Welcome back to Saint Cloud, about ten miles west of central Pairs, the venue for the national final of Division 1 of the 2023 French Interclub Teams Championship. The format for the final is an eight-round Swiss of 12-board matches played over two days.
On our previous visits, we have seen the highlights from the first day of play. This was how the leader-board looked overnight, with four of the eight rounds played:
|Bridge Club D ANTONY (Jean Paul BALIAN)||62.39 VPs|
|Club Djeun'S Yvelines (Laurent THUILLEZ)||56.63|
|B.C. Ciotaden (Nicole PEREZ)||56.33|
|B.C. of Tours (Jean Louis BESNAULT)||55.15|
|B.C. Saint Honore (Muriel CLEMENT)||54.89|
|B.C. Garches Vaucresson (Hilda SETTON)||52.81|
|The Bridgerie (Eric GAUTRET)||51.36|
|B.C. Nancy - Jarville (Francois Michel SARGOS)||51.13|
|B.C. De Gradignan-Bordeaux (Xavier DUPUIS)||49.15|
|Bridge Academy (Olivier GIARD)||48.40|
With such a closely-bunched field, it is still anyone’s title. Today, we bring you the best of the action from the opening matches of Day 2.
As usual, we start with some problems. Firstly, with both sides vulnerable, you are North holding:
What action, if any, do you take?
Next, with only your side vulnerable, you are sitting in the North seat with this monster:
The opponents have made a late entry into your auction. What action, if any, do you take?
Finally, with both sides vulnerable, you hold as East:
What action, if any, do you take?
While you consider those, we start our coverage with the Round 5 meeting at Table 3 between the representatives of Bridge Club Garches Vaucresson, captained by Hilda Setton, and B.C. Saint Honore led by Muriel Clement. The hands played Saturday were, for the most part, rather dull, and Sunday started in similar vein. Halfway through the match, SETTON led 12-2, then all hell broke loose.
Lionel Sebbane (left) first represented France in the Junior Pairs at the 1997 World Championships and in the 1998 European Youth Team Championships. More recently, he collected a bronze medal in the Mixed Teams at the 2019 European Transnational Championships. He was then a member of the French Mixed Team that won both the 2021 Online European Qualifying event and the subsequent Mixed Teams at the 2022 World Championship in Salsomaggiore.
On this deal, Sebbane showed both red suits with an Unusual 2NT after West’s 1♣ opening. When Guy Laffineur then jumped to 4♥ having passed as Dealer, Sebbane was left with the first of the problems posed at the top of this article. With plenty of holes to fill, his decision to leap to slam is ambitious, so it perhaps no surprise that the contract was not a great one.
With what looks to be an unavoidable spade loser, Laffineur needed both red suits to come in. One problem was solved when Cedric Lorenzini led the ♦Q. Declarer won in hand with the ♦K and played a low heart. As the cards lie, declarer could theoretically have made the contract by putting in the ♥10 when Cedric Lorenzini follow with a low card on the first round of trumps. But, this was a Grosvenor as, with no further entry to declarer’s hand, Lorenzini could have ensured a trump trick by playing an honour if he held Q-J-x. Of course, declarer rose with the ♥A and cashed the ♥K. Laffineur now switched to diamonds, but Lorenzini ruffed and exited with a high club. There was nowhere to put the spade loser, so declarer was one down. N/S -100.
Pierre Franceschetti (right) played his first international event in the Mixed Pairs at the 1998 European Championships at what must have been a very young age, as he made his debut in the French Schools team at the 2005 European Youth Championships. He had a successful career as a junior, winning bronze medals in the Schools Pairs at the 2006 World Championships and in the Schools Teams at the 2007 Europeans. He then won gold in the Youngsters Teams at the 2008 World Championships and completed his set with a silver medal from the 2009 Universities Championships. More recently, Pierre was a member of the French team that won the Mixed Teams at the European Transnational Championships in Strasbourg earlier this year.
