This summer the beautiful island of Taiwan played host to the 5th biennial World Universities Championships, for university aged players in full time education.
Taiwan is a long thin island, approximately the size of the Republic of Ireland, with a population of 23 million people. Formerly known as Formosa, from the Portuguese word meaning beautiful, it is indeed a nice place to visit. Whilst the weather was pretty hot and wet there were plenty of great places to see, and the industrial second city of Kaoshiung was a superb venue in many different respects.
The team representing England (or technically the United Kingdom) was the Cambridge University team that had won the right by winning a tight Portland Bowl final against the ante-post favourites from Oxford, and they were determined to give it their best shot. The team suffered from having only one regular partnership, as team captain John Haslegrave at 32 was too old to take part in the competition as a player. He came along and proved to be just as effective in the role of coach, checking opposing systems and helping draft team defences to opposing bidding.
The rest of the team were all members of the England junior squads, and had played for England in different guises, although this was the first World Championship for all of them.
If the team members were apprehensive about the competition they didn’t show it, starting off with a solid 17-13 win against the relative unknown quantity Japan. The team comprehensively outplayed their opponents and would have scored an easy 25-5 win (a maximum) had it not been for this board:
|A Q 9 7 5 3 2|
A Q 9 8
|J 10 8|
A K 10 9
K 7 5 3
Our boys had a smooth auction:
|Graeme Robertson||David Faria|
Graeme made a high reverse into clubs showing extra values over David Faria's game forcing 2 level response, and when he hit 3-card support he bid 5 as Exclusion Key Card Blackwood to find out about the king of trumps. Missing it he stopped sensibly in 6.
The Japanese auction was not so controlled...
I wish I could tell what most of these bids meant but, despite the fact that I was sat over the player’s shoulder watching him do all this delicate cue bidding, I am still none the wiser. What made it even more mystifying was the 7 bid. What was East trying to do? Had West passed 7, it would actually have made and that would have been a bitter pill to swallow!
Of course the king of spades was singleton onside, and Japan won 13 imps when they deserved to lose them.
In the next match our team scored another tight victory against USA B, before three tricky matches against both Chinese teams and then USA A. However, they soon bounced back with a great 21-9 win over Chinese Taipei A, which saw this phenomenal piece of defence from Graeme Robertson.
A J 10 8 3
10 8 6 5 2
|A K Q 7 4|
K Q 4
6 5 3
|9 5 3 2|
9 7 2
K Q J 9
|J 10 8|
Q J 9 7 4 2
The bidding was straightforward:
West's pass over 3 was dubious, as was East's double, but the two odd bids cancelled each other out and a good game was reached. Graeme led the ace of clubs as expected, and partner played the seven — no strong preference for another suit.
What now? Even seeing all four hands it’s not obvious how to beat the contract, but after a long period of analysis Graeme switched to the jack of hearts! When his partner came in with the ace of diamonds, a heart return sank the contract.
In Graeme’s own words "I gave a lot of thought to the matter we discussed at team meetings, about how when we think about the defence at tricks four or five it is often too late. I was determined to take my time."
Captaining junior teams gives me the chance to see some exciting bridge, and this hand was a great play that made the whole journey worthwhile, and Graeme was the recipient of the Paul Magerman award for best played hand.
At the other table Tom Rainforth was West and, after the same start, overcalled 3, raised confidently to game by Sarah O'Connor. After ace and another club the game was an easy make, and 12 imps to England.
Whilst the overall position of 9th/14 didn't challenge for a medal, I was proud to be associated with a hard working and dedicated team.
Team: Sarah O Connor, Graeme Robertson, David Faria, Tom Rainforth, and David Williams
Coach: John Haslegrave
Captain: Michael Byrne