BBO Vugraph - Final of Rosenblum Cup

BBO Vugraph #175

Vugraph #175

Welcome back to Wroclaw in southwestern Poland. After six days of intense competition, we are down to the final two teams in the 2022 Rosemblum Cup.

Perennial contenders, NICKELL (USA) finished third in the Swiss qualifying stage. They seemed to be building up a head of steam through the knockouts, increasing their margin of victory each day. In their semi-final, though, they led by more than 50 IMPs at the midway point but ended up squeaking through with just a 3-IMP win. VENTIN (Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Portugal, Sweden) finished eighth in the qualifying round and their only single-digit victory in the knockout stage was by 9 IMPs in the Round of 32. In terms of experience at this level, though, the two teams are leagues apart. The VENTIN team have won one South American title and two European junior titles between them. On the other side, Nick Nickell alone has won the Bermuda Bowl four times, and every other member of the team is also a former World Champion. So, it’s a foregone conclusion, is it? Perhaps, but we will not know for sure until they have played 96 boards divided into six 16-board stanzas.

As usual, some problems. Firstly, with neither side vulnerable, you are West holding:

What action, if any, do you take?

Next, with only the opponents vulnerable, you are sitting South with:

What action, if any, do you take?

VENTIN led by 16 IMPs after the first stanza, and this early deal from the second offered potential for both sides.

Thibo Sprinkhuizen

Thibo Sprinkhuizen showed clubs and hearts via a transfer auction and then made an invitational jump to 5. Not unreasonably, with kings in both of his partner’s suits, and a control in both side suits, Guy Mendes de Leon accepted the slam try.

Although not a great slam looking at just the North/South hands, the Dutch youngsters had at least played it from the right side. Indeed, Nick Nickell did not have an easy lead, and the diamond he selected does look like the most obvious choice on the bidding. It was, though, exactly what declarer would have asked for. Mendes de Leon captured West’s K with his ace, drew trumps, and then played the ♣A and a club to dummy’s king. The appearance of West’s ♣Q enabled declarer to claim all 13 tricks: N/S +1460 and advantage to the Dutch.

Geoff Hampson started with a Strong Club. Eric Greco’s game-forcing 1NT response showed 12+ HCP and 5+ hearts. 2♣ and 2♠ were relays, Greco showing at least six hearts (2) and then 4+ clubs (with 3). At this point, with 10 of his HCP in his partner’s short suits, Hampson jumped to game to show an unsuitable hand. Greco was not done, though, and when he had one more go with 5, Hampson accepted the invitation.

On commentary on BBO VuGraph, I was about to observe that the play was much more difficult on what looked like ‘the obvious trump lead’ from the West hand but, before I could even finish typing, Frederic Wrang had produced the 2. Greco tried a less-than hopeful Q from dummy but, when East failed to produce the king, away went declarer’s spades. Greco eventually lost a trick to the ♣Q, but the Americans had dodged a large bullet: N/S +1430 and just 1 IMP to VENTIN.

NICKELL led by 16 IMPs overnight and the first set of Day 2 was flat. The penultimate stanza, though, was much more lively. On our next deal, both West players had to deal with a variation of this week’s first problem:

Antonio Palma

Frederic Wrang’s 1 response showed hearts, and Geoff Hampson entered with an ultra-aggressive five-card weak jump overcall of 2♠ on the West hand. Eric Greco raised to game and it is hard to see that Wrang can do anything other than double.

The defence was pinpoint accurate, Antonio Palma opening with a low trump. Wrang won trick two with the A, cashed the ♣Q, then the ♣A, and played a heart to his partner’s ace. Palma then completed the excellent work by playing the ♠A and a third round of trumps. This meant that declarer was still left with a losing diamond, in addition to the obvious five top losers. N/S +500.

Guy Mendes de Leon

Thibo Sprinkhuizen and Guy Mendes de Leon won a European Championship together as youngsters almost a decade ago, and they were still members of the Dutch junior team as recently as 2019. Here they were now, on the game’s biggest stage, and both still shy of their 30th birthdays.

