We are in Lahore, Pakistan for our last visit to the 22nd running of the bi-annual Bridge Federation of Asia and the Middle East Championships. The semi-finals of both the Open and Women’s BFAME teams were completed yesterday, with the two winning teams not only advancing to the final here but also qualifying to represent BFAME at the World Championships later this year. In both events, the team from UAE defeated PAKISTAN in one semi-final whilst INDIA were comfortable winners of the other.
The format for the final is a 32-board match divided into two 16-board halves.
As usual, we start with some problems. Firstly, with both sides vulnerable, you are sitting in the South seat with:
What do you bid?
Next, with both sides vulnerable, you are West holding:
Do you agree with the jump to 3♣? If not, what do you prefer?
What action, if any, do you now take?
While you mull those over, we begin our coverage with the penultimate deal of a low-scoring first half. Let’s start with the action in the Women’s final:
Alka Kshirsagar (left) made her first international appearance at the 2013 Venice Cup in Bali. She was also a member of the Indian team at the Venice Cup in 2017 and 2019.
On this deal, Kshirsagar forced to game with a semi-artificial 2♣ and then simply bid Blackwood when Bharati Dey introduced her hearts. Dey’s 5NT response showed two key cares plus a void, but that was not the information that Kshirsagar needed. With no way to discover whether her partner held the ♠K, she could not bid more than 6♥ with confidence. The play was straightforward: E/W +1460.
Mohsin Chandna’s answer to the problem was a 3♥ cue-or 4♦? Ta
Anshu Aggarwal adopted a more scientific approach than her Indian counterpart had, agreeing hearts with a raise to the three-level. When Chhaya Gandhi then cue-bid in diamonds, denying a club control, Aggarwal also rolled out Blackwood. Having already shown a diamond control, Gandhi just showed her two key cards, which allowed Aggarwal to confirm possession of all key cards and invite a grand slam with 5NT. With a fifth trump and excellent spades, quite what more Gandhi could have held is hard to imagine, her decision to bid only 6♥ after this auction is, shall we say, conservative. E/W +1460, a flat board, and a missed chance for UAE to take a halftime lead. INDIA won the opening half 25-10.
Could the E/W pairs in the Open final do better?
Khaled Hassan (left) opened 1♠ and then rebid his hearts after a natural, game-forcing 2♦ response. In response to Hussein Ibrahim’s Blackwood, he simply showed his two key cards, rather than making a response showing his void, which was in his partner’s suit. When Ibrahim then continued with 5NT, Hassan accurately assessed his hand as exactly what his partner was looking for, and he jumped to the grand slam. Well bid! E/W +2210.
The Indian pair produced the most controlled auction. They started with some sort of relay at the two level and then Raju Tolani agreed hearts with a 4♣ cue-bid. News of a club control opposite was exactly what Ajay Khare (right) wanted to hear, and he jumped to 5♦, Exclusion Blackwood. Tolani’s 6♣ response showed two key cards outside diamonds plus the ♥Q, which enabled Khare to bid the grand slam. E/W +2210 and an honourable flat board. INDIA led 22-14 at the midway point in the Open final.
Early in the second half, both South players in the Open final had to deal with the first of this week’s problems…
Tamer Eissa’s 1NT response left Mohamed Said with the problem posed earlier. There is no explanation of the 2NT rebid in the VuGraph records and this pair’s convention cards offers no clues either, but it seems clear that it shows some sort of good hand. Eissa advanced with a natural 3♦ and now Said rebid his solid suit. Eissa’s subsequent bidding suggests that he thinks 3♠ agreed diamonds, although quite what 4♥ was intended as remains a mystery. The upshot, though, is that the UAE pair managed to climb to the five-level under their own steam.
Having listened to the informative auction, Sumit Mukherjee (left) led the ♣3 and Rajeshwar Tewari put in the ♣9. After winning with the ♣Q, declarer cashed six rounds of trumps, neither defender throwing a heart. Said then exited with a club to the ace, but Tewari played a top diamond, forcing declarer to ruff. There was no way for declarer to avoid losing three hearts: N/S -200.
After the same start, Jaggy Shivdasani (right) took what looks to me like the pragmatic action. If partner has heart values, they will be just as useful in a spade contract, so bid what you think you can make.
The important upshot of this uninformative auction is that Khaled Hassan was left with a blind lead and his choice of the ♥K seems to be quite reasonable. However, with this heart layout, it handed declarer his tenth trick. Shivdasani won with the ♥A, drew trumps, and then set about building a second heart winner out of the ♥10/♥9/♥8. Declarer lost just two hearts and a club: N/S +620 and 13 IMPs to INDIA.
To play a jump to 3♣ in this type of auction as not forcing to game seems virtually unplayable. East is supposed to guess whether to take a punt at 3NT, show some slam interest with a jump to 4♦, ask for help in hearts with 3♥, or do something else? With a void in partner’s suit, whether this West hand is quite good enough to force to game is moot. Having decided that it is, to then pass partner’s preference to your first suit seems akin to double-crossing yourself.
Thakral found the only lead to hold declarer to eleven tricks, a heart. Having won with the ♥J, it was hard for Shavdasani to know that he had to cash the ♥A right then or subsequently lose it. E/W +170.
Sumit Mukherjee also jumped to 3♣ at his second turn. When Rajeshwar Tewari (left) gave preference to diamonds, Mukherjee groped with a fourth-suit 3♥. The Indians had only winning options from here. Tewari might have bid 3NT, which would have made at least ten tricks easily enough. As it was, he advanced with a rather strange-looking heart raise (a cue-bid, showing some slam interest, perhaps?) That landed the partnership in 5♦.
Here, too, the ♥J won at trick one. This South also returned a trump, so declarer was soon claiming the rest: E/W +620 and another 10 IMPs to INDIA.
INDIA dominated the second half in the Open final, winning it 58-20. They won the match and the title of BFAME champions with victory by 80-34.
In the Women’s final, INDIA also claimed the title, although it was closer here. UAE won the second half 43-34, but the favourites hung on to win by 6 IMPs, 59-53.
In the other two events. INDIA beat PAKISTAN 83-41 in the final of the Seniors, and INDIA defeated UAE 98-56 in the Mixed Teams final. INDIA thus swept the board at these championships, winning all four events. But, they were the favourites coming in, so perhaps the real story of this week-long event is the success of the UAE teams, reaching three finals and qualifying in both major events for the World Championships in Morocco later in the year.
We will be returning to Europe next and, specifically, to Strasbourg in eastern France in order to bring you the best of the action from the 10th European Bridge League Transnational Championships.
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