Newmarket Open Swiss Teams

by Victor Milman

I was asked to write about the Newmarket Open Swiss Teams, a nice homey competition that was won this year, quite unexpectedly - especially for ourselves - by Eryl Howard, Sally Dempster, Nadia Stelmashenko and myself. The team was put together on a rather short notice and did not have high ambitions until the penultimate round when we managed to beat Giles Woodruff's team 17-3. This win put us in the second position, and we had to play Dr Hair, the leading team, in the last round. This was lucky since our fate was in our own hands, and 15-5 was just enough to beat Giles' team by one VP!

Our teammates played solid bridge throughout, bidding and making their games and slams. Here is an example of bridge judgement by Sally from the match against Woodruff, the board that probably decided the distribution of the prizes. Sally held Qx Axxxx Qx AKQx and the bidding started identically at both tables: 1d by her partner, 2s weak jump overcall by nonvulnerable opponents. The difference, however, was that Eryl's 1d was precision, 11-15, while Giles's 1d was a normal unlimited Acol bid. At this point Sally decided that the only chance of a slam was to find a heart fit with her partner; without a fit they were unlikely to have enough points and tricks for a slam. She then continued with a forcing bid of 3h and passed partner's 3NT response which denied fit. As it happens, 1d opener had a maximum, nice 15 count (Kxx QJ AKJxx Jxx), and 6NT depended on a heart finesse which was off. Eryl still managed to take 12 tricks in her vulnerable game, but then defence to a cold 3NT is an ungrateful task at IMPs. At our table events took a different turn when Steve Siklos decided to double for takeout with his strong hand. Now Giles jumped to 3NT, his partner very reasonably bid 6NT. On a heart lead with the spade return declarer lost the first two tricks: a very useful gain for our team.

Here is another hand from the same match where Eryl and Sally stayed in a partscore, with opponents bidding to a hopeless game. Sally (and Steve) both opened 1s in the third seat, and in both cases this showed a 5 card suit. Once again, Sally's bid was limited by 15 points, while Steve's wasn't. At our table Nadia bravely overcalled 1s with 3h - very weak, king to six and nothing else. Giles leapt to 4s on this hand: xx Axxx xxx AJxx. The contract had no play since trumps broke 4-2, not unexpectedly in view of the preempt, and the peaceful 2NT by our teammates brought another badly needed swing.

The only game (as far as I recollect) that our teammates missed still brought us one IMP, although on a rather unusual score comparison: 2s+2 by our teammates, +170, and 6c-3, -150, by us! The full hand, rotated for convenience, was):

E-W Game
S Qx
H 10xxx
D 10xx
C 10xxx
Dealer S
S AJxxxx
H Qxx
D Kxx
W        E
S Kxxx
H AJxx
D Qx
C Kxx
S x
H Kx
D AJxxx
C AQxxx

Our bidding went very high very quickly:

VM       West       NS       East      
1d 1s P 4s
5c 5s 6c all pass.

In fairness to my partner, she missed an easy sacrifice in 5d a few boards earlier and had been mildly criticized for that. This time she was determined to sacrifice at as high a level as was needed - thus 6c. The bidding was so confident that nobody could find an obvious double. I have sympathy with West, who probably expected 4s to be of a preemptive variety. On the other hand East was unhappy about doubling with weak and finessible holdings in both minors. As the cards are, 4s is the last making spot for E-W, so our 6c turned a plus into a minus - at least not a very big minus.

Teammates managed to stop in 2s after a scientific sequence:

SD       West       EH       East      
1d 1s P 2d
P 2s all pass.

2d here showed support for spades with at least invitational values; perhaps after 2s East has enough to either make another try or just blast 4s - it's a vulnerable game at teams, after all, and partner's minimum for a vulnerable overcall will probably offer some play for the contract. It's hard work getting 1 IMP in...

Brilliant defence by Sally and Eryl earned us a game swing on the next hand.

S AKxx
H 10xx
D xx
C Axxx
Dealer S
S Qxx
H KJxx
D AQxxx
C x
W        E
S Jxxx
H Axx
D xxx
C xx
S x
H Qxx
C KQJ1098

