BBO Vugraph - The France-v-Sweden practice match - Part 2

Vugraph #401

On our last visit, we saw highlights from the early boards of a 92-board exhibition/practise match between teams representing France and Sweden, as they prepare for the 2024 European Championships, which will be held in Denmark in June/July. The stars in action in this match are, for SWEDEN (Ola Rimstedt, Mikael Rimstedt, Peter Bertheau and Simon Hult), and for FRANCE (Thomas Bessis, Cedric Lorenzini, Leo Rombaut, Jerome Rombaut, Jeremie Tignel, Jean-Luc Aroix, Julien Bernard, Nicolas Lhuissier, Lionel Sebbane and Paul Seguineau).

When we left things just a couple of deals into the second 16-board stanza, SWEDEN had opened a lead of 39 IMPs, 66-27.

As usual, we begin with a couple of problems. Firstly, with both sides vulnerable, you are East holding:

What action, if any, do you take?

Next, with neither side vulnerable, you are sitting in the West seat with:

What action, if any, do you take?

While you consider those, we start this visit with a question of hand evaluation.

Ola Rimstedt’s 2 rebid showed a three-card spade raise, without saying anything about strength. Mikael Rimstedt (left) now bid just 2♠, showing no game interest opposite a minimum opening bid. What do you think of that evaluation?

Perhaps you think the South hand is worth an invitational 3♠ but, looking at both hands, do you really want to be in 4♠ on this combined 24-count? You have two top clubs missing and at least one unavoidable trump loser. You seem to need the diamond finesse plus the trumps playing for one loser, and the lack of entries to declarer’s hand may also prove to be a problem too. The odds do not seem to favour declarer’s chances of making ten tricks, so perhaps we should applaud Mikael’s good judgement. After all, even 3♠ will sometimes be too high.

With the K onside and both trump honours well placed, despite the 4-1 break, declarer was destined to make ten tricks on this layout. N/S +170. The fact still remains that 4♠ is not a great contract.

For the French, Thomas Bessis (right) was not given exactly the same information and he came to a very different conclusion about how good his hand was. At his second turn, Cedric Lorenzini chose to rebid his clubs rather than raise spades. (While everyone else would bid 2♠ with this hand, I think in France, stuck in the 1800s, it is still a guillotinable offence to raise responder’s major without four-card support.) But, then, how can I argue with success?

With both of his minor-suit queens likely to be working and a great heart holding, Bessis decided that the South hand was worth game. (To be fair, Lorenzini would surely raise an invitational 2NT rebid with such good impletion.)

Whilst game in spades may not be such a great contract, 3NT is an excellent one. Peter Bertheau’s ♠Q opening lead was also not the most testing of starts, and solved declarer’s entry problems. Bessis was thus able to play safely for nine tricks. N/S +600 and 10 IMPs to FRANCE.

On some deals, it is not obvious who is pushing who around, who is bidding to make and who is saving.

With no defensive values to speak of, Cedric Lorenzini understandably chose to open a fairly heavy 3♣ pre-empt in third seat. Peter Bertheau reopened and Simon Hult (left) decided that his hand was worth game, his partner’s initial pass notwithstanding.

There was nothing to suggest that Bessis should get involved at this level, so Hult was allowed to play peacefully in 4. The play was not testing. There were just two diamonds and a spade to lose: E/W +620.

Julien Bernard (right) created a completely different scenario by opening a weak 2 on the West cards. I think it is a matter of partnership style if you open this sort of hand but, when I asked Mr Conservative himself, David Bird, for his thoughts, his view was that anyone mad enough to open 2 deserved to lose IMPs no matter what happened thereafter. When I mentioned that I might open 2 on it, his comment was, “Exactly. Totally mad!”

When Ola Rimstedt came in with a three-level overcall, his range was much wider than Lorenzini’s had been at the first table. As a result, Mikael Rimstedt felt justified in taking action after Nicolas Lhuissier had jumped to game.

Who was saving and who was bidding to make? Could anyone at the table tell?

Ola duly removed to 5♣, and now Lhuissier had to answer the first of this week’s problems. With two aces (albeit one that may not stand up) and a potential trump trick, should he double on this East hand? After all, for his vulnerable opening, is his partner not likely to hold something of value in one of the pointed suits, as he rates to have no more than 3 HCP (the K) in hearts and clubs? When Lhuissier did not double, the French sacrifice had become very cheap indeed.

