BBO Vugraph - English Premier League

BBO Vugraph #180

Vugraph #180

A total of 26 teams lined up for the start of the 2022 English Premier League season. Those teams were split into three divisions, with eight teams in the top tier. As well as a major competition in its own right, the Premier League is also effectively an international trial, with the winning team earning the right to represent England in the next Camrose Trophy. The format is a complete round robin of 16-board matches over the course of each of three weekends, so teams will play a total of 48 boards against each other team.

As usual, we start with some problems. Firstly, with only your side vulnerable, you are East holding:

What action, if any, do you take?

Next, an opening lead. With only your side vulnerable, you are sitting West and hear the following auction:

What do you lead?

We kick off with a quiet Round 1 opening match between MOSSOP and the defending champions, BLACK. The only double-digit swing came about primarily because of a difference in methods.

It is becoming increasingly popular to play a 1♣ opening as either natural or a balanced hand outside the 15-17 opening 1NT range. A 1 opening therefore always shows an unbalanced hand. Transfer responses to a 1♣ opening have also grown in popularity, and David Gold’s 1♠ bid simply denied a four-card major. Andrew Black rebid 2NT with his balanced 18-19 and Gold duly raised to game. 

That all looks fairly normal. So, too, was Gunnar Hallberg’s lead of the Q. David Mossop won with the A and returned his partner’s suit. Declarer held up his K until the third round. When Hallberg then showed up with the ♣A, though, the contract was quickly one down. E/W -100 and a normal enough result, it would appear. 

Phil King

The auction here was more old school, with players bidding what they actually held. Phil King ended up as declarer in the same poor 3NT contract but, crucially, from the East seat. Peter Crouch had no reason not to lead a spade from the South hand, and now declarer was in with a chance. King won, started on clubs, and was grateful to find that the defenders could not hold up their ace until the third round. Simon Cope cleared the defenders’ spade tricks, but declarer crossed to dummy in clubs, cashed his winner in that suit, and then successfully took the diamond finesse for his contract. He had pitched one diamond on the clubs but, with that suit splitting 3-3, declarer had ten tricks. E/W +630 and 12 IMPs to MOSSOP, who won the opening match 27-15.

The BBO VuGraph match for Round 2 was BLACK vs PENFOLD. Both East players were faced with this week’s only bidding problem on an early deal:

Peter Crouch overcalled in his chunky four-card major and, in the position outlined in the problem, Simon Cope advanced with 1NT, which I suspect would be a popular choice. Crouch duly raised to game, which was right in that E/W have nine top tricks. The problem, of course, is that Alan Mould had an obvious diamond lead and the defenders took the first six tricks before declarer could get in. E/W -200.

Brian Senior

At the other table, Norman Selway also made the 1 overcall. The East seat here was occupied by Mr Grumpy, and his decision to pass turned out to be very well judged. Selway managed to scramble seven tricks in the 4-2 fit: E/W +80 and 7 IMPs to PENFOLD.

Our next deal was a flat board, with identical auction and play at both tables. However, looking at all four hands, I defy you to predict the contract and the result.

I would guess that you expected one of the black suits to be trumps, either E/W playing in spades or N/S in a club contract. However, both Andrew McIntosh for BLACK and John Holland for PENFOLD found themselves declaring game in the delicate Moysian heart fit. 

Simon Cope

Both Brian Senior and Simon Cope defended well by starting with three rounds of spades. This gave declarer a ruff-and-discard, and both ruffed with the 9 whilst throwing the diamond loser from their hand. Dummy’s two high trumps were cashed, and declarer at both tables then crossed to their hand with a high club. 

Declarer can now get out for one down simply by playing on clubs, allowing the defenders to score their two remaining trumps. Of course, declarer can also make the contract if each defender holds one of the missing trumps, so both Holland and McIntosh played a third round of trumps and the roof fell in. By the time the defenders had finished cashing winners, declarer was left only with a winner in one of the minors at trick thirteen. Five down: E/W +250 and an unusual flat board.

