The following reminiscences come from games in my virtual travels around the UK and overseas. Not football, not the national sides but an element of penalty shoot-out.
We are playing a multiple teams match between a club in Italy and one in England. The format is a series of separate, 16 board teams-of-four, mini-matches with the aggregate VP score deciding the overall winner. The English club won the event with victory in the majority of nine, closely contested, mini-matches but here we will consider two deals where marginal decisions went very much in favour of club Italy.
Small margins, big swings.
This was Board 12 in one mini-match.
Both pairs were playing strong no-trump and 5 card majors. Not much in common after that. Club Italy sat East-West. West dealt and opened with a disciplined Pass; non-vulnerable against vulnerable opponents some Wests may well start with 1S, 10 high card points (hcp) and 5-4 “shape”, quite tempting. North opened 1H, East passed and South bid 2H. Within the system that NS were playing a response of 3H was permissible as it showed 4-card support and 4 to 6 hcp. A pre-emptive tactic based on bidding to the level of fit (in line with the Law of Total Tricks). It seems that South considered his high cards to be too soft for this. However, NS played a raise to 2H as mildly constructive (good 6-9 hcp) with precisely 3-card support. Now West joined in with 2S. From North’s point of view, there was a chance of game in Hearts if his partner had key cards in the red suits. There seemed no harm in making a try by bidding 3D. South was not encouraged and bid 3H which North dutifully passed. Somewhat to North and South’s surprise, East doubled. After a Spade lead the defence was straightforward and EW collected +500.
The double of 3H is by no means obvious. North has shown an above average hand, South has shown constructive values (even though he does not have them), West’s 2S did not promise a single defensive trick. It is generally accepted that you must expect at least a 2-trick defeat when doubling a part-score into game at teams. The double looks more like a tactic at pairs scoring, recognising that if 3H goes down, +100 will not score well when your side can make +110. However, you cannot argue with success, East’s judgment was “on the money”.
South, may well regret not responding 3H immediately which North would not disturb and would most likely have been passed out. Even so, NS would have a loss (7imp) on the board with 2H making at the other table. So, the double actually only gained 5imp and risked losing 12 if 3H made.
This deal is an excellent example of how several marginal decisions combine to produce an unexpected large swing on a rather innocent looking deal. Keen observers will have noticed that EW can make 3Nt on their combined 22hcp, a contract that may only be reached if West opens the bidding, and also 4S if NS do not find a Diamond ruff. There was an element of pay-back on this deal for club Italy who had lost two 500 penalties on other boards. So, club England won the penalties but still lost the match.
On the next deal, Board 13, marginal decisions also worked against the English.
North, dealer at game all, opened 1H, East overcalled 1S, South passed and West raised to 2S. North was happy to show the strength of his hand with 3C. East passed, South corrected to 3H and this was passed out. Some players sitting South might have made a free-bid of 2H over East’s 1S. Some North’s might have been carried away by South’s simple preference and bid on to game. From North’s point of view South could be giving preference on two small cards and no high cards. East, reluctant to lead from his honours led a trump and when West played the King declarer was able to set up the Club suit with one ruff in dummy and claim ten tricks. At the other table, South did bid 2H and this, rightly, encouraged North to bid game over West’s 2S. The defence nearly prevailed. East led the Ace of Spades and continued the suit, declarer ruffing the third round. However, when East won the Ace of Clubs, East switched to trumps allowing North to make ten tricks. Clearly, declarer has only one entry to dummy and cannot finesse twice in trumps unless the defence leads the suit. East, realised too late, that with three tricks “in the bag” only one more was needed to beat the contract. West had signalled an even number of cards in the Club suit so West might have seen that a trump switch could not help the defence and may be dangerous. The outcome of this was another 10imp to club Italy. Over the two boards club Italy gained 22imp, but could have lost a few with different, close decisions by both sides. Small margins, big swings.
Ian Moss. December 2021.