BBO Vugraph - Australian Spring Nationals

Vugraph #198

This week we are back at the Canterbury Park Racecourse in Sydney, New South Wales for the concluding event of the Australian Spring Nationals. The second of the two main events at this 10-day festival is the Linda Stern Women’s Teams. Ten teams played a two-day qualifying event, from which two emerged to contest the final. Those two teams were TUTTY (Jodi Tutty, Dagmar Neumann, Susan Humphries, Jessica Brake, Eva Caplan and Jenny Thompson) and, from New Zealand, JACOB (Stephanie Jacob, Rochelle Pelkman, Jenna Gibbons and Christine Gibbons). The format is a 56-board match divided into four 14-board stanzas.

Only two problems for you this week. Firstly, with neither side vulnerable, you are East holding:

What action, if any, do you take? 

Finally, again with neither side vulnerable, you are sitting East with these cards:

What action, if any, do you take? 

TUTTY began the match with a 9-IMP carry-forward from the qualifying stage. Approaching the midway point of a fairly even opening stanza, the score had progressed to 17-5. 

There are certain things that I drum into my students, and high on that list is a moratorium against two-level minor-suit overcalls on lousy five-card suits. In my world, overcalls such as that made by North on this deal should be punished by an automatic 10-IMP penalty. It appeared that no such penalty was to be exacted on this deal, but The Great Dealer moves in mysterious ways.

Advancing with 2♠ on that East hand is a possibility, but a negative double is not an unreasonable choice. However, it probably matters little on this deal, as West will surely be bidding 5 at some point no matter what her partner bids. 

North kicked off the defence with the A and a second club to the jack and king. North won the second round of trumps and played a third club to her partner’s queen. Quite why South then felt it necessary to lead away from her K when she had a perfectly safe exit with the fourth round of clubs is beyond me. Declarer gratefully accepted the gift and took the finesse, limiting her losers to just one diamond and two clubs. N/S +100.

Susan Humphries (right) was a member of the New Zealand Junior team at the 2008 World Bridge Games. At the 2016 World Championships in Wroclaw, she debuted in the New Zealand Women’s Team. She also finished in the top half of the field in the final of the World Open Pairs playing with fellow-Kiwi, Stephanie Jacob, captain of her opponents in this final. Having crossed the Tasman Sea, Humphries made her first appearance as a member of the Australian Women’s team in the Venice Cup in Salsomaggiore earlier this year.

On this deal, Humphries avoided the 2 overcall and then simply watched as East/West climbed ever higher and higher on what, with every bid, was looking more and more like a misfit. When she decided that her opponents had stopped bidding, she lowered the boom with a red card.

Humphries kicked off with the A then, ensuring the contract would go down, she cashed the ♣A and continued with a second club. Declarer captured the ♣J with the king and then ran all of her trumps. In the three-card ending, South was squeezed down to the bare ♣Q and the doubleton ♠K, so declarer could have exited with her club at trick eleven to force the defence to concede the last two tricks. When, instead, she just cashed the ♠A, she was three down: N/S +800 and 12 IMPs to TUTTY. It seemed that The Great Dealer had achieved justice for the 2♣ overcall after all. 

Eva Caplan (left) played in her first major international tournament in 2008. She made her debut in the Australian Women’s team at the World Championships in Wroclaw earlier this year. 

On this deal, Caplan found out that her partner held a maximum weak two bid in hearts and then took a shot at 3NT. Declarer would not be favorite if South could avoid a diamond lead, but Jenna Gibbons could not, opening the 2. Declarer put up dummy’s 10 and took advantage of the entry to dummy to play a club to her ten. Caplan continued with a club to the king, Christine Gibbons winning with the ♣A and returning her second diamond. Caplan won, cashed the ♣Q and exited with a fourth round of clubs to North’s jack. Gibbons could have made things more difficult for declarer by tabling the K. When she instead played a spade, Caplan put in the queen and claimed when the finesse won. E/W +400.

If your partnership is going to play a convention, it seems sensible to make sure that you both know how the auction continues thereafter. That may seem obvious, but you would be surprised at how many pairs do not, even amongst top players. Let’s see what happened at the other table on this deal:

Again, West opened with a Multi but, at this table, Susan Humphries put a spanner in the E/W works with a 2♠ overcall. Let’s face it: this is not a particularly complicated or unexpected auction, and there is no excuse for not knowing the meaning of East’s double. However, it was described by East as penalties (which is clearly what it should be after a pre-emptive opening) and by West as ‘showing values’. (Indeed, playing a double just as value-showing is a completely unplayable method: how is opener ever supposed to know what to do? Double here must either be penalties or pass/correct, there are no other choices, and you must know which it is.)

Whether East is even worth a penalty double at the two-level facing a non-vulnerable weak two is moot. For a start, you are unlikely to be beating the contract by more than one, and a penalty double may stop South raising! Indeed, South presumably would not have raised if she was told that the double was penalties and, had the auction ended in 3♠-X, I suspect the Director would have adjusted the contract back to 2♠-X based on the conflicting explanations. East would have done better to pass at her first turn and then make what is surely a penalty double when South’s raise to 3♠ comes back to her.

3♠-X is two off in top tricks (two diamonds, the A, a heart ruff and three trump tricks). That would be +300 and a 3-IMP loss if teammates have let through game at the other table, and a nice gain if they have beaten it. Quite where West got the idea that her partner had any interest in hearing her bid hearts again, is beyond me. East obviously knows which suit her partner holds and would, presumably, have bid 4 herself, rather than doubling, if that is where she wanted to play.

Against 4, mercifully undoubled for some reason, the defence began with three trump winners and a slow diamond, and also made two club tricks when declarer started that suit by playing low to the queen. E/W -150 and a well-deserved 11-IMP loss for JACOB.

