BBO Vugraph - The Final Stage of the England Women's Trial - Part 2

Vugraph #423

We are back at the T.G.R. Club in north London for the final stage of the trials to select the England Women’s team for the upcoming European Championships in Denmark. The two teams are NETTLETON (Diana Nettleton, Sally Brock, Nicola Smith and Nevena Senior) against GROSS (Fiona Brown, Helen Erichsen, Susanna Gross and Paula Leslie).

On our previous visit, we saw a disastrous sixth set for GROSS, which left trailing by 31 IMPs (186-155) with two 14-board stanzas remaining.

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

What do you bid?

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

2NT would be Lebensohl. What do you bid?

Finally, with both sides vulnerable, you hold in the South seat:

What do you bid?

While you mull those over, we join the action with the final deal of the seventh stanza. NETTLETON had added a further 10 IMPs to their lead when this board arrived at the table.

After a natural start, Diana Nettleton established a game-force with an artificial 2 and Sally Brock rebid 2NT, leaving Nettleton with the first of the problems above. 3♣ looks like the obvious continuation and would presumably have set the partnership on the way to one of the two good game contracts available, in hearts or clubs. Nettleton’s raise to 3NT seems premature, to say the least.

Brock was lucky as the layout of the diamond suit meant that the defenders could not cash five tricks in it. Susanna Gross’s spade lead gave declarer the ninth trick immediately, but it was not something that declarer could not have done for herself. Four spades, three clubs and two hearts added up to nine: N/S +600.

Fiona Brown (left) was much more ambitious on the North hand. She not only steered the partnership into a safer strain, she then committed to what is not a bad slam.

Nicola Smith opened the A, ruffed in dummy. Helen Erichsen immediately played three rounds of hearts, establishing two winners in that suit when they broke 3-3. It now seems to be a simple matter of drawing trumps and claiming 12 or 13 tricks. When Erichsen started with the ♣A and a second round of trumps to dummy, West’s discard put the mockers on that plan. There was no winning line from here. N/S -100 and 13 IMPs to NETTLETON.

Having ruffed the hearts good, declarer can still make the contract, but probably only if she is clairvoyant. After cashing one high club from dummy, declarer has to cross to the ♠K and take the spade finesse. With dummy high, she can then play winning hearts through East, overruffing with the ace if she ruffs in.

That board meant NETTLETON won the penultimate set 38-15, giving them a 54-IMP advantage (224-170) going into the final stanza. This early deal gave the underdogs a glimmer of hope perhaps…

I know that doubling on a hand such as North held here is popular with many these days, particularly when 1♣ is often a weak 1NT hand type, but it’s not my style. Still, no damage done here, and Paula Leslie (right) led the Q against 1NT.

Nicola Smith won in hand and passed the 9 around to South. Winning with the 10, Susanna Gross switched to a heart, North winning with the A and continuing the suit. With five red tricks in the bag, declarer now needs just two from the black suits, As the defensive cards lie, she can succeed only by playing on clubs, but Smith tabled the ♠K from her hand. Leslie won with the ♠A and knocked out declarer’s last heart stop, and now the contract had to fail. Smith tried a spade to the ten but, when that lost, the defenders had seven tricks. N/S +50.

Here West had opened 1, so East was able to correct to the 4-4 fit at the two-level via a 2♣ Puppet.

I know that Sally Brock is in favour doubling 1-minor openings on this sort of hand. However, I somehow doubt that she would be as approving of Nettleton’s subsequent 3 bid. West’s 3 was failing in top tricks, so 3 was a leap from the comfort of the kitchen table into the fire. Helen Erichsen (left) was not unduly challenged to find a red card in her bidding box,

Erichsen kicked off with the ♠K. Declarer won in dummy and played a diamond, but Brown hopped up with the A, cashed the ♠Q, and gave Erichsen a ruff with her low trump. That added up to six tricks for the defence: N/S -500 and 11 IMPs to GROSS.

Midway through the set came a potential slam deal.

Nicola Smith showed her spade fit and strong hand with a splinter jump to 4♣ at her second turn. With lousy spades and most of her values facing her partner’s singleton, Nevena Senior (right) could not sign off in 4♠ fast enough.

As it happens, with the singleton club being the king, 6♠ is not such a bad contract. Even with both pointed-suit finessed failing, South has to find a diamond lead to beat slam. Here, we were playing only for overtricks, but Susanna Gross did lead the J against Senior’s game, so eleven tricks were made: E/W +650.

Sally Brock (left) set her opponents a completely different problem by opening with a weak 2 on the South hand. Helen Erichsen doubled, leaving Fiona Brown with the second of this week’s problems.

An immediately 3♣ would be encouraging but non-forcing, and Brown decided that was not enough. She chose to start with a Lebensohl 2NT, perhaps intending to show her hand as a game-force with four spades but no heart stopper. The West hand is clearly too strong to complete the usual 3♣ relay, so Erichsen showed her extra values and heart stopper with 3NT. Now 4♣ from Brown would show a very weak hand, so that wasn’t an option. Rather stuck, she chose to take a shot at slam in her long suit.

Although not as good as 6♠, the club slam is still a reasonable contract. If the K is onside, it is just about cold. Failing that, finding a singleton or doubleton ♠K in the South hand would also allow declarer to score twelve tricks. The odds are not as good as usual after South’s weak two opening, but things are still not hopeless. With both key kings offside, there was no chance on this layout. E/W -100 and 13 IMPs to NETTLETON.

There was time for one final flourish. Both South players had to answer the last of this week’s problems…

What do you think this South hand is worth? Sally Brock thought a limit raise to 3 was sufficient. The Noth hand had nothing extra, so Brock’s jump to 3 ended the auction. There were always eleven tricks and the favourable trump layout meant that there were twelve. N/S +170.

At this table, where it looks like the double of 1♠ was for takeout, Senior interjected with a 2 bid on the East hand. In almost the same position, Susanna Gross (right) advanced with a 3 cue-bid and then pulled her partner’s 3NT to 4. The pair even exchanged a couple of cue-bids on their way to game.

The same twelve tricks here with the K coming down. N/S +620 and 10 IMPs to GROSS.

GROSS won the final set 35-17, but it was not enough to undo the damage of that disastrous sixth stanza. NETTLETON won the match by 37 IMPs, 242-205.

Congratulations to Diana Nettleton, Sally Brock, Nevena Senior and Nicola Smith. They will certainly be on the plane to Denmark in June. They will be augmented by a third pair, chosen by the team in conjunction with the selection committee. With Fiona Brown having previously won both European and World championships in partnership with Brock, Brown/Erichsen are surely odds-on favourites to fill the remaining berths in England’s team.  With former multiple champions in all three partnerships, this looks like a team that could be serious contenders.

This is the height of trials season, so we are heading for New Zealand next, to bring you the best of the action from the final of the trials to select the Kiwis’ Mixed Team for the 2024 international events including the World Championship in Argentina.

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