April 24, 2024

The Australian Gold Coast Congress – Part 1

Marc Smith is a regular contributor to numerous bridge magazines and he has also written more than 30 books on the game.

BBO Vugraph – The Australian Gold Coast Congress – Part 1

Vugraph #413

We have travelled to the east coast of Australia for the annual Gold Coast Congress. An impressive total of 148 teams sat down for the first round of the qualifying stage of the Open Teams. After 12 rounds of Swiss Teams, the top six teams advanced to the knockout stage. These were the leading teams from that initial stage:

DALLEY 173.31 VPs
SPOONER 160.46
HAFFER 158.56
WARE 155.64
YOSHKA 155.40
HUNG 154.52

The leading two teams from the Swiss were automatically seeded through to the semi-finals. In the Round of Four, HAFFER defeated BEAUCHAMP 56-48 and WARE beat YOSHKA 68-34. One semi-final match went with the seeding, as DALLEY saw off the challenge of HAFFER by 105-45. The other did not, with WARE upsetting SPOONER 116-102.

The final would be DALLEY (Paul Dalley, Arlene Dalley, Tony Nunn and Ashley Bach) against WARE (Michael Ware, Hugh McGann, Brian Mace, Tom Jacob, Pete Hollands and Matthew Thomson). The format was a 48-board match divided into four 12-board stanzas.

As usual, we start with some problems. Firstly, with neither side vulnerable, you are South holding:

What action, if any, do you take?

Next, with only your side vulnerable, you are sitting in the North seat with:

What action, if any, do you take?

Finally, with only your side vulnerable, you hold in the East seat:

What action do you take?

While you consider those, we begin on the opening deal of the match, with both South players charged with answering the first of the problems above.

Having watched Ireland’s top pair in action often enough, it was something of a surprise to see the usually aggressive Hugh McGann passing that North hand non-vulnerable in first seat. When Matthew Thomson also declined to take action at his first opportunity, that was about the end of N/S’s chances of getting into the auction on a deal that belonged to them.

Paul Dalley (left) chose to raise spades via a Bergen variant. This seems a strange choice if you are going to bid game anyway when partner shows a minimum. Would it not be more descriptive to splinter on the first round?

With no diamond ruff available to the defence, the fate of the contract came down to the club finesse. When South showed up with the ♣A, that was one down. N/S +50.

Tom Jacob (right) began his international career as a member of the New Zealand team at the 1992 World Team Olympiad in Salsomaggiore, and he has been a regular representative of the Kiwis at both Open and Senior level for more than three decades. In 2023, playing with his current partner, Brian Mace, he finished in the Top 10 in the final of the Senior Pairs at the European Transnational Championships.

After the same start, Arlene Dalley came in with a 2♣ overcall on the South cards, and Mace showed his spade fit with a 3♣ cue-bid. The other New Zealander in this final, Ashley Bach, could afford to introduce his heart suit at the three-level with the expectation of a probably nine-card club fit to fall back on if needed. Despite his minimum, Jacob jumped to 4♠, judging well, as that would have been a cheap save against the making 4. Unable to tell who the deal belonged to, Dalley understandably pressed on to 5, which was theoretically one too high for her side.

Jacob kicked off with the A, followed by the 6 to his partner’s king. Is it so unreasonable for Mace to play declarer for something like xx/AKJxx/Qxxx/xx? Mace continued with a third round of diamonds, hoping to score the setting trick with his partner’s J or Q, ruffing high in front of dummy. Of course, on the actual layout, the ruff-and-discard allowed declarer to dispose of his club loser. With the ♣K onside, that was now 11 tricks for declarer: N/S +450 and 9 IMPs to DALLEY to open the scoring.

Later in the set, both North players found themselves in a tricky 3NT contract.