Faced with the same problem, Franceschetti moved forward with 5♣, but he then also bid slam even though his partner could do no more than retreat to 5♥.
A regular member of the French Women’s team over the past two decades, Muriel Clement led the ♣A against Quentin Robert’s 6♥. Declarer ruffed in dummy, cashed the ace and king of hearts, and then continued with the ♦K, dropping West’s queen. He then played a diamond to the ace, on which West discarded a club. Robert now ruffed his remaining club in dummy and played a diamond to his jack.
Now, West ruffed, but by doing so she endplayed herself. Playing a club would enable declarer to ruff in his hand as he disposed of dummy’s spade loser. When she instead led a spade, declarer ran it to his queen and claimed the rest. N/S +1430 and 17 IMPs to SETTON.
West could easily have avoided this outcome by ruffing the second round of diamonds, when she could still exit safely with a club. However, discarding on the second diamond is not in itself fatal. Having done so, West then needs to be patient, and discard on all of the remaining diamonds, coming down to ♠K-x, ♥Q and a club. In the four-card ending, declarer cannot endplay West with a heart - he would have no trump left in his hand, and thus she would be able to exit safely with a club.
The Great Dealer must have found himself with a surplus of slam hands that he had not used on the previous day, as he packed two more into the end of this match. This one was a bidding test for the E/W pairs…
At first glance, it may appear that E/W can make five tricks in each black suit. Add the two red aces and you get to twelve. However, playing 6♠ on a heart lead is not so easy.
Stephane Messika opened with a Multi and then showed a maximum with spades in response to Clement’s 2NT ask. Quite how West is supposed to find the best spot from here is beyond me and, in reality, Clement’s jump to 4♠ was probably the pragmatic option.
As it turned out, Franceschetti had no reason to find the killing heart lead from that North hand, and instead opened the ♦5 to the king and ace. Declarer now simply played the ♠A and a second spade. North got the ♠K but that was all for the defence. E/W +680.
Thomas Bessis (left) and Cedric Lorenzini are not rated as France’s best partnership without reason, and they managed this difficult combination with consummate ease.
Bessis opened a natural 2♠ and Lorenzini inquired with 2NT. 3♣ was now quasi-natural, showing a maximum with a length feature in clubs, so Lorenzini raised to 4♣, setting the suit. Bessis was happy to advance with a cue-bid showing his diamond control. When Lorenzini continued with a heart cue-bid, Bessis then committed to slam, showing his ♥A at the five-level, just in case his partner had even higher ambitions.
There was no lead to beat 6♣, but declarer still had to play carefully after South opened the ♦2. Bessis won in dummy with the ♦A and immediately called for the ♠4. North went in with the ♠K and returned a diamond, but declarer ruffed in dummy and drew trumps. After unblocking the ♠A, the ♥A then provided entry to dummy’s spade winners. A spectacular E/W +1370 and 12 IMPs to SETTON.
For good measure, the set finished with a bidding test for the N/S pairs. Pre-emptive bidding sometimes comes in strange forms, but the best players are always looking for a chance to rob their opponents of what might be vital bidding space.
Once the opponents open 2♣, most players are apt to sit and watch as their opponents bid away, and they then try to work out what to lead. With the opponents having bid spades and diamonds, Bessis took the opportunity presented by the favourable vulnerability to show the other two suits with a double of 4♦. Cedric Lorenzini (right) didn’t need a second invitation to make life difficult for his opponents, and his jump to 6♥ left Lionel Sebbane with the second of this week’s problems.
Could Sebbane be sure that his partner’s heart cue-bid showed the ace? Could he be sure that the diamonds were solid? Unable to answer either of those questions with a categorical ‘Yes’, Sebbane’s decision to bid 6♠ seems like the best practical action. Perhaps the South hand is good enough for Guy Laffineur to raise, but bidding a grand slam in this sort of auction is never easy. Of course, declarer had 13 top tricks: N/S +1460.
