BBO Vugraph - The Final Stage of the England Women's Trial - Part 1

Vugraph #422

England have been perennial contenders in Women’s European and World events for many years. Their failure to even qualify for the world championships from the last European Championships, in Madeira, was an unexpected setback.

The trials to select the team for the upcoming Europeans in Herning, Denmark this summer has been rigorous. 12 pairs competed in the first stage, with the leading three advancing to Stage 2.  Nicola Smith and Nevena Senior were seeded through to Stage 2, and they were joined by the leading three pairs from Stage 1. The winners of Stage 1, Diana Nettleton and Sally Brock, had first choice of teammates for Stage 2, and they selected Smith/Senior. That left Fiona Brown/Helen Erichsen and Susanna Gross/Paula Leslie as their opponents. The format was a 112-board match divided into eight 14-board stanzas. The winning foursome would automatically form the nucleus of the England team for Denmark, to be augmented by one other pair to be named later.

As usual, we start with some problems. Firstly, with neither side vulnerable, you are East holding:

What action, if any, do you take?

If you pass, what do you lead?

Next, with only your opponents vulnerable, you are sitting in the North seat with this monster:

What do you open?

Finally, with neither side vulnerable, you hold in the North seat:

What action, if any, do you take?

While you mull those over, we join the action early Sunday morning for the sixth stanza. After the five sets played Saturday, GROSS led by 16 IMPs, 146-130. The action began early in the set…

Paula Leslie’s weak 2 opening cajoled E/W into a thin game. Susanna Gross led her heart but, with both clubs offside, Senior could establish only three club tricks to go with two diamond and three winners in the major. N/S +50.

Diana Nettleton (left) did not open here, so Fiona Brown kicked things off with 1♣. She then reopened with a double when Sally Brock’s 1♠ overcall was passed around to her. Helen Erichsen was content with that contract, but Nettleton decided that she should remove to her long suit. Erichsen doubled when 2 was passed back to her, leaving Brown with the first of the problems above.

Brown passed the double and, with no game making their way, it seemed that E/W had landed in their best spot. Even +500 seemed possible and, if you answered ‘Q’ in response to the opening lead question, you are well on your way to that sort of number.

At the table, the defence did not get off to the best start, Brown leading the 8, which gave away the defenders’ third natural trick in that suit. Helen Erichsen won with the A, and could have simplified the defence for her partner with a switch to either minor. Instead, Erichsen returned a second trump to the jack and king and, again, Brown declined to open either minor, exiting with a third trump to declarer’s queen. When Nettleton led a club a trick four, the defence was in last chance saloon: Brown must rise with the ace and switch to a diamond to nip the contract by a trick. When she played low, declarer was home.

Nettleton played a low spade from dummy. If West rises with the ace now, declarer will finish with an unlikely overtrick as, with the ♠J coming down, she will have two discards for her diamond losers. Winning with the ♠Q, declarer led a second club towards dummy. Brown rose this time and switched to a diamond, but it was too late. Indeed, if declarer had won with the A and led the ♠K to pin East’s jack, she would have ended with nine tricks. I suspect she was happy with N/S +470, and 9 IMPs to NETTLETON.

By the midway point of the set, NETTLETON had edged into a 1-IMP lead, 148-147. Then came a tricky hand on which good play and defence combined to earn a game swing…

With a singleton in her partner’s suit, Nettleton’s decision to respond with a game-forcing 2 is perhaps a bit optimistic. The result was that the partnership found their eight-card fit, and they were soon just a trick short of slam on their combined 23-count. Declarer does not appear to have that many losers, but declarer looks to have little material with which to make 11 tricks. At least the cards lie well for declarer, and Nettleton took full advantage.

Nettleton won the opening diamond lead, crossed to the A, and tabled the ♠J. If Brown rises with the ace, declarer will have an easy ride, as she can ruff a red-suit continuation in dummy, establish the spades with one ruff, and then draw trumps ending in dummy.

Brown followed with a low spade, but Nettleton rose with the ♠K and ruffed a spade. She then exited with a heart. Brown won and forced dummy with a diamond, but declarer ruffed and then ruffed a second spade in her hand, setting up that suit. She cashed the ♣A, overtook the ♣Q with dummy’s king and ran spade winners. West could score the ♣J at some point, but that was the second and last trick for the defence. Nicely played! N/S +600.