Tony Nunn (left) opened the ♣9 against Hugh McGann. Declarer played the ♣Q from dummy and allowed West to win with the ♣K. Paul Dalley switched to the ♠9, ducked to East’s queen, and McGann won the club continuation in hand with the ace. Now came three rounds of hearts, West winning with the queen as dummy’s long heart was established. With declarer now cut off from his hand, Dalley exited safely with his remaining club. Declarer could win and cash the thirteenth card in each of the rounded suits but, when a diamond to the queen lost, East exited with a diamond and West claimed the last two tricks. N/S -100.

In the replay, Tom Jacobs led the 2 against Ashley Bach (right). Declarer won with the K and led a low club to the queen, which won. He then played a heart to the ace and a third heart around to West’s queen. Brian Mace switched to the ♠9, ducked to East’s queen, and Jacob exited with a club. Bach won with the ♣A and continued with a third club, taken by West with the king. Mace now had to make the key decision. A diamond through declarer’s queen would have left Bach in the same position as McGann had found himself at the first table, with the same result.

When Mace instead played the ♠8, Bach put in the ten. Winning the fourth defensive trick with the ♠K, Jacob found himself comprehensively endplayed. A spade into declarer’s A-6 would give Back three tricks in that suit. No better for the defence, a diamond away from the king not only gave declarer a trick with the Q but also access to the previously-stranded ♠A. Either way, declarer had nine tricks. N/S +400 and 11 IMPs to DALLEY.

DALLEY won a hard-fought opening stanza 25-16. Approaching the midway point of the second segment, the match score had advanced to 29-26. Then both North players had to deal with the second of this week’s problems.

When Hugh McGann (left) raised pre-emptively to 3♠, Arlene Dalley was left with a decision. Do you enter the fray vulnerable at the four-level with no guarantee of a fit? Dalley chose not to do so. Matthew Thomson might have passed his partner’s weak raise, but he invested an extra 50-point undertrick to make sure that the opponents did not get into the auction.

The favourable club position meant that declarer had only one loser in that suit, but there were still two diamonds and a trick in each major to be lost, so that was two down. N/S +100.

Pete Hollands (right) made his international debut as a member of the Australian Schools team at the 2006 World Youth Championships. He was a member of various Wallaby youth teams over the next seven years, culminating in a silver medal from the Junior Teams at the 2013 world championships in Atlanta. Hollands made his first appearance in Australia’s Open team at the 2017 Bermuda Bowl.

Paul Dalley also raised pre-emptively to 3♠ on the West hand, but Hollands was not willing to be shut out, and he entered with a double. Tony Nunn raised to game in spades, but Michael Ware had enough to compete to the five-level.

Ware won the spade lead, drew trumps in three rounds, and then played the A and a second diamond. Nunn could cash his ♣A but, with dummy’s diamonds now ready to run, that was the last trick for the defence. N/S +650 and 11 IMPs to WARE.

The very next deal provided yet more entertainment for anyone who had braved a significant time difference to watch the action live on BBO VuGraph. At both tables, East faced a variation on the last of this week’s problems.

At his first turn, Tony Nunn showed an invitational or better three-card heart raise via a 2♠ cue-bid. With his side having bid game in hearts, he then had to make a decision when the opponents bid on to 4♠. Nunn chose to defend. With six top winners to take, any defence leads to three down: E/W +500.

In the replay, Matthew Thomson (left) found himself in a similar position as Nunn had at the first table. Thomson took a much more optimistic view of his hand and advanced with Blackwood. Hugh McGann’s 5♠ response, showing two key cards plus the trump queen, committed the partnership to slam,

Arlene Dalley led the Q against 6♠. McGann won in dummy and immediately ran the ♣J. Winning with the ♣K, Dalley continued diamonds. When South could not ruff dummy’s ace, McGann was in good shape. He played a trump to his hand and a second round back to dummy. When trumps split, he led a club to the ace. When both defenders followed, he ruffed a club with dummy remaining high trump. Returning to his hand with a spade ruff, he drew the last trump and claimed. E/W +1430 and another 14 IMPs to WARE.

WARE won the second stanza 40-17, so they led by 14 IMPs, 56-42, at the midway point of the match.

We will be back soon with the highlights of the second half of this final.