Tollemache Qualifying Round 1997-1998

by Chris Larlham & Paul Barden

Ed: Having received enough material to fill a book, we've combined Chris Larlham's and Paul Barden's articles into one. As Catherine Ashment puts it:

Editors Jagger and Mestel
Request articles; then they molest all.
Putting commas in place,
Chopping bits for the space,
Then rewrite the rest till it reads well!

Apologies to both of them for butchering their articles! Chris takes up the tale:

This year, Cambs & Hunts was able to field its first choice team of 8 in the annual inter-county competition for the Tollemache Cup. Paul Barden & Jonathan Mestel, David Kendrick & Fiske Warren and Chris Jagger & Gareth Roberts (3 of the 4 pairs who won the silver medal in 1995/96) were joined by Giles Woodruff & John Young, the latter having arrived on a free transfer from Northants.

Having failed to qualify for last year's final, the team were unseeded and were drawn in group B. The final total of 124 VPs (77.5%) was the highest in the 4 groups; Yorkshire were second in group B and the other qualifiers were Bedfordshire and Warwickshire (Group A) London and Dorset (Group C) and Kent and Northants (the latter on a split tie from the North East - Group D). 12-board matches are played against each of the other 8 teams in a group, with each NS pair cross-imping with each EW pair - so good and bad results count double. The first session on Saturday afternoon consists of six half matches; on Saturday evening two full matches are played and on Sunday the remaining six half matches.

Here are a few hands from the first session on Saturday afternoon. I spent the weekend watching Fiske Warren cope with David Kendrick's less than orthodox style; the first session was not their best. The second board accounted for more than the ultimate margin of defeat:

Love All
S QJ872
H 4
D A8
C A7543
Dealer South
S 94
H KJ109765
D 102
C 86
W         E
S AK65
H A32
D KJ9743
C -
S 103
H Q8
D Q65
C KQJ1092

At the Kendrick/Warren table the bidding started 1c-(3h)-3s whereafter East made a slam try before resting in 5h, which would have been fine (6h making on a diamond guess) except that Fiske decided to double the final contract for -750. The opponents bid and made the slam against Giles and John, Paul & Jonathan flattened the Kendrick/Warren result and Chris & Gareth collected 50 from a club contract. The first half of the match against Manchester resulted in a win by 57 IMPs, with Jonathan finding a good false card.

Love All
H J6
D KJ743
C Q103
Dealer South
S 54
H K875
D 852
C AJ64
W         E
S A9873
H 103
D Q109
C 985
S K106
H AQ942
D A6
C K72

Paul: Opponents had a Precision sequence to 3NT, after Jonathan had overcalled in spades. I led a spade which declarer won in dumy to run the hJ. I fatuously ducked, but declarer continued hearts and I won and we cleared the spades. Declarer cashed his hearts, and Jonathan's first pitch was c9, ostensibly encouraging. Declarer was sufficiently impressed to try the diamond finesse for his ninth trick, so that was two off.

Chris: The half-time score against Oxford was less than happy: 56-105. Fortunately the first half of the match against Cornwall was a bit of a rout with Cambs & Hunts winning 111-14. Then against Wiltshire the following slam hand came up.

NS Vul.
S KQ109764
H -
D AJ1096
Dealer North
S -
H AJ98742
D 752
C K98
W         E
S 52
H Q106
D K8
C QJ7654
S AJ83
H K53
D Q43
C 1032

Fiske opened an Acol 2s (every time he did so there was an expectant glance from his LHO at David who illustrated his failure to alert by raising his clenched right fist in the air, rather like a black power salute); David raised to 3s and bid 4h over Fiske's 3d rebid. This was somewhat fatuously doubled by W and Fiske bid 5c over which David had nothing more to say than 5s. Fiske was now concerned that David had a wasted ace of hearts and that he had a diamond to lose as well as a spade and passed; as David was not slow to point out, had he passed the double of 4h he would have discovered from Dave's failure to redouble that he didn't hold the ace of hearts and must therefore hold the ace of spades for his original raise to 3s. Fortunately the loss on the board was reduced by a double of Giles & John's 6s contract that was as insulting as the double of 4h had been fatuous.

