Writers Choice April – 2017 Vanderbilt Knockout Teams

Boye Brogeland

Bridgewriters monthly Choice consist of a closer view into a strong tournament. This month we look at the Vanderbilt Knockout Teams 2017.

This year event had 63 competitive teams fighting for the Vanderbilt Trophy. The event had changed from 64 to 60 boards per round, giving the players more time to rest. Just before the event, we got the news that the ACBL were up to changing the ranking of the players due to the cheating scandal. This changed the team rankings and were up for discussion before, during and after the event.

We go directly into the knockout stages.

Round of 16.


  • NRK vs SCHERMER scored up most IMPS with 267, this gives the average of 4.45 per board!
  • ROSENTHALl won with the largest margin beating MAHAFFEY with 72 imps!
  • CAYNE vs ZHAO only scored 2.57 imps per board, more than 100 IMPS less than NRK vs Schermer.
  • The total imps of this round was 1769 imps – 3.68 per board in average.

The strong team of STRUL fell short in the match against BRAMLEY. It was surprising when the MAHAFFEY squad were outplayed against ROSENTHAL. We are also sure SCHWARTZ was happy to knock the mighty DIAMOND team at this stage.

The Dutch superstar, Jan Jansma, did well with his team ROSENTHAL. This board gave him a chance to show his declarer skills against MAHAFFEY.

West led the ace of diamonds and next played a trump. Jansma won in dummy and played a heart to his queen. Then he cashed his ace of heart and ruffed a heart in dummy. East rose with the ace on the club continuation to play trump. This killed Jansmas plan to ruff his last heart.

Jansma did not give in so he drew the trumps and cashed the queen of clubs; this was the ending when he played the last trump

The defenders had no defense, either one of them was used as stepstone to dummies king of club!

The Chinese finesse!

It happens that an opponent “forget” to cover when you play a loose honor to give declarer an extra trick. This is often referred to as “Chinese finesse”, a feature that cannot succeed without opponents doing a mistake.

A variation can be like  this

North: A J 5

Syd:       Q 8 6

South play the queen and west play low from the king. You win three rather than two tricks.

The smoother version of the same theme is when you DO NOT have the touching card.

North:   E 8

Syd:       Q 7 4 3

Now it happens from time to time that one succeeds by playing queen from south when west “forgets” to play the king.

In the Vanderbilt Espen Lindqvist grabbed the chance for a “Chinese finesse” when he considered this as his best chance for making his 3NT. This hand came up in the “round of 16” against the favorites – team DIAMOND. I shows that the finesse can succeed even against the very best!

West led the queen of clubs to the king. Espen continued with heart to the king, heart to the queen and more heart to the ace. East turned diamonds and now Espen came to the vital point of his declarer play.

Could there be a chance that west had opened the hand without the king of diamonds? Why didn’t east return clubs?

Espen decided to play for the impossible solution – the Chinese finesse.

Since West had opened, it was hardly possible that the diamond finesse could be onside; Espen therefore rose with the Ace. Next, he played the ten of spades!

When west followed low Espen asked for a small spade from dummy.

That made the ninth trick and 12 imps as the same contract went one down in the closed room.

Looking more closely at the cards, it was not much risk for Espen with his play. If east hold the king of diamonds the contract still make since west would be out of entries for his clubs.

The downside is of course east holding the jack of spades so the contract goes one extra down.

Round of 8.


  • SCHERMER vs ROSENTHAL was a thriller with 249 imps changing hands. The average of 4.15 is high and the lowest possible margin of 1 imp!
  • We had hoped for a thriller in the “Italian” LAVAZZA vs CAYNE match, but the defending champions did not put up their best performance.
  • 854 imps was the total of this round leaving an average of 3.55 per board.


Boye Brogeland of team SCHWARTZ came up with a nice defense on this deal

His partner, Espen Lindqvist, led club seven to the ten and queen. Next came a diamond, five – jack – queen. How would you defend this contract?

