BBO Vugraph - Knockout of the French Premier League

Vugraph #224

We return to France for the opening event in the 2023 calendar. After three weekends, over which 12 teams played a complete round robin, four teams emerged to contest the knockout stage. The semi-final match-ups were Philippe SOULET vs Eric GAUTRET and Pierre ZIMMERMANN vs Sports Association of BRENO. The format was 64-board matches split into four 16-board stanzas. One of the semi-finals was broadcast live on BBO VuGraph in each set.

As usual, we start with some problems. Firstly, with both sides vulnerable, you are East holding this everyday hand:

What action, if any, do you take?

Next, with only the opponents vulnerable, you are sitting in the West seat with:

What action, if any, do you take?

Finally, with only the opponents vulnerable, you hold as South:

What do you bid?

While you consider those, we begin in the opening set of the match between SOULET and GAUTRET. An experienced international player, Marc Bompis has undoubtedly read every textbook ever written on how to bid nine-card suits, so he should have been well-equipped to deal with the first of this week’s problems:

Philippe Soulet’s decisions to upgrade his hand to a 15-17 1NT in first seat perhaps persuaded Marc Bompis (left) that he might find the right cards opposite, although perhaps the vulnerable N/S bidding at the five-level might have sounded some warning. Indeed, N/S can make ten tricks in hearts played from the long side. but more of that later.  There was little to the play, the defenders just scoring their two aces: E/W -100.

Jeremie Tignel’s 1♣ opening meant that the auction here began in slow-motion. Christophe Oursel’s fit-showing jump to 4 injected some life, but Jean Luc Aroix did not seem to be that excited by his unusual hand, just quietly competing to game. When South’s 5 bid came back around to him, of course Aroix had no thought of defending – if ever there was an exception to the “don’t bid five over five” rule, this was surely it. The last chance to save some IMPs for his side fell to Oursel. Would he take the relatively cheap save at the six-level? No, he had enough high cards to expect more than two defensive tricks, but he was to be disappointed. Indeed, South led the 5 and South tried to cash a second winner in that suit, setting up dummy’s J for a discard. After nine rounds of trumps, declarer knew enough to take the club finesse for the overtrick: E/W +1050 and 15 IMPs to GAUTRET.

GAUTRET led 47-34 at the end of the first set of 16. In the other match, ZIMMERMANN had already opened a substantial lead, 65-16, over S.A. BRENO. Looking to narrow the gap, the trailing team’s cause was not advanced by a tremendously cautious approach on this deal:

The auction started reasonably enough, Philippe Cronier opening 1 and rebidding an 11-14 1NT, then advancing with a control-showing 4♣ (agreeing hearts) once Romain Zaleski had forced to game. Perhaps put off by the double of the 4♣ cue-bid by Piotr Gawrys, Zaleski cue-bid in diamonds and then gave up when Cronier could not advance beyond game.

Had Zaleski passed Gawrys’ double of 4♣, he could, presumably, have found out that his partner’s club control was the ace, which surely makes the South hand look even better. Yes, Zaleski has weak trumps, but the points for partner’s opening bid must be somewhere, and it doesn’t sound as if many of them will be wasted in clubs. With a grand slam needing little more than a 3-2 trump split, N/S +510 did not look like a promising score. And so it proved:

After the same start, Jacek Kalita forced to game with an artificial 2. Michal Nowosadzki’s 2♠ showed four hearts, Kalita agreed the suit, and the 4♣ cue-bid then left the Poles in the same position as N/S had been at the first table. Kalita did pass the double, suggesting more interest perhaps, which encouraged Nowosadzki to jump to 5. Kalita did not investigate the grand, but he didn’t need to.  N/S +1010 and 11 IMPs to ZIMMERMANN.

BRENO won the second set 42-30, but that still left them 37 IMPs adrift at the midway point of the match. In the other match, GAUTRET added another 7 IMPs to their first-stanza advantage to lead 76-56.

For Set 3, we return to the SOULET-GAUTRET match. The action on our next deal was relatively uneventful at the first table.

I’m not a fan of East’s 1NT response. So often, when you respond on this hand type, partner just carries you too high. West’s double of 2♠, which presumably just showed extra values rather than anything specific, is also dubious. After all, if the next hand passes, what is partner supposed to do with something like Qxx/xx/Jxxxx/Axx? Yes, he knows you have extra values, but so what? On this deal, neither of those actions proved costly, as North simply jumped to 4♠. There were two hearts and a diamond to lose: N/S +620.

