BBO Vugraph - Final Weekend of English Premier League 1

Vugraph #199

This week, we return to England for the third and final weekend of the English Premier League. After two weekends, and thus two complete round robins, these were the standings:

DE BOTTON184.65 VPs
HINDEN161.76
BLACK159.48
PENFOLD143.42
MOSSOP135.09
AARDVARK133.35
SMALL117.99
PHOENIX84.33

With more than a whole match advantage over the closest chasers, DE BOTTON clearly came into the final weekend as clear favorites. With a significant gap also between BLACK and PENFOLD, this was looking like at best a three-horse race.

As usual, we start with some problems. Firstly, with neither side vulnerable, you are North holding:

What action, if any, do you take?

Next, with neither side vulnerable, you are sitting South with this collection:

What, if anything, do you open?

The opening BBO VuGraph match of this third round robin featured two teams who both began the competition with high expectations, but come in needing a big final weekend, BLACK vs MOSSOP. A choice of games generated the only significant swing in an otherwise uneventful set of boards. I suspect the unsuccessful auction at the first table would be duplicated many times in a large field:

If you play a 15-17 no-trump, it is hard to see why you would bid differently.

The spotlight then turned onto Derek Patterson. Could he find the winning opening from his 4-4-4-1 hand? Yes, he accurately spun the 10 onto the table, knocking out declarer’s only stopper whilst the defence still held the ♣A: E/W -100.

I cannot tell you if David Mossop (left) was playing a weak NT system or whether he judged to upgrade the decent 17 count, but his 1♣ opening certainly set his partnership well on the road to the top spot. Gunnar Hallberg jumped to 3♣ and Peter Crouch came in to ensure the right lead if Mossop should try 3NT (although, knowing Peter’s proclivity for pre-emptive bidding, I am a little surprised that he had not opened 2 on the previous round).

The overcall steered Mossop away from no-trumps, and he advanced with a value-showing 3♠. Simon Cope upped the ante to 4 but Hallberg knew his hand was fitting well now. He advanced to the minor-suit game, and Crouch/Cope correctly judged that the penalty at the five-level would be too expensive.

The defence could only ever come to two aces against 5♣. E/W 600 and 13 IMPs to MOSSOP, who won a low-scoring affair 25-13.

Elsewhere, DE BOTTON played to a 10-10 tie against the bottom team. However, with BLACK losing and HINDEN managing only a win by 11-10 against SMALL, there was no significant change at the top. The biggest winners were PENFOLD, who closed most of the gap on third place.

DE BOTTON194.65 VPs
HINDEN172.07
BLACK166.20
PENFOLD161.39
MOSSOP148.37

In Round 16, those watching live on BBO VuGraph got their first look of the weekend at HINDEN, looking to close the gap on the leaders as they took on last-placed PHOENIX.

A very sensible auction by John Atthey and Neil Rosen led to the par contract. Fiona Brown started with a high spade and switched to a trump at trick two, hoping to prevent declarer ruffing clubs in dummy. With the ♣Q coming down, declarer doesn't even need a ruff, so the trump trick Brown surrendered did not come back. However, it was only the overtrick IMP. Declarer made six trumps, three clubs, one diamond and one club ruff: N/S +450.

At the other table, aggressive intervention by East left North with the first of this week’s bidding problems.

Tony Forrester (right) chose to overcall 1♠ on his chunky four-bagger, which left Steve Raine with a routine 1NT bid. With his likely source of tricks in hearts, Chris Cooper chose to raise directly to the nine-trick game, where there was still work to be done in the play.

Graham Osborne led the ♠4 to dummy’s bare queen and his partner’s king, and Forrester returned the ♠3. It is hard to blame Raine for putting in the ♠9 and thus, winning with the ♠10, Osborne now had a chance to beat the contract legitimately by switching to a diamond. However, when he instead played a third spade, declarer was back in control once more.

Having already discarded one club, Raine pitched dummy’s low diamond on the third round of spades. Forrester won with the ♠A and exited with his fourth spade. Counting six heart tricks in dummy, declarer discarded the Q and, when hearts then failed to split, he was one down. N/S -50 and 11 IMPs to HINDEN.

With two spade tricks to go with three top hearts, declarer can make his contract by scoring three clubs (with the queen dropping) and one diamond. To do this, he has to pitch a low heart from dummy on the fourth round of spades, then play a diamond to the queen, setting up his king while he still has the ♣A as an entry.

