BBO Vugraph - English Premier League Div 1 - Part 1

Vugraph #327

After two weeks in the dry heat of Marrakech in central Morocco, I was hoping for some respite. It was, therefore, something of a disappointment to rock up at Richmond B.C. in southwest London to find that it was the hottest day of the year so far. Truly sweltering, but so was the action.

The English Premier League is divided into three eight-team divisions. On each of the three weekends, teams will play a complete round robin of seven 16-board matches. By the end of the competition, teams will have played 48 boards against each other team in their division.

As usual, we start with a couple of problems. Firstly, with only your opponents vulnerable, you are West holding:

What action, if any, do you take?

Next, with only your side vulnerable, you hold in the North seat:

What action, if any, do you take?

The BBO VuGraph match in Round 1 featured the youthful SANDFIA against the experienced MOSSOP. With just four boards remaining in a low-scoring affair, SANDFIA led 17-15. Then The Great Dealer woke up.

The Hackett twins were juniors only a few years after me, so I still think of them as ‘young’, but they are now one of England’s most experienced partnerships. On this deal, Justin Hackett (left) took a pragmatic approach based on that experience. After Jason’s 1NT response, he showed his good hand via a Gizzilli 2♣ (any 17+) and, when Jason showed enough to bid game opposite 17, Justin looked no further than a nine-trick contract.

The ♣K was hardly the most threatening opening imaginable. It’s rarely good news for the defence when declarer in 3NT wins your opening lead and continues the suit. Here it meant 11 tricks: E/W +660.

If this was an example of the pragmatism of experience, the auction in the replay was brimming with the optimism of youth.

I suppose Ben Norton was limited to some extent by his 1NT response, but he sure got a lot of mileage from a fairly ordinary hand thereafter. After the same start, Stefano Tommasini showed his strength with an 18-19 HCP 2NT rebid. There are no alerts in the hand records, so it appears Norton first looked for a club fit at the three-level and then a diamond fit at the four-level. When Tommasini showed some interest with 4, Norton retreated to 4NT, but he had already done enough to encourage his partner.

6 is not the worst contract ever but, with an unavoidable club loser, declarer would need to play the trumps for no loss. And, if he can do that, there is still work to do set up the spades. Even with the king singleton, the 4-1 trump break was too much for declarer to handle. E/W -100 and 13 IMPs to MOSSOP.

On the final deal of the match, both West players faced the first of this week’s problems. This time, it was youthful optimism that reaped the reward…

Jason Hackett decided on a 1♠ overcall. Was he not strong enough for a weak 2♠, perhaps? Mike Bell raised hearts to the two-level and Justin Hackett showed an invitational or better spade raise. Sarah Bell (right) doubled as a game try, and Jason quickly retreated to 3♠. (If his brother could not bid on, they certainly weren’t making game.) Mike accepted the game invite and, with the opponents perhaps having stretched to bid game, neither of the twins thought they should be taking a sacrifice that may be a phantom.

Game in hearts is about a 50-50 proposition, needing trumps 3-2 and one or more diamond honours in the East hand. Of course, the 4 lead significantly improved declarer’s prospects. Declarer captured the Q with the ace and played off two high trumps before advancing the 10 from dummy. She was soon claiming 10 tricks: N/S +620.

There were no half-measures from Ben Norton (left). No pussy-footing around with 1♠ or even 2♠, but a full-blooded 2 Michaels bid, showing spades and a minor. Gunnar Hallberg’s 3 showed a hand that would have raised to 2 if West hand passed (a limit raise or better starts with a 2♠ cue-bid). Thus, when Stefano Tommasini jumped to 4♠, David Mossop knew that 5 was not a viable option. Hallberg had enough defensive values to double on the way out, and that was as much as the elder generation could do. The youngsters had won the board as soon as they bid 4♠.

Declarer had five top losers: N/S +300 and 8 IMPs to SANDFIA.

MOSSOP just edged the match, 28-26, leaving both teams mid-table after the opening round of matches. MOSSOP continued on VuGraph in Round 2, this time against DE BOTTON.

Janet de Botton did not come in on the East cards, so N/S had the auction to themselves. Gunnar Hallberg (right) bid all three of his suits, whilst David Mossop bid his hearts twice. With a combined 27-count but hands that do not fit well, the final destination is usually inevitable, and so it proved.

De Botton led the ♣J. Declarer won, crossed to dummy with a high spade, and ran the J. De Botton won with the Q and continued with the ♣A and ♣10. With spades breaking 3-3, it looks as if declarer now has ten tricks, but an eleventh slipped through somehow. N/S +460.

Justin Hackett’s 2♣ overcall took up a whole level of bidding space, so things happened much more quickly here. This meant that, when Thor Erik Hoftaniska bid 3NT, it was not yet clear how extreme his hand was. Espen Erichsen felt he had to move on, and that eventually steered the Scandinavians into slam.

6 is a poor slam. Besides needing the trump finesse to work, and probably a 3-2 trump split, declarer still has the problem of what to do with losing cards in both black suits.  Those side issues were resolved for declarer when Justin opened the A at trick one. With the ♣A and an unavoidable trump trick to be lost, that was still one down. N/S -50 and 11 IMPs to MOSSOP.

What would you open with that North hand? I suspect that the 2♣ chosen by Hoftaniska would not get much support. The Scandinavians’ convention-card describes 2♣ as “18-21 balanced or strong unbalanced”. I suspect that Thor Erik was intending to describe his hand as balanced at his next turn, but things worked out better than could be expected for him. He re-opened with a takeout double when Justin’s 3♣ overcall was passed back to him. When Erichsen could bid only 3♠, Hoftaniska decided to let sleeping dogs lie. Well judged, in theory.

Jason led a club to the king and ace, and Justin switched to the 7. Winning with the A and giving partner a diamond ruff would hold declarer to nine tricks. When Jason played low on the first round of diamonds, the ruff disappeared and declare was able to score up an overtrick. N/S +170.

Surprising no one, Artur Malinowski (left) opened a natural, weak 2 on the West cards. That set Gunnar Hallberg the last of this week’s problems. Passing is not a realistic option, so it’s a question of double (and hope you don’t have to deal with an unwanted response from partner) or an off-centre 2NT overcall. Hallberg chose what I suspect would be the popular choice of the BBO expert bidding panel, but that was not the winning option on this layout.

Janet de Botton started with the ♣A and collected an expected windfall. Seven rounds of clubs and the A later, declarer claimed the last five tricks. N/S -300 and 10 IMPs to DE BOTTON.

MOSSOP won the match 42-24. These were the standings after the first two rounds of matches:


We will be back soon with the best of the action from the remaining matches on the opening day of this first weekend.

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