|43rd European Championships|
The 1997 European Championships were the biggest yet with 35 teams in the Open series, 24 in the Women, and 158 pairs in the Women’s Pairs.
Winners of the Women’s Championship were Great Britain, for the first time since 1981, with France and Israel taking the silver and bronze medals respectively. Great Britain and France are joined by Germany, the Venice Cup holders, and the Netherlands, here in Hammamet. Also, Italy have replaced Israel who, unfortunately, couldn’t make it to these championships.
The Open series saw Italy retain the title they had won two years earlier in Vilamoura, leading almost throughout the event. The silver medal went to Poland and the bronze to Norway. Denmark and France complete the European representation in Hammamet.
Midway through the championship, the Italian champions to be met second placed Spain on vugraph. Spain, who are a much improved team in recent years, were to hold down a qualifying place for most of the tournament, fading only in the last couple of days. The match featured some of the most interesting bridge of the championships, including:
Lanzarotti opened 1 on the South cards and rebid 1NT over Buratti’s 1 response, while Lanteron opened 1NT. Both played there on a spade lead.
Lanzarotti ducked the opening lead but won the second spade and exited with a third round. Frances won and switched to J, ducked, and a second diamond to the ace. Torres cashed the thirteenth spade, dummy pitching a club and Frances a heart. Declarer thought he had no legitimate line from here, perhaps, and threw Q, hoping that West would play him for AQJ and not switch to the suit. Now he could lead towards Q for his seventh trick. But Torres made no mistake, switching to a low club, and Frances played low, leaving Lanzarotti no option but to cash out for one down; –50.
Lanteron did rather better in the other room, though it took the vugraph audience a long time to see that he was going to succeed. He won the third spade and exited with a low diamond, and Duboin was allowed to win the nine. He cashed the last spade – club, heart and diamond discard. Now Duboin cashed A to avoid a later endplay, to the applause of the audience, and switched to a heart. Lanteron began to cash the hearts and it suddenly dawned on one or two of the watchers that the contract was destined to come home. What was east to pitch on the fourth heart? Obliged to keep K, Bocchi had to throw a club and now Lanteron could play ace and queen of clubs, pinning the jack, and dummy’s ten made the last trick. A nicely played +90 and 4 IMPs to Spain.
Both Norths declared 3NT but there was a crucial difference in the auctions. Lorenzo Lauria had opened 1 with the West cards while José Torres had passed. Both Easts led J to the ace and the 6 was returned to the king. Now the roads diverged.
Bocchi led a spade to the queen at trick three and Torres ducked smoothly. Bocchi played three rounds of clubs and Torres won and switched to 8. Can Bocchi be blamed for rising with the ace and relying on the spade finesse? After all, that finesse had already scored once and to take the diamond finesse would only be correct when West had passed a 12-count and found this devilish defense. In fact, Frances had thrown enough spades on the clubs that Bocchi knew not to finesse again so was only one down; -100.
Of course, Bocchi would probably have gone down even had Torres taken the spade and led his last heart. He must discard twice from hand on the hearts and has to commit himself to either the diamond finesse or bringing in the clubs and is likely to plump for the latter, losing option. Goded, who had seen Lauria open the bidding remember, tried a different line. At trick three he played a club to dummy then led a diamond. Lauria made life as awkward as he could by covering, leaving the suit blocked. Now Goded played a spade to the queen. In practice, Lauria took the K and led a heart and declarer had the communications to unravel the diamonds for nine tricks; +600 and 12 IMPs to Spain.
Suppose that Lauria ducks the spade. On the actual lie, it is good enough to unblock the diamond and lead a low spade towards the jack. West can take the king and the defense takes its heart tricks but the J is an entry to the diamond and the K to the A. But if clubs are 3-2 that is not good enough as East can play a club through after cashing the hearts. Now declarer can cash either A or Q but not both and is one down. Instead, if the Q scores declarer must play three rounds of clubs. Again the defense take their hearts but now declarer needs only two diamond tricks to go with two spades, four clubs and a heart, so can overtake the jack with the queen to get to hand.
With three top losers and unfavourable breaks in both majors, 4 is doomed to fail. But the auction convinced Torres to try the A and after this opening lead careful play duly saw Duboin home for a great +620.
With declarer having shown a spade suit, there would have been no temptation for Lauria to lead A so the Spanish pair did the best they could by stopping in 3, but even that proved to be too high when Lanteron misjudged the play. Lauria led a diamond and declarer won on table to play a spade to the king and ace. The diamond continuation was also won in dummy and a second spade played to the ten and queen. Lauria played a third diamond and Lanteron won and led 7, ruffing low when the three appeared. Versace did well now, pitching a club. Lanteron was in the wrong hand now and led a low club off the dummy. Versace went in with the jack and switched to a low trump for the nine and jack and declarer ruffed a club to hand and led another spade.
When he again ruffed low, Versace could over-ruff and play another trump and the contract was one light; -100 and 12 IMPs to Italy. While it was likely that West had the Q because Versace had been unable to over-ruff earlier, the actual position was surely more likely than that West was now void in clubs as that would have given East A Q J 10 6 2 and he might have bid at some point. That being the case, ruffing the spade high and playing to ruff a club with 10 would ensure the contract.
Both East-West pairs had a free run to 3NT by East and both Duboin and Lanteron led 2 to the king. Frances and Versace both ducked two rounds of spades and won the third round to play a 8 to the queen and ace. Perhaps North should duck the club but the position was awkward enough when he won and returned a low club.
Frances ran the club to dummy's jack and played a third round to his king. Now his sights were clearly set on a squeeze as he exited with his last spade. Duboin won and in turn exited with a diamond to dummy's ace. Frances cashed the other top diamond and would have been home had either defender held four hearts along with the 9 or sole guard of the diamonds. When neither of those eventualities materialised, he had to concede one down; -100.
Versace won the club return in hand. The winning play now is to pass the J to North but versace tried the 9 instead. Lanteron was alert enough to cover with the ten, forcing Versace to win the ace. Now he cashed the other top diamond and Goded threw his queen, leaving Lanteron with the eight as an entry if Versace tried to establish the suit. Versace now played four rounds of hearts, hoping to find North winning the fourth round and obliged to lead into dummy's J 7 at trick twelve (note the importance of unblocking the 8 at trick four). But South had the long heart along with two winners so Verscace was two down; -200 and 3 IMPs to Spain.
A nicely played and defended hand but what if Versace, instead of cashing the hearts, had cashed dummy’s }J? South would have been squeezed in the red suits to see the contract home.
The match ended in a 15-15 draw, satisfactory for both sides in the circumstances.