A diamond opening (or the A and a diamond switch) would have held declarer to just eight tricks. When Lhuissier instead played two rounds of spades after cashing the A, declarer had a parking place for his diamond loser, on the ♠Q. That meant just two down: E/W +200 and 9 IMPs to SWEDEN.

After two action-packed stanzas, SWEDEN led by 41 IMPs, 91-50. On this early deal from the third set, the bidding and the opening lead were the same in both rooms. However, the outcome was very different.

After identical auctions, both South players led the J to declarer’s king. For the French, Lionel Sebbane (left) advanced the ♠10 from his hand at trick two. When that won, he continued with the ♠A and a third trump, taken by South. Peter Bertheau continued with the 10 and, attempting to maintain communications, declarer played low from dummy.

Not today! Simon Hult was wide awake, overtaking with the Q and returning his last diamond for his partner to ruff, killing dummy stone dead. The defence now switched to clubs, and declarer could make no more than his remaining trumps and the two top hearts. That was three down: E/W -150.

Mikael Rimstedt found a more effective line of play in the replay. After winning with the K, he cashed his top hearts, ruffed a heart in dummy, and then exited with a club. Winning with the ♣A, Bessis continued with the ♣J. Declarer ruffed, played a diamond to the ace, and took a second club ruff with his remaining low trump. Rimstedt had made seven tricks already and, when he led his last heart, he could not be prevented from making three more trump tricks. A magnificent E/W +420 and another 11 IMPs to SWEDEN.

This was the only double-digit swing in the third stanza. Even so, SWEDEN won the set 48-14, so they led by 74 IMPs (139-65) at the midway point of the match.

A quirk of system went some way to creating a swing on this deal from late in the fourth stanza.

Ola Rimstedt showed an invitational or better three-card heart raise with a 2♣ transfer cue-bid. Mikael then showed something in diamonds and Ola jumped to 3NT, offering a choice of games. With both players holding soft, no-trumpy values, the twins had accurately assessed that the nine-trick game was the best spot, despite having identified their eight-card major-suit fit, Well bid!

There was no winning lead against 3NT. Jerome Rombaut (right) attacked with a low diamond, but declarer rose with dummy’s king and played a club. When the ♣K won, Ola then played a heart to the jack. Winning with the K, Leo Rombaut returned a club, Jerome winning with the ♣A and clearing the suit. Now came four rounds of hearts.

In the endgame, declarer kept Q-x and ♠K-x opposite a diamond and ♠Q-10-9. Whatever East came down to in the four-card ending, he could not prevent declarer scoring two more tricks. N/S +400.

In the replay, Jean-Luc Aroix also knew his side had an eight-card major-suit fit, but he also chose 3NT. However…

Peter Bertheau (left) was left with the last of this week’s problems when North’s 3NT came back to him. Confident that 3NT was making, but that partner would have some sort of club fit, Bertheau backed in with 4♣. With more than half of his hand in the minors, Aroix might have doubled, which would have given the French a small gain, with +500 against -400 from the other room. However, he also knew that his side had a major-suit fit, so Aroix passed the decision to his partner. With a singleton club and no double from his partner, it is easy to see why Jeremie Tignel thought it would be better to declare than to defend, so he manoeuvred his side to 4. Gilding the lily, Simon Hult greeted this contract with a sharp double.

The defence can always make three aces and the K, but the Swedes were not satisfied with such small fry. Hult led the A and gave his partner a diamond ruff. A club to the ace put Hult back on lead for a second diamond ruff. A spade to the ace then allowed Hult to play a fourth round of diamonds, promoting his partner’s now-singleton K into the sixth defensive trick. A fabulous E/W +500 out of nowhere and 14 IMPs to SWEDEN.

This was turning into a route, SWEDEN winning the fourth stanza 60-3, so they led by 141 IMPs (209-68) with two stanzas remaining. Of course, the match was over as a contest, but as the point was to get practise against top-level opposition (and to entertain those watching on VuGraph), there was no thought of a concession.

We will be back soon to bring you the highlights of the final two stanzas of what has so far been a thoroughly entertaining encounter.

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