BBO Vugraph - The Final of the Australian National Opens Teams

Vugraph #230

We remain in the Australian capital of Canberra, at the Summer Festival of Bridge. The highlight of the second week of the festival is the South-West Pacific Teams, culminating in the playoffs for the National Open Teams title. A field of 74 teams began the week, with the top eight teams advancing to the knockout stage.

Last week, we saw the best of the action from the semi-finals. Those matches left us with a final between ZIGGY (Siegfried Konig, Liam Milne, James Coutts, Justin Mill and Rodrigo Garcia da Rosa) and ASHTON (Sophie Ashton, Peter Gill, Andy Hung, Sartaj Hans, Nabil Edgtton and Michael Whibley), the original #4 and #2 seeds respectively.

The format of the final is a 64-board match divided into four 16-board stanzas. As usual, we start with some problems. Firstly, a couple of opening leads. With only your side vulnerable, you are West holding:

What do you lead?

Next, with neither side vulnerable, you are sitting in the East seat and you hear this unusual auction:

What do you lead?

Finally, back to bidding: with only your side vulnerable, you hold as North:

What do you bid?

While you consider those, we begin this week’s coverage in the opening stanza, and the first of the lead problems posed above.

N/S bid briskly to slam. Yes, this type of auction perhaps suggests an attacking lead but, to my mind, leading anything but a club (or perhaps a trump) is just too likely to give away a trick. To my mind, Sartaj Hans’ lead of the ♠Q into a 2NT opener is bordering on the reckless and, indeed, made declarer’s task relatively straightforward.

James Coutts (left) won in hand with the ♠K, drew trumps, and played a spade to the nine. After cashing the ♠A, he then crossed back to hand in clubs, pitched dummy’s low diamond on the ♣K, and ruffed his last spade. The only problem left was to guess the diamonds, and Coutts duly did so, running the jack. N/S +980.

In the replay, the same contract was reached, but from the North seat:

I have no idea what South’s 6♣ was meant to be, but it did not stop Siegfried Konig leading the ‘obvious’ ♣Q. Yes, declarer can still make 6 on a club lead, but doing so is much trickier. Indeed, Ashton began by winning the club lead and playing the 8 to the king in her hand, and now, having blocked the trump suit, she no longer had any play for the contract. N/S -50 and 14 IMPs to ZIGGY.

The winning line on a club lead is to draw two rounds of trumps, maintaining flexibility in the suit so that you can return to hand later in trumps. You can then cash dummy’s second club winner. If you pitch a spade from hand, you then need to play a spade, putting in the nine if West does not split his honours. Perhaps an easier line is to throw the low diamond from hand on the second high club, and then to run all of your trumps, throwing spades from dummy. The West hand is squeezed in the pointed suits and dummy’s 8 becomes a key card. Of course, you still have to guess the diamonds and read the end position. All possible, but certainly much more difficult than on a spade lead from the Q-J!

There were no other major swings in the opening stanza, but our next deal provided plenty of entertainment for the large crowd of kibitzer watching live on BBO VuGraph. The antics at both tables produced chances for a significant swing in either direction.

We have come across these weird multi-meaning 1♠ overcalls from this pair before, and I suppose they will claim this board as a success for the method, rather than putting the good result down to a rather eccentric decision by North. Yes, partner has made a penalty double of 2, but it is hard for me to believe that many people would sit for it with that North hand. The modern player has little experience of penalty doubles. Those of us who grew up in the days before negative doubles (or by playing rubber bridge, where only penalty doubles are allowed) will understand that they are suggestion rather than commands written in stone. Yes, one normally passes when partner makes a low-level penalty double, but not on this sort of hand. North seems to have allowed herself to become bamboozled by the unusual methods employed by her opponents.

A spade lead would have given the defenders a chance of seven tricks, but Peter Gill had no reason not to lead his partner’s suit. Ashton started the defence with three top hearts, declarer pitching his spade loser on the third round. The switch to the ♠K was taken in dummy with the ace, and the 10 was run to South’s jack. The defenders could make their two minor-suit aces, but that was it. N/S +100 did not look like a great result, with game in hearts looking easy to bid and make on a normal auction.

That brings us nicely on to the second of the lead problems posed earlier. At the other table, N/S were not content with simply bidding their easy game to collect 8-9 IMPs…

Liam Milne really fell in love with this North hand. Yes, I know, “6-5, Come Alive” and all that, but doesn’t a reverse to 2♠ when partner has not bid show a good hand? The jump to 3♠ seems excessive and, understandably, prompted James Coutts into taking some kind of positive action with his two aces. I’m not sure that I particularly like Coutts’ jump to the five-level, with no real fit for either of his partner’s suits. My choice would have been a 4 cue-bid, although perhaps there is a substantial risk that partner would take that as agreeing spades.