TUTTY won the opening stanza 45-16, which meant 54-16 with their carry-forward advantage. Over the first half of the second segment, JACOB led 16-3, narrowing the margin to 25 IMPs, but that was as close as they were going to get.

Board 24 looked for all the world like a routine game in 4 which, with the favourable trump position, was destined to make 11 tricks. However, bidding to the right game on misfitting hands can sometimes prove tricky, so there was perhaps potential for a swing. At one table, East had to deal with the first of this week’s problems. Let’s see what happened.

East’s weak jump-shift 2 response may look unusually strong to readers used to how this auction is played in the Northern hemisphere, but perhaps this is about standard in Oceania. Be that as it may, West introduced her second suit and Dagmar Neumann rebid her hearts. What should she then do when her partner continues with 3NT?

The right answer should be clear. Whenever you have a strong hand opposite a weak hand with a long suit, it is usually right to play in the weak hand’s suit. This deal is a classic example: West’s high cards are very useful in a heart contract, but the East hand is of no value at all either in notrumps or if one of West’s long suits are trumps. East should, therefore, bid 4 over 3NT.

With no entry to dummy, it looks as if there are only eight tricks in 3NT, but perhaps declarer can get a little help from her friends! North led a diamond to the jack and queen. It seems inevitable that South will eventually get in with a high spade and play a second diamond, allowing North to cash four winners in that suit. All that matters is that North does not discard a diamond. Or, is it? Let’ see how things worked out.

After winning the diamond at trick one, declarer immediately cashed her six club tricks. North correctly clung on to all of her diamonds. However, she threw her spades. Looking at dummy, quite why she felt she needed to cling on to those small hearts is unclear, but it seems as if she just saw all of her major-suit cards as equally useless. 

After cashing her clubs, declarer did not now turn to spades, but instead exited with the K. North cashed her four winners in the suit, but then perhaps wished she had kept a spade. On the enforced heart exit, declarer scored the last two tricks with the two major-suit aces. That useless dummy had come into its own after all: E/W +400, and a lucky let off for East, as the loss was now likely to be only 2 IMPs against the -450 expected from 4+1 at the other table.

However, what happened there was even more bizarre.

At this table, Rochelle Pelkman opened with a strong/artificial 2♣. Stephanie Jacob responded 2, not only showing her suit but, presumably, positive values too. West now chose to bid her very moderate five-card major rather than her solid six-card minor. When Jacob rebid her hearts, Pelkman continued with 3NT, leaving Jacob in a position not unlike that faced by East at the other table. 

Here, too, it seems clear to retreat to 4. After all, what use is this hand likely to be if hearts are not trumps? Whilst passing 3NT seems like a poor option, I am too polite to suggest an adjective appropriate for East’s decision to support her partner’s suit. Perhaps ‘unbelievable’ is a suitably diplomatic choice. 

Jessica Brake (right) did well not to double, as that might perhaps have alerted East to the idea that there might be a better spot. Although the New Zealanders had found a way to let through 3NT at the other table, 4♠ was just about defence proof, with three trumps and the A to lose. Indeed, Susan Humphries led her singleton club, enabling the defenders to score a club ruff in addition to the obvious four tricks. Two down: E/W -100 and a windful 11 IMPs to TUTTY.

The home team finished well and won the second stanza 28-19, padding their lead, which now stood at 46 IMPs (82-36) at the midway point of the match. Which direction the wind was blowing quickly became apparent at the start of the third set. 

Christine Gibbons’ opening bid may have been slightly on the thin side but, looking at just the N/S hands, there is nothing wrong with the final contract. Unfortunately for the Kiwis, the spade suit lays particularly unkindly, so declarer has three trump losers in addition to the A. N/S -50.

In terms of the score, what happened in this room turned out to be almost irrelevant. At the other table, East had to deal with the last of this week’s problems: 

Jodi Tutty (left) made her debut in the Australian Women’s team at the 2017 Venice Cup. In 2019 and in the recent World Championship in Salomaggiore, she represented her country in the Mixed Teams. In Wroclaw, earlier this year, she finished ninth in the final of the World Mixed Pairs.

On this deal, Tutty did not deem the North hand worthy of an opening bid. After Dagmar Neumann had opened 1 and West’s Unusual 2NT overcall, she joined in with a 3 cue-bid, showing a maximum pass with five spades and, by inference, suggesting a partial diamond fit too. 

Those of you who saw only defensive values in the East hand, and thus deemed it an automatic pass would, presumably have heard 4 from South. It would then have been only a question of whether you doubled that decided if the board was flat or you gained 2 IMPs.

Perhaps they have added some magical imagination potion to the water in Middle Earth. Jacob clearly saw more offensive potential in the East hand than I do, and she boldly climbed in with 4. Neumann quite rightly decided that doubling was a more attractive option than bidding a non-vulnerable game when bad breaks were advertised. To say that 4-X played poorly would be an understatement: the defenders quickly cashed three rounds of trumps and declarer eventually managed to scramble five tricks: N/S a non-vulnerable +1100 and 15 IMPs to TUTTY on the first board of the third set.

TUTTY gained another 12 IMPs on the very next deal and, although the rest of the set was fairly flat, they won the stanza 31-15. That made the match score 113-51 with one 14-board set to play, at which point the New Zealanders decided that they had seen enough and graciously conceded.

Congratulations on their victory to the TUTTY team: Jodi Tutty, Dagmar Neumann, Susan Humphries, Jessica Brake, Eva Caplan and Jenny Thompson. 

We return to Europe next week, and to the final weekend of the English Premier League.

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