We return to Brussels for the second day’s play in the final of the Belgian National Open Teams. The format is a 96-board match, divided into six 16-board stanzas played over two days. The two teams competing for Belgium’s premier annual title are RIVIERA 1 (Daniel de Roos, Steven de Donder, Geert Arts and Steve de Roos) and BBC 1 (Alain Labaere, Valerie Labaere, Philippe Coenraets, Faramarz Bigdeli, Olivier Neve and Patrick Bocken). At the end of the first day’s play, BBC1 led by 5 IMPs, 95-90, so all still to play for.
As usual, we start with some problems. Firstly, with only your side vulnerable, you are East holding:
What action, if any, do you take?
Next, with only your side vulnerable, you are sitting in the West seat with:
What action, if any, do you take?
Finally, with both sides vulnerable, you hold as West:
What action, if any, do you take?
While you mull those over, we begin with the third deal of this second day. Both East players were presented with a variation of the first of this week’s problems.
With the auction already at 4♠ by the time it reached the massive minor-suit two-suiter, Steve de Roos had few options other than 4NT. Geert Arts gave simple preference to clubs and now Philippe Coenraets bid a fifth spade on the North cards, leaving de Roos the bidding problem posed at the top of this article. De Roos chose to bid a sixth club, which was disastrous not only because there was nowhere to put the two heart losers, whatever the opening lead, but because +800 was available from defending. (The defence score two top tricks in each minor, and then a third round of diamonds enables them to make their high trumps separately.) E/W -100.
The Labaeres were given a more comfortable ride, primarily because Daniel de Roos decided that the South hand was worth only a weak two opening. Steven de Donder raised to game in his partner’s major via 4♦, and Valerie Labaere (left) also entered with 4NT. Here, though, facing only a weak two, North (quite correctly) was not prepared to risk the five-level penalty. East was happy to be allowed to play game in one of her long suits: E/W +600 and 12 IMPs to BBC1 to get the ball rolling.
On our next deal, N/S had a choice of minor suits in addition to the game/slam decision.
Looking at just the N/S hands, it is impossible to tell where you want to play. Slam in diamonds will potentially fail on a club ruff, but slam in clubs might also go down if there is a diamond ruff available to the defence. In this room. What this means is that any swing on the board is somewhat arbitrary.
N/S had the auction to themselves at this table, and that more or less determined which suit would become trumps. When Faramarz Bigdeli rebid diamonds, it was clear for Philippe Coenraets to agree that suit. After an exchange of cue-bids, Coenraets tried Blackwood, but it was impossible for him to bid more than game as he could not tell which ace his partner held, and thus it was quite possible that both minor-suit aces were missing.
Stopping in game proved to be the right thing to do when Geert Arts led his singleton club and got his ruff at trick two. Declarer quickly claimed the rest: N/S +400.
It is usually a good thing to take bidding space away from the opponents when your side does not hold a fair share of the high cards. However, on this deal, the effect of the opponent’s heart bidding was that N/S never found their diamond fit. Daniel de Roos (right) was finally forced to admit to club support and, when his partner showed interest beyond game, he took the bull by the horns and guessed to raise to slam.
With diamonds breaking 2-2, this contract was never in danger. Fortune does, indeed, favor the brave, it seems: N/S +920 and 11 IMPs to RIVIERA 1.
RIVIERA I got the better of the day’s first stanza, outscoring their opponents 38-14 to take a 19-IMP lead (128-109) with 32 board remaining,
By the time the last deal of the penultimate set arrived at the tables, RIVIERA 1 had doubled that advantage to 38 IMPs (181-143). Both West players then had to answer the second of this week’s problems thanks to the same deficiency in both partnerships' defensive bidding methods.
Valerie Labaere opened a weak 1NT on the North cards. The pass by East suggests an unfamiliarity with playing against pairs using a weak no-trump. It is not efficient to play the same defensive methods against both a strong and weak NT opening. Most partnerships, playing something like Meckwell, DONT, or similar against a strong NT, use double to show some specific hand type or other. Against a weak no-trump, you cannot afford that. You simply have to be able to make a value-showing penalty double on hands of about 16+ HCP.
When East did not have a bid in his methods, Alain Labaere transferred to spades on the South hand. Whilst I can understand Geert Arts not coming into a live auction at adverse vulnerability, passing again when opener’s 2♠ comes back to him seems conservative in the extreme. 2♠ drifted two down: E/W +100.
Remarkably, the auction began the same way at the other table, with Olivier Neve passing North’s weak 1NT opening. However, Patrick Bocken (left) backed in with 2NT (showing both minors) on the West hand once South had limited his hand by passing 2♠.
Neve was delighted to be given the chance to catch up, and he took a shot at 3NT. The defence failed to take one of their aces: E/W +690 and 11 IMPs to BBC1 on what looked like it should have been a dull, flat game hand.
