BBO Vugraph - the Vanderbilt KO Teams Semi-Finals

Vugraph #245

Welcome back to New Orleans, Louisiana, and the prestigious Vanderbilt Knockout Teams at the 2023 North American Spring Nationals. We began with 60 teams four days ago, but now just four remain. The semi-final match-ups are:

#6 WOLFSON (Jeffrey Wolfson, Steve Garner, Zia Mahmood, David Gold, Brad Moss, Joe Grue) v #18 GOODMAN (Andy Goodman, Mike Passell, Simon de Wijs, Bauke Muller, Giovanni Donati, Giacomo Percario), vanquishers of the Bermuda Bowl champions earlier in the week.

#9 BERNAL (Francisco Bernal, Mike Kamil, Giorgio Duboin, Antonio Sementa, Alfredo Versace, Leonardo Cima) v #34 ZHAO (Chen Zhao, Jing Liu, Yinghao Liu, Linlin Hu, Hongji Wei), the Chinese team who have defeated #4 NICKELL and #13 BRAMLEY to reach this stage.

Just one problem for you this week. With only your side vulnerable, you are West holding:

What action, if any, do you take?

While you consider that, we start in the opening set of WOLFSON v GOODMAN, and a combined 33-count on which horrible concentration of values in the short suits mean that it is not easy to avoid bidding what appears to be a doomed slam.

Brad Moss (left) opened with a Strong Club and then found out that his partner had a balanced 8-11 with 4-4 in the red suits. At that point, he decided that 4 was high enough, and issued the end signal. Superbly judged!

The ♣3 was led to the ten and king, and declarer duly lost two club tricks later in the play. N/S an excellent +450.

This auction had an almost air of inevitability about it, and I suspect this would be the contract at the vast majority of tables if this deal was played in a large field at even the highest level.

Steve Garner also led the ♣3. When declarer played low from dummy, Jeffrey Wolfson rose with the ace and returned a club, presumably trying to give his partner a ruff. Garner followed suit and declarer was soon claiming twelve tricks. N/S +980 and 11 IMPs to GOODMAN, when it could/should have been a similar number in the other column.

WOLFSON survived that setback to lead by 6 IMPs (38-32) at the end of the first set. In the other semi-final, the underdogs had opened a 22-IMP advantage, ZHAO leading BERNAL 42-20.

I cannot tell you exactly what North’s 2 response showed. It looks as if the rest of the auction was natural up until North’s jump to 5NT which was, presumably, pick-a-slam. Not a great advertisement for the method, with the grand slam around 70%. When trumps failed to break and there was a diamond loser, it looked like the Chinese had used up a whole bunch of their fortune cookies. N/S +1370.

After a similar start, Antonio Sementa (right) moved forward by showing his heart value at the four-level. That prompted Alfredo Versace to Blackwood and, when he confirmed that all of the key-cards were present, Sementa jumped to the optimum contract. If diamonds broke, declarer would have 13 top tricks and, if they didn’t, there were still the chance of a doubleton ♠Q or some obscure triple squeeze.

Declarer was rewarded by the ♠Q coming down singleton, giving him four spade tricks to go with three winners in each of the other suits. Justice served: N/S +2200 and 13 IMPs to BERNAL.

BERNAL won the second stanza 41-27 and thus trailed by 8 IMPs (61-69) at the midway point of the match. In the other semi-final, WOLFSON won the set 43-31 to lead by 18 IMPs, 81-63.

High-level competitive bidding decisions are often the source of big swings. Both West players faced a variation of this week’s problem hand in the third stanza of WOLFSON v GOODMAN.

Giovanni Donati started with a takeout double on the West hand, so he had to bid his spades at the four-level at his second turn. When Joe Grue pushed on to the five-level, Donati then had to make the decision to play or defend.

“The five-level belongs to the opponents” is a mantra that you break at your peril, but the allure of the vulnerable game bonus is also strong. Donati had heard his partner make a free-bid at the three-level and his fitting diamond holding was certainly attractive for offense. Is it so unreasonable to hope for something like xx/xx/AKxxx/xxxx opposite?

