News from the bridge room – the glorious Italian & Swiss lakes

Host Report by Barry & Maggie Watts

We were based in Varese, which first grew up in this part of North Western Lombardy because it commanded a strategic position at the Southern end of passes through the Alps to Switzerland and Northern Europe. The city has for centuries been the garden resort for Milan 55 miles to the South west and Milan, for a time, was the Western capital of the Roman Empire. Varese is popular today as a tourist resort because it sits in the foothills of the Swiss Alps and is cradled by the fabulous Italian Lakeland.

Our guide told us that, because of its position, Varese was also strategically important to the Catholic Church.  Above the City, the Sacro Monte di Varese, regarded the most important of Italy’s sacred mountain shrines, was built to impress because, she said: “it sits on the border with the ‘enemy’; the Protestant churches across the border in Switzerland”.

Sacro Monte di Varese

Our hotel was the elegant Palace Grand Hotel, a beautiful and charming building, built on top of one of the City’s seven hills overlooking Lake Varese to the South and looking up to the Sacro Monte di Varese and the Swiss Alps to the North. It was built to receive the rich and famous from Milan and many celebrities from all over the world have stopped over during its fascinating history.

Palace Grand Hotel Varese

All of its large, bright rooms are delicately decorated to blend in with the Art Nouveau architecture and artworks. It has seen greater days but we still appreciated its beauty and the views from many rooms were stupendous.

Our holiday included three excellent trips which were much enjoyed by everyone. After a wonderful day at Lake Lugano, one of our guests, Karen, wrote her memory of the day.

All Things Swiss

All Things Swiss

The day started with a wonderful trip to Lake Lugano in Switzerland. As a keen medievalist any new location offers the opportunity to explore new churches and the boat stop at Gandria was no exception. St. Vigilio’s provided the bonus of a statue of St. Philomena – although familiar with her story I had never come across an image of her before. As I shared my delight with Janet a voice piped up from the back of the church that her confirmation name was Philomena – what a coincidence! There can’t be many Philomena’s in our group, and she had not spotted the statue until I mentioned it!

When we arrived back at Lugano our guide, Andreas, pointed us in the direction of the church of Santa Maria degli Angioli, with its splendid early Renaissance frescoes of the “passion and Crucifixion” and “The Last Supper” by Bernardino Luini (1480-1532) – a disciple of Leonardo.

Although initially, we were not allowed access to a further series of grisailles frescos depicting the life of the Virgin, we were told it was “a place of worship and not a museum”, a generous donation to the church and a discussion in Italian, afforded us private access through the inner sanctum of the church, past a room full of reliquaries, to the rear of the altar. What a wonderful experience for a medievalist.

On our return to the hotel I was delighted to find that I had been given a new room with a bath, and even better, they could lend me a kettle…. how to end a long day out in a hot bath with a cup of tea!! Then off to a delicious dinner and the conclusion of the Swiss pairs. I’ve only been playing Bridge for three years so was rather unsure how the evening’s game would go. All things Swiss were smiling on us that day as we won the Swiss Pairs in the evening. The luck of the cards definitely fell in our favour as even our mistakes played to our advantage (my apologies to our opponents). It seems to me that winning at bridge definitely requires luck as well as judgement.

Thank you to all of our fellow companions for making it such a wonderful holiday.

Prize Winners

(Click on the images below to see captions)

Director’s Report by Andrew Kambites

Playing duplicate pairs it can be very difficult to estimate how many tricks you need as declarer (or for that matter, defender) to get a good score. This hand occurred during the Swiss pairs at Varese. 

I have shown all four hands but I will look at the logic that an expert declarer should use with the sight only of his hand and dummy. South leads the ♠7.

