Day Three, Tuesday 17th September
Match times have been moved forward to 10:00, 13:30, and 16:30, which are 3am, 6:30am, and 9:30 am in England. It seems quite sensible to me to have given the Europeans a couple of days of relatively late starts, while they adjust to the time zone, then move to times which give more time for dinner. But that may not have been the thinking behind it.
We start the day against USA2, the best team we've played so far. There are several close 3NT contracts on which exchanges are roughly even, and the match is decided by this board. Frances and Graham bid to 6S, which needs to play Ax opposite Q109xxx for one loser, plus on a diamond lead you have to be able to take an early discard on the ace of clubs. SuitPlay (a useful program, free to download, which analyses suit combinations) says the suit is a 58.8% proposition at single dummy, playing ace and another then guessing (you make against 70% of the 3-2 breaks and 40% of the 4-1 breaks). In the trump suit, small to the ten on the second round is a bit better than small to the queen, since you may occasionally be able to arrange a trump coup to pick up KJxx onside, or the hand over the Ax holding Kxx may occasionally think of a reason to rise on the second round. On this occasion, spades were KJxx over the Q1098xx, and the long trump hand had a singleton club to boot. So we were two off in a fair slam, losing 13 IMPs. We lost the match by 37-27. But not to worry, it's a long event, and we'll have our share of lucky boards.
After lunch we played New Zealand. Fiona and Michael picked up a swing by bidding a good slam which made, whereas when New Zealand bid a slam which was a fraction under 50% it went off - the finesse was working but the fraction - a ruff for the defence - was not. In a sense the match was decided by this board. The New Zealand pair kept bidding suits until they found a fit, and played in the good 6D. Declarer made something of a mess of the play, leaving herself with no late entry to dummy (North) if she needed to ruff the hearts good. But the jack of hearts fell, so she made her contract. Meanwhile, Frances and Graham bid 1H-(2S)-X, 4H-4S, 5D-6NT. It's easy to understand Frances' 4H bid, but if left Graham with no way to check for a minor-suit fit - perhaps something for system designers to address. So there they were in a distinctly inferior slam. West's spade lead went to the ten and ace, and Graham crossed in diamonds to lead a club to the king. West took his ace (it's easier to duck when you can see the whole hand) and returned ... the ten of clubs. A spade or a small club would have solved East's problem, but this did not. Declarer played two more diamonds, cashed as many hearts (four) as he could, discarding a spade and three clubs from hand, then came back to hand with a diamond. West had followed suit throughout, so East had to guess whether declarer had a losing spade left with his winners (the actual hand) or a losing club (from an original 3046 distribution). And East guessed wrong, so we gained 2 IMPs for playing in NT, instead of losing 14.
We won the match 34-20, with a Director's ruling to come which may improve our score.
The third match was against Egypt, the lowest-ranked opponents of the day. Three opportunities in the (grand) slam zone were missed by both teams, but we picked up some useful penalties and won the match 53-17.
This board was well played by both sides. Michael, South, had opened 1H and rebid the suit, so Fiona led H8 against 3NT. Michael ducked to keep communications open. Declarer needs two diamond tricks for his contract, but if he plays a diamond to the ten he goes off - North wins and clears the hearts while South still has the ace of diamonds as an entry. Instead, declarer played a diamond to the king. Now the defence couldn't afford to give him another heart trick, so he was able to establish a second diamond at his leisure. Note that this line succeeds also if South has AQx of diamonds and one black card fewer.
We ended the day in first place again, and Frances and Graham had done some top-class research into Chinese restaurants while sitting out. There will be difficult matches to come, but we're cautiously happy with results so far.