A similar auction led to the same contract, and Nevena Senior also led a diamond. Paula Leslie also crossed to the A at trick two, but she continued with a second round of hearts. Senior won and forced dummy with a second diamond, and now declarer was in trouble. But, the defence has to be wide awake.

Of course, Nicola Smith (right) was and, when declarer led a low spade from dummy, she hopped in with the ♠Q. Smith knows that the diamonds are 4-3-5-1 around the table, so it may look tempting to exit with a ‘safe’ diamond and make dummy ruff again, but that lets the contract back in. (Declarer ruffs, ruffs a spade in her hand, ruffs a heart with the ♣K, and picks up the trumps with a finesse against the jack to leave her hand high.)

Smith accurately exited with a second round of spades. Declarer ruffed and, with a vital entry to her hand removed prematurely, she was no longer able to ruff both a diamond and a heart in dummy and return to cash the long hearts. The defenders duly came to a diamond at the end: N/S -100 and 12 IMPs to NETTLETON.

A couple of boards later, the North players had to decide what to open on the second of this week’s problems. I am not a great fan of opening 2♣ with two-suited hands, as you risk being put to a guess if the opponents pre-empt. However, I think Larry Cohen’s ‘Yarborough Rule’ applies: “If you want to play in game opposite a 3334 zero-count, open 2♣.”

As Leslie discovered, you can never catch up. No matter how strongly you bid after opening 1, partner is never going to believe you have this much. True, Gross might have gone more slowly. However, news that partner has a good hand with at least 5-6 in the pointed suits does not exactly fill you with joy when looking at this South hand. N/S +1010.

Sally Brock (left) made light work of this deal once her partner had opened 2♣. Facing a 2♣ opening, all you really want to know is that there is not an ace missing. Brock bid the grand slam in no-trumps just in case a key suit broke 5-1. With both red-suits splitting 4-2, declarer had 17 top tricks. N/S +1520 and another 11 IMPs to NETTLETON.

The penultimate deal of the set appeared to be a thin but reasonable game that looked destined to flounder on a 4-0 trump break. First, both North players had to answer the last of this week’s problems…

Diana Nettleton, very sensibly answered the problem with a lead-directing double of 3. Fiona Brown (right) bid her second suit and Helen Erichsen accepted the game try. As seemed to have been a theme throughout this set, this was game with 10 HCP opposite 11, but this was not a bad contract. However, South’s Unusual 2NT as a passed hand did portend bad breaks.

Brock led a diamond to her partner’s ace, and Nettleton switch accurately to a low club. Brock won with the ♣A and continued the suit, forcing declarer to ruff. A heart to the king won, but the finesse on the way back lost to the J. Brock knew that her partner’s ♣K was coming down, but she still continued an excellent defence with a third round of clubs, and that left declarer without recourse.

Brown ruffed again, cashed the K, and ruffed the hearts good, but she was now down to a 3-3 fit and North’s trump holding was still intact. Declarer tried leading the good ♣Q from dummy, but Nettleton completed the good work by ruffing. Whatever she did, declarer could not avoid losing one more trick. E/W -50.

Having come into this final day with their noses marginally ahead, the morning set had been a disaster for the GROSS team. And, there was one more debacle to come.

We have discussed the folly of sacrificing on balanced hands many times in these pages, as the penalty is often more than expected. Here, Leslie chose to do exactly that, at equal vulnerability at the five-level, and facing a passed partner to boot. Not that the penalty in 5♣-Doubled had to be so enormous. Declarer can get out for one down if she guesses everything right, but even then it would still be a minus score in a phantom save against a failing game.

Let’s gloss over the play by just saying that declarer did not guess everything right. She lost control and finished with just six tricks. Five down was E/W +1100 and another 15 IMPs to NETTLETON.

NETTLETON won the stanza 56-9 to take a lead of 31 IMPs (186-155) with two segments remaining. Can the GROSS team turn around the momentum and get back into the match?

We will be back soon with the best of the action from those final two sets.

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