifying in 8th and breezing through the knockout stages thus far. This is the first time they have come up against a team of ROBINSON’s quality, filled with all-star names.

As usual, some problems, and we start today with an opening lead. With just the opponents vulnerable, you are East and hear the following auction:

What do you lead?

Next, with only the opponents vulnerable, you hold as North:

What do you bid?

Finally, again with only your opponents vulnerable, you are the Dealer with these East cards:

What, if anything, do you open?

After the first of the four 14-board stanzas, VENTIN led 23-11 and BLACK 27-24. That 3-IMP lead paled into insignificance compared to the number of IMPs at stake on the opening lead problem faced by both East players on the very first deal of the second set. Nick Nickell heard the auction given in the problem above. This was the whole deal:

Nick Nickell

Although he knew that dummy had a five-card heart suit, Nickell duly found the winning heart lead against North’s 6♠.

Peter Bertheau won with the A and attempted to combine his chances. He first tried to bring down the ♠Q in two rounds and, when that failed, he switched to diamonds, hoping that the defender with the high trump held at least three diamonds. It was not to be, Nickell ruffed the second diamond and cashed the Q for one down. N/S -100.

At the other table, Simon Hult knew less about the distribution.

Eric Greco opened a Strong Club and Geoff Hampson’s 2 response showed a balanced hand of either 12-13 or 16+. South’s 3♣ was Stayman, and Greco then confirmed the 4-4 fit and his minimum with a simple raise to game. Hampson now rolled out Blackwood and stopped in a small slam once he discovered that the ♠Q was missing.

Hult opened the 7, and now declarer’s only concern was to avoid losing two trumps. He ruffed his club loser in dummy and cashed the ♠A (♠10 from East), and then ran the ♠9. East won with the ♠Q but had no killing continuation. N/S +1430 and 17 massive IMPs to NICKELL to begin the stanza.

It was not long before more IMPs changed hands, when we had a variation on a Sherlock Holmes classic, “The Strange Case of the Swedish Double”. Gunnar Hallberg is a quiet-spoken man of few words, but one would have expected his rubber-bridge heritage to lead him to the one word required from him in this auction:

Hallberg’s conservative pass truly let the vulnerable Americans off the hook. He led the ♠K and was soon cashing five winners in his long suit to go with one club and two diamonds. E/W +300, but at only 100 an undertrick that seemed like poor recompense.

The American West at the other table was the exact opposite of reticent, even though his partner had remained silent.

Ralph Katz

Nickell did not open his weak two, which allowed Andrew Black to claim the heart suit. Ralph Katz then took full advantage of the favourable vulnerability with his off-centre jump to 4♠, and Peter Bertheau confirmed that the BLACK team had been issued with double cards. Unfortunately for the Swede at this table, there were just three aces for declarer to lose: E/W +590 and another 7 IMPs to NICKELL.

NICKELL won an explosive set 69-13 to open up a 53-IMP lead (93-40) at the midway point. Pundits were describing the odds of a comeback as ‘a cat’s chance in hell’ but, as one sage observed, at least it was a BLACK cat, and they get all the luck. Meanwhile, ROBINSON had moved ahead by 13 (50-37) in the other semi-final.

Early in the third set, all of the North’s had to judge what action to take on the first of this week’s bidding problems.

It was all very sedate, with N/S bidding to the limit of what they could make, and Andrew McIntosh competing to the three-level. Steve Weinstein did his best, leading the ♠Q, covered by king and ace, then winning the second round of spades and switching to the ♣4. You have to get up early in the morning to pull the wool over Tom Paske’s eyes, though, and he rose with the ♣Q. When hearts did not break, declarer had to concede two clubs at the end: E/W +110.

Peter Bertheau

It should come as no surprise to see a Swedish player bidding one more than everyone else. This time it was Peter Bertheau. The auction then continued as it had at the first table, with everyone else also having to bid one level higher. When Katz took his partner’s competitive 4 seriously and raised to game, Bertheau then lowered the boom.

The defenders quickly took two tricks in each black suit. E/W -500 and 12 IMPs out of thin air to BLACK. They won the third set 50-18 and, having seemed dead and buried at the midway break, were right back in it, just 24 down (114-90). In the other match, VENTIN had closed the gap and they went into the final stanza against the ROBINSON all-stars with the match tied at 76-76.

This early deal was potentially significant in both semi-finals. All four East players had the chance to open the hand shown in the last of this week’s problems. Two declined…

Frederic Wrang won the ♠K lead with the ace. After picking up the trumps in four rounds, he played a diamond from dummy, his jack losing to West’s king. David Berkowitz cashed the ♠Q and continued the suit, declarer winning with the ♠10 and running the 10 to West’s queen. N/S +620.

In the other match, Steve Weinstein also passed the East hand, and the Swedes duly bid to 4 via a similar auction. Peter Bertheau made eleven tricks there: N/S +650.

The young Dutch pair sitting E/W for VENTIN had a weapon that many will not have seen before:

Guy Mendes de Leon

A 2♣ opening which is either a weak two in diamonds or any game-forcing hand is fairly common in the Netherlands. However, to encounter it with a weak two in clubs as one of the options is very unusual, although I know this pair have been playing it that way for best part of a decade.

Zia got into the auction with a 2NT overcall on the South hand. David Gold transferred to hearts and then offered no-trumps as a choice of games. Zia knew there was an eight-card heart fit but he had no ruffing value in the short trump hand. On the other side of the balance-sheet, the ace-heavy nature of his honour cards argued in favour of the suit contract. He eventually opted for the nine-trick contract and West led the ♣2.

Zia captured East’s ♣Q with the ace and immediately advanced the J, which was covered by the king and ace. East won the second round of diamonds with the queen and tabled the ♣9 – decision time!

Zia opted to put up the ♣J, so West won with the ♣K and returned a third round of the suit for his partner to cash four more winners. N/S -200 and 13 IMPs to VENTIN, who took the lead for the first time since midway through the second stanza. And, it was to be a lead that they would never relinquish. It was one-way traffic from here on in, VENTIN eventually winning the set 61-22 and the match by what looked a much more comfortable score-line (136-97) than it ever felt.

Things were perhaps even tougher for the American N/S in the other match.

Andrew McIntosh

Andrew McIntosh’s 3♣ opening bid left Eric Greco with no realistic option other than 3NT. Geoff Hampson might have guessed to transfer to hearts but no, he just tabled dummy.

Here, too, West started the ♣2. Greco took an alternative approach, allowing East’s ♣Q to win trick one. He covered the club return with the jack, West winning with the king and clearing the suit. Next came five rounds of hearts, East discarding all three of his remaining clubs before finally relinquishing a spade. Meanwhile, declarer pitched a spade and the 10 and West a diamond. Greco now played a low diamond from dummy, Paske capturing the jack with the king and switching to the ♠K. Declarer won with the ♠A and promptly returned a spade, West winning with the queen and exiting with the remaining low diamond.

There is only one diamond missing, the queen, but which defender has the lady? When Greco chose to finesse, he was one down: N/S -100 and 13 IMPs to BLACK. Over the first four boards of the set, BLACK had outscored their opponents 24-1, leaving NICKELL ahead by the narrowest of margins, 125-124 with ten boards to play.

Remarkably, eight of those remaining ten boards were flat. However, NICKELL won 3-1 on the other two to eke into the final by a score of 128-125.

The final of the 2022 Rosenblum Cup will be NICKELL vs VENTIN and we'll report on the best of the action from the 96-board final next time.

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