Bridge by the Lake
By Ken Masson
When asked by newer players for tips on how to improve their games I often encourage them to watch experts whenever possible. This can be done either at clubs, tournaments or, more conveniently, on one of the web sites that are now allowing visitors to watch live bridge games, often at the highest levels.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the top players are impervious to error as I saw when the North American Bridge Championships were held in New Orleans earlier this year and I watched some contests on BridgeBase Online. The most prestigious event at this 10-day long tournament is the Vanderbilt Knockout Teams which attracts leading players from around the world.
Among the favorites to win this event was the team from Monaco which included one of the top 5 pairs on the planet, Tor Helness and Geir Helgemo, partners for more than 20 years. These two are originally from Norway but have relocated at the request of their wealthy sponsor who pays them handsomely to play in important bridge competitions worldwide. Their backer benefits by playing on the same team as the pros, which helps him to share in the glory when they do well. When I watched H&H they were playing a quarter final match when the illustrated hand popped up. Sitting South, Helness opened the bidding 1 spade and Helgemo, holding 11 red cards, decided to show his six-card suit first. With a minimum opening that was not improved greatly by his partner’s call, Helness decided to rebid 2 spades.
Now Helgemo showed his heart suit which allowed Helness who held a (tenuous) club stopper to bid 3 no trump, surely hoping that would end the auction but Helgemo wasn’t finished yet as he completed the description of his hand by rebidding hearts. This quite clearly painted a picture of 6 diamonds and 5 hearts and might have ended the auction but Helness had another arrow in his quiver and after a lengthy pause emerged with an unexpected 4 spades.
Now it was Helgemo’s turn to go into the tank as he contemplated this latest development. What in the world was the meaning of this bid? Could it be a cue-bid in support of hearts with a possible interest in slam? Or was it more likely to be a solid spade suit with little outside and the best chance at making game?
After what seemed like an eternity Helgemo indicated that he believed it was the latter by passing. Unfortunately for this pair and their team this contract had no hope and was quickly down 2. When the comparison was made with the play at the other table, where 4 hearts was made handily by the opposing team, Monaco had lost 13 International Match Points (IMPs) on this hand and ironically also lost the match by 13 IMPs.
The commentators who were watching the action live in New Orleans mentioned that at the end of the hand the cards were put back into the board without a word of recrimination from either of the players and they went on with the match as though nothing untoward had happened. Showing true professionalism and restraint!