We return to the wintery climes of the Northern Hemisphere this week. We are in Brussels for the final of the Belgian National Open Teams. The format is a 96-board match, which will be divided into six 16-board stanzas played over two days. There are plenty of familiar names in the two teams competing for Belgium’s premier annual title, with RIVIERA 1 (Daniel de Roos, Steven de Donder, Geert Arts and Steve de Roos) taking on BBC 1 (Alain Labaere, Valerie Labaere, Philippe Coenraets, Faramarz Bigdeli, Olivier Neve and Patrick Bocken).
As usual, we start with some problems. Firstly, with only your side vulnerable, you are North holding:
What action, if any, do you take?
Next, with only your side vulnerable, you are sitting in the North seat with:
What action, if any, do you take?
Finally, with both sides vulnerable, you hold as East:
What action, if any, do you take?
While you mull those over, we begin with the second deal of the match. While many of those watching live on BBO VuGraph were still concentrating on the first coffee of the morning, both North players had to answer a variation on the first of this week’s problem hands.
The auction began quietly enough, but then sprang to life following Valerie Labaere’s jump to 4♥. Having unexpectedly discovered that his partner’s suit was spades, Daniel de Roos backed in at the four-level, and that allowed Labaere to show her second suit. Alain Labaere simply gave preference and De Roos bid a fifth spade, leaving Valerie with the problem posed earlier.
To me, there are a couple of questions that North should ask herself. Firstly, “Have I any reason to think I can make 12 tricks?” Second, “Is my hand that different to what my previous bidding suggests?” The answer to the first question, with partner having contributed nothing to the auction other than giving preference when forced to do so at the five-level, is clearly “No”. Having already jumped to the four-level at red, and then bid again, on your own at the five-level, is partner going to expect much less in terms of offense? Again, the answer is surely “No”. If you have asked and answered these questions, it seems clear that the decision over 5♠ is not yours to make. Bidding 6♥ seems to imply a lack of faith in partner’s ability to make a sensible decision based on your bidding and his own hand.
The defenders started with two rounds of diamonds against Labaere’s slam. With no entry to dummy, she had no choice but to ruff and lay down the ♥A, bringing down East lone king. The third round of trumps then provided an entry to take the club finesse, but justice was duly served when East showed up with the ♣K. N/S -200.
The auction effectively started in the same way. The first real difference was that South did not give preference to hearts at the five-level. Had Faramarz Bigdeli bid 5♠ over 5♣, North would have been left with the same decision as at the first table. Not unreasonably, he instead showed his main suit with 5♦, but the effect of this was that the eventual 5♠ bid came from East. I would expect Steve de Roos to have done the right thing but, in this scenario, Geert Arts (left) was able to suggest defending before his partner had to make a decision. There were two side-suit aces and two trump tricks to be lost in spades: N/S +300 and 11 IMPs to RIVIERA 1 to open the scoring.
After a low-scoring set, RIVIERA I led 25-13 when the last deal of the opening stanza arrived at the tables:
The key action (or non-action) in this auction turned out to be South’s decision to pass at his first turn. It does look fairly clear to make a simple diamond raise, but Alain Labaere’s pass turned out remarkably well for his side. Daniel de Roos re-opened with the obvious double, Valerie Labaere redoubled to show her extra values, Steve de Donder showed his hearts, and now Alain competed to the three-level. There then seems to be some confusion between experienced partners as to the meaning of West’s second double. To me (and to De Roos, it would seem), it just shows extra values, but you still have the same takeout double you had on the previous round. It would seem that De Donder was perhaps expecting a more balanced hand, perhaps 5-3-3-2 or 5-3-2-3 shape, and too strong for an opening 1NT.
The defenders could take only four tricks against 3♦-X, two top spades, a spade ruff, and one heart trick: N/S +470.
Philippe Coenraets (right) is one of the most experienced of all Belgian players, having made his international debut in his country’s team at the 1980 World Team Olympiad. Two years later, he reached the final of the World Pairs, finishing 14th. In an international career that is now into its fifth decade, he has reached the quarter-final stage of major championships three times, at the 1992 European Mixed Teams, the 2013 World Seniors Teams and the Open Teams at the 2019 European Transnational Championships.