Quite what Milne thought he had in excess of what he had already shown to justify the raise to slam is well beyond me. However, the contract was not without hope, and Andy Hung (right) had to find a winning opening lead to beat his opponents’ ambitious slam.

Had he begun with a pedestrian K, declarer wins, plays a spade to his king, goes back to dummy with the ♣A, and plays a second spade through West’s ace. With both the jack and ten of trumps in the West hand, declarer will subsequently be able to ruff a third round of spades with the 9 and bring home his contract.

Hung needed to lead either a trump or a club to defeat the slam, and he duly tabled to ♣Q to give declarer no chance. Bravo! N/S -100 and an exciting 5 IMPs to ASHTON, when it could easily have been far more in the other direction.

ZIGGY won a low-scoring opening stanza 26-11.

Justice was done on this early board from the second stanza, on which both North players had to answer this week’s only bidding problem. Again, there were chances for the IMPs to swing in either direction.

Nabil Edgtton advanced with a 3♠ cue-bid, although quite what else he thought his partner was likely to bid other than 3NT is unclear. Should James Coutts have bypassed 3NT to support diamonds on four low? I think that is expecting too much.

The defence began with a heart, ducked to East’s king, and a second heart back to declarer’s queen. When declarer then started cashing red-suit winners, the East hand quickly came under pressure, and Coutts was not hard-pressed to take the rest of the tricks. N/S +690.

Justin Mill (left) made his international debut in the Australian Schools team at the 2006 World Youth Championships in Bangkok. In a nine-year spell representing his country at various junior levels, he twice finished fourth in World Championship events before collecting a silver medal from the Junior Teams at the 2013 World Games in Atlanta. In 2015, Mill was part of a Norwegian-Australian team that claimed bronze medals at the European Transnational Championships, and he made his debut in the Australian Open team at the 2017 Bermuda Bowl.

On this deal, Mill took the bull by the horns with a ‘pick-a-slam’ jump to 5NT at his second turn. He then had to play the hand when his partner selected diamonds.

Sophie Ashton did not have an attractive hand from which to select an opening lead against a slam. She opted for the 3 and, I have to say, that a heart would have been my last choice. It was also the only lead to give declarer a chance. Winning in hand with the J, Mill cashed a top diamond to get the bad news in trumps. He then played the A and ruffed a heart before playing a diamond to the ten, on which Ashton pitched the K. When Mill then played the ♣Q, a club to the king, and a third round of clubs, Peter Gill made things easy by ruffing in with his long trump. With winners in both hearts and clubs, declarer could now claim without even needing the spade finesse. An impressive N/S +1370 and 12 IMPs to ZIGGY.

Our final deal from this stanza demonstrates that both teams are equally capable of shooting themselves in the foot. Looking at just the N/S cards below, you would surely expect just about everyone to reach 4. However, an unfortunate lie of the cards means that the normal contract is destined to fail. Not that they weren’t warned!

Quite why West felt in necessary to open his mouth is beyond me. You have a balanced 4-count with a shortage in the suit partner has opened, so is there something wrong with passing? Yes, Gill was playing Precision, so he was not running the risk of hearing partner rebid 2NT with a balanced 18-19, but is there any possible advantage to be gained from bidding?

It is said that “blind leads are for deaf players”, but it would appear that N/S here had not been listening to the auction either or, perhaps, did they think that Gill had psyched his 1 response? Failing that possibility, it would seem that they blindly wound their way to game knowing that the trumps were breaking 4-0 offside.

Surprise, surprise! There were three trump losers to go with the ♠A. N/S -50.

A native New Zealander who switched allegiances part-way through his international junior career, Michael Whibley (right) has since switched back and is now a regular member of the Kiwi Open team. After a couple of near misses, he won his first major medal, a silver, playing with Nabil Edgtton at the 2022 World Pairs in Wroclaw.

Liam Milne also made the same questionable 1 bid at this table, but he was unfortunate enough to be playing against opponents who would make him pay a heavy price for that transgression. Rather than bidding his heart suit, at his second turn Whibley cue-bid to ask for a diamond stopper. When Edgtton jumped to 3NT, he was content to produce dummy.

Not that 3NT is a wonderful contract, essentially needing to find clubs 3-3 and the ♠A with the opening bidder, but it is still infinitely better than the alternative. Edgtton won the diamond lead, crossed to his hand with a high club, and played a spade to the king. Two more rounds of clubs split that suit, so declarer cashed the thirteenth club before playing a second spade towards dummy. East rose with the ♠A and exited with a spade to dummy’s queen, but Edgtton exited with a low heart. West could win and cash a spade winner, but the defence then had either to lead a heart into the A-Q or give declarer access to the K as his ninth trick. N/S +400 and 10 IMPs to ASHTON.

ASHTON won the second stanza 28-17. At the midway point of the match, ZIGGY still held the advantage, but the margin was now only 4 IMPs, 43-39. All still to play for over the final 32 boards.

We will be back next week with the best of the action from the last two sets of this final.

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