We are racking up Air Miles as we return to the land down under, this time to the great state of Queensland, and the famed Gold Coast Congress, staged in Broadbeach, just south of Brisbane. The main event of the nine-day festival is the Championship Teams, and 144 teams sat down to begin play. After three days of competition, six teams emerged to contest the knockout-stage.
After the 12-match qualifying stage, the field was led by the young American team, ROSENBERG (Kevin Rosenberg, Amber Lin, Finn Kolesnik and Adam Kaplan). ROSENBERG and second-placed THOMSON thus earned a bye through the first knockout round. In that first stage, The Round of Four, DALLEY defeated AA 75-40 and ZIGGY beat HUNG 74-43. The semi-final matchups saw DALLEY defeat ROSENBERG 113-93, and THOMSON triumph over ZIGGY 116-68.
The final would thus be contested by an Australian/New Zealander/Irish quintet, THOMSON (Matthew Thomson, Michael Ware, Hugh McGann, Tom Jacob and Brian Mace) and an all-Aussie foursome, DALLEY (Paul Dalley, Tony Nunn, Tony Leibowitz and Paul Gosney). The format would be a 48-board match split into four 12-board stanzas.
Only one bidding problem this week. With both sides vulnerable, you are East holding:
What action, if any, do you take?
We begin in the opening stanza, with both East players having to evaluate their hand in the position posed by the problem above.
With his partner not breaking the transfer, Tony Nunn decided that the East hand was not worth a game try. Brian Mace backed in with a takeout double on the South cards, and Paul Dalley redoubled to show a maximum. Tom Jacob did not want to pick either of his grotty four-card minors, so he passed the decision across the table with a scrambling 2NT. Nunn doubled to show some values, which encouraged Dalley to red-card South’s 3♣ bid.
Nunn started with a low trump to the queen and king. Declarer led a heart towards the queen, and Dalley won to play two more rounds of trumps. Declarer still had to lose two diamonds and a spade: one down, E/W +200.
The two East players at the table in Queensland took diametrically opposed views of their hand. This suggests you were about right if you evaluated the East hand as worth an invitational raise to 3♠ in the problem position.
While Tony Nunn had been happy to play 2♠ at the other table, Matthew Thomson (left) decided he was too good even for an invitational sequence. He simply transferred at the four-level and was blessed with finding a very suitable hand opposite. The defence could score no more than one diamond and two hearts: E/W +620 and 9 IMPs to THOMSON to get the ball rolling.
Towards the end of the opening set, the DALLEY team managed to dodge a serious bullet on this deal.
Once partner opens the bidding, it is easy to see why Tony Leibowitz would have high expectations. Perhaps I am missing something but, by the time he has to make the crucial decision, it looks to me as if South has all the information he needs to avoid going overboard.
Paul Gosney’s pass of West’s 2♣ overcall denied holding as many as three hearts. He was then forced to give preference to hearts at the four-level. Whether South should bid on over 4♥ is a moot point, as there is certainly no guarantee of safety at the five-level. However, partner could still hold three aces or two aces and the ♥Q, in which case slam would probably just need a 3-2 trump break. So, Tony Leibowitz advanced with Blackwood. When North then showed two aces and no queen of trumps, quite why he would think that slam is now be a good proposition is quite beyond me. Are you not certain to be losing an ace and a trump trick? I certainly cannot come up with a layout on which slam will have any play at all. N/S -50.
Tom Jacob (right) has been a regular member of the New Zealand Open team since making his debut at the 1992 World Team Olympiad. In 1996, they made it to the last 8 of the same event. His best result in international competition was reaching the quarter-finals of the Mixed Teams at the 2009 European Transnational Championships.
Here, we get our first look at the New Zealanders’ variation of the Little Major, a system that I last saw employed by Terrence Reese and Jeremy Flint in the 1960s. Jacob passed as Dealer and Brian Mace opened 1♣, which showed 4+ hearts. Jacob’s 1NT response was 8-11 HCP without three hearts or four spades. Mace’s 2♣ was then an artificial game-force, and 2NT promised a maximum.
