News from the bridge room at the Chateau Bela, Slovakia

Host report by Jane and James Tullett

This is the debut First for Bridge holiday at Chateau Bela close to the Slovakia / Hungary border and what a stunning location. The chateau was built in 1138 and this beautiful building ,furnished with baroque furniture, is set in 28 hectares of grounds, which include a  formal rose garden (as viewed from the bridge room), woodland and trout ponds.

The outdoor pool and sun loungers were enjoyed by several guests as we had glorious sunshine for our autumnal stay. In addition to the amazing orangerie which was the setting for our bridge sessions, we enjoyed the multitude of colour-themed lounges,  library and bar, to relax, socialise and contemplate our card play.

We all enjoyed an explanation of the history of the chateau and particularly the wine tasting afterwards, sampling several of the red and white wines produced on the estate. Some of our guests even witnessed the grapes being harvested during our stay.

This holiday included three excursions into Hungary, the first being a day trip through the beautiful wooded countryside to the colourful “artist” town of Ezstendre (pronounced St Andre). This is a beautiful and quaint little town, with cobbled streets and individual boutiques selling unique  clothing and jewellery. A specialty of the area is marzipan, with a museum and shop dedicated to this sweet treat. Not forgetting of course the wonderful coffee shops and tavernas with amazing cakes.

In the afternoon we had a relaxing river cruise along the Danube bend. This gave us a different perspective of the amazing countryside and autumnal colours along this magnificent river.

 Our second trip was to Esztergom which was the old capital of Hungary. We had a tour of the impressive basilica which sits at the high point of the city over looking the Danube and the Slovakia- Hungary border and is the largest cathedral in the country. When it was built in the mid nineteenth century, the much older Crocz chapel was relocated and incorporated within a side chapel. Outside the basilica we walked to the top of the hill to the impressive statue of St Stephen bring crowned.

We then had a scenic drive to Visegrad with the highlight being the view from the winding road up to the medieval castle. We enjoyed typical Hungarian food for our lunch and then had free time to explore King  Matthias’s summer palace, the views along the river or just have a leisurely coffee.

Our final excursion was a cultural highlight, visiting the city of Budapest. So much amazing architecture, with the Fisherman’s Bastion, St Stephen’s Basilica and Heroes Square being  incredible monuments we visited during our day trip. Many of our guests agreed that they would definitely be returning to this city of culture as there is so much history and architecture to appreciate that a day here was just not long enough. Here are a few of my favourite photos:

To sum up, our week at Chateau Bela was a little like living on a set of Downton Abbey, with the incredible rooms, grounds and ambience to enjoy. Let’s hope that a return visit will be on the cards in the near future.


Prize Winners

(Click on the images below to see captions)


Director’s Report by Mark Hooper

Slam Bidding

This hand occurred on day 2 of the Swiss Pairs, which nicely tied in with the topics of the 2 seminars from the week.

You pick up the following hand with a 15 count and a 5 card major, and to your surprise your partner opens 1. What do you respond ?

Even opposite a complete minimum opener you want to be in game in hearts, but a) you want to show game values, not just a pre-emptive raise to 4, and b) you have prospects for slam if opener has more than a minimum opener.

Some players will change the suit to see what partner rebids, hoping to be in a better position to then judge the level. While this indeed gives you more information to go on, it doesn’t involve partner in the decision. If your partner rebids in a suit, thereby showing a 5th heart, and then you support hearts, partner will think you only have 3 card support, and may not appreciate the full value of their hand. Ideally you need a bid in your system which shows this sort of hand as a direct response to the opening bid. A hand with 4+ card support for opener’s major, and game or better values.   The usual bid for this is 2NT.   This is the Jacoby convention, it shows

a) 4+ card support for the major opened by partner (as a side note, even if playing 5 card majors it shows 4+ card support)

b) A strong hand in HCP.   Various ranges are played, most common is 12+, at least game values, although 11+ (at least a good raise to 3 of the major), or 15+ can be played

Here are both hands

12 tricks is a near certainty by way of 5 hearts, 3 clubs, the diamond and spade Aces, and 2 spade ruffs. If trumps are 2-2 the play is trivial, but if they are 3-1 you need to take the ruffs before drawing the last trump.

How would the bidding proceed after the 2NT rebid?

Opener has a balanced 17 HCP with only 4 hearts. The bid used to show this is 3NT. With a balanced hand with only 4 hearts, opener cannot be 12-14, they would have opened 1NT with that. Any bid other than 3NT shows 5+ hearts, the 3NT bid showing 4 hearts and a strong NT.

After this, many responders would launch straight in to Blackwood.   Getting a response of 1 Ace if playing ordinary Blackwood, or even better, playing Roman Key Card Blackwood, you get a response of 5♠ showing 2 ‘Aces’ (the King of trumps being the 2nd), plus the Queen of trumps.

But what if opener has one of these 2 hands?

Both hands would give the same response to Blackwood (‘No Aces’ response to ordinary Blackwood, and ‘1 Ace’ to Roman Key Card Blackwood (the King of trumps). On Hand A slam is where you want to be, but on Hand B you have 2 diamond losers.

Is there a way to bid slam with Hand A, but to stay out of slam on the Hand B?

This is where the 2nd topic came in; the requirements for slam, and cue bidding. In order to make a slam the opponents must not have 2 cashing tricks (amongst other requirements). Blackwood will make sure they don’t have 2 cashing tricks in the form of 2 Aces, but it doesn’t help in this last case, where they have Ace and King in the same suit. This is where cue bidding comes in. Cue bidding, is bidding a suit when looking for slam in order to show a ‘control’ in the suit. The ability to take the 1st or 2nd trick in the suit. This can be an Ace or a King, but also when there is a trump suit, a void or a singleton.

Here, having 2 losing diamonds (i.e. having no diamond control), responder should not launch straight in to Blackwood, instead they should cue bid.   After opener’s 3NT rebid, responder’s correct continuation is 4♣, this says

a) I am interested in slam (in hearts, they agreed suit)

b) I have a ‘control’ in clubs.

In ‘traditional’ cue bidding, the first cue bid shows 1st round control (the Ace or a void), but I advocate ‘Italian’ cue bidding, where any control is suitable (the Ace, King, void or singleton)

Opener continues, also with a cue bid. With the actual hand held they would bid 4 (having the A). With hand B they have no diamond control and so bid 4 which is where the bidding ends; responder knowing that there are 2 diamond losers. With hand A, using Italian cue bidding, opener bids 4 to show the 2nd round control. This is what responder wants to hear, so they follow up with 4NT and the slam is reached. Italian cue bidding is used in conjunction with Blackwood, so the fact that the cue bids might be 2nd round controls is not a problem, Blackwood will check we are not missing 2 Aces.

The full deal and the recommended auction using ‘Jacoby 2NT’, cue bidding, and Roman Key Card Blackwood (RKCB) is as follows

On the day, 1 pair bid 6NT, which, though successful here, is not as good as 6, needing the diamond finesse to be right.   3 pairs bid the heart slam, which scored 80% of the matchpoints.

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