News from the Bridge Room in the French Alps

Host report by Andy & Chris Simmons

This was our second holiday at the Chateau des Comtes de Challes, a traditional castle in the French Alps that has been lovingly restored by its current owner. It retains its charm as a historic building whilst the rooms are gradually being upgraded to accommodate modern tastes. This year all rooms have been fitted with air conditioning and that is especially welcome because the weather can get a little warm in the summer. That said, the weather on this holiday has been near perfect with warm and dry sunny days.

“This place is just idyllic”, said one guest and that sums it up quite well. Terrace gardens look out over a scenic valley and there are lots of seats strategically placed so that guests can relax in the sun or in the shade and watch the gliders swooping across the chateau to land on the airstrip below. There are beehives providing fresh honey and birdsong is in abundance all day long.

After a couple of days the danger of evening thunderstorms had passed and dining was outdoors on the adjacent terrace. Dining here is a special experience. Guests at first found it odd that they had to order their choices in advance. However, this is a restaurant that has two ‘Michelin Stars’ and with a group this size it is necessary for the Chef to know what is needed so that the ingredients can be brought in fresh each day. The result is stunning as the food is presented immaculately just as you would expect at such an establishment. To wash it all down there was a generous allocation of fine wine too.

There were two day trips included in this holiday and another one organised by the Chateau that could be purchased separately. All the trips had guides included. The first trip was to the nearby town of Chambery on market day. Chambery is in the centre of the region of Savoy that has a rich history including links to England by marriage of Eleanor of Provence to King Henry III. The second trip took guests to Grenoble and included a cable car trip for spectacular views of the mountain scenery of the Rhone Alps. The third trip, organised by the hotel, was to Annecy on Lake Annecy. Annecy is often called the ‘Venice of the Alps’ as the old town is built around a series of rivers that form the outflow from the lake. This trip included a boat ride around the lake. All of the trips were appreciated and we managed to get everyone back in time for dinner and bridge.

When guests were not away on one of the trips a popular pursuit was a gentle walk to the town of Challes Les Eaux, a spa town that nestles at the foot of the valley below the Chateau. The walk itself is a treat where you enjoy the rose gardens and woodlands on the way. The scents of the flora seem to hang around on the gentle warm breezes and this accentuates the experience. With the backdrop of snow-capped mountains to feast the eyes on the walk is sadly over too soon. In town there are cafes to have lunch or there is a choice of patisseries nearby that offer a selection of beautiful French food all freshly baked. This year, after lunch, we arranged for guests to have a lift back up to the Chateau at 2pm. The Chateau kindly lent us the use of a family car and Andy, the bridge holiday host, sacrificed his lunch time glass of wine and did the driving. This proved to be a popular service.

Director’s report by Andrew Kambites

In the hand shown (from the Swiss Pairs) East/West usually reached 4, often after West opened with a strong bid and North overcalled 2♠. With the likelihood that East is very weak it looks likely that the main danger of East contributing is ruffing losers, therefore there is a case for North starting with a trump lead, however understandably most North players led the ♠K. How should declarer plan the play?

There are eight obvious tricks, the ♠A, five trumps and the ♣A K. There are various ways of adding to this: finesses in the minor suits, ruffing diamonds in dummy and using dummy’s long clubs. For a vulnerable 2♠ overcall North must have a decent hand so the diamond finesse is likely to fail. Also, the J is the only obvious entry to dummy and you must decide how to make best use of this entry.

Some declarers won the ♠A, entered dummy with the J and led a diamond to the K. North took the A and returned a trump taken by West’s A. Declarer is very lucky now: if he continues with the 10 North will have to win and will be unable to remove dummy’s last trump. Declarer will be able to ruff a diamond in dummy and with the club finesse working he will scrape ten tricks. However most declarers carelessly led the 2 and South could win it and remove dummy’s last trump, leaving declarer two tricks short. I will call this line A.

It looks wrong to me to use dummy’s only entry to take a finesse which seems likely to fail. If you are determined to aim for ruffs in dummy it is far better to lead the 2 at trick 2. Now the defenders cannot prevent one ruff in dummy and if either the A falls in three rounds or the club finesse works declarer has a path to ten tricks. This is line B.

However there is another line of play which appeals to me far more which I will call line C. I would aim to establish two length tricks with dummy’s clubs. Win the ♠A, cash A K and if they split 3-2 then temporarily abandon trumps and play ♣A K 3. South wins and switches to a diamond. Cover with the 10. North wins the J but cannot continue diamonds without establishing your K. When you regain the lead complete drawing trumps with dummy’s J and cash the ♣J 10.

At the table I would not be able to calculate the precise odds of each line but it is generally true that inexperienced players are keen to take finesses and ruff losers and far less frequently appreciate the potential of long suits. If you decide to utilise dummy’s long suit then unless the ♣Q is singleton or doubleton you can only reach dummy’s long clubs by drawing the last trump with the J, therefore any ruffing of losers in dummy destroys your ability to access dummy’s clubs.

One other point. If at any stage the ♣J is led from dummy I hope you can see the damage done by South covering with the ♣Q! It is rarely right to cover the first of touching honours.

This hand was played eight times in 4. Four times it succeeded, Four times it failed.

Prize Winners

Multiple Teams: Ian & Ruth Dorman-Jackson, Norma Allan & Gail Houghton

Random Teams: Clive & Rosemary Froggatt, Liz Hardisty & Jean Pierre Simon

Mixed Pairs: Richard Sheridan & Julie Kennedy

Ladies & Mens Pairs: Marjory Bulmer & Heather Wood, Eric Wood & John Bulmer

Swiss Pair: Betty Gabbitas and Diane Gatehouse