The key bid in the auction is North’s 4♣ cue-bid, agreeing spades. Blackwood then carried the Kiwis to slam, but with the vital difference that they had found the best suit. 6♠ is about a 50-50 proposition, essentially needing to find 3-2 breaks in both majors. The defence started with the ♦A and a second diamond. Mace ruffed, cashed the ♥A-K, and ruffed the third round of hearts with the ♠A. He then attempted to draw trumps with the ♠K-Q-J. When the trumps failed to split, East had a certain trump winner, so declarer was one down here too. N/S -50 and a push that could easily have been a major swing in either direction.
At the end of the first 12-board set, DALLEY led 17-9. The boards were more lively in the second stanza.
Gosney opened a natural 1♣ in fourth seat and then showed a reversing hand with 2♠ after his partner had denied a four-card major. Leibowitz’s 2NT was Blackout, a Lebensohl variant showing any hand not worth a game-force opposite 16+. Gosney’s 3♣ offered his partner a chance to get out below game, and Leibowitz duly accepted the opportunity.
Gosney won the heart lead and played his diamond to the ten and king. He then won the heart continuation and played three rounds of spades, ruffing in dummy. A diamond ruff back to hand then allowed him to ruff his last spade. The defenders could make a heart and two trumps, but declarer had nine tricks: N/S +110.
Getting into the auction early is overwhelmingly the right tactic, whether the deal belongs to your side or not. There are exceptions to every rule, though, and this deal proved to be one. Players who have not played a mini no-trump or random weak two openings are often amazed that partnerships using such weapons do not go for regular huge penalties. In reality, such bids are punished far less often than it seems they should be as it usually requires a perfect layout to catch the aggressors, but that is what existed here.
Paul Dalley started with Stayman after Tony Nunn had opened with a sub-mini 1NT in first seat non-vulnerable. Tom Jacob’s double on the North hand just showed clubs, and Nunn’s 2♦ response both denied a four-card major and showed a club stopper. That information didn’t help Dalley greatly, as there was little he could do other than pass anyway. With his strong hand, Jacob had enough for a takeout double now. Brian Mace (left) was no doubt delighted to be able to convert for penalties with his diamond stack and little else. Caught with their hand in the cookie jar, N/S had been.
The defence kicked off with three rounds of spades, South ruffing. A heart to the queen then allowed North to lead a fourth spade. Declarer had no useful discard, but he didn’t want to reduce his already fragile trump suit, so he pitched a heart, allowing South to score a second low trump. The defence had already taken five tricks and there were still two aces and a trump winner to come. Three down, N/S +500 and 9 IMPs to THOMSON.
The early boards in the second set were all one-way traffic, THOMSON outscoring their opponents 39-4 on the first nine deals. But, there was a sting in the tail.
Wasted spade values opposite the void and the lack of a diamond fit facing the strong suit were the main factors in persuading Hugh McGann and Matthew Thomson to settle for a small slam. With the trumps breaking, there were 13 easy tricks in diamonds, clubs or no-trumps. E/W +1390.
Seven Clubs is the optimum contract on these E/W hands. A 3-2 trump break will then enable you to cope with a 4-1 diamond break. If, as here, it is the clubs that break 4-1, it makes no difference – you would still make 13 tricks as long as diamonds behave.
Possession of the ♦10 means that Seven Diamonds is marginally better than the minimum odds you want when bidding a grand slam – a tad over 70%. You will make as long as trumps come in (any 3-2 break or the singleton jack).
When Tony Nunn (right) advanced with 4♣ (a cue-bid setting diamonds rather than a second suit?), that left more space for investigation. West was able to show his heart control at the four level, which enabled East to roll out Blackwood. When he found three key-cards, the ♦Q and the ♣K opposite, Nunn quite reasonably took a shot at the grand slam. E/W +2140 and 13 IMPs to DALLEY.
When DALLEY gained 6-IMP swings on both of the last two boards of the set, they had narrowed the set score to 29-39. That left THOMSON with an 18-IMP (56-38) advantage at the midway point of the contest.
We have seen plenty of solid bridge so far, but nothing incrinkulent. That may change when we return next week with the second half of this final.
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