HINDEN won another fairly low-scoring match, but only by a score of 30-26. With the other three teams in the top half of the table all winning by larger margins, the gap between the leaders and the field grew ever larger:

DE BOTTON211.53 VPs
HINDEN183.27
BLACK182.12
PENFOLD178.42
MOSSOP151.34

It was beginning to look like a Coronation, with three teams battling for the minor placings.

If the first two VuGraph matches of the weekend had been closely-fought contests, the third was anything but as the leaders, DE BOTTON, took on AARDVARKS. There were a number of large swings that I could have included in this report, but the respective auctions on this slam hand created something of a curiosity. What did you decide to open on the second of this week’s problems?

Janet de Botton (left) started with what looks like a fairly normal 3♣ pre-empt. Artur Malinowski wasted no time, rolling out RKCB to find the ♣A-K opposite. Quite what else he was expecting his partner to bid over 5NT is unclear and, presumably, he could have jumped to the grand a round earlier.

There were no nasty surprises in the distribution, and declarer was soon claiming her 13 tricks: N/S +1440.

It seems rather bizarre that you can bid a grand slam with confidence in two bids when partner pre-empts, but you cannot manage to get to the same level when partner opens at the one-level. But that’s what happened when the Scandinavians managed to engage actively in the auction after Dave Robinson’s 1♣ opening.

Robinson eventually rebid his suit after his partner had made first a negative double and then a second, strength-showing double. However, Paul Barden could not be sure that his partner held a seven -card suit in this auction. As a result, when he found out that the ♣Q was missing, he gave up in the small slam. N/S +940 and 11 IMPs to DE BOTTON.

This match was a blowout, DE BOTTON winning 60-16. Although BLACK just about hung onto the leaders’ coat-tails (and moved up into second place) by winning almost as big, the other two chasing teams both suffered defeats.

DE BOTTON230.08 VPs
BLACK199.67
HINDEN190.72
PENFOLD185.62
MOSSOP163.89

The VuGraph offering for the final round on Saturday is SMALL vs PENFOLD. On our final deal this week, both South players could perhaps have expected a little more assistance from the third opponent. One managed to succeed anyway…

Peter Taylor chose to upgrade his good 17-count and open 1♠. John Cox forced to game with 2♣, and Taylor showed his balanced hand with a 2NT rebid. Cox now showed his spade fit, and Taylor moved forward with a 4♣ cue-bid. Deciding that his hand was minimum for his initial game-force, Cox then declined to cue-bid either of his red-suit aces at the four-level. Could Taylor be sure of safety at the five-level? Could his partner not have something like Jxx/QJx/Qx/KQJxx, when there would be three top winners for the defence to cash? Perhaps that is a rather pessimistic view, but I think most of the blame lies with North. (The usual principle is that you can decide not to show a second-round control, but you must show a first-round control if you can do so without going past game. )

Declarer won the diamond lead and took a club finesse at trick two. N/S +710.

I suspect that Mould/Holland were playing a weak notrump system, so South’s 2NT rebid would then show 15+ balanced, unlimited up to a maximum of a 2NT opening. In a game-forcing auction, it seems to me that the North hand is too good for a jump to 4♠, but this pair have been playing together long enough that I am sure they know what they are doing (most of the time, anyway). Alan Mould (right) duly bid on with a 5♣ cue-bid, and now John Holland sprang to life, showing first his diamond control and then, perhaps a little over-ambitiously, his heart control at the six-level.

The play is not completely straightforward on the K lead. Mould played two top spades immediately and, when the ♠J fell, he then played the ♣A and a second club, knocking out the ♣K while dummy still controlled the diamond suit. Had the ♠J not fallen, declarer should continue with a low club at trick four, avoiding the risk that East will win with the ♣K and play a third round of the suit to promote his partner’s ♠J. N/S +1430 and 12 IMPs to PENFOLD, who won a tight match 46-44.

BLACK scored a maximum 20-0 victory in this round but, with DE BOTTON also winning, they made little significant inroads into the deficit with matches running out. With the first four matches in the book, the overnight scores on this third weekend are:

DE BOTTON244.05 VPs
BLACK219.69
HINDEN200.80
PENFOLD196.23
MOSSOP169.92
AARDVARK148.88
SMALL142.04
PHOENIX115.93

With three matches remaining on the final day of the event, DE BOTTON still leads by more than a full match. Not that BLACK is completely out of it, as they still have to play DE BOTTON tomorrow. BLACK has consolidated their hold on second place, almost a match ahead of HINDEN, who is being pressed for third place by PENFOLD. HINDEN still has to play both teams ahead of them, so nothing is yet set in stone.

We will be back next week with the best of the action from the final three matches.

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