In a match lacking in major swings, BLACK still managed to win 30-13. In Round 3, we got our first look at another of the pre-tournament favourites, the winners of the 2022 Spring Fours, HINDEN, as they took on AARDVARK. It was the underdogs, though, who impressed most in the auction on our first deal:

My guess is that N/S were playing ‘New Minor Forcing’ after the 15-17 1NT rebid and, thus, in this auction, North had no artificial ask and simply had to guess which four-card major to bid. Perhaps Chris Jagger could have advanced with 2♠ over 2, catering to his partner having this precise shape. When he simply denied a heart fit with 2NT, though, Francis Hinden made the obvious raise. Not that it particularly matters whether you find the spade fit or not if you are going to stop in game. Declarer managed to make 12 tricks: N/S +490.

At the other table, the AARDVARK N/S pair did locate their spade fit, and were also more ambitious, which left John Atthey with the lead problem posed at the top of this article:

Jonathan Mestel advanced with an artificial, game-forcing 2 over the 1NT rebid, and thus spades were agreed at the three-level. After a series of minor-suit cue-bids, Mestel then jumped to slam. Cometh the hour, cometh the man…

John Atthey

John Atthey was a regular member of the England Schools and Juniors teams through the Naughties (00s). Having listened carefully to the bidding and, realizing that the K must be on his left, he effectively denied declarer the chance of making the slam on a guess later in the hand by producing the 3 as his opening lead. 

Forced to make the K-J guess at trick one, Julian Wightwick had little chance of doing the right thing: of course, he played low from dummy. So, Neil Rosen won with the Q and duly returned the suit to his partner’s ace for a quick one down. N/S +50 and 11 IMPs to HINDEN. “Bid for show and play for dough”, to quote a common saying from a game known in some circles as ‘swish, bugger it’.

As a blast to the past, both N/S pairs in this match were playing a weak no-trump, which was a major factor in the swing on the very next deal:

Paul Barden’ penalty double of the weak no-trump opening ended the brief auction, and David Kendrick led the ♠3. After winning with the ♠A, Barden next played three rounds of diamonds. No doubt delighted with this development, Chris Jagger won with the Q and promptly played a fourth round of the suit to establish the thirteenth diamond as a winner. Declarer now had two diamonds, a trick in each black suit, and four hearts (with the jack falling): N/S +380.

The auction began the same way in the replay:

At this table, it would appear that N/S were playing some sort of wriggle method (one of my pet hates, BTW). Somewhat fortuitously, it would seem to me, they managed at least to land in a seven-card fit at the two-level. Not content with N/S having managed to shunt themselves out of the cold 1NT-X, Atthey then gilded the lily with what can only be described as a tight double. (Perhaps East’s pass was forcing?)

Neil Rosen

Accurate defence was needed to avert disaster, and the hundreds watching live on BBO VuGraph were not to be disappointed. Neil Rosen kicked off with a top diamond and switched to a trump at trick two. Declarer won in hand and played a diamond towards the queen, so Rosen hopped up and switched accurately to clubs. 

Mestel took the second round of clubs, crossed to dummy with a trump, and cashed the Q to pitch the club loser from his hand. He then ruffed the fourth round of diamonds and led a spade towards dummy. Rosen correctly rose with the A and exited with a third round of trumps. Declarer could cash the K for his seventh trick, but Rosen had the last two tricks with a high club and the thirteenth trump. N/S -200 and another 11 IMPs to HINDEN.

HINDEN won the match 50-7 and then completed an excellent first day by defeating DE BOTTON 23-19 in the final match of Day 1.

The overnight break finds two teams, HINDEN and MOSSOP, undefeated with four wins from their four matches. The table looks like this:

HINDEN59.95 VPs
MOSSOP56.01
BLACK49.38
DE BOTTON44.87
PENFOLD41.34
SMALL25.94
PHOENIX21.28
AARDVARK21.20

We will be back next week with the best of the action from the second day of play on this first weekend of the 2022 EPL. 

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