Mike Bell, 35, was introduced to the game at Reading School. He initially didn’t show much talent for card-play and may have lost interest in the game had he not found, in schoolmate Joe Mela, a partner willing to put up with his system experimentation. Within six weeks of Mike’s first duplicate, they had tried playing three different 1NT opening ranges and four different meanings for a 2D opening! At the under-20 trials the next year they were introduced to Michael Byrne, at the time one of England’s top under-25s. Mike benefited greatly from the squad system, and four years on, he and Michael formed a partnership.
Junior bridge had significant upsides away from the table as well – at the 2009 Europeans in Romania, Mike met Sarah, whom he would later marry. They lived together in Cambridge while Sarah finished her degree before moving to Manchester, where Sarah trained to be a teacher.
During this time, Mike made his living playing online poker. This required playing the best part of two million hands each year, and naturally his bridge development suffered. The anti-social hours meant that, while playing the Premier League, he was so “jet-lagged” that he put the opposing declarer's hand down as dummy, which as far as we know is a unique occurrence. Thankfully that declarer, Espen Erichsen, put the incident behind him, and teamed up with the two Michaels to win the same event the next year. Bell and Byrne’s other triumphs included the Camrose, two Lederers, the Chairman's Cup teams event in Sweden and the pairs at the prestigious Yeh Bros in Shanghai.
In 2013, Sarah got her first teaching job, in Hammersmith. Mike took the relocation as an opportunity to “cash out his chips” and become a full-time bridge player. Two years later he joined Alexander Allfrey’s team, partnering David Gold. As well as numerous victories in domestic events (including three consecutive Spring Fours), Mike and David found success in the US, winning the Mitchell BAM and reaching the semi-finals of the Spingold.
In 2019, Mike formed a partnership with under-26 international Ben Norton, and it was an instant success – they have been selected to represent England at the European Championships in Madeira in June, and are, at the time of writing, the top-rated pair on the National Grading System. The partnership plays Mike’s home-grown system, “Synthese”, based on five-card majors and strong NT. Many expert pairs play that, in response to a 1C opening bid, 1D shows hearts and 1H shows spades, while others agree to have 1H and 1S as natural, promising five cards. Synthese attempts to combine the best aspects of both methods by playing 1D as 4+hearts, 1S as 5+spades and 1H as an artificial bid denying either of the above holdings.
Despite this evidence to the contrary, Mike’s approach to bidding systems has become increasingly practical – he feels strongly that it is easier to bid and play well if you are not having to actively think about what’s written on page 34 of your system file. In other partnerships he prefers to stick to five-card majors and better minor, with other agreements designed to make decisions at the table easier, not harder!
When asked for his favourite hand, the choice was clear - the time he psyched a world-class pair out of their 6-4 club fit in the semi-finals of the Spring Foursomes. His bid worked even better than he could have anticipated – the opponents played 5D in a 5-0 fit, going six off vulnerable!
Last updated: January 2020
Major International Selections
Junior European Championships: 2009
European Champions Cup: 2015 2017 and 2019
Camrose Trophy Selections: 2009 (EBU team) 2011 2016 2017 2019 and 2020
Junior Camrose Selections: 2008 and 2009
Premier League Winner: 2010 2016 2017 and 2018
Spring Foursomes winner: 2016 2017 and 2018
Summer Meeting Four Stars Teams winner: 2017
Two Stars Pairs winners: 2014
Tollemache Cup winner: 2016 and 2017
Sunday Telegraph Salver winner: 2016
Player of the Year Championship: 2015/16 - 11th=; 2016/17 - 3rd; 2017/18 - 1st; 2018/19 - 2nd=
National Point-a-Board Teams winner: 2019
Gold Cup 2019