At this table, Geert Arts did raise diamonds immediately on the South hand. Faramarz Bigdeli doubled on the West cards, but Steve de Roos advanced with a 3♠ cue-bid, looking for a stopper for 3NT, which Arts obligingly supplied.
How many players, do you think, would have backed in over 3NT on that East hand? Coenraets realized that his opponents were probably bidding 3NT based on diamond tricks, so he was likely to find some club support opposite. And quite right he was too, as Bigdeli raised to the club game, which probably would have made. De Roos was not willing to risk conceding a vulnerable game, so he correctly saved in 5♦, but the damage had been done in the other room. Here, too, the defenders took four tricks: N/S -300 and 13 IMPs to BBC1, who ended the first stanza with a 1-IMP lead, 26-25.
BBC1 won the second stanza 44-16, courtesy of a couple of games that were allowed to make on the opening lead. They led by 29 IMPs, but RIVIERA 1 stormed back at the start of the third set:
The Labaeres bid unopposed to 3NT and, although South has no lead that is guaranteed to defeat the contract, Geert Arts choice of the ♣6 did not assist declarer’s cause. Valerie Labaere won in dummy and correctly cashed a second high club at trick two. However, she discarded a diamond from her hand, which ended her legitimate chances of making the contract. (She must throw a spade on the second club, as this retains the threat of making two diamond tricks in the end game.)
After scoring two club winners, declarer next played four rounds of hearts, putting South on lead with the ♥10. Arts exited with the ♠Q, which was allowed to run around to declarer’s king. No matter what she did now, declarer could never make more than eight tricks. N/S +50. (Play out the end position if you want to see what a difference it makes if declarer still has all four diamonds.)
At the other table, West responded 1NT rather than 2♣. That left North with the second of this week’s bidding problems.
Were you tempted in over West’s 1NT response? Patrick Bocken was. His 2♠ overcall was passed back around to Daniel de Roos (left), who re-opened with a double. With no apparent fit, Steven de Donder chose to convert to penalties. With game on the E/W cards quite likely to go down, taking the money proved to be an excellent decision,
De Donder led a club, his partner winning and switching to diamonds. Declarer played low, so De Donder won with the ♦K and continued the suit. Declarer won in dummy and played the ♠A and another spade. Winning with the ♠9, De Roos continued with a high club, ruffed and overruffed with the ♠K. The defence still had the master trump and two heart tricks to come: two down and N/S -500, which was 11 IMPs to RIVIERA1 to start the set.
Another 11-IMP swing on the very next board, reduced the deficit to single figures. Halfway through the set, came another competitive bidding decision:
Steve de Roos raised spades via a fit-jump in diamonds. That left Valerie Labaere with the last of this week’s bidding problems on the pointless East hand. When she elected to pass, Geert Arts jumped to 4♠, buying the contract.
Alain Labaere started with the ♣K and, to legitimately beat the contract, he then needs to continue with a low club for his partner to ruff. When, instead, he played the ♣A, Valerie Labaere did very well to ruff and switch to a heart, but Arts rose with the ♥A and played the ♣Q, discarding the remaining heart from dummy. When East could not produce a trump, declarer now just needed to guess the diamonds to bring home his game. After drawing trumps, he eventually took the finesse, losing to West’s singleton ♦K, so he was one down: E/W +100.
Peter Bocken settled for a simple pre-emptive raise in spades on the North cards, removing the easy 3♥ option on the East hand. Not that Steve de Donder (right) was undeterred. He climbed in with 4♥ on his distributional minnow. Although Olivier Neve essayed 4♠, Daniel de Roos was never going to let him play there. Probably expecting to bid slam now, De Roos advanced with Blackwood and had to sign off at the five-level after the disappointing no key-card response.
Without the fit-jump in diamonds opposite, it was almost impossible for Neve to find the ♦A lead, which is the only start that gives the defenders a chance. On the spade lead, De Donder won with the ♠A, cashed one top club and ruffed a club. A trump to the king won, and a second heart split the remaining trumps, enabling declarer to claim eleven tricks. A spectacular E/W +650 and another 11 IMPs to RIVIERA 1.
RIVIERA 1 won the final stanza of the first day 55-25, so they trailed by 5 IMPs (90-95) overnight. Everything still to play for.
We will be back soon with the second half of this final.
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