Welcome back to New Orleans, Louisiana, and the prestigious Vanderbilt Knockout Teams at the 2023 North American Spring Nationals. We began with 60 teams five days ago. Six of the top eight seeds had been ousted before the quarter-final stage. However, one of the remaining two has made the final, as has a team originally ranked only just outside that elite group. The line-up for the final is:
#6 WOLFSON, representing USA and England (Jeffrey Wolfson, Steve Garner, Zia Mahmood, David Gold, Brad Moss, Joe Grue) v #9 BERNAL, with players from Colombia, USA and Italy (Francisco Bernal, Mike Kamil, Giorgio Duboin, Antonio Sementa, Alfredo Versace, Leonardo Cima).
As usual, we start with some problems. With both sides vulnerable, you are North holding:
What action, if any, do you take?
Next, with only your side vulnerable, you are sitting in the South seat with:
What do you bid?
Next, with only your opponents vulnerable, you hold as West:
What, if anything, do you open?
While you consider those, we start our coverage late in the opening set with both North players facing the first of the problems above.
Joe Grue’s jump to 4♠ really put the pressure on North. Mike Kamil chose to bid a fifth heart and Grue doubled on the way out. Brad Moss led a top club, declarer winning the second round. When Kamil led a spade next, Moss ruffed, cashed his club winner, exited with a trump, and waited for his diamond trick. Two down: N/S -500.
Steve Garner (left) first represented USA at the 1996 World Team Olympiad. He collected a series of bronze medals, from the 1998 Rosenblum Cup, the 2000 Olympiad and the Open Teams at the 2003 European Transnational Championships. In 2007, he made it to the final of the Bermuda Bowl, but had to settle for a silver medal. A gold medal and the title of World Champion eventually came from the Senior Teams at the 2018 World Bridge Series in Orlando.
On this deal, Alfredo Versace also jumped to 4♠ on the West hand, but Garner passed after some considerable thought. Jeffrey Wolfson doubled and the Director was duly summoned. Garner began by cashing his three aces and Wolfson later came to three trump tricks. When the whole hand was revealed, there was no debate that Wolfson had his double, no matter how long his partner had thought. N/S +800 and a massive 16 IMPs to WOLFSON, who won the opening stanza by 41-5.
Early in the second stanza, one of the Italians had to answer the second of this week’s problems.
At his second turn, South looks to have an obvious 2♣ bid, although perhaps you could make a case for a jump to 3♣ if that would be strong but not game-forcing in your methods. When Leonardo Cima chose to force with 2♠, the auction quickly spiralled out of control, and the Italians landed in a slam that had no play on the obvious spade lead. N/S -100.
If each of your team’s pairs has one bad result in a set, it is better for it to happen on the same board, as the IMP scale contracts the damage. The action at the other table on this board should come with at least a PG certificate, as it is not the sort of thing to which young children should be exposed. Fetch the diaper, George!
Jeff Wolfson (right) played his first international event at the 1994 World Championships in Albuquerque. He represented USA at the 2000 Bermuda Bowl, collecting a bronze medal. He became a World Champion with victory in the Senior Teams at the 2017 World Championships in Lyon. On this deal, he had the luxury of being able to sit back and simply watch the carnage unfold.
Things began to go astray for E/W when Francisco Bernal decided that his 6-4 hand was suitable for a Michaels cue-bid, showing both majors. Steve Garner doubled to show values and now it was Mike Kamil’s turn to contribute to the debacle, by making a free-bid at the three-level on his balanced Yarborough. Wolfson was understandably still interested in game, so he introduced his second suit, which gave the opponents a chance to wriggle off the hook, but they declined that opportunity. Bernal’s decision to take one more bid was not disastrous in itself, as 4♠ would have been a worthwhile save against a vulnerable game, but playing in hearts was not. Wolfson duly led the ♦K, which resulted in a four-trick defeat for declarer: N/S +800 and 14 IMPs to WOLFSON.
After just four deals of the second stanza, the match score stood at 71-5.
Late in the set, both West players had to decide what to do in first seat on this week’s third problem hand.
Zia did not open the West hand. David Gold opened 1♠ in third seat and Cima overcalled 2♣ on the South cards, so Zia jumped to game. Cima opened the ♣A, felling his partner’s king, but a club ruff, the ♦A and a second club ruff enabled the defenders to take the first four tricks. There was still the ♥K to come later: E/W -100.
Francisco Bernal (left) made his international debut in the Columbian team at the 1996 World Team Olympiad. He collected a bronze medal representing Colombia in the Open Teams at the 2009 South American Championships.
On this deal, Bernal opened a Multi 2♦, showing a weak two opening in one of the Majors. Mike Kamil’s jump to 4♥ was to play game in his partner’s major, and thus ended the auction.
Wolfson led his singleton spade, declarer winning in dummy with the ♠A and running the ♥Q to South’s king. Looking at all four hands, it is easy to see that the defenders can take either two clubs and a diamond or two aces and a club ruff to beat the contract. However, when Wolfson exited passively with a trump, declarer was able to claim, dummy’s diamond loser disappearing on the fifth round of spades. E/W +420 and 11 IMPs to BERNAL.
BERNAL outscored their opponents 38-0 on the final four boards of the set to make the set score 48-51. They had lost a further 3 IMPs on the set and thus trailed by 39 IMPs (53-92) at the midway point. That late rally had at least just about kept the match alive. However, the WOLFSON bandwagon continued in the third stanza, which they won 37-21. That left BERNAL trailing by 55 IMPs with 15 boards remaining and, while they won the last set 39-12, it was all too little, too late. WOLFSON won the match by 28 IMPs, 141-113.
Congratulations to the WOLFSON team: Jeffrey Wolfson, Steve Garner, Zia Mahmood, David Gold, Brad Moss and Joe Grue. For Zia, this was his fifth Vanderbilt win (and his ninth final since reaching his first in 1988). It was Grue’s third win (and fourth final) and Moss’s second win (and fourth final). For both Steve Garner and Jeffrey Wolfson, it was their second win, having also won their only previous final, in 2019. Only David Gold’s was winning the Vanderbilt for the first time, having previous reached the final in 2017.
We'll be back soon with the best of the action from another major event.
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