That reduced the margin to 27 IMPs with 16 boards to play. The final set began with one of the most bizarre boards I have seen in a while, and I will leave you to decide where the majority of the blame lies – and there is surely plenty to go around. I know how much players enjoy seeing experts with egg on their faces, so here goes…
This debacle is probably attributable to pure laziness. If ever you needed an example to demonstrate why you need to play Lebensohl in these auctions, this is it, and it is hard to believe that a top partnership in the 21st Century would not be doing so.
Alain Labaere bid 3♣ in response to his partner takeout double of 2♠ but, purely due to lack of methods, Valerie had no clue whether her partner held no points or a 10-count. In that situation, what choice does she have to bid again on her 19-count? Perhaps Alain might have bid 3NT rather than 4♣, but it looks as if the blame here should be shared fairly evenly as, presumably, both members of the partnership agreed to playing methods that date back the best part of half a century.
North started with the ♠K, dropping his partners queen, and then switched to his heart. South took the ♥A-Q and then gave his partner a heart ruff. Now came the ♠A, South discarding a diamond, and a third round of spades, South ruffing. A fourth round of hearts was ruffed with the ♣9 and overruffed with the ten, and now came a fourth round of spades. Declarer ruffed high in dummy, so South pitched his second diamond. Declarer now tried to cash the ♦A, but South ruffed, cashed the ♣A, and forced declarer with a fifth round of hearts. When the smoke cleared, declarer had managed to make just three trump tricks: E/W -1700 (non-vulnerable!).
It is hard to believe that anything could be worse than the first table, but I think the auction here just might be, as the partnership was at least properly equipped.
After North’s natural weak two opening, East has an awkward hand, with the right shape and strength for a 2NT overcall, but lacking a spade stopper. So, Steve de Roos started with a takeout double, but then had a second decision to make when his partner responded with a Lebensohl 2NT. Yes, you have a lot of high-card points but, if partner has a bad hand with clubs, do you really want to get any higher than 3♣?
The answer, apparently, was ’Yes’, as de Roos continued blindly with a 3♠ cue-bid without really considering the implications. That put the spotlight on Geert Arts. He decided that 10-9-x-x was enough of a spade stopper to bid 3NT but, when that was passed around and South doubled, he changed his mind and retreated to 4♣. Talk about ’from the frying pan into the fire’!!!
It would be just about impossible to go more than four or five down in 3NT-X. Now, that may not seem like such a good deal, but we’ve already seen what happens in 4♣-X. Yes, believe it or not, the defenders here also managed to take ten tricks: E/W -1700 and a truly bizarre flat board.
All I can say is don’t worry too much the next time you have a bad board. Even top players are quite capable of outdoing even your worst nightmares.
We have just seen the folly of breaking Burn’s Law (which states that you should choose a trump suit in which you hold more cards than your opponents). Can you believe, that just two boards later, both sides again ignored those words of wisdom.
The final set had meandered along with BBC1 failing to make inroads into the deficit. The last of this week’s problem hands heralded the final nail in their coffin.
Sometime in a future month, we may see what the BBO expert panel make of this West hand. As a good general rule, I teach my students to stop bidding as soon as possible when you discover that your hands are a misfit, before the opponents wake up and start doubling you. I therefore have some sympathy for Geert Arts decision to pass his partner’s weak-but-vulnerable jump overcall. On this particular layout, that wasn’t the right decision, because there was no defence to 4♠, but was anyone seriously thinking of raising? E/W +170.
Perhaps you can make 3NT, but the entry situation is not what you would like. And, if you are not going to pass, do you really think jumping to 3NT is a viable alternative? (Presumably, 2NT would be some sort of inquiry, similar to if partner had opened a weak 2♠.) So, what other options are there?
Faced with the same problem, Alain Labaere opted to advance with 3♥. The only problem with that is that their agreement, apparently, is that a change of suit is non-forcing. (And, a regular partnership should surely know whether it is forcing or not.) Perhaps it is time to revisit that particular agreement which, to me, seems totally impractical. If you don’t have a hand good enough to force, you should be passing 2♠ rather than climbing higher and higher with no guarantee of a fit. Surely, it is only when you have a very good hand that you want to even suggest an alternative strain after partner has shown a good six-card suit.
Whilst I would never agree to play 3♥ as non-forcing in this auction, it certainly would not occur to me to bid it if I knew it was non-forcing. Unsurprisingly, playing in this six-card fit was far less successful. Declarer managed to make only six tricks. E/W -300 and 10 IMPs to RIVIERA 1.
RIVIERA 1 won the final stanza 40-21, and the match by an even 50 IMPs (221-171). Congratulations to Daniel de Roos, Steven de Donder, Geert Arts and Steve de Roos.
We have another long flight ahead of us now, as we are heading back ’Down Under’ for the second major event in the Australian summer calendar, the famous Gold Coast Congress. I’ve even packed my surf-board for this one – it’ll only be one more shark in the water!
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