The auction in the replay was perhaps simplified by Quentin Robert’s decision to raise spades immediately. With spades agreed, Franceschetti advanced with 3NT to give his partner a chance to cue-bid in clubs. A diamond cue-bid was equally encouraging and Franceschetti continued with a heart cue-bid. Now Robert took control with RKCB. At the death, he suggested diamonds as a possible alternative strain, but Franceschetti was happy enough with the solidity of his spades. N/S +2210 and another 13 IMPs to SETTON.
It was a rout! SETTON won the match 54-3 and moved up to challenge the leaders whilst CLEMENT dropped out of the top half of the table.
We conclude this visit to Saint Cloud with the Round 6 meetings between SETTON and the overnight leaders, Bridge Club D ANTONY, captained by Jean Paul Balian. On the opening board of the encounter, both East players had to answer the last of this week’s problems.
Bessis had no trouble when faced with the problem posed earlier – he simply put down dummy.
Lorenzini won the club lead and led a trump. When dummy’s ♥J won, he discarded his spade on the ♣K, ruffed a spade, and led a high trump to North’s ace. Lorenzini won the diamond switch in dummy, ruffed a spade and drew the last trump. When the ♦Q appeared on the second round, promoting his jack, Lorenzini had twelve tricks. E/W +680.
After an identical auction, Jean Francois Deny thought that he had not yet fully described his hand, so he advanced with 4♠. Jean Paul Balian might, perhaps, have rescued his partner by bidding his hearts again, but is East’s bidding not consistent with ♠KQJ10xxx and no hearts?
4♠ was not the best of contracts. Declarer might have escaped for the loss of a heart and three trumps. As is often the case when you are in such a contract, declarer guessed everything wrong and ended three down. Not that it mattered greatly in IMPs. E/W -300 meant 14 IMPs to SETTON.
A couple of boards later, both sides had a chance for a huge swing on a deal where E/W had 16 top tricks in either spades or clubs.
It was unfortunate that West’s spades were so good, as Balian’s jump meant that they were already at the four-level before clubs were agreed. East cue-bid hearts, but would presumably have done the same with a singleton. When Balian then launched RKCB, did they have a method to convey the information carried by a 5♠ response and to show the void too? I would guess not and thus, with a key-card apparently missing, it was impossible for Balian to bid more than the small slam. Might Deny have raised on the East hand? Perhaps, but doing so would be a guess that it was the ♥A that was missing rather than the ♦A.
There was nothing to the play: E/W +940.
Players at all levels always enjoy seeing confirmation that experts are as capable as they are of getting to bad contracts, so this deal would certainly have entertained many of those watching live on BBO VuGraph.
Lorenzini’s 3♥ rebid showed a good spade suit and at least 17+ HCP. Bessis’s 4♣ was natural, with a good suit, but usually a singleton or void spade (so not a million miles from the actual hand). 4♥ was then artificial and set clubs as trumps. When Bessis then cue-bid 5♥ to show his void, it was hard for Lorenzini to imagine a hand with one spade and no hearts, so something like x/AQxx/xx/AKxxxx seemed more likely.
When Bessis eventually bid 7♣, Lorenzini thought he could count 13 tricks in no-trumps, whereas 7♣ might go down if partner did not hold the ♣Q, so he duly converted to what he expected to be the higher percentage contract. I suppose that in the end he was right!
Looking at an ace, Colin Deheeger had to decide whether a pass or a Lightner-type double was more likely to get a heart lead from his partner. With both opponents having bid hearts, he decided that a double might perhaps ask for that suit. As it happens, perhaps Remi Degras would have led a heart without the double. Maybe influenced by dummy’s diamond cue-bid, he tried the ♦3. Lorenzini gratefully claimed all 13 tricks: an unusual E/W +1790 and another 13 IMPs to SETTON.
After three deals, this match was over as a contest, with SETTON ahead 27-0. There was not much in the rest of the deals, and SETTON won the match 35-9 to move then to the top of the leader-board.
We will return for a final visit to Saint Cloud to see the highlights of matches from the final two rounds and to anoint the victors.