2023 Channel Trophy: Off to the Netherlands! 

Every year, the weekend before Christmas, the four countries around the Channel reunite for a friendly competition that gathers three categories: the Juniors (team of French youths of under 26 years old), the Under 21s and the Girls, of whom I am a member, along with my partner, Clara Bouton, and my teammates Wilhelmine Schlumberger, Constance Belloy, Mathilde Cayla and Saveria Garcia.  

We usually go with our captain, Wilfried Libbrecht, but he qualified for the national final of the French Cup and could not accompany us, which meant that we went with Nathalie Frey, who was lovely to us for the whole weekend.  

We went by train to Utrecht, in the Netherlands, via Rotterdam.  

On the train, lots of pairs (including Clara and me) revised their bidding systems one last time (apart from Wil, who was revising for her end-of-term exams!), as well as a few defences to unusual foreign systems that we might come up against (natural weak 2, Multi 2, Namyats 4m…).   

Once in Utrecht, we walked to our hotel, our only opportunity to admire the town a bit, since the playing schedule would not allow us to take walks during the day after that!  

All the houses were decorated for Christmas, with a tree and orange lights; we might well have thought ourselves inside the decor of a Christmas village! It was very pretty.  

We arrived to play bridge at around 6pm; the room where we ate and reconvened at the
end of each match was full of Christmas-themed decorations. 

We played the first match against the Dutch 

An excellent start since we were winning by 50 IMPs over the first nine deals and then by 19 over the second half! We therefore won the first match with 20 “VPs” (20 victory points are distributed between the two teams in each match).  

A hand that was difficult to bid 

I was South and Clara North. East dealt and passed; I passed too, as my suit quality in Hearts would not allow me to open a pre-empt, especially red.  

West in third seat and green against red opened 3♣ with just six cards.  

Over 3, Clara could not say 3NT with only one card in Hearts and decided to say 3 with only five cards (having 6 is preferable at the 3-level).  

East raised to 4♣ and I then had two options: mentioning my six hearts or just raising in Diamonds. I chose to bid 4 as, having passed initially, I thought that if she had a shortage in the suit, she would know that I had a back-up in another suit.

With the heart shortage, she rebid 4, over which I bid 5

So, Clara played 5 and note that she was going to lose a club and a heart. Ruffing her third club as well as her two small spades would be necessary. She therefore won the club lead with the Ace and switched to Spades straightaway and then played a heart to set up her crossruff. 5 making when, by starting off by drawing the trumps, we would have been missing one in the dummy for ruffing our last loser!  

Our shirts in the colours of Team France 

For the Channel Trophy this year, the French Bridge Federation decided to give each of the three teams that were sent a shirt of a different colour for each day and so be able to form the French flag on the podium, as we did in the Girls’ team this summer in the World Championships!  

                Our different shirts (a different one each day)

We played a second match on the Friday evening 

This time against the first English team. +4 in the first half and +14 in the second half, which meant we finished our first day in first place with a cumulative 34.39 victory points.  

On Saturday morning, we had planned a Secret Santa with the three teams from France 

A few weeks beforehand, each player had drawn a random name from amongst the other players, thus becoming their “secret Santa” and having to give that person a gift. It was very nice as it allowed us to all have a meal together and to get to know the young players, for whom this was the first year on the French team, better!  

Our group breakfast on the Saturday morning, with the unwrapping of presents and costumes for everyone! 

We spread the word to the other foreign teams and most of them had a Christmas
accessory for the Saturday (Santa hat, golden tie…).

First match of the day against the 2nd English team 

With a score of +11 in the first half and +40 in the second, which earned us 18.98 more victory points!  

A Multi-2 hand

As the dealer in North, Clara found herself with 7 points, 6-3-2-2 and six good cards in Spades. In our bidding system, a 2 opening shows a two-suiter with 5 and a 4- or 5-card minor, still pre-emptive. Weak hands with six cards in a major therefore go through a 2 “Multi” bid, over which one most often makes a 2 relay bid: if Opener has Hearts, she passes; if she has Spades, she corrects to 2.  

Over Clara’s Multi 2 opening, with the South hand, I wanted just to play in 2 if she had Hearts but to try to play in game if she had Spades: if she had six cards in Spades, it would be enough for her to have a diamond shortage and a major honour in Hearts or Clubs in order to make game. I therefore started by bidding 2 “pass or correct”; then, over Clara’s correction to 2♠, I made a trial bid showing a spade fit with 2NT. With a minimum hand, she would go back to 3 and with a maximum, show a force.  

