Tom writes: Born in 1971, I grew up in Berkshire and currently live in West London. I picked up bridge at home playing three-handed with my parents, then at Wellington College, the Reading Bridge Club and Cambridge University , where I formed a partnership with Jeffrey Allerton.
We both liked five-card majors but I favoured the weak no trump at the time and Jeffrey preferred strong so we tossed for it and he won. I've never played weak since by choice. We played on the British team in the 1994 Junior European which still ranks as my most exciting experience in bridge. We were second going into the final match against France but well behind Denmark. We bid a hand to 3NT with queen-doubleton facing jack-doubleton spade, one down. Worse, the Hackett twins (Justin & Jason) had conceded 6NT, declining to lead the spade ace. This didn't stop us winning our match handily, and our Norwegian friends had blitzed the Danes. I was stunned - we had won the gold! The same team (the others were Danny Davies, Phil Souter, captain Raymond Brock and coach Phil King) went onto Bali the next year to win the World Junior in some comfort. You can see that the 2004 England team is a partial "Class Of 1995" reunion.
I was now playing and writing about bridge professionally. Naturally drawn to the high-stake rubber bridge clubs in London, I spent most of my late-twenties at TGR's in Marble Arch, including an educational spell as the house player in the "Big Game". Various degenerates at the club introduced me to backgammon and punting on sport and horses, all of which I found of interest.
On the duplicate side I was partnering many partners of varying abilities, most successfully David Mossop (two British Premier Leagues and a Spring Fours) and David Price (two Crockfords, one Camrose trial). Price and I were invited to the last Macallan Pairs in 1999. We didn't win but we did play against Omar Sharif, the only thing non-bridge players need to know about my career. I have also won in Indonesia partnering Les Steel , Malta with Robert Sheehan and China with Phil King and Nick Sandqvist, with whom I became a Mind Sports Grandmaster to add to the EBU version. Like a few other experts the domestic trophy that eludes me is the Gold Cup.
2000 started badly. My team lost the final play-off to go to the Olympiad and Price and Mossop had formed a partnership in an entirely understandable joint bid to avoid partnering me. My bridge was getting stale and other activities were beginning to appeal more. I left for 's-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, to captain the English juniors. They didn't win but some good came out of it. One of the team clearly had outstanding talent and seemed to share my approach to bridge, so I suggested he partner me in the Four Stars teams at Brighton that August. David Gold and I won that event. We formed a regular partnership which we have been working on since, representing England in six Camrose matches without defeat, winning two Tollemaches, the Brighton Bowl, the IMP pairs in Marbella and coming back from 47 IMPs down in our eight extra boards as undefeated team to reach the final of the Spring Fours. Our efforts were rewarded when we romped home in the 2003/4 team trials with John Armstrong and Danny Davies, qualifying to represent England in the European and Olympiad.
The above was previous to the 2004 European Championships in Malmo.
Unfortunately Davies/Armstrong had to withdraw for work reasons so we teamed with the Hackett twins and Price/Simpson. After the first week we were well below average and being written off. Different in week two when we outscored even the Italians to come fifth, qualifying for the Bermuda Bowl in Estoril. We had another great result in 2005, finishing third in the European Pairs in Tenerife, winning the bronze medal.
The Bowl that autumn in Estoril was a struggle but we did better four years later at the Olympiad in Beijing. Team-mates were Malinowski/Sandqvist and the Hacketts. The captain was Philip King with whom we had been working hard on our bidding every Friday afternoon at the Swiss Cottage pub. We qualified comfortably from our group, overtaking the Nickell (USA) team on the last match. Bulgaria was a tricky round-of-16 match over a short distance but that day we did no wrong. The four-handed Romanian squad were tired by the quarter-final stage and put up no resistance. The semi-final against Germany was more challenging. The bridge on the first day was nervous and the scores were level. On the second day we pulled ourselves together and drew away. The end came when the famous German Doctors went for one more 1400 penalty against Malinowski/Sandqvist than they could stomach and simply walked away, conceding the match.
