BBO Vugraph - The Dutch Premier League - Part 1

Vugraph #403

With the European Championships just a few months away, many of the contending teams are getting in practise against top-class opposition. Perhaps the bookies’ two favorites to win in Denmark in June, the Swiss, the current holders of the Bermuda Bowl, and Netherlands, the reigning European champions, are no exception.

Both of those teams were in action recently in the knockout stage of the Dutch Premier League, and they met head-on in one of the semi-finals. It was BC de LOMBARD 1 (Pierre Zimmermann/Franck Multon, Sjoert Brink/Bas Drijver and Jacek Kalita/Michal Nowosadzki) against BC ‘t ONSTEIN 1 (Bauke Muller/Simon de Wijs, Joris van Lankveld/Berend van den Bos and Tim Verbeek/Danny Molenaar).

The format is an 80-board match divided into five 16-board segments. We join the action as the match approaches the pointy end, with the Dutch leading by 5 IMPs (86-81) going into the penultimate stanza.

As usual, we begin with some problems. Firstly, with both sides vulnerable, you are West holding:

What do you open?

Next, with only your opponents vulnerable, you are sitting in the East seat with:

What do you bid?

Finally, with only your opponents vulnerable, you hold in the West seat:

What, if anything, do you open?

While you consider those, we start early in the fourth stanza with a layout that has ‘swing’ written all over it. The first hurdle for the West players was to decide what to open on the first of the problems above.

As Rodney Dangerfield famously observed, “I get no respect.” Gone are the days when the opponents sit respectfully and watch you bid after you have shown a very strong hand.

Joris van Lankveld chose to open 2♣, which was either a weak two in diamonds or strong and artificial. His 2, which showed either hearts or ultra-strong balanced, then revealed it to be the latter. Van den Bos’s 2♠ was a forced relay, and Sjoert Brink (left) took the opportunity to double, showing spades. Van Lankveld completed the description of his hand, but Bas Drijver joined in to show his spade fit. Van den Bos advanced with 4, a cue-bid agreeing hearts, and Brink was in there again with another double.

Having come this far and uncovered their big fit, the Swiss did not complete the job. When the Dutch gave up in 4, they were allowed to play there, although 4♠ would have been a cheap save, even vulnerable. It’s only one down for -200 against a vulnerable game.

Drijver led a spade and, looking at all four hands, it looks like the Dutch have done very well. Not only have the Swiss missed their cheap save, but the Dutch have also managed not to get overboard. With South able to hold up the A until the third round, the best declarer can do legitimately in a heart contract is to use his only entry to dummy, the J, to lead a club, thus limiting his losses in that suit to one and making eleven tricks.

Van Lankveld could count ten tricks so, playing only in game, he won the spade lead and drew three rounds of trumps. He then started on diamonds and, for some reason, Brink took his ace on the second round, gifting declarer two overtricks (not that it mattered). E/W +680.

The auction at the other table raises a couple of questions for regular partnerships to discuss.

Franck Multon (right) chose to begin with a 1 opening. Despite his poor suit, Danny Molenaar was not willing to be shut out, and he came in with a vulnerable two-level overcall in spades after East’s 1NT response. Multon advanced with a 3♠ cue-bid, which should show this hand type, with long hearts, and Tim Verbeek got the Dutch to their cheap save.

The first question is, if you were sitting West, what would you make of Zimmermann’s 4NT in this auction. Suppose Multon had rebid 4 rather than 3♠, would 4NT then not have been RKCB for hearts? Has he not effectively shown a variation on a 4 rebid with his 3♠ cue-bid? Why, then, should 4NT not be RKCB in this auction?

At the table, they were clearly of similar mind. Zimmermann clearly intended 4NT as takeout, showing two places to play. (I would guess that if his partner bids clubs, he intended to convert to diamonds, offering a choice of red suits.) Perhaps the most surprising bid of the whole auction is Multon’s jump to 6. Did he know something about his partner’s shape that is not obvious to this humble scribe? Might Zimmermann not have held four diamonds and five clubs? If you want to play slam in partner’s longer minor, as West presumably does here, should you not bid 5NT? As it turns out, not only does 5NT get you to the right minor but, on this layout, it gets 6 played from the right side.

Sitting in the North seat, what would you have led against Multon’s 6? A red suit looks like an unlikely option, so Verbeek effectively had a choice between a club and a spade. A club would have set the contract by two, giving the defenders a trick in each minor and a club ruff. It’s hard to be objective when you know the result, and perhaps there are layouts on which Verbeek’s spade lead would have been the winning choice. This was not one of them: E/W +1370 and 12 IMPs to LOMBARD.

On the very next deal, both East players had to answer the second of this week’s problems.

Berend van den Bos (left) started with a particularly ugly double of North’s weak 2 opening, but what else are you going to do? What do you then expect from partner for his responsive double of 3? Does it suggest that he has four spades or that he does not? This is the sort of problem that players at local clubs and tournament struggle with, but you would perhaps expect a pair who have won a European Championship to know the answer.

Van den Bos presumably expected his partner to hold four spades. Would you really bid that moth-eaten suit if you thought there was any chance that partner would hold only three? Van Lankveld duly raised to game and now Sjoert Brink made the sort of mistake that the average player loves to see experts make. One can sometimes be too active for your own good in the auction, and Brink fell into that trap here. The opponents had reached a contract that he thought would go at least one down. It looks safe enough to double, doesn’t it?

