Strasbourg European Open ended a few days ago. During the event Team Funbridge got the chance to face several renowned players. Among them are Luc Bellicaud, Pierre Schmidt, Stéphane Garcia and Romaric Guth of the Meli Melo team. An exciting match reported by Marc Smith.
These teams go into Round 7 with Team Funbridge (USA/Sweden/Denmark/France/Norway) lying second with five wins from their six matches and Meli Melo (France) in fifth place, with four wins to their name. Yet, this is truly the battle of the youngsters, with the majority of the players in action still eligible for Junior events, and some even able to play in the Under-21 or Under-16 categories. As usual, we start with some problems. Firstly, with both sides vulnerable, you are West holding:
I’ve stuck you with the original double. What action, if any, do you take now?
Next, with only your opponents vulnerable you hold as South…
What do you bid?
Finally, with neither side vulnerable, you are sitting in the South seat with:
Your partner opens a natural weak two. What action, if any, do you take after East’s double?
If you raise to 3♥, West bids 3NT, which is passed back to you. Do you take any further action? With so many Junior players in action, this was not likely to be a match for the faint-hearted. The bidding seems to continue until someone doubles and, with everyone bidding one level more than one might expect, the red cards got quite a workout…
Board 4. Dealer West. NS Vul.
Stéphane Garcia’s thin opening bid seemed to propel his opponents into a contract they could not make, although it is hard to criticize either Finn Kolesnik’s double or Christian Lahrmann’s jump to 3NT. The play was quick, declarer winning West’s thoughtful opening club lead with the ace and cashing his diamonds before conceding the rest: E/W +200.
Nicolai Heiberg-Evenstad did not open the West hand. Those of us old enough to remember the great Irving Rose will recall his common refrain at the rubber bridge table, “Passing, for now”. Having not opened the bidding, the young Norwegian certainly got his money’s worth later in the auction.
When Luc Bellicaud responded 1♥, I had to double check that he didn’t hold four spades, and perhaps it was a transfer and the alert was missing. But, no, apparently it was just a natural bid. Then came an equally eccentric double from Heiberg, for takeout despite not holding four cards in the unbid major, which most would consider about a 100% requirement in this auction. Andreas Abragi responded in his four-card black suit, as requested, and now Bellicaud emerged to say he had a good hand, via a cue-bid, presumably looking for a club stopper for 3NT.
This left Heiberg with the first of the problems posed above. Yes, I know you all scratched your heads wondering what else there was to do but to pass and defend whichever game the opponents landed in, but Heiberg wasn’t content with a boring flat board at +200. He stepped in with a fourth club, and Romaric Guth quickly made the contract 8♣.
When you make close doubles you have to defend accurately. (Yes, I know you didn’t realize this was a ‘close’ double). Put yourself in the North seat.
Your partner leads a trump and you win with the ♣A. You know from the bidding that declarer holds a doubleton heart, and you want to stop him setting up the suit with ruffs, so how quickly do you get a second round of trumps on the table? Sorry, but you’ve missed your chance – the defenders have to set up their spade trick before declarer can establish dummy’s hearts.
North must switch to a spade at trick two. On the club return, declarer lost just one club and two hearts: E/W +710 and 11 IMPs to Team Funbridge.
Fun bridge, indeed! Our next deal was a very tricky bidding challenge for the NS pairs.
Board 6. Dealer East. EW Vul
For the French, Romaric Guth elected to treat his hand as a game-force, which left Luc Bellicaud with the second of today’s problems. He opted to take a shot at 3NT. The good news was that clubs broke, so 3NT had only four fast losers. The bad news was that it had only eight tricks. The defenders cashed their clubs and then waited for declarer to run out of steam. N/S -50.
With both defenders holding 3-3-3-4 shapes, 3NT is the only game that does not make (except clubs). 5♦ loses just a club and a trump. In 4♠, if the defenders start with two rounds of clubs, declarer can cross to hand in hearts and ruff a second club, then cash the top diamonds to dispose of his remaining club loser. Back to hand with a second high heart, three rounds of trumps then leave declarer with 11 tricks. If the defence lead a red suit, declarer can play three rounds of diamonds, ruffing, then duck a spade. The defenders can get just one trick in each black suit. What about 4♥? Yes, that makes too, even if the defenders start with two rounds of clubs, forcing you. You ruff, play three rounds of spades, ruffing, then the ♥K and another heart, drawing trumps ending in dummy. You now have two good spades then the two top diamonds: 11 tricks again.
Could the American-Danish alliance at the other table reach one of the making games?
Christian Lahrmann certainly got full value out of his misfitting 13-count. When Finn Kolesnik responded 1NT, it looked likely that N/S would go plus in a partscore for a moderate gain. 2♦ does say “Please put down dummy, partner” in most languages but, apparently, not in Junior. Having already taken one more bid than the hand justified, Lahrmann then had the chance to pass 2NT, but he still felt he had one more feature to show. Could Kolesnik justify his partner’s bidding by raising to 4♥ or, perhaps, showing delayed spade support? No, he retreated to 3NT and Lahrmann finally gave up. (See, they don’t always keep bidding until someone doubles.)
East led a heart, declarer winning with the ♥A in dummy and playing a diamond to his ten. A valiant effort, but Pierre Schmidt was having none of it. He won with the ♦Q and had a low club on the table at the speed of light. NS -50 and a push board.