We were in the final but it was against Italy and nobody expected us to win. The first 32 boards went to form. In other words they crushed us. It seemed that all we had going for us was that we were too stupid to give up. We did come back and gave our illustrious opponents a scare. With one board to play we couldn't know it but we were only 19 IMPs behind. David opened Three Diamonds and I couldn't decide between raising to Five, bidding 3NT or passing. I asked the tournament director how much time was left on the clock and he said in the circumstances I could take as long as I liked. Either he didn't know the score or he was bluffing. The players drew the natural inference that the match depended on the final board. At length I bid the best contract of Five Diamonds. It was something of an anticlimax when the contract failed and we found we'd lost by 30. We had to settle for second place, the silver medal, and much acclaim for our world-class performance.
Malinowski introduced me to Ewa Kater of the Polish ladies team during the post-tournament celebrations. Ewa was much impressed by my play on vugraph and we now have a 3-year-old son called Max.
After ten years (longer than many marriages) it was "thank you for coming", and Gold and I called it a day in 2010. Bakhshi is my fourth consecutive partner called David. We've not had the best of luck in domestic events, losing both the Premier League and Crockfords on split ties. But we got our chance in the 2012 Europeans in Dublin, replacing Robson/Allfrey at short notice. Preparation for the event consisted of checking a couple of minor points of bidding system around the baggage carousel but we fired and Gold/Forrester were also on form. Fourth place was good enough for another crack at the Bowl in September 2013. A return to Bali as a course and distance winner.
Who would dare to predict the fortunes of the England Open bridge team? It may go very well or very badly in Indonesia but it is unlikely to be uneventful. Hope the ride is equally exciting for EBU members who share our adventure at home. Thank you for your support.
Tom Townsend: August 2013
The England team reached the quarter-finals in Bali, and since writing this biography Tom has won the 2013 Premier League and 2014 Harold Poster Cup (Brighton Congress Swiss Pairs event). He also represented England in the 2018 Camrose Trophy.
He has been daily bridge columnist for the Daily Telegraph since 2013. He served on the EBU Selection Committee from 2008 to 2017.
Last updated: April 2018
Top Table Interview February 2014
When did you start playing bridge?
My parents got me playing some kind of three-handed version when I was about nine or ten.
How often do you play?
Most weekends and several longer tournaments a year, home or abroad. Abroad often means Poland, as Ewa (Kater) and our son, Max, still live in Warsaw. Midweek action when I'm in London could be a duplicate pairs at the Young Chelsea, a team-of-four match of some kind, or a few rubbers at TGR's.
Do you always play with the same partners/team-mates?
I am comfortable with a wide range of partners but tend to stick with one line-up for each season's main events. having turned 40 I no longer expect my partners to remember vast reams of system. Qualities I rate more highly are solidarity, patience and (as they say often on the US golf tour) remaining in the present tense. You can't replay boards past but try telling some players that.
What do you do for a living?
Play bridge, write the Daily Telegraph bridge column, Monday to Friday.
What are your favourite bridge books?
Reese and Bird (his monks series).
What are your hobbies?
Backgammon and sports betting.
What do you like and what would you change in bridge?
Bridge is the greatest game for many intrinsic and social reasons familiar to all players but I fear for the English tournament circuit. Are talented young card players likely to be attracted to contests which return around 10% of entry fees in prize-money? No. Entry fees are high regardless, and many events decline year on year in numbers and prestige. If we are to remain a major bridge nation the EBU must find a way to increase the appeal of its tournaments and offer better value. Easier said than done admittedly.
What's the bridge success (so far) closest to your heart?
The 1994 Junior European Championships. We overtook Denmark on the last match to snatch gold. My first major success and still the most exciting.
Major International Appearances
European Championships: 2004 2006 2010 2012
Bermuda Bowl: 2005 2013
World Olympiad: 2004 2008
World Youth Team Championships: 1995*
European Youth Team Championships: 1994* and 1996
* = 1st place
European Champions’ Cup: 2004
Camrose Trophy Selections: 1996 1999 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2012 2013 2014 and 2018
Junior Camrose Selections: 1991 1993 1994 1995 and 1996
Peggy Bayer Trophy Selections: 1990
Premier League Winner: 2008 and 2013
Crockfords Winner: 1997 and 1999
Spring Foursomes Winner: 1999
Brighton Pairs, Harold Poster Cup Winner: 2014
Brighton Four Stars Teams Winner: 2000
Easter Congress Guardian Trophy winner: 2016
The Hubert Phillips Bowl Winner: 1995 2000 and 2002
National Point-a-Board Teams winner: 2018
Tollemache Cup winner: 2003 2004 2005 2006 2016 and 2017