Linda Lee — My personal bridge blog

A place of dreams? The Spingold Semifinal

Perhaps every serious bridge player dreams of having a chance to play in the last round or two of the Spingold and then of course, well, winning it all.  The players in this years semifinals are experienced veterans in this arena of tough team games.  These days the final rounds are populated by professional teams with players from all over the world.  In one Semifinal match Diamond versus Cayne, the US met Italy with Geoff Hampson and Eric Greco playing Italy’s Lauria and Versace with Brad Moss and Fred Gitelman playing Sementa and Duboin.  This could easily have been a final round in a world championship.

When the players sat down to play Board 49 in the last quarter of the semifinal the score was tied at 76-76. This was the turning point of the match.   In the Open Room Lauria and Versace had a rare accident to end in 7  which had no play.    In the Closed Room Fred Gitelman ended in 6  and it was all on the play in the trump suit.  Here is the deal (rotated) Sementa-Duboin are vulnerable.


























Sementa Moss Duboin Gitelman
  1 pass 1
 1 3  pass 5  
 pass 5 pass  5NT 
pass 6 pass 6
all pass      

The opening lead was the J and Fred put in the Q which held the trick.  He laid down the A and saw the 3 from Duboin and the 6 from Sementa.  He led a heart from dummy and saw the  4. To make the hand he now has to decide whether to finesse or play to drop the queen.  I was pretty sure he would finesse and he did. 

I would be interested in his reasoning but here are some thoughts that Ray and I had.  Let’s start with vacant spaces.  At the beinning of the hand Sementa is known to have at least five spades and therefore Duboin can’t have more than three.  Sementa has two more vacant spaces.  But when Duboin followed with a heart the known vacant space difference had fallen to one (aassuming Sementa had five spades).  According to Bob MacKinnon in Bridge Probability and Information  with four cards missing to the queen you should finesse if the imbalance of vacant spades is two or more but with only a difference of one vacant space it is a tossup, finessing and playing for the drop are about equal.  But given the vulnerability there was a good chance that Sementa actually had six spades.  With spades 6-2 the vacant space count is 3 counting all the hearts that have been played and the spade difference.  This makes the finesse much better.  So overall vacant spaces suggests the finesse.  It is not that I think Fred went through this exact thought process but he did what all good bridge players do.  He recognized that if Sementa had five and quite likely six spades he was more likely to be short in hearts.  Are there any other clues?  Sementa had bid 1 vulnerable and he couldn’t have any high cards other than the K and J and possibly the Q and J.  He would not give much value to the Qx.  So for his vulnerable overcall he was likely to have a bit of shape.  This is not enough to suggest the finesse but it adds weight to the vacant spaces argument.

There is one small extra chance which almost works on the hand and perhaps Fred considered.  If you play for the drop and it does not work then if Duboin holds the Q9x(xx) of diamonds or the J9x(xx) of diamonds and at least three clubs there is an endplay.  You would eliminate clubs and then spades and throw Duboin in on a trump.  He would be forced to lead a diamond and you can now pick up the suit for no losers.  (This works as well in the impossible case where Duboin has both diamond honors).

The whole story made the finesse more likely.  Fred actually didn’t think very long before ducking.  The finesse was on and he made the contract for a 14 imp lead in the match.  (Although I had the sense that he was rather relieved to see Sementa show out).  Here is the whole hand.










♠ KJ10985
















This board was a swing in the other semifinal as well with Zaleski winning 14 imps from Meltzer for making the slam in the Open Room when Berkowitz made the same 1  overcall and Quantin guessed hearts correctly as well.  The play was slightly different.  Berkowitz (holding the long spade hand) led the 4 and Sontag’s J forced the A.  It turns out that this lead allowed Quantin to come up with rather a nice line of play.

Quantin finessed the Q cashed the A and then played ace and another spade.  This is a pretty safe play as Berkowitz is unlikely to hold seven spades.  Sontag showed out on the third round of spades as Quantin ruffed it (which of course makes the finesse odds on).  Now Quantin did something very interesting.  He cashed two top clubs ending in dummy.  Wasn’t this risky? Not really. 

Quantin planned to finesse hearts.  If Berkowitz won the Q with a doubleton he would surely be endplayed in diamonds.  He was now known to have six spades, “two” hearts, two clubs and three diamonds.  That made the finesse pretty near 100% (unless something funny was happening in diamond suit).  But what if Berkowitz ruffed the second club with a small heart.  As long as he held only two hearts he would still be endplayed and Quantin could then catch the Q with his remaining high trump. 

In the Closed Room in this match the defense had no real chance to bid because the level got too high too quickly and with no bidding to guide him Fantoni went wrong.  Perhaps a lesson in keeping ones mouth shut.  (Okay, okay maybe you want a spade lead).  This brought the score in the Meltzer-Zaleski (USA and Italy versus France) match to within 10 imps but after that Meltzer quickly won back 13 on the next two boards and really never looked back.


Roy HughesJuly 31st, 2010 at 10:08 am

If Gitelman had gone up with the king and West had shown out, he would have stripped the clubs and spades and thrown East in with a trump. Now East is not endplayed if he has Q9x(x) or J9x(x) in diamonds, since he can exit with his honour. Instead, declarer should play him for the QJ.

Here’s an interesting line: spade queen, heart ace, 3 rounds of clubs. If all follow, then spade ace, spade ruff, diamond ace, diamond towards the king. If all follow, heart down, finessing. The point is that if West wins with Qx in hearts, he may have only 2 diamonds and be endplayed. This line loses if West has 2 small trumps and fewer than 3 clubs, or if East has the heart queen and fewer than 3 clubs. Maybe Fred’s line is better. For one thing, if the heart finesse loses, he still has the slight hope that West has 6 spades and diamond QJ, when he can be squeezed.

Linda LeeJuly 31st, 2010 at 10:14 am

The interesting line you describe is similar to the one taken by Quantin which is made better after the diamond lead.

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