We are in Lahore, Pakistan, where we have reached the critical stage that will decide which countries represent the Bridge Federation of Asia and the Middle East at the World Championships later this year. The semi-finals of both the Open and Women’s BFAME teams are being played over two days, with 96-board matches divided into six 16-board stanzas. The two winning semi-finalists in each category will qualify to represent BFAME in the Bermuda Bowl and Venice Cup in Morocco.
After the first day of play in the Open series, PAKISTAN hold a 5-IMP lead (92-87) over UAE. In the other match, INDIA have moved 15 IMPs (108-93) ahead of BANGLADESH, so both matches are still close enough that any two of the four teams could be on their way to Morocco.
In the Women’s matches, the margins are already becoming significant. At the midway point, INDIA leads PALESTINE 112-60 and UAE are ahead of PAKISTAN by 121-80.
As usual, we start with some problems. Firstly, with both sides vulnerable, you are sitting in the North seat with:
What action do you take?
Next, with neither side vulnerable, you are South holding:
What do you bid?
Finally, with only your side vulnerable, you hold in the West seat:
What action do you take?
While you contemplate those, we begin our coverage in Set 4 of UAE v PAKISTAN in the Open. Both North players faced the first of the problems above, although the destination of the IMPs ultimately came down to judgement…
Mohsin Chandna’s answer to the problem was a 3♥ cue-bid. The problems with this choice are twofold: it uses up a lot of space, and what do you expect partner to bid other than 4♣ or 4♦? Tahseen Gheewala retreated to 4♦ and Chandna effectively chose the contract with his 5♣ bid. A 4♠ cue-bid might have been a better choice, but perhaps it was already too late to start investigating slam.
Gheewala ruffed the opening spade lead and played a low diamond from dummy. East went in with the ♦A and continued spades, but things were now easy for declarer: N/S +620.
Abdelrahim Mehilba (left) faced the same problem, but his solution was a 2♠ cue-bid. This certainly has the advantage of keeping the bidding lower, but will North discover anything useful?
Hazem Gloneim’s 2NT perhaps warned of wasted spade values opposite. Having conserved space with his previous bid, Mehilba gave up on science and relied on his judgement. It’s hard to argue with success: N/S +1370 and 13 IMPs to UAE.
UAE win the stanza 35-7, overturning their opponents’ slender overnight advantage. Remember that, having won the qualifying round robin event earlier in the week, PAKISTAN chose to play UAE in the semi-final. With only 32 boards remaining, they now find themselves behind by 23 IMPs, 122-99.
Meanwhile, in the other match, INDIA are slowly turning the screw, and building a substantial lead. This deal helped the cause of the favourites:
Once Rashedul Hasan Ripon had opened 2♥ (weak with hearts and a minor), the Bangladesh pair were always behind the eight-ball. When Biswajit Saha inquired with 2NT and found that his partner’s second suit was clubs, he was left with the second of this week’s problems. Had he introduced his spades now, he would have brought a very suitable dummy. Is it not more likely, though, that 3♠ will endplay North when 3NT is the best contract? Saha’s 3NT seems eminently sensible and he scored 11 tricks: N/S +660.
Sandeep Thakral either could not open the North hand systemically or he chose not to do so, which led to a much different auction. Jaggy Shivdasani doubled Moshiur Rahman’s 1♦ opening and then jumped to 4♠ at his next turn. Having thus far shown hearts and 'some' values, Thakral decided that his hand was suitable for a high spade contract and moved forward with 4NT. That was enough for Shivdasani, who jumped to slam.
Sha Zia Haque led his singleton club, but it was the ten, so that handed declarer a third trick in the suit. Shivdasani drew trumps and eventually scored two diamond tricks to bring his total to 12. N/S +1430 and another 13 IMPs to INDIA.
INDIA won the segment 63-23, effectively ending the match as a contest. They now led by 51 IMPs with two sets to play.
