Axel Johannsson came to Cambridge as a PhD student in 1975. After three years of post-doctoral research he joined a new Biotech venture in Cambridge as "The Chief (and only) Scientist". This company has since grown to employ over 80 staff at the Business Park in Ely; it has been under Danish ownership as DAKO Diagnostics since 1991. Axel became Managing Director in 1992. Axel has won all the major county events and twice came third in the Pachabo. He has won the NICKO, the Daily Telegraph Cup and was in the Cambridge Club team which won the Garden Cities.
Axel, you spent your childhood in Norway, Denmark and Iceland. Can you give us a flavour of life in Scandinavia, especially Iceland?
When I arrived at University in this country in 1971 some of my fellow students at Oxford were surprised that we enjoyed a higher standard of living than the UK and we weren't all Eskimos living in igloos! With only 1/4 million people Icelandic society is quite different. Class barriers and traditions hardly exist. A taxi driver might well enter into some philosophical debate with the President. Outdoor swimming pools, heated with natural hot water, are great institutions where people meet, exercise and sit and talk in the "hot pots". Icelanders are proud of their origins, the old sagas are still avidly read and more autobiographies have been written per capita than anywhere else in the world.
When the Icelandic bridge team continued to progress in the world championships in Yokohama in 1991 the National TV station decided to arrange live coverage throughout the night and a significant proportion of the population witnessed Iceland's first ever world championship victory in any competitive endeavour! Compare that with the interest in bridge in this country.
When did you start to play bridge? When did you become involved in competitive bridge?
I started to play at the age of 12. I was living with my grandparents and my grandfather taught me the Vienna system (INT is more than 28 points, A=7, K=5,Q=3, J=l). I suppose it wasn't until our team at Worcester College won cuppers that I started to play on a regular basis, which became very exciting when I arrived in Cambridge in 1975, as there were so many excellent up-and-coming players.
Your surname is clearly Icelandic but you speak English without a trace of an accent - a remarkable achievement (I came to England at much the same age as you and I have never lost my South African twang). Are you a good linguist?
I did come across someone recently who asked me where my accent came from, but that doesn't happen often. I am not a linguist but having to speak four different languages at the age of six, and moving from country to country in my youth, probably helped me with my English later in life.
I know you enjoy employing the psyche as an effective weapon of your game. Some club players find coping with a psyche difficult. What do you feel about the use of psyching? Can you give us an example?
I enjoy experimenting, not just in bridge, and I probably still psyche more often that I should. It is true that less experienced players usually find it more difficult to cope with a psyche so I do sometimes get away with an awful one when I shouldn't. An effective psyche used against me occurred on the first board of a knock-out match. David Kendrick, on my right,opened one spade on three small; having a penalty double not suitable for a 1 NT overcall I passed. Forrester raised to three spades and when this came round to me I thought double would be for penalties but partner bid 4which got doubled. Having converted a potentially big plus to a significant minus on the first board you can imagine how the rest of the match went!
Despite having a taxing job you have made a point of keeping up with new developments in system. Is there any relatively new convention that you would like to recommend?
Bidding has developed tremendously in the last twenty years or so and I can't say that I've been quick to learn. A lot of good ideas can be found in Robson and Segal's book on competitive bidding. Fit jumps are an important part of the mechanism for establishing how well your two hands fit together and therefore how high to compete or bid. Although such considerations don't happen frequently it is expensive to get them wrong.
In these days of frequent so-called "weak-twos" it is essential to have a good defence, including the Lebensohl convention, where, for example, after partner has doubled a weak two spades (for take-out) your bids of 3/ / are invitational whereas 2NT is a transfer to 3which can then be passed or corrected to 3/ with weak hands.
Please tell us about one or two hands that have given you pleasure.
Unfortunately my memory for pleasurable hands seems to be getting worse as time passes. Playing with David Kendrick recently in the Pachabo had its fair share of exciting moments. I had played very little bridge for some months but David did his best to keep me on my toes with a few "interesting" preempts and I did particularly enjoy watching him make 4+ 1 against Alan Mould on the following:
After winning the diamond lead David led 3 to his 8 which Alan, after some thought, ducked; trumps were eventually drawn, the A cashed and Alan was subsequently squeezed in the black suits. At point-a-board scoring this helped us win 8-2.