On this deal, they also applied maximum pressure, but they also gave the Americans just enough rope for them to hang themselves. No thought of passing, of course, Sprinkhuizen settled for a 2♣ cue-bid on the West hand, showing diamonds and spades. This allowed Ralph Katz the room to show three hearts via a support double. Here, too, Mendes de Leon applied maximum pressure with a leap to 4♠ on the East cards, but Nickell had just a little more information than his counterpart at the first table. And it was just enough to persuade him that he should be declaring on this deal. Once he had pressed on with 5, perhaps they were already too high, but Katz took Nickell seriously and offered a choice of slams.

Nickell won the spade lead, ruffed a spade to hand, and took the losing trump finesse. With the contract clearly now hopeless, he then lost concentration and suffered a diamond ruff in addition to a natural diamond trick to go two down. N/S -200 and 12 IMPs to VENTIN.

The next swing was, perhaps, a case of friendly fire. Both South players saw identical auctions up to the point of this week’s second bidding problem.

Fredric Wrang

In the same position, Fredric Wrang opted to defend whilst Nick Nickell retreated to 5♣, which was doubled by East on the way out.

Against, 4♠-X, Wrang opened the K and switched to a diamond at trick two. Palma won and switched to clubs, the defenders taking their two tricks in that suit. Declarer still had the A to lose: N/S +500.

Hampson led a diamond against 5♣-X. Nickell won with the A and played a spade. Greco won with the ace and cashed his partner’s high diamond. Nickell won the heart switch in dummy with the ace and took a winning trump finesse, then ruffed his remaining spade. Crossing back to hand with a heart ruff, he now needed the ♣K to come down. When it did not, he was one down: N/S -50 and 12 IMPs to VENTIN.

VENTIN won the fifth stanza 45-19, so they led by 10 IMPs (145-135) going into the last 16 boards of this final. After six deals, the set score was 15-15, so VENTIN still led by 10, but NICKELL picked up a couple of swings to tie the match. With seven boards remaining and the score tied at 160-160, came:

We have seen the young Dutch pair use this unusual 2♣ opening to good effect before. Of course, Mendes de Leon was fairly sure that his partner had a weak two in clubs, so he simply bid what he hoped he could make.

At first glance, Weinstein’s choice of a low heart as his opening lead looks good for declarer. In reality, though, almost any lead would restrict declarer to nine tricks (and only an unlikely low diamond gets the defence a fifth). Declarer duly lost two trumps and a trick in each red suit: N/S -100.

At the other table, Eric Greco did not open the South hand.

Hampson started with 2 (their version of Michaels) and Greco gave simple preference. There was considerable discussion in commentary on the question of whether Hampson’s jump to 3♠ should be forcing. The general feeling was that it is ‘99% forcing’ – ie. yes, it is forcing. Greco duly gave preference back to hearts.

This game might also go down, but beating it is a much tougher proposition than was defeating 4♠ at the other table. Wrang kept the defenders in the game by opening the 5 (the K and 3 are the only other cards that give the defence a chance). Winning with the A, Palma does best to continue diamonds, but his switch to the ♣10 (king, ace, ruff) was not fatal. When declarer then ruffed a spade and played a trump to jack and king, though, Palma needed to revert to diamonds in order to force dummy to ruff, prematurely removing a vital entry. When he instead played a second club, Greco was in control.

Winning in hand with the ♣Q, Greco drew the remaining trumps, cashed the ♠A, and conceded a spade to West’s king. Having not been forced earlier, he still had one trump left in dummy to reach the established spade winners: N/S +620 and 12 IMPs to NICKELL, who were back in front once again, with a lead they would never relinquish.

NICKELL won the last seven boards 26-4, the set 51-19 and the match 186-164, but it felt much closer than that final score-line suggests. Congratulations to the NICKELL team: Ralph Katz, Nick Nickell, Bobby Levin, npc Jill Levin, Eric Greco, Geoff Hampson, Steve Weinstein and team manager Norberto Bocchi.

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