From English Bridge magazine, October 2001.
Four years ago Margaret Courtney barely knew a finesse from a four-card major. In fact she was a complete bridge beginner, writes Brian Cook.
Today Margaret is one of England's top woman players. She was in the England team that won the European Championships in Tenerife and this month will be representing her team again in the World Championships in Bali.
So how does a girl go from being a complete unknown to a gold medal winner in such a short time? Does it help that she has been a lecturer in mathematics at Cambridge University? 'Not a bit,' says Margaret emphatically. 'It's useful to be good at arithmetic, but I don't think I would have been any better or worse at bridge if my specialist subject had been English.’
Does it help that she is married to a top Australian bridge player? Much nearer the mark now but that's only part of it. Margaret cites three main reasons for her meteoric rise to prominence in the bridge world: having a good teacher, reading the right books ('thoroughly') and being around the game's top players.
She took lessons with Neil Rosen ('I could not have had a better teacher'); she kibitzed at TGRs, the famous London club, where top players congregate and where her early achievements included playing rubber bridge with Zia Mahmood; and she met Michael. It was Michael Courtney (before he proposed marriage!) who introduced her to the books.
She sprays out names of the many people who have helped her along the way and they include, of course, her fellow international partner Sally Brock and Sally's husband Raymond.
More honest than modest, Margaret believes that as well as a huge desire to progress there's another vital requirement for those eager to step up the bridge ladder, 'You must leave your dignity at home and you must be prepared to make an absolute fool of yourself. I've done it many times. I was even doing it in Tenerife, but I was supported by such wonderful people, that I was inspired to do a few good things, too.'
So does this super bright young woman with a quirky sense of humour feel any different now that she has arrived on the international bridge scene? 'Well, one thing has changed,' she says. 'Apparently as an international I no longer make mistakes. What I might do now is take a wrong view.
'That's all very well, but it made me think the other day when one of my friends said: "I wish I was an international, Margaret. That's three wrong views you've taken on the last three hands, yet you haven't made a single mistake".'
Some personality is our Margaret Courtney.
Margaret went on to win the 2004 Crockfords Cup (as Margaret James)
Major International Appearances
Women's European Championships: 2001*
Venice Cup: 2001
* = 1st place
Lady Milne Trophy selections: 2001
Crockfords Cup winner: 2004