UAE added a further 7 IMPs to their advantage in the penultimate segment, and thus led by 30 IMPs with 16 boards remaining. However, the match was far from over. This early deal made serious inroads into the UAE lead.
Khaled Hassan’s 1♠ opening was passed around to Hassan Askari, who backed in with 2♥. Tahseen Gheewala (right) jumped to 3NT to end the brief auction and focus the spotlight firmly on Tamer Eissa. Could he find the winning lead, the ♦Q or ♦10?
Close, but no cigar! Eissa opened a diamond, but it was the three. Hassan won with the ♦J, but there was now no way for him to score more than his three aces. Indeed, declarer was allowed to score one more trick than necessary: E/W +630.
In the replay, Mubashir Puri scraped up a 1NT response on the North hand. Here, too, East essayed 2♥, but Hazem Gloneim took a free bid of 2♠ on the South cards, leaving Abdelrahim Mehilba with the last of this week’s problems. Mehilba might have taken note of the vulnerability and simply bid his vulnerable game. If the Pakistani North failed to solve the same difficult lead problem, the deal would then have been flat or close to. Instead, Mehilba looked longingly at his spade holding – unable to resist anything except temptation, he chose to double and defend.
Playing in 2♠-X non-vulnerable, PAKISTAN were guaranteed to earn IMPs on the deal. Declarer won the opening heart lead with the ace and returned the suit, East winning to play the ♠10. Gloneim won with the ♠A and led his third heart, Mehilba ruffing in front of dummy with one of his natural trump tricks. He then cashed his two trump winners. One would have expected that signalling methods at this level would be sophisticated enough to always get this sort of position right, but apparently not.
Playing two rounds of clubs would leave declarer to play diamonds from his hand, conceding a trick to the ♦K for one down. When Mehilba instead exited with the ♦9, he skewered his partner’s king, giving declarer eight tricks. E/W -470 and a massive 15 IMPs to PAKISTAN.
PAKISTAN were having much the better of the exchanges and, at the midway point of the set, the match score was 175-173 in favour of UAE. There was only one significant swing in the second half of the set, and it came from what one can only assume was a lack of concentration caused by tiredness and the pressure of playing so many consecutive days at the top level. This was the fatal deal:
A spade lead would leave any declarer in 5♣ with three losers, but Mehilba accurately guided his side into the safe 3NT. South led a heart and declarer was allowed to win with the ♥K. Hazem Gloneim wasted no time, cashing seven club tricks and the ♠A: E/W +600.
After the 2/1 start to the auction, Tamer Eissa did not come in on the North hand, and the PAKISTAN pair also found their way to the top spot. Khaled Hassan found the heart lead without his partner’s assistance, leading the ♥3 to North’s ace. Eissa returned the ♥8 and declarer won with the king. That would seem to be the end of things… flat board, move onto the next one. However, having presumably miscounted his tricks, Askari played a diamond to the queen at trick three. A delighted Eissa won with the ♦A and promptly cashed three heart tricks to put the contract one down. E/W -100 and 12 massive IMPs to UAE: a little breathing space with just a handful of deals left to play.
There was nothing in the rest of the stanza. PAKISTAN won the final set 58-41, but that was not enough to overturn the 30-IMP deficit with which they had begun the stanza. With victory by 193-180, it is UAE who claim the places, alongside the Indians, on the flight to Morocco in August to compete in the Bermuda Bowl.
In the Women’s event, the scores were not as close. INDIA beat PALESTINE 254-137 in one semi-final and UAE defeated PAKISTAN 205-169 in the other. So, in the Venice Cup it will also be INDIA and UAE representing BFAME in Morocco.
We will be returning one more time to Lahore. Whilst for many the emphasis during this event would have been qualification to the World Championships, that is now done and dusted. However, there is still the small matter of BFAME titles to be handed out, and we will be back to see the best of the action in the finals. In both the Open and the Women’s events, it will be INDIA v UAE for the title.
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