From 12th to 14th of November, the Champions’ Cup 2015 took place in Milton Keynes. Our team, G.S. Allegra Lavazza, participated as the defending champion. The team was: Maria Teresa Lavazza npc, Alejandro Bianchedi, Dennis Bilde, Norberto Bocchi, Massimiliano Di Franco, Giorgio Duboin and Agustin Madala. This is the same lineup as last year, with the exception of Dennis Bilde, who replaced Gabriele Zanasi.
We have not been having definite partnerships in our team for a while now. We all play the same system so we could decide who to field match by match. I always played with Dennis Bilde and I was positively surprised on all fronts. We were a new partnership, previously we had only played in Montecarlo, but we gelled very well, apart from some small bidding misunderstandings. As I mentioned, we all played the same system, the Bocchi-Madala’s Big Bang. We adopted Zia Mahmood’s approach to carding methods, since I play with him in the US and Dennis had just played the Cavendish with him.
Dennis is an extraordinary partner from a technical and human point of view. In defence we always understood each other: we only gave away a few overtricks. We got more things wrong in the bidding, nearly always because we forgot the most complex bidding sequences. Dennis is a really good declarer. And last but not least, the atmosphere between us and at the table more generally has always been relaxed.
After a tough start, we got through to the semifinal, where we had to face (due to the regulations) our Italian ‘cousins’, the Angelini team. The match was quite even and not particularly nice since both teams scored points generated by serious mistakes, rather than by brilliant plays. When the smoke cleared, we won by 27.
In the final we met the Dutch team from Onstein. After the first six boards it looked like it was not going our way, since we were down by 30, and did not even know why. From that point the wind changed and we scored 39-1 in the next 10 hands, so the first round ended with us up by 8. The second round was a tour de force as we won 68-0 (BBO said 68-3, due to an operator’s error) and so we won this tournament for the fifth time in a row.
I present here two hands: an unusual dummy reversal, from the match against Allfrey (England); and the decisive hand from the final against Onstein, not just in virtue of the points it gained us, but also because it unsettled the Dutch pair.
Lavazza vs Allfrey (RR 11 Board 14)
Bidding: 2♣ showed diamonds and 2♦ was to play. Rightly or wrongly, Bilde bid 2♠ and after seeing dummy, on the 3♣ lead, he realised that it would have been better to defend 2♦. Without feeling discouraged, Dennis won the lead in hand with the ace and played the Q♦ which lost to the king. He then got a club ruff, a diamond return to the ace and another club ruff (with the J♠).
This was the end game:
He now ruffed a diamond in hand, played a small heart to dummy’s queen, the ace of spades to drop the singleton king and cashed the queen of clubs. He ruffed another diamond in hand, thus scoring the queen and 9 of spades and losing only the last heart. If West had not played a diamond, it would have been the same.
Lavazza vs Onstein (Final Round 1 Board 16 »)
At both tables, two different auctions led to the grand slam in spades. The lead was the 3♠. Dennis combined all probabilities in the best way, trying to set up hearts and testing the diamond break. He cashed ace and king of spades. Then he played the ace of hearts and ruffed a heart. He played a diamond to dummy’s king and ruffed a third heart small. Now he continued with the ace of diamonds and ruffed a diamond, followed by a heart ruffed high (which sets up the queen). He then drew the last trump and claimed 13 tricks: 6♠, 2♥, 2♦, 2♣ and a ruff in dummy. Van Lankve started playing the hand in the same way, but after getting to dummy with the king of diamonds, he hoped for diamonds breaking 3-3. Had this not been the case, he would have fallen back on the king of hearts dropping on the third round. Maybe he was worried about hearts breaking 5-2. Clearly he was unlucky, since he would still have made his contract if there had been Kxxx on his left, by running a double squeeze ♣♥ (left) and ♣♦ (right). However, this end game works if hearts break 4-3 so he basically played for diamonds breaking 3-3 and hearts 2-5 (with East), whilst Dennis played for hearts 4-3 or diamonds 3-3- with hearts 5-2 (with West). This 17 point swing on the last board of the first set allowed us to win the round, and also had a negative impact on opponents’ morale.
After returning home, we had just about enough time to move to Salsomaggiore, where we played in the Italy Cup Men. Our lineup might seem unusual, since we had Lavazza, Bilde, Bocchi, Madala, myself and Saverio Vinci with Fabrizio Hugony. Lavazza and Vinci have an established relationship in this competition, thanks to my good friend Guido Ferraro’s initiative.
At the beginning of the tournament, we had to choose the partnerships, since, as I mentioned above, we can swap players. In the end we decided to field the two younger players (Bilde-Madala) and the two older players (Duboin-Bocchi)… I hope Norberto will not be upset by this comment, but he is older only in comparison to the other two players. I would like to congratulate Agustin and Dennis, because in addition to playing the championships extremely well, they also established a good relationship. If someone thought you could not have two roosters in the same henhouse, they proved them wrong. Agus is a world class player, as he has already demonstrated, with a passionate attitude, typical of Argentinians. Dennis is a rising star, but he is Danish, so he is a little more impassive. He smiles all the time. In their case fire and ice met harmoniously. I do not want to say too much on Bocchi-Duboin, because you cannot judge yourself, but I can say we played well. We may have lost some of the synergy we used to have. Although we are not the ones we used to be in our golden days and our personal relationship is much better, we did not quarrel and after the bad boards we kept playing as if nothing happened…
From this Championships I bring you an interesting defence problem, occurred to me during the final (Round 1 board 15): I am West (as I always used to be) and pick up ♠ 10864 ♥ Q7 ♦ A10753 ♣ J7. They bid 1♥ p 3♣ (mixed raise) p 4♥ and I have to lead. I choose the 6S (3rd and 5th) and dummy hits with:
♥ KJ 63
On dummy’s small, Norby plays the jack and Antonio Sementa won the ace. He then played the king of diamonds, I won with the ace, dummy following with the 4 and partner with the 6. What do you return? The first thing I thought about is why declarer did not draw trumps before playing a diamond. According to our agreements, the 6D is reverse count, which means Norby has three diamonds and declarer KQ tight (if he held KQ2 this play would make no sense). So Antonio had KQ of diamonds and the ace of spades, with the king as well for two reasons: firstly, with the ace only, declarer would have ducked the lead; secondly, Norby could have played the jack of diamonds (Smith) if he had held KQJ of spades.
Having figured this much out, there were two possible reasons why declarer did not draw trumps. First scenario: he was setting up an elimination. Second scenario: he was counting our points to guess the trumps. I imagined three possible hands to justify such play.
♣ Q105 (Q95)
♣ 1092 (1082)
The third hand looked a lot less likely, because the spade situation was not so clear for declarer and thus not drawing trumps would have been too dangerous. With the first hand, if declarer managed to eliminate the side suits, in the end game either of us would have to play a club thus guaranteeing the contract. The second hand gave more chance to the defence. So I played back the jack of clubs.
The actual hand was indeed the second one and I thus gained 12 IMPs, whilst teammates made the contract. (Italy Cup Men Round 1 Board 15 »)
When I went back home I rang Zia, as I usually do after a tournament, to discuss the most interesting hands and I showed him this one, with a bit of pride I have to admit. His response was blunt: he told me that our carding agreements are wrong. He said that playing with him not only would I never have made a mistake, but also I would not have had to think about it, because the 2D would have been a suit preference signal for clubs. I felt a bit hurt, but Zia is always nice and in the end he congratulated me for finding a remedy to the initial error.
[English edition by Laura Cecilia Porro for Neapolitan Club & NewInBridge]