This combination caused trouble around the room. At 43 of the 92 tables in the Open Teams, NS got a plus score by playing in a partscore. 38 NS pairs bid to 3NT, and nine of those were allowed to make nine or more tricks. At only 11 of the 92 tables was a legitimately making game reached, 10 of those in 4♠, one in 4♥. No one got to 5♦.
On the next deal, the same tricky 4♥ contract was reached at both tables:
Board 7. Dealer South. Both Vul.
Nicolai Heiberg-Evenstad opened with a weak two in hearts and Andreas Abragi bid around the houses a bit before the partnership settled in game.
Romaric Guth found the good lead of the ♠5. With so many potential club losers to dispose of, it seems right to take what is essentially a free finesse, in that if it loses you can throw a loser on the ace anyway. Heiberg took the ♠A and crossed to his hand with a spade ruff to lead a club up.
The defence played two rounds of clubs and then North exited with a diamond, dummy’s nine winning. Then came a diamond to the king and a third round of clubs, North ruffing with the ♥4 in front of dummy. To make the contract from here, declarer must discard on this trick. When he overruffed with the ♥A, he was in trouble. He tried to cash the ♦A but South ruffed. Heiberg overruffed and tried to ruff his last club in dummy, but North stepped in with the ♥6. South still had to score a trick with the ♥Q, so that was one down. E/W -100.
Stéphane Garcia opened his weak two via a Multi. Pierre Schmidt’s jump to 4♣ asked his partner to transfer to his major, so the same contract was reached but played from the other side.
Christian Lahrmann found the only lead not to give a trick away, the ♦5, declarer capturing North’s queen with his ace. A diamond to the king then allowed declarer to play a club from dummy. Here, too, the defence played two rounds of clubs. North then switched to a spade and as discussed above, declarer could have effectively taken a free finesse but Schmidt also rose with the ♠A.
Schmidt tried to cash the ♦J, but South ruffed with the ♥9, overruffed in dummy. A club was played and North ruffed in front of declarer. Schmidt overruffed and now had a choice of two lines. He could simply take a trump finesse and, if he picked up the trumps, concede a club at the end. Or, he could ruff to dummy and try to ruff the remaining club, hoping that if North ruffed in that the ♥Q would by that time be singleton. After much thought, declarer played a trump to the jack and claimed his ten tricks when North followed with a low heart. E/W +620 and 12 IMPs to Meli Melo.
After a couple of relatively normal boards, the action returned to ‘bridge on steroids’, with both South players faced with the last of today’s problems.
Board 8. Dealer West. None Vul.
Luc Bellicaud wasted little time in raising to 4♥ and, as had become familiar by now, West’s double ended the brief auction. A red suit lead is best, and the defence duly began with two rounds of trumps followed by a diamond switch by Heiberg. Declarer won in dummy and led a low spade, but Heiberg rose with the ♠K and continued diamonds. That ensured the defence of five tricks: E/W +300.
The auction in the replay illustrated the difficulty of knowing when you have done enough…
Christian Lahrmann’s gentle raise to 3♥ was much more effective, leaving Stéphane Garcia with a tricky decision on the West cards. His hand isn’t quite good enough to commit to game, but his value-showing 3♣ bid has been taken away, and a responsive double seems unlikely to help. Pass is, of course, out of the question, so Garcia offered 3NT in much less time than it took you to read that analysis of the situation. When that came back to Lahrmann, he astutely determined that the Frenchman had bid too much and produced a red card. Garcia instantly retreated to 4♣ and Finn Kolesnik produced an equally quick double. Unfortunately, with the opponents on toast, Lahrmann fell from grace and undid all of his previous excellent work, by retreating to 4♥. As expected, Garcia gave that the traditional treatment in short order.
The defence here was equally effective: E/W +300 and another exciting flat board. Although only a 10-board match, the Great Dealer still found time for one more giant firework. With the French team ahead by 2 IMPs, this was the final deal of the contest.
Board 10. Dealer East. Both Vul.
Heiberg established a game force and then set hearts at the three-level. When Abragi declined to show any enthusiasm, he gave up in game. With diamonds 3-3, there were twelve tricks. E/W +680.
After the same start to the auction, Schmidt continued with a ‘non-serious’ 3♠, showing no extra values but a willingness to co-operate. Garcia waited with 3NT and Schmidt showed a diamond control. That was enough for Garcia to launch Blackwood. He found one key-card opposite and asked for the ♥Q, committing his side to slam when his partner held that card.
The defence began with the ♠A and a second spade. Watching on VuGraph, the next thing we heard was that declarer had claimed twelve tricks, so we don’t know if he actually played accurately or not. For the benefit of less-experienced readers, though, I’ll explain what declarer probably did/should have done. After ruffing the second spade, declarer takes two high trumps in dummy. If he draws the remaining trumps at that point, he will need to find diamonds 3-3, little more than a 1-in-3 chance. Instead, declarer plays the ♦K-Q from dummy and continues with a third diamond. If diamonds break 3-3, then declarer draws trumps and claims. If South (the hand with the outstanding trumps) started with four diamonds, then declarer will be able to win with the ♦A and ruff his last diamond with the ♥10. He can then return to hand in clubs and draw the rest of South’s trumps. There is also the possibility of a dummy reversal, mentioned by the Editor elsewhere. E/W +1430 and 13 IMPs to Meli Melo.
Meli Melo win the match 28-11 and moved up to third place with five wins from their opening seven matches. Good luck to both teams going forward, they are a breath of fresh air!
What did you think of the match?
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