Espen and Boye use invitational leads and smith-echo. Boye figured out the seven could not be from king fifth and his partner’s failure to echo in diamonds could be a signal. His conclusion was therefor to attach the spades.

This turned out to be the killing defense as the board looked like this

The defense was in front and had established tricks before declarer could get to nine. At the other table, the defense continued with the jack of clubs in the same position. Declarer took the ace and knocked out the ace of hearts ending up with an overtrick!


Total score









Both semifinals was close but left an average of 4.2 per board! Rosenthal became the only team in the event to put up a real fight against the mighty NICKELL squad. The SCHWARTZ team got another great win when they defeated the strong CAYNE team.

CAYNE fell short against SCHWARTZ; this deal gave them 16 imps.

Daniel Korbel did not find the best bid when he leaped into 3NT. Maybe Richie Schwartz could have pulled into 5♣, it is not so often you pull a partner out of such a 3 NT bid!

The punishment was brutal when Donati found the heart lead. The defense scored up their five hearts for one down!

The Italians had a diffrent view of the hand with this bidding sequence:

At the other table, Boye Brogeland opened with a “rubbish” multi 2♦. In white against red the opening show a bad hand with at least 5-card major. The Italians came up with a great bidding sequence reaching 6♣.

The play did not have much to it; the defense got their ace of heart leaving the rest for the declarer to score 1370.


The Final

Tot 1 2 3 4
Schwartz 56 14 10 12 20
Nickell 142 24 46 25 47


The match seemed to run well for NICKELL from the first board. They won every session, after a close first session they never looked back. This does not tell us about superior play, they just seemed to have that extra touch when their decisions did work well and the SCHWARTZ team had much less luck when they were up to close decisions fell short of the lay of the cards.

Let us have a look of this wonderful declarer play; our hero is the mighty Richie Schwartz

Queen of clubs gave Richie the chance to shine. He discarded diamonds on the ace-king of clubs. Next, a club were ruffed, then king of heart and a heart to the ace. Another club-ruff gave this ending:

A perfect elimination taking care of the small opportunity of the blocking diamond spot. Ricky played a spade. East ended up playing a heart to ruff and discard giving declarer his 10th trick and 620.

At the other table, the lead was a diamond killing the endplay. Declarer had to give the defense ace-king in both spades and diamonds for one down. 12 imps gave Schwartz a hope of winning, for a short while!

This hand held an interesting suit-combination.

David Bakhshi of the SCHWARTZ squad found himself playing 6♦. It’s about 50 % chance of making so odds are on.

West led the queen of spades to dummies ace. Bakhshi pulled trumps in two rounds then played the five of hearts to ten – ace – eight.

This was the full deal:

Bakhshi had to give east king and queen of hearts for one down.

In the other room Mechstroth –Rodwell stopped in 5♦ making six after west led his singleton heart.

How do you consider the declarer play after west led the queen of spades?

Looking only at the percentage chances, you will find the best play to lead a heart to the ace. This takes care of singleton king or queen at west and only loses to K Q T at east. It is about twice as good.

How about the ten of hearts. Does this change how declarer should act?

A strong defender can “spoil” his ten from K T 8 since the nine is in north. Do you think that is likely?

The ten would often be an honest card. It can be from H T, T, T8 or K Q T. That is why there might be the position to play your jack. Yes, it loses to the clever defender holding HT8, but it gains against KQT.

Another variation of play is to investigate playing club to king, diamond to queen then ace of clubs and a club to ruff. It is not likely west holding singleton clubs without leading it, so this could give you valuable information about the hand. As the cards lie you will know about east holding 5-1-2-5, when the ten comes from east you have to take a stand, but more qualified than Bakhshi with his line of play With an early guess.

If we look more into the event there is no doubt that the NICKELL squad did very well in all stages. They won most matches with a landslide, an impressing performance against all strong teams.

Could this be the start of a new NICKELL area? NICKELL are thru a few years without the same results as the years with Hamman, Freeman, Soloway and Wolff as team members.

The Bracket looked like this:

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