This is our final visit to the Australian capital of Canberra for 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. Last week, we saw the best of the action from the first half of the final. We left things with ZIGGY (Siegfried Konig, Liam Milne, James Coutts, Justin Mill and Rodrigo Garcia da Rosa) leading by 4 IMPs, 43-39, over ASHTON (Sophie Ashton, Peter Gill, Andy Hung, Sartaj Hans, Nabil Edgtton and Michael Whibley).
As usual, we start with some problems. Firstly, with only your opponents vulnerable, you are East holding:
What action do you take?
Next, with only your side vulnerable, you are sitting in the South seat with:
What action, if any, do you take?
While you consider those, we begin this week’s coverage in the third stanza, with both East players facing the first of this week’s problems.
I suppose it is a matter of style, whether you start with a 1♠ overcall or a takeout double (or even 1NT) on this East hand. I confess I am strongly in the camp established by James Coutts (left) with his 1♠ overcall. You may think it strange that he did not them bid again with his good 18-count, but did it not become clear that his partner would have little help? Having bid all three of the other suits, the N/S merry-go-round stopped at 3♦. Declarer dropped a trick in the play but still made his contract comfortably, confirming Coutts judgement that the hand did not belong to his side. N/S +110.
In the same position, Nabil Edgtton started with a takeout double. Although not in itself a problem, it became one when both members of the partnership then subsequently took optimistic views of their hand. Michael Whibley might have passed rather than competing with a wafer-thin 2♥ bid, but he did have five-card support for a suit ostensibly shown by his partner. Similarly, Edgtton did not have to bid 3NT at his next turn, but he did have an 18-count with stoppers in all of the enemy’s suits.
Justin Mill doubled on the North hand and Rodrigo da Rosa got the defence off to the best start with the ♦10. Declarer had seven obvious losers, four diamonds, two hearts and a spade. Indeed, pinpoint defence could have beaten him one more trick, but that was still three down. N/S +500 and 9 IMPs to ZIGGY.
Approaching the end of the third stanza, ASHTON was just edging the set 24-20, meaning that the match was exactly tied at 63-63. Then came…
Once Rodrigo da Rosa decided to open 3♣, the result was inevitable. Whibley had the world’s most obvious takeout double, and Edgtton an equally clear pass. Whatever declarer did, he was destined to lose two hearts, one spade and four trumps: N/S -500.
One of Australia’s most experienced players, Sartaj Hans (right) made his international debut at the 2004 Olympiad in Istanbul, and he has been a regular member of his country’s Open team for almost two decades. At the 2011 World Championships, he collected a silver medal in the Transnational Teams, and his team reached the Round of 16 in the Rosenblum Cup in Wroclaw last year. He has also reached the final of the World Open Pairs twice, in 2018 and 2022, playing with different partners.
This board could easily have been flat, but Hans managed to avoid the 3♣ opening. That still didn’t stop N/S ending up in a doubled contract at the three-level, but at least this one had eight top tricks.
Coutts led a the ♦2 and dummy’s ♦5 was allowed to win the first trick. Although the club finesse is winning, declarer has no entry to dummy to enable him to enjoy a second club trick. Declarer can only legitimately score five diamonds, two spades and one club, and the defenders can set up their long spades easily enough to avoid any problem in the endgame.
However, when declarer led the low spade from dummy at trick two, Milne rose with the ace. Not in itself fatal, as he can simply remove the entry to dummy by playing a second spade and, again, declarer will have only eight tricks. When, instead, he cashed his top hearts, the ♥J became declarer’s ninth trick and thus the contract made. N/S +550 and 14 IMPs to ASHTON.
ASHTON therefore ended up winning the stanza 40-21, and thus they led by 15 IMPs, 79-64, going into the final 16 board set.