Clara went back to 3 and I passed for -1. It was a shame it went down when we could have just played in 2; but if I had not bid over 2, West would have reopened with his 5-5 and they would have found their making 4 game; we would have been obliged to sacrifice in 4 for -2 (300 against 420).  

My partner Clara with an English
player who played the match in
her Santa hat! 

A deal for the bidding and play 

Clara opened 1 as North and East chose to overcall 1NT with her fifteen points. As South, I made a Landy 2 bid, which shows a major two-suiter of at least 5-4. Over 2♣, Clara bid 2 as “pick a major”. As 2 promised at least 5-4, with equal length in the majors (especially 2-2 or 3-3), 2 can get me to show my longer major. Here, with 5 and 5, I bid Hearts to save space.  

I played the 2 contract on the lead of the 4 of Clubs by West, away from the Ace. I played low (more likely that the lead was away from the Queen than the Ace) and East won the Queen before playing a trump to prevent me from ruffing a spade in the dummy. I put the King of Hearts up and played another club to find, to my great surprise, the Ace with West, who switched to a diamond. I rose with the Ace. At this stage, I had lost two clubs and I knew that I would give up a heart and two spades (with the 1NT bid, I knew that the Ace and Queen of Spades were sitting over the King).  

My aim was to avoid losing three spades or the Jack of Hearts. I bet on the Hearts being 3-3, as I had few entries, and played another trump to my Queen, which won the trick, then a trump to crash the Jack and Ace and gave up the lead to East.  

East had no good answer and decided to return the King of Diamonds, which I ruffed before playing a spade to my King. After the Ace of Spades, East either plays into my minors and I discard all my spades, or he plays another spade and I play for them to be 3-3 as well, with the Queen onside. East correctly chose to play the 8 of Spades to me, hoping for me to make a mistake; but I now had a count of the points and I put in the Jack before playing another spade, thus making my contract.  

A card-play deal  

Clara opened 1 as North, I responded 1NT and she rebid her spades at the 2-level. With 10 points and a nice five-card suit, at teams, I did not hesitate to bid 2NT as 10-11 points and a spade shortage. Clara, with her 14 points, bid 3NT, which I played on the lead of the 5 of Hearts.  

I had to make 9 tricks and, for now, I only had two hearts, a diamond and five clubs if the Jack fell on any of the first three rounds of the suit. I saw that I had to establish at least one spade in order to make my contract. The heart lead was reassuring; a diamond lead would have been more worrying. I therefore certainly did not duck and won with the Ace of Hearts in the dummy before playing the Queen of Spades, which lost to West’s King.  

West played another heart; I won with the King and played a club so that I could play the Jack of Spades from the dummy. On that, East decided not to go up with the Ace of Spades, which was a very good play: I was effectively making two hearts, a spade, a diamond and five clubs if the clubs were winners. However, if the Jack of Clubs was fourth on either side and the opponents’ spades were 3-3, I was absolutely supposed to play another spade! If East had won his Ace and played something back (here, a diamond), I would have been able to cash the master 10 of Spades and combine the chances of Spades being 3-3 before falling back on Clubs if the spades were breaking badly. Once my Jack of Spades was allowed to hold, I had to decide straightaway what to bet on and I played another club, as the Jack being in a four- or five-card holding is much less likely than the probability that the spades were splitting badly. 

We finished the Saturday with two positive matches  

One +30 against the Dutch and the other +25 against the second English team, which meant that we knew we had won first place in the Girls’ Channel Trophy from Saturday evening!  

A few photos from our Christmassy day; France really took the theme of the day seriously!  

The three French teams gathered, along with our two captains: Nathalie Frey for the Girls and Anne-Laure Tartarin for the Juniors and Under 21s. 

The Girls’ team, with (from left to right): Saveria Garcia, Mathilde Cayla, Constance Belloy, Clara Bouton, me and Nathalie Frey, our captain.
Not forgetting Wilhelmine Schlumberger below! 

On the Sunday morning, we finished the competition with a match against the first English team.

We were very relaxed since we already knew that we had won and decided to get our least experienced pair to play more: Mathilde and Saveria, who had played a bit less than the other two pairs on the first two days.  

We lost both halves by a dozen points and the first English team got second place – no surprise.  

This year, instead of the usual medals, we received gold certificates

Each player got hers signed by the whole team, as well as the captain, so as to remember this great weekend!   

The French Junior team also came first in their category, while the Under 21s won silver.  

What did you think of this article by Margaux Kurek-Beaulieu? 

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