At our table the bidding was

South       West       North       East      
1c 1d 1s 2d
2NT P 3NT all pass

and was pretty similar at the other table, probably with a negative double instead of the 1s bid. 2NT is a fairly aggressive enterprise on the South hand, but it seems that the club suit is good enough to justify the bid. I was lucky to get a diamond lead, so that nine top tricks were available, and at the end West was endplayed with a spade and conceded another diamond, +430 (it's hard to keep everything on the run of clubs - are you tired of references to bad defence?). Sally found an inspired lead of a small heart, and now declarer can only take his top eight tricks he started with. I think this defence illustrates a nice point. When you bid a suit, even with partner supporting it, and opposition bids confident no-trumps after that, it pays off to look for an alternative lead. Once in a while they will be bluffing, but in the long run their 2NT-3NT sequence shows that they do have the suit stopped. If anything, let partner lead towards your broken holding through the hand that announced the stopper first. Another case of leading your suit regardless of the bidding often occurs after a preempt. One can so frequently see the bidding go (2h) - 2s - P - 2NT, P - 3NT or some such, and preemptor on lead still fishes out the fourth highest from a holding like K10xxxx with at most one outside entry. I'd suggest that having some respect for opponents' bidding will save a few tricks on hands of this sort.

Back to the Newmarket competition. Nadia and myself specialized on the day in bidding and making pretty thin vulnerable games. The reasoning went as follows: we know pretty well that defence is difficult; it's probably as difficult for our opponents as it is for us; the normal odds for bidding a vulnerable game at IMPs are at about 30%; let's add a misdefence factor, and you have to bid 15-20% games...and so we did...

Here is one example. The hands were Q10xxx x AJ1098 xx opposite Kxxx Kxxxxx xx A, and the bidding was straightforwardish: 2s-4s. The 2s opening showed a weak 5-5 hand with spades and an unspecified suit; being vulnerable, partner was expected to have a reasonable hand as far as weak openings go. It seemed to me that 4s should have enough play opposite either minor. And indeed, diamonds were established for one loser on the lead, the ace of hearts was right although that was irrelevant. All that was needed now was for Nadia to play trumps for one loser, which needs either spades breaking 2-2 or finding a singleton honour. Declarer thought that the best line would be a small spade from hand to the king, and she dutifully tried performing this at trick four, being in fact in dummy with the ace of clubs. She was not allowed to play from the wrong hand and decided to lead a small trump from the table instead which was luckily covered with a singleton ace. There did not seem to be much to choose between the two lines, but declarer would have gone down if allowed to play according to her original plan...

Another pushy vulnerable game was bid as follows: 1NT-2h, 3s-4s, with the hands being Q9xx Kxx AKxx Ax opposite KJ10xx xxx x xxxx. 1NT promised 15-17 points, the transfer break showed four card support and 16-17 points. Now Nadia decided that her hand, however weak, had sufficient playing strength and went on to game. Note that this time we had more points, the whole 20 of them instead of 17 in the previous example. The hA lead on a not very informative auction solved all the problems. As it happens, this is a roughly 65% game which requires hA being onside or an original heart lead - see above about defensive contributions to the odds...

If you think that this was quite enough overbidding for one afternoon, here is the hand from the final match: AJ10 Qx AQJxx KJx opposite xx J10xxxx Kx xxx. The bidding went 1d-1h, 2NT-4h. The opening could in theory be on a three card suit, but the 2NT rebid (i) showed 17-18 points; (ii) denied four hearts; (iii) by inference promised at least a four-card diamond suit. This meant that the Kx diamond holding became nearly ideal, and another vulnerable game was bid. On a lead of a small spade the play was simple, and defence not quite accurate: ace of spades, three rounds of diamonds discarding sx (the first hurdle - diamonds had to be 3-3). This was followed by declarer playing on trumps, and the defence on spades. After seeing my RHO turn up with king-queen of spades and ace-king of hearts it was easy at the end to play a club to the king to bring home a game and another 11 IMPs. Of course, a club switch at any time takes the contract down - but remember, misdefence has been factored in...

Our only disaster happened, not surprisingly, when it was our turn to defend.

Love all
S Kx
H Qxx
D xx
C AQ9xxx
Dealer E
S 10xx
H x
D A10xxx
C 10xxx
W        E
H KJxxx
D QJxx
S Axxxxx
H A10xx
D Kx
C x
East       South       West       North      
1h 1s P 2c
2d 2s 3d X

Perhaps the 2s bid was too aggressive, and partner expected more from my hand, but it's still hard to find the penalty double of a red two-suiter by North. I passed as South because of nice controls, hopefully a trump trick or a club ruff or two. Little did I know that partner would return a high club for me to ruff, asking for a spade, and then unblock the king of spades under the ace...There was no way of defeating the contract from there. A normal low spade under the ace, followed by a spade to the king and another club ruff with the now bare king of trumps would have netted +300.

This hand reminded me of a piece of advice I was given when playing in my first ever teams competition. First of all, don't double a partscore. Secondly, whatever you do, NEVER double a partscore.