Like both semi-finals, the final had been closely contested through the first 48 boards, but the last set was to be all one-way traffic. The second board of the stanza, on which both South players had to answer the second of this week’s problems, set the tone for what was to come:
What did you think of the bidding problem? We’ll probably find out in due course what the BBO expert panel make of it but, for me, Pass is the obvious choice, with 3♥ and Double as only outside contenders. However, at the final in Canberra, each of them received one vote. I confess that if you put a gun to my head and made me choose one, I’d prefer the overcall, but the double chosen by Sartaj Hans certainly worked best at the table.
Liam Milne joined in with a 2NT transfer showing clubs on the West cards, and Andy Hung (left) then closed the auction with 3NT. East led the ♣10, which ran around to declarer’s ace. A heart to the queen lost to West’s king and a diamond came back, declarer winning with the ace.
Now came an important lesson for all aspiring players. Do NOT signal with cards you cannot afford. (This is particularly true when, as here, the information is completely useless to partner anyway, but the general rule always applies.) When declarer next led the ♥9, East inexplicably signalled with the seven! What this meant was that, although declarer rose with the jack on the second round of hearts, he now had a finesse position against East’s remaining 10-3 on the third round of the suit. That fourth heart winner was declarer’s ninth trick!
In the end, West got endplayed with the ♦Q to lead away from his ♣K to surrender an irrelevant overtrick, but the damage had already been done. N/S +630.
Let’s see how the other positive alternative to South’s takeout double fared at the other table…
Rodrigo da Rosa came in with a 3♥ overcall of East 2♠ opening. The partnership briefly got to the most promising game contract, but Justin Mill was never going to pass 3NT. Indeed, one did wonder if they would ever stop bidding, but the auction eventually ran out of steam at the six-level. This contract went undoubled but, even at 100 each, those undertricks can add up. Double dummy, declarer can get out for one down in 6♥ but, after winning the opening spade lead and taking the losing finesse to the singleton ♥K, declarer lost his way and ended up with only eight tricks. N/S -400 and 14 IMPs to ASHTON.
A couple of deals later, the ASHTON team judged this wild deal well at both tables.
Andy Hung opened a Strong Club on the North hand, and James Coutts maximized the pre-emptive potential of his hand with a gargantuan leap to 4NT. Sartaj Hans showed some values with a double and Liam Milne settled for giving preference to clubs at the five-level. Hung understandably thought he should mention his solid eight-card suit and everyone then decided that they had done their bit. That was certainly true of Coutts, but might Milne had re-evaluated?
Coutts led the ♥3 to his partner’s ace, but there was no ruff to be had. Declarer still had to lose a diamond at the end: N/S +650.
Justin Mill opened a natural 1♠, so Nabil Edgtton (right) showed his two-suiter at the more traditional level. Rodrigo da Rosa showed an invitational or better spade raise with a 3♦ cue-bid, and Michael Whibley showed his suitability to compete with a cue-bid of his own. Mill self-alerted his jump to 5♣ and added the description “undiscussed”, but Edgtton had a fair idea what was going on now, and he attempted to save at the six-level.
Perhaps da Rosa’s forcing pass was too much, with most of his values in the opponents’ suits. Mill correctly suspected that his side was not getting rich defending (just +300), so he took a shot at all the marbles.
To complete a virtuoso display by all of his team on this deal, Edgtton even had the temerity to double. Of course, he also then avoided the club lead that would have allowed declarer to make his slam. N/S -200 and another 13 IMPs to ASHTON.
The rest of the set did not get any better for ZIGGY. ASHTON won the final stanza 54-12 and the match by 57 IMPs, 133-76. Congratulations to the winners of the 2023 Australian National Open Teams: Sophie Ashton, Peter Gill, Andy Hung, Sartaj Hans, Nabil Edgtton and Michael Whibley.
We will be remaining in the Southern Hemisphere, but a long way from Australia as we make our way to South America and, specifically, to Brazil, for the final of the Open Trials to decide their team for this year’s Bermuda Bowl at the World Championships in Morocco.
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