The half-time score was 64-34 to Cambs & Hunts, thanks partly to a 3NT contract Chris & Gareth defeated:

Love All
D Q6
C A832
Dealer South
S 9542
H 105
D A1032
C K65
W         E
S J73
H A98
D J97
C J974
S 106
H J7632
D K854
C Q10

Paul: The other three tables made 4h, against us by North after a transfer sequence. Even if a trump lead is found, declarer has only to guess the clubs, and if he fails to do that he can hardly avoid squeezing West. But at one table South just raised 2NT to 3NT. Gareth led a club, declarer played the 10 from dummy, and Chris did well to duck, and declarer now failed to find a ninth trick. In fact he could always make his contract. Three rounds of hearts put West under pressure, and he will do well to guess to pitch a diamond. Now East continues clubs. North ducks the king and wins the next club (discarding a diamond from dummy), then leads the queen of diamonds, which West must duck. Now four rounds of spades discarding dummy's hearts leave West on play to concede the ninth trick to the king of diamonds.

Chris: Overnight, we were lying second, just behind Yorkshire and with Berks & Bucks and Oxford close behind. We immediately dropped another VP to Berks & Bucks. Against Oxford we had a lot of ground to make up and after two quiet boards Giles and John pulled back 20 IMPs when they found a cheap save in 6sx against 6c:

Love All
S 10652
H J10876
D 6432
C -
Dealer South
H AQ43
D AJ109
C A74
W         E
S -
H 9
D 875
C KJ10986532
S KQ98743
H K52
   South       West       North       East   
1s X 2s 5c
P 6c P P

Paul: All four tables had the same auction, but John bid 6s which was doubled for -500. Jonathan must have seen me flinch when North showed out on the ace of clubs at trick two, because he dropped the king under it. We picked up 71 to win the match 13-7, putting us in first place and Oxford out of the running...

Chris: Against Cornwall, the target was a mere 12 IMPs for the 20th VP: 3 boards brought in 65 unanswered IMPs and the only blemish was when both the Cornish pairs had no difficulty in bidding and making 6NT. Paul & Jonathan stopped in 4NT; Fiske told me that it was the sort of hand where a good pair might well stay out of slam but he didn't descend into detail so I can't tell you exactly why. Chris & Gareth must have had an interesting auction because they played in 6c, making all 13 tricks when both clubs and hearts were 3-3.

Love All
S AK94
D AK98
C Q53
Dealer South
S J82
H 974
D 10763
C 1096
W         E
S 10765
H Q62
C J74
S Q3
H J10853
D 42
C AK82
   South       West       North       East   
P P 2d P
2s P 2NT P
3d P 3h P
4c P 4d P
4s P 4NT P
6c P P P

Editors: This multi sequence showed 22-23 balanced, and South showed five hearts and four clubs, some slam interest. Over this, North has a problem - normally with a misfit he would bid 4NT, but his AK holdings seemed too good, so he bid 4d, supposedly showing a fit for at least one suit. 4s was a cue, allowing partner to show what he had, and 4NT was non-forcing, denying hearts, so inferentially showing clubs. Hence South opted for the club slam. Paul and Jonathan had a similar auction but bid 4NT instead of 4s, and North, with no fit, and already having shown slam interest, decided to let matters rest there.

Paul: One interesting hand we didn't play that Tom Townsend gave me:

Love All
H AQ62
D Q6
C A842
Dealer South
S 7
H 9
D J10987532
C 1063
W         E
S 6532
H J7543
D K4
C Q7
S KJ1098
H K108
C KJ95

Tom played in 6c with the South cards after a 2d overcall by West. West led the jack of diamonds round to the ace. The only danger here is two trump tricks, and the standard safety play here is to cash the king then play a club to the eight, or if West shows out on the second round rise with the ace and lead a club towards the jack. But that wouldn't work here since East with Q10xx in clubs could win the third round and force declarer in diamonds. Tom found the ingenious variation of cashing cK then crossing to hA to lead a club towards J95. East, suitably impressed, took his doubleton queen of clubs and gave West a heart ruff.

Chris: Into the home straight against Wiltshire and Yorkshire, Wiltshire being also Yorkshire's other match. Provided we didn't have any disasters we were sure to qualify in that Yorkshire could gain at most 1 VP from Wiltshire. We had an overnight lead of 14-6 which was turned into a comprehensive 20-0 with 102 unanswered IMPs on three boards. We also hung on (just) to our 11-9 overnight lead against Yorkshire.

The team were a pleasure to captain, maintaining their good humour despite the odd setback and rarely needing the services of the TD. Let's hope they can go one better in the final next February.