I will start by considering the play at teams of four where success or failure is simply measured by making the contract. The basic analysis is simple. If declarer makes five diamond tricks it won’t matter what he does because he has nine certain tricks. On the other hand if he has to lose a trick to the ♦Q (as we must assume because it is the only scenario when there might be a problem) then he will need a spade trick (or possibly a club trick). Therefore despite the danger of a losing spade finesse and a heart switch it must be right to finesse at trick 1, but should declarer try the ♠10 or ♠Q? At first sight it looks as though the ♠10 is right if North has the ♠K and the ♠Q is right if North has the ♠J but if you think more deeply it can never be right to play the ♠10. Suppose you play the ♠Q and it wins. Your contract is now safe. However suppose you try the ♠10 and it loses to the ♠K. You are guaranteed a second spade trick but it looks inevitable that North will switch to hearts, leaving you in danger of losing 5 tricks before you can make 9. Therefore it is right to play dummy’s ♠Q at trick 1.

Declarer should usually try to carefully look at the implication of the exact card led at trick 1 but here it is difficult to read the ♠7 lead with any certainty. If the ♠7 is a fourth highest then North will have one spade higher than the ♠7, so there is a fair chance that South has both the ♠J and ♠K. However it could also be a ‘top-of-nothing’ lead or a ‘second-highest-from-a bad-suit’ lead. In that case North would have both the ♠J and ♠K so your contract depends purely on avoiding a diamond loser.

There is an additional factor to consider at pairs. If South has the ♠J and ♠K then a declarer who tries the ♠10 at trick 1 will make one more trick than someone who plays dummy’s ♠Q. That won’t make much difference at teams but can make a huge difference at pairs. Overtricks tend to matter when it is likely that most or all of the tables are in the same contract. Here the bidding is quite likely to be the same at every table so declarer should certainly consider whether he should seek the extra overtrick by taking an additional risk to his contract.

So at pairs is it right to try the ♠Q or ♠10? The spade lead might not have been obvious and the fact that we have avoided a heart lead means that it might not be necessary to be too greedy. Too many imponderables. To be honest I don’t know, which is why I am probably a better teams player than pairs player. Anyhow I would try the ♠Q. It wins so my contract is secure. The diamond play is for the overtrick. So how should I play the diamonds?

The technically correct way is to cash the ♦A K, hoping for a 2-2 break or singleton ♦Q. However at club level I would expect many players to try the ♦J at trick 2, hoping for a cover from North. Knowing the guideline ‘Eight ever, nine never’ they have no intention of running the ♦J. North should not cover the ♦J with the ♦Q. There is a simple guideline here: ‘Don’t cover the first of touching honours’.  So North doesn’t cover and declarer overtakes the ♦J with the ♦A, cashes the ♦K and must now concede a diamond trick to North’s ♦Q.

If North now switches to a heart an interesting position can develop. Declarer allows, the ♥K to hold the trick then takes his ♥A and cashes his diamond tricks leaving this layout.

Declarer cashes dummy’s ♠A and watches with interest as South follows with the ♠K (better than the ♠J because South I known to have this card when the ♠Q wins trick 1). However if declarer works out the implication of the fourth highest ♠7 lead he knows South has the ♠J and if South also has the ♣Q declarer can endplay him with the ♠J to lead away from the ♣Q. However declarer has 9 tricks now and such an attempt to get a tenth is fraught with danger. If North has the ♣Q he cashes the ♥J as well, leading to an undignified one off. Declarer should only consider this risk if he feels that events so far leave him facing a bad score for making only nine tricks.

Anyhow my plan is likely to lead to 9 tricks (10 if North covers the ♦J). My analysis was made before the holiday. For +400 I would have scored only 9 match points out of 26. +430 would have been worth 17 match points out of 26. The unlucky expert strikes again!

One final thought. If declarer does try to coax North to cover the ♦J, intending to overtake he should make sure that it doesn’t leave him with two diamond losersifNorth started with♦Q 9 4 3. Declarer is safe because he has the ♦8! If South has no diamonds declarer continues with a small diamond to dummy’s ♦J. Later he can finesse against North’s ♦9.

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