Donati took the push and dummy was a disappointment. The defenders duly scored their three top tricks in the red suits to nip the contract by a trick. N/S +200.

Zia Mahmood (left) started with a 1♠ overcall, so David Gold was not tempted to bid over North’s raise to 2. Zia also bid 4♠ over 4. However, when the Dutch pressed on to the five-level, he had little reason to expect that his side could make anything at this level. Gold had enough to double 5 on the way out, and it was then up to Zia to extract the maximum penalty.

On the surface, it may appear that declarer can ruff one spade loser in dummy and discard another on the K. However, Zia spotted how to thwart that plan. He led a top spade and continued with a second round of the suit, forcing declarer to use his ruffing entry to dummy whilst the diamonds were still blocked. Bauke Muller ruffed the second round of spades, played a heart to the ace and unblocked the A. When he then tried to ruff his remaining spade loser in dummy, Gold was able to overruff with the Q. Two club tricks put the contract two down: N/S -300 and 11 IMPs to WOLFSON.

WOLFSON won the third stanza 45-38. They had not dominated, but they had won each set so far, by 6 IMPs, 12 IMPs and 7 IMPs, so they led 126-101 going into the final stanza. Meanwhile, the early Chinese lead in the other semi-final had dissipated. BERNAL won the third stanza 31-24 to tie the match at 91-91. This was now a 15-board contest for a place in the final of the 2023 Vanderbilt Knockout Teams.

Sometimes, virtue must be its own reward in this game. First, let’s see China’s Chen Zhao produce an excellent piece of declarer play to bring home a lowly partscore contract…

Chen Zhao (right) started with a negative double to show his four-card spade suit. It looks like Jing’s Liu’s double of 2 was of the ‘support’ variety, showing three spades. Understandably not interested in playing a Moysian fit with four to the 10, Zhao tried his luck in his six-card minor, but there was little joy there either, Liu tabling a dummy with only a singleton trump.

Leonardo Cima kicked off with the A, but then has to switch to a black suit to legitimately beat the contract. When he instead continued with the 10, Zhao covered and ruffed away West’s Q. Declarer got off to a good start by playing a spade to the jack now, Giorgio Duboin winning with the ♠Q and exiting safely with a trump to dummy’s bare ace. The last chance for the defence then came when declarer led the  low spade from dummy: West has to play low now but, perhaps concerned that he may later get endplayed if he kept the bare ace, Duboin took the ♠A and exited with his remaining spade. In dummy for the last time, Zhao ruffed a heart, stripping East of his remaining card in that suit. The ♣K and a third round of trumps, won by East with the ♣Q, then endplayed Cima, who had only diamonds left. Declarer had not come this far to misguess now: N/S +110.

That looked like a good result for the Chinese, but the Italians’ mini no-trump wreaked havoc in the replay…

Yinghao Liu doubled Alfredo Versace’s mini-NT opening for penalties, and Linlin Hu doubled Antonio Sementa’s natural run-out into clubs. When Versace decided to introduce his diamond suit, Liu could not resist the lure of a vulnerable game, and duly revealed his decent-looking major. With his completely square hand, Hu decided that no-trumps was likely to play better than a heart contract. He stuck by that decision when Antonio Sementa doubled on the way out and, in a way, he was right, in that 4 would have virtually no chance.

Neither, of course, does 3NT, and Versace got off to a good start when he led the ♠J.  Declarer finessed successfully at trick one and then started on hearts. He set up the long card in that suit as his sixth trick and the defenders had to give him a seventh in the endgame, but that was still two down. N/S +500 and 9 IMPs to BERNAL early in the final set.

BERNAL won the final stanza 43-28 to win the match by 15 IMPs and claim their place in tomorrow’s final. In the other semi-final, GOODMAN staged a mini-comeback, just edging the final set 29-25, but it was nowhere near enough to change the outcome, and WOLFSON advanced to the final with a 21-IMP (151-130) victory.

In a year when the top seeds fell in large numbers early, the final will be between the original #6 and #9 seeds. We will be back soon with all the best of the action from that final.

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