Tournament Focus: Winter 2009

Memoirs of a team captain
(and how to beat strong teams)

by Alan Cooke

Being a team captain is, of course, a thankless task. One year, many moons ago when I was much younger and keener, I entered teams in the Gold Cup, Crockfords, the Hubert Phillips, the NICKO, the SICKO (Senior KO) and the County KO competition.

It is difficult enough to find dates which all of your team-mates can make, but bringing the opposing team captain into the equation can ruin the best laid plans. My advice is first to ask your team-mates for all their possible dates for the next two months, from which you might end up with five or six clear evenings if you are lucky. I personally prefer to leave weekends free for national congresses or family and play matches during the week, but not everyone will agree with this. But it’s when you contact the opposing captains that all your troubles start. The following examples are all true, although some dates and details have been changed to protect the guilty.

1) The first competition details arrive. We are drawn against strong local opponents, closing date 31st October. I telephone their captain and start offering dates. He interrupts: "I always go away every year to the Caribbean for the whole of October," he says, "so we'll have to play in early November." "But that’s after the closing date. Can’t you field a reserve?" "No, it will weaken the team if I don’t play, but don’t worry, I have already arranged an extension!"

2) The next team captain teaches bridge every night of the week, so he wants to play the match at a weekend. I politely mention the fact that early rounds are zoned to avoid excessive travel and so encourage the fixing of mid-week dates, but he is unmoved, so I reluctantly agree to play on a Sunday. Fortunately for us, for a professional bridge teacher he is not a very good player, and we win comfortably.

3) I contact the third team captain and ask what’s good for him. Mistake! He tells me that all four of his team play at different clubs on different nights of the week, so can we make a weekend? Here we go again! I suggest that one pair might possibly give up one of their club nights but apparently no, they can’t. Reluctantly, I agree to play on a Saturday, but again we have the satisfaction of beating them.

4) The pattern is much the same with the fourth team captain. Two of his team work up north during the week and can only play at weekends.

5) The fifth competition produces the longest dialogue. Their captain, obviously a lawyer, gets in first by offering me two dates both for the same weekend which I have to decline as they clash with an EBU congress. He offers me another two weekend dates, which are after the closing date and which clash with another EBU congress. I write back asking for all possible dates his players can manage to which he amazingly responds: ‘I have offered you 17/18/24/25 November. This satisfies conditions 5b and 5c of the rules, and condition 5d is redundant. I therefore have only to offer you two more dates either before 17 November or on 26 November in order to satisfy condition 5a.’

I am flabbergasted. I write complaining that two of the four dates are out of time and receive back the following message: ‘I really have not got time for all this to-ing and fro-ing as I have a busy work life. We have offered you a reasonable number of varied dates. I suggest that you register substitutes.’

I dash off a rather sarcastic note asking if he really wants to play the match, only to receive the following prompt reply: ‘I do not like the tone of your email, nor do I like your implicit accusation that we are trying to win the tie by default. My correspondence with you has been proper at all times, and I have not stooped to insulting language or thinly-veiled accusations. If you continue to address me in such a way, I shall complain about you to the EBU. For this purpose, I am copying this email to the Chief Executive of the EBU.’

I do not want to let them win by default, so reluctantly my team-mates reschedule their diaries and we accept one of his dates. The big day arrives, we are prepared for a confrontation, but he is as quiet as a mouse. They concede after 24 boards, and we go home happy and vindicated.

6) It is not all bad news, however. We draw the team of Colin Porch of the EBU, and he is a most agreeable captain. He is happy to play on virtually any night of the week and even when I have to rearrange the match at short notice, he is as nice as pie. Well done, Colin!

Other team captains should take note. I sometimes wonder why they bother to enter if they have so few dates to offer. ‘But,’ I hear you ask, ‘how do we beat strong teams?’

It’s simple, especially if you are up against the top seeds! As I discovered, according to the regulations you need offer only four valid dates, so you choose two weekends when your opponents are certain to be committed at big tournaments and offer them a Friday, two Saturdays, and a Sunday. None of their players will be available, so they will have to concede the match. Bob’s your uncle!

Alan Cooke

From the competition department:
We are fully aware of the qualities of the captains of the KO teams and we rate them from A to E, best to worst. We can always draw you against an A opponent, but it does cost. An address for the EBU staff Christmas fund is available on request.