News from the Bridge Room in the Algarve

Host's report by Rob Richardson:

The Holiday Inn, Algarve is a small friendly hotel about 45 min transfer from Faro Airport. The entire holiday, apart from one day, was blessed with warm sunny weather of the kind that we get in the UK in late spring (this comment does not apply in the case of our 2 guests from the Hebrides). There was such a full programme of bridge and hotel activities that we only managed to fit in one excursion, but it was to the end of the World. I should explain that this is Cape St.Vincent, the South West tip of mainland Europe which was considered to be the end of the World by the locals in the middle ages.

The main bridge session each day attracted between 12 and 14 tables, and it was was nice to see many different winners. This may be in part due to the complimentary wine with the evening meal and the very swift and enthusiastic wine waiter. The hotel particularly excelled itself on the two gala evenings, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.

On Christmas Day each year a charity “swim” takes place on the beach outside the hotel to raise money to supply shoes to barefoot children. This year your entire bridge staff along with a few hardy guests and about 200 local residents dressed up as Santa held hands and rushed into the Atlantic. I wish to report that I was pleasantly surprised by the warmth of the water. The size of the Atlantic waves, however, were somewhat bigger than they looked from the bridge room window. Very few, myself not included, managed to remain upright, let alone swim. In hindsight the people surfing a few yards away should have forewarned me.

New Year’s Eve festivities started with another wonderful gala dinner, accompanied by a very good musical duo, who carried on through midnight for guests to dance. More music was provided in the town square a few minute’s walk away. This was accompanied by fireworks, which those of us who remained in the hotel watched from the balcony. At about 12.15 the band retired to be replaced by three very under dressed young ladies who entertained us by dancing. They felt that help was required so they picked on a poor defenceless, slightly inebriated bridge host. I was somewhat shocked the next morning to discover how many people carry devices with a video capability.

A good time was had by all and I can thoroughly recommend this hotel for next Christmas.

Boas Festas,

Director's report by Andrew Kambites:

What are your criteria for pre-empting? If you open 3♦ on the North hand you will sometimes be rewarded by watching opponents writhe about in an attempt to find their correct game (or slam) contract but what are the dangers?

I think most readers would worry that they might run into a big penalty, but a lot of the time opponents, if given a free run, would bid to a high scoring contract so you won’t necessarily get a bad score. I think there is a greater danger. Pre-empting randomly first in hand you are effectively creating a guessing situation for each of the other three players, including your partner. Your biggest worry should be that it is partner who is strong and you end up with a minus score because he believes you have more for your pre-empt.

Suppose North opens 3♦ as dealer in this hand from the Swiss Pairs. What should South do? There is little room to investigate. South’s hand makes it obvious that North does not have a traditional pre-empt (with a robust suit and the large majority of his points, assumed to be in the range 7-9, in that suit) so should South assume North has something else (for example if North has the ♠A it is difficult to construct a hand where 6♦ won’t make) or should he settle for 3NT? If my partner opened the North hand with 3♦ I would bid 6♦, which has no chance on a club lead. Blackwood doesn’t help much because if you learn that North has no ace you cannot really stop in 5♦ at pairs scoring which is likely to score badly if the rest of the room is making overtricks in 3NT. In my view playing duplicate pairs South must either guess to bid 3NT or take a chance in 6♦.

You will gather from this that I don’t approve of random pre-empts when partner might be strong (ie. in first or second hand). In third seat that risk doesn’t exist because partner is known not to have an opening bid so you can be a bit more frisky.

So what if North passes? South will show a strong, balanced 23-24 points (2♣, 2♦, 2NT). What should North do now? If the diamonds are running then 3NT will play well. If South has a diamond holding of, for instance, ♦A doubleton then North’s diamonds will prove useless in 3NT and there will be no entry to the North hand to take finesses so 5♦ might be better. It is impossible to find out below 3NT so North has to just guess between 3NT and, 5♦. In pairs I tend to bid 3NT when the guess is between 3NT and 5-of-a-minor.

The play in 3NT (by South) is interesting. West leads the ♣K. South has 9 top tricks and if he believes that most people will be in 3NT or 5♦, he will be aware that 430 might be a very good score and 400 could be bad. West must find 6 discards when declarer runs the diamond suit and if he discards 4 hearts and the ♠Q 3 it should not be hard for declarer to work out that he is unlikely to hold the ♥K. (West would be very brave to keep the ♥K singleton and if he still has the ♥K guarded that means he started with 6 hearts: somewhat unlikely). I would expect to finish running the diamonds and be pretty confident that the heart finesse would work, giving me an overtrick. What a difference between duplicate pairs and teams! At teams you would be mad to risk your contract in the search for an overtrick.

The board was played 14 times.

6♦ making (+920) once scoring 26 MPS
3NT making (+400) five times scoring 18 MPS
5♦ making (+400) twice scoring 18 MPS
2NT + 1 (+150) once scoring 10 MPs
5♦ - 1 (-50) once scoring 5 MPs
6♦ - 1 (-50) three times scoring 5 MPs
7♦ - 3 (-150) once scoring 0 MPs

3NT + 1 (+430) would have scored 24 MPs. Obviously nobody in 3NT took the heart finesse. In my view the overtrick was probably available with very little risk to any declarer who carefully watched the discards. I will leave it to you to decide whether the risk was too great. I would comment that the top specialist pairs players tend to get this sort of thing right.

Prize Winners:

Mary & Laurie Gordon, Winners of Swiss Pairs

Donne Hoong, Gaynor Bresler & Neil Bresler who with Pip Duncan were runners up in the Swiss Teams. Donne & Pip also won the championship Pairs

Richard Vessey, Claire Hillyard, Beverley & Elliott Black, Winners of Swiss Teams