I hope these articles can be educational as well as entertaining. With that in mind, the next deal provides a series of related lessons that all players would benefit from learning early in their bridge lives. We begin with the second of this week’s bidding problems.

What do you think of West’s 2♣ bid? For me, when you bid two suits independently, you generally have at least 10 cards in your suits. With a balanced or semi-balanced hand, if you want to show extra values, you do so with a double. Whether this hand is worth anything other than pass opposite a partner who could not respond on the first round is questionable, despite the 16 HCP. It’s basically not that good a hand, with its values mostly defensively oriented. What happened as a consequence of the 2♣ bid then bordered on the suicidal.

Philippe Poizat (right) is one of the most experienced of French players. He was a member of the French Open team at the 1988 Olympiad and the 1993 European Championships. As a member of the French Seniors team, he has won three European titles (in 2002, 2012 and 2018) and a World Championship (in 2011). He has also won the Senior Teams at European Transnational Championships twice.

After this start, Poizat thought his hand merited only a raise to 2♠. Having judged (correctly) that his hand was not worth a raise to 2 on the first round, Bernard Payen now stuck his neck out at the three-level. This bid seems to have little upside, since the chances of being allowed to play in 3 (undoubled, at least) are virtually zero now that the opponents have found their spade fit. If they don’t think they can make game, though, bidding offers them a chance to take a penalty instead.

No harm done: with his powerful 5-5 hand, Nicolas Dechelette was happy to bid game once his partner had raised. Now, it seemed that we were headed for flat-board territory… until Payen decided that he should save on the East hand. I don’t know how many times we have discussed the danger/folly of sacrificing on balanced hands – the message that should by now be loud and clear is that doing so almost always turns out to be more expensive than you expect.

Looking at five decent trumps, Philippe Poizat was delighted to double to prove the point. Declarer managed to take just five tricks in 5♣-X: N/S +1400 and 13 unexpected IMPs to GAUTRET.

Yes, bidding 5♣ was a very poor decision, but I think West must also shoulder some responsibility for the disaster, as his 2♣ bid conveyed a misleading picture of his actual hand.

GAUTRET won the third stanza 48-36, extending their lead to 32 IMPs, 124-92. In the other semi-final, BRENO regained 27 IMPs in the third stanza, and thus trailed ZIMMERMANN 117-127 going into the last set. Unsurprisingly, BBO chose the latter match for its live broadcast of the fourth stanza.

Both South players saw the same auction on the last of this week’s bidding problems.

I would guess that most people looked at the third of this week’s problems, bid 3, and wondered why it was a problem. Pierre Zimmermann (left), who needs no introduction, did exactly that. When Franck Multon bid his clubs again, Zimmermann quite rightly concluded that the singleton queen was adequate support and he advanced by showing his spade control. Multon made a grand slam try, but neither player had quite enough to take the plunge.

In fact, the grand is a better than 60% proposition, needing trumps to break 3-2 and then either diamonds 3-2, 4-1 onside, or a squeeze against a defender with four diamonds also holding four hearts or the ♠A. With clubs splitting 4-1, though, that was N/S +920.

Perhaps you think that the raise to 4♣ made by Cedric Lorenzini (pictured here, appropriately, with the ♣Q) is something of an eccentric choice, but it is difficult to dispute that it made things very easy for Thomas Bessis to jump immediately to what looks like the best contract. I feel it deserved to bring in IMPs for the BRENO team, but the Great Dealer was clearly a Swiss fan today. N/S -50 and 14 IMP to ZIMMERMANN when it could just as easily have swung a similar number in the other direction.

Many matches have been decided by far fewer IMPs than hinged on the outcome of this deal. Not this time, though: ZIMMERMANN won the last set 54-30 to win by 34 IMPs, 181-147. As it turned out, the main action in the fourth set was in the other match, with SOULET gaining 33 IMPs on the set to eke their way into the final by the smallest of margins. The final result of the match: SOULET 154 GAUTRET 153.

The final will be SOULET vs  ZIMMERMANN. Join us next week to see the best of the action from that final.

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