Van Lankveld could be fairly sure that Brink’s double was based on trump tricks, so he looked for an alternative strain. No doubt van den Bos was delighted to be out of 8-x-x-x and into a suit headed by the A-K-Q. Brink doubled 5♣ on principle, although he really had no reason to expect it to go down if his partner couldn’t double.

Looking at just the E/W hands, 5♣ is not such a great spot. Van den Bos won the spade lead and drew two rounds of trumps ending in dummy. The 2-2 trump split had certainly improved the contract. A diamond to the queen lost to the ace and Brink continued with a second spade. When the K dropped the jack, declarer had just enough trumps left. He ruffed the third round of diamonds high, crossed back to dummy with a third round of trumps, and took two discards on the diamond winners. A huge E/W +550.

Pierre Zimmermann (right) also started with a double of North’s 2 opening. However, he chose (eminently sensibly in my view) to bid his clubs after Multon’s responsive double. When Multon moved forward with a heart cue-bid, Zimmermann decided that he had enough for slam. Danny Molenaar’s double suggested that he didn’t. After two consecutive adventures at the slam level, the Swiss pair were batting .500. E/W -100 and 12 IMPs back to ONSTEIN.

Towards the end of the stanza, both West players had to decide what to open on the last of this week’s problems.

Multon’s aggressive 3♠ opening meant that the Swiss were already in game by the time Danny Molenaar (left) got to bid on the South hand. He had a fairly routine double, and Verbeek an equally clear pass. With three top losers in a heart contract, 4♠-Doubled was absolute par on the deal, but it still looked like a good result for the Swiss.

Collecting the maximum on defence was not so easy. Verbeek led a heart, Molenaar winning with the ace. To hold declarer to seven tricks, Molenaar has to switch to a low club, which is far from obvious. When he cashed the ♣A at trick two, there was no recovery. Verbeek had to win the second round of clubs with the king, and the defenders no longer had an entry to the third club winner.

Multon ruffed the second round of hearts and crossed to dummy with a diamond in order to lead the first round of trumps through South. Verbeek captured declarer’s ♠Q with his ace and exited with a trump. Multon took the marked finesse, cashed the ♠K and then played on diamonds, discarding his remaining club loser as North ruffed in with his trump winner. N/S +300.

Joris van Lankveld began with a Multi on the West hand, which allowed Bas Drijver (right) to show some values with a double (11-15 balanced or some very strong hands). Van den Bos, who did not know which major his partner held, could do no more than relay with 2, but Brink did know which major opener held. Van den Bos belatedly saved in 4♠, but Brink hadn’t finished yet, and he continued with 5♣.

The Dutch pair now had a difficult chance to go plus. However, they not only have to elect to defend 5, but Van Lankveld also has to find the diamond lead. On the likely spade lead, Brink would make +650 in 5 for an 8-IMP gain, so Van Lankveld’s decision to bid on to 5♠ was not overly expensive.

In theory, the winning defence was even more difficult to find with East as declarer, and Brink did indeed lead a diamond, giving declarer a difficult chance to make eight tricks. (With trumps 4-0, he has to play four rounds of diamonds immediately, pitching a loser from his hand.) When he instead won the first diamond in dummy with the ace and played a trump to the king, Van den Bos was in trouble. He switched back to diamonds now, throwing a heart, but Drijver ruffed and played the ♣K and a second club to give the defenders three tricks in each black suit. N/S +800 and 11 IMPs to LOMBARD.

Our final deal for this visit was a rather strange one.

Van den Bos passed as dealer, which left Joris Van Lankveld (left) to open 1 in third seat. Drijver had a tricky decision and, lacking a full heart stopper, perhaps many would have overcalled 2 on that North hand. When Drijver opted to risk a 1NT overcall, imagine his surprise when the auction came back to him with his LHO playing in 2. Perhaps more to the point, you can see what a bullet Drijver had dodged when 2 by East proved to be unbeatable. E/W +90.

Not that Drijver should have been allowed to escape so easily. I have to say that Van den Bos’s 2 bid is one of the strangest actions I have seen from a top player for a while. I am sure that were the East hand presented to an expert panel as a problem, there would be a unanimous vote to double 1NT. 1NT-X by North is booked to go three down (-500) as long as East avoids the diamond lead. Even more likely is that South will try to escape and, when he fails to find a fit at the two-level, the penalty will be even higher.

Zimmermann’s 1 opening on the East hand meant that Tim Verbeek (right) stayed out of trouble on the North cards. However, that still didn’t mean good news for the Dutch. You might think you would be happy defending 3NT with that North hand, but no. With the Q-9 coming down doubleton, declarer can make nine tricks even on a defence that gives him nothing (such as two top diamonds and a spade switch).

At the table, Molenaar led a low club around to declarer’s nine. Zimmermann now had nine tricks (four spades, three clubs and two hearts) without needing the hearts to come in, as long as the defenders could not take four diamonds. Zimmermann continued with the ♣K at trick two, which also won. He now unblocked dummy’s two spade winners and played the ♣Q, throwing a diamond from his hand as North won with the ♣A. Verbeek’s next move was a sneaky 8, which made it past declarer, as Zimmermann did not rise with the jack. Molenaar won with the 10 but, although the operation had been a success, the patient still died, as South had no second diamond to return. When the hearts magically became good in the process of cashing out for nine tricks, declarer found himself with eleven winners. E/W +460 and 9 IMPs to LOMBARD.

LOMBARD won the fourth stanza 45-28, so the Swiss go into the final set with a 12-IMP lead (126-114).

We will be back soon with the best of the action from that final stanza.

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