Bournemouth 2004

by Victor Milman

This year David Kendrick and myself managed to improve on our previous performance in the Two Stars Championship at Bournemouth Autumn Congress - we were fifth last year - by winning the competition. The format of the championship has been essentially unchanged for a few years: there is a qualifying round, a semi-final, and eventually a 28-pairs all play all final. One has to score slightly above 50% in the first two rounds to get to the main final, so that in some sense, this is the most selective pairs competition in the EBU calendar. By the time you get to the final there are mostly strong players left, and the results become a lot more predictable.

The last third of the final is barometer scored, so one can see the results and the rankings after every two boards. Our 57.7% was sufficient to win by half a board or 1% , while the last place scored 43% - such small scatter of results usually means there was a fairly even field in the event. Two other Cambridge pairs, Catherine Jagger & Jonathan Mestel and Chris Jagger & Ian Pagan also qualified for the Two Stars final. Roger Courtney & Robin Cambery and Mike Seaver & Peter Bhagat qualified for the Satellite Pairs final.

The final, as expected, was a lot tougher. We had exactly 50% in the first session of the final, and not surprisingly we were exactly 14th out of 28 pairs. Fortunately this was followed by a 64% session which put us in the 2nd place before the dinner break. A very good advice from David helped to keep concentration through the barometer-scored last session: not to keep a score card, not to look at the score slips brought to the table, and not to join the crowd discussing previously played hands. Our 59% score in this session was enough to move us into 1st place. Interestingly enough, we had not been in the lead at any stage of the competition - we needed the very last board to win the event.

I'd like to mention our bidding system ("Standard Kendrick") before showing any hands. We played a 15-17 notrump, 4-card majors, Acol two openings, and essentially no conventions beyond Stayman and Blackwood. We were laughed at on few occasions for using such a "primitive" system: hey, it worked, so perhaps there is enough mileage left in simple systems.

There were quite a few interesting hands in the qualifiers. Here is an example of David's declarer play on our first round in a delicate 3NT contract:

Dealer E
S A3
H QJ10643
C K874
N/S Vul
S K984
H 52
D AQ8643
C 9
W         E
H K87
D J97
S 107652
H A9
D 1052
C 1053
   East       South       West       North   
1NT P 2c 2h
P P 3h* P

The defence started with hA followed by h9 overtaken by North and won by declarer's king. Placing North with all the remaining points for his contribution to the bidding at the adverse vulnerability, David took the extra precaution of leading the dJ: it would be very difficult for South not to cover holding the king. When South calmly played low, declarer called for dA dropping the singleton king, finessed in clubs on the way back, cashed the ace of clubs, and finessed against the d10 to make his contract. Another illustration of the "careless talk costs tricks" concept in the bidding –- the 2h bid helped declarer to land a difficult contract, and gave us an easier option of defending 2h doubled.

David brought in another tight 3NT against Jonathan and Catherine in the semifinal. The bidding below is close to reasonable on the actual hands

Dealer S
S AK952
H J8
D 10732
C 104
E/W Vul
S 84
H K106
D Q96
C AQ987
W         E
S Q1063
H A532
C 62
S J7
H Q974
D A85
C KJ53
   CJ       VM       JM       DK   
P 1c 2s 3NT

1c is on a light side, but it looks normal; 2s on a good 5-card suit at favourable vulnerability also happens quite often; 3NT, on the surface, is an overbid in high card strength but the spade holding after the preemptive 2s bid may be worth two tricks for declarer; a fact which persuaded David to upgrade the hand. Actually, as David pointed out afterwards, 3NT is not a good bid: you don’t need to push for thin games at pairs. Getting +120 would have been 80%, +150 was 90%, so trying to get an extra 10% and risking a near bottom for –100 is not winning pairs bridge. The hand was passed out at many tables...

The sJ lead was ducked to the queen. Now the club finesse and a 3-3 break would have given an easy nine tricks, since declarer has time to establish two diamonds to go with a spade, four clubs and two hearts. On the actual layout David took the club finesse and played two more rounds of clubs. Now N/S can cash two clubs, a diamond and two spades –- easier said than done! One must appreciate that throughout the hand N/S expect declarer to have more values. South does not know that North has AK of spades; North hopes that South led from J10x when the contract will be defeated via a club and four spade tricks. On the third club North does not want to throw away a spade which might be a setting trick or bare the hJ with K106 on the table. In practice Jonathan discarded the d7 (intending it as count, but it was probably encouraging in their methods). South now switched to the dA, followed by another diamond. After three rounds of diamonds declarer leads a spade from the table, and defensive communications are broken beyond repair. North goes up with the king, cashes another spade and switches to a heart. Declarer is now home and dry. The heart switch is taken with the ace, and the ten of spades squeezes South who holds hQ9 cK in front of dummy's hK10 cQ.

The final mostly went smoothly for us. We had our share of luck, of course, but sometimes we had to work hard to get our good scores. You know the feeling: after a card perfect defence against 4h, where declarer believed every wrong clue he was given, you open the traveller to score your well earned +50 and find that the earlier results were 6h-1!

Before the last two-board round we were only 3 matchpoints behind the leaders. The penultimate board was flat, so the last board decided the fate of the first three places. The hand presented a defensive problem for our opponents –- they got it wrong, and so did the pair that played against Forrester-Allfrey. This meant first place for us, and a jump to second place for Forrester. Let's see if you get the defence right.

S AK1093
H Q4
D Q975
C Q8
H A73
D J8642
C 9652

Unopposed, the opponents bid:

1h-1s, 2h-3d, 3s-4h.

You lead your singleton sQ taken in dummy, while partner plays the five and declarer the four. The h4 is led from dummy, the trick goes: 4-2-J-A. Obviously you need to find partner’s entry to get your spade ruff. Is it a club or a diamond?

There were at least two pointers the correct switch: the auction and the cards played at the first trick. Our unlucky defender switched to a diamond, while his partner in fact held cAK. Firstly, opponents showed no sign of no-trump interest after bidding three suits; they are likely to lack a club control. More importantly, partner's card at trick one is surely suit preference. He can see from the bidding that your lead was a singleton, so he should play the lowest of his spades as a club preference signal, and the highest would ask for a diamond switch. So which one is the 5? You know from the bidding that opposition has at most a 5-3 spade fit (possibly even 5-2 if the 3s bid was a preference on Jx, for example). This marks partner with at least four spades, and so his s5 cannot possibly be the highest. One thing is clear: if partner has an entry, it's not in diamonds. There is only one card lower than the five that you can’t see: either declarer is hiding the deuce, or partner has it. You might as well try a club at this point: either partner has no quick entry and is showing count, or his entry is in clubs.

One last point about the hand, regarding declarer's play. Concealing the s2 is automatic, but note also the piscatorial aspect of the play in the trump suit. A low heart to the jack creates an illusion of partner possibly having the king of trumps, in which case it is not so important to try and find his minor suit entry.

The end of the session came as a great relief -– at last we could have a look at the standings, and it became immediately clear that 4h+2 missing the ace of trumps and AK in a side suit was good enough to win the final.

Postcard to the editors: We have received the following from Aunt Agony: "Having a wonderful time. Tell S. she was quite right not to cash out - partner should have given her a count on the diamonds. AA." We hope this makes sense to S.