Host report by Pauline Durie:
Sicily is a beautiful island of rolling green hills interspersed with a few vast plains growing oranges and lemons amongst others. Agriculture is the way of life here and the food reflects this. Apparently some of the cattle seen grazing on the hillside are world famous for producing the best beef. As you drive from the airport to the resort you are already enamoured by the scenery and then arrive at a hotel that surely has one of the most beautiful settings on the island. Flowers of all colours and species are the highlight in the spacious gardens and strolling around these was popular. The large pool complex with its islands of trees and flowers was probably the most popular feature. The beach was a few metres from the pool and several guests enjoyed swimming in the sea.
The hotel staff were efficient, friendly, welcoming and multilingual. They worked hard to meet requests from guests. A large reception area allowed people to relax and chat. The expansive indoor and outdoor bar offered ‘Magical Moments’ before dinner where cocktails and nibbles were very reasonably priced and didn’t interfere too much with the bridge! There was live entertainment every evening. The dining room offered a wide range of different foods with Mediterranean choices being well received. At breakfast guests took full advantage of fresh oranges using the machine provided to squeeze delicious juice.
Acacia resort is away from the hustle and bustle of traditional tourist centres but there is ample opportunity for guests to explore some of the splendid sights the island has to offer. Walking on lava to the top of Etna (well as close to the top as possible) was an unforgettable experience enjoyed by a large number of the group. A long journey with a guide – Atillo – who kept us all entertained with tales of Sicilian history. His knowledge to answer questions was exceptional. We improved the culinary skills of some guests who visited a Sicilian kitchen to cook and enjoy traditional Sicilian food. Probably the most popular tour was to Castelbuono which is a beautiful town complete with castle and church. The tour then went on to visit vineyards for wine tasting.
Some guests chose to hire cars (available at the hotel) and were able to take in more of the splendour of the surrounding areas. Some venturing as far as Agrigento the UNESCO sight of the Valley of the Temples. Others organised sharing taxis (for 8 people) which allowed personalised itineraries to Palermo the famous capital of the island.
Shuttle buses took people to the surrounding areas. Cefalu is a lovely seaside resort with cobbled streets bustling with tourist shops, bars and restaurants. It has a great beach, and an impressive cathedral. A visit to the market in Termini was also popular. A short walk from the hotel is a courtyard café serving local snacks and cold drinks where several guests had lunch and a glass of wine or beer.
Director’s report by Nigel Durie:
This is an interesting hand from our Championship Pairs Qualifier which illustrates the use of Stayman with a weak hand and 5-4 in the majors.
After the auction:
6 out of 14 pairs played in 2♠ by East, presumably after a standard transfer sequence of a 2♥ response from West and the 2♠ transfer completion by East. Passed out. 8 tricks were made in every case, losing 5 tricks to 2 trumps and the 3 Aces. (+110 to EW).
Compare this to the 3 pairs who used the sequence:
West is perfectly safe in bidding Stayman because the response of either major can be passed out, and a bid of 2♦ can be converted to 2♠ showing 5 spades and 4 hearts and a weak hand which should be passed by partner.
In this case West passes the 2♥ and the results were generally better than those of the pairs ending in 2♠. (+170, +140 and +110)
9 tricks will be the limit for EW on best defence:
What does South lead? Sitting over East (the 1NT opener), a trump lead is probably best and avoids giving away tricks in the other suits and, perhaps, restricts cross- ruffing. On the lead of the ♥8 North will do best to duck so that she can take out 2 more trumps when she gets in with either of her aces (if North had been on lead initially she would have led ♥6 from ♥ A 10 6 in order to eventually take out 3 rounds of trumps).
Having won the initial trump lead, East would like to ruff two diamonds in the West hand although this is unlikely to happen, so perhaps the ♦A can be ruffed leaving the ♦K as a winner in hand.
West leads ♦3 towards the ♦Q followed by the ♦5 towards the ♦K 8 7 but ducking the ♦9 from North. North can then lead her ♥A followed by her last trump, but East is in control. He leads the ♦8 and ruffs down the ♦A leaving himself with ♦K and a top ♣ as well as the two spade tricks. Overall East loses ♥A, ♦9 and two club tricks for 9 tricks – a better score (+140) than the 8 tricks available in spades.
As it turns out the extra ninth trick was vital for EW since 4 West players left their partners in a NT contract making 8 tricks which gave a better score than two of a major making 8 tricks (but not as good as those making 9 tricks in hearts). In fact, on best defence, East can only make 7 tricks in NT but only if South favours a club lead or low spade to finesse the ♠ 9.