The Nicko 1999-2000

The National Inter Club Knockout began back in the depths of recent history, with the first winners being the Cambridge Club, as reported in the second ever issue of this newsletter. The local press generously described it as the International Club Knockout! In its tenth year, and having been through about ten different names, it is back to being called the Nicko, and the Cambridge Club have won again, with a completely different squad from that of the previous success.

It always seems like a strange competition, with something close to a thousand rounds (officially only nine), with the unusual feature that the standard of the opposition seems to be totally independent of the round you are in, and usually we get through what feels like hundreds of rounds only to be beaten by some team we really shouldn't have lost to. The first round they send us to Nottingham, the second to the wilds of Norfolk, and by then we begin to wonder if it really is a regional draw, and whether home draws are only for the opposition!

This year all went smoothly and, on making the quarter finals, found ourselves AT HOME, against some team of no-hopers - Hackett, Hackett, Hackett, Mould and Cornelius. They started off negotiations by trying our tactics - offering nothing but one invalid date - which fortunately we could make.

The plan with these teams of five, where one is sponsoring the rest, is that the sponsor plays his sixteen boards, enough to secure his green points should they win, and then goes home (metaphorically in this case, as they came in one car from Manchester). Bitter experience tells me that usually they are leading after the sixteen boards, and this match was no exception. (Actually, against us everybody always leads until we get some food inside us!)

The critical board was just round the corner:

Dealer N
S 862
H AKQ107
D 972
C Q9
Game All
S AK10975
H -
D 4
C KJ7542
W         E
S -
H J9863
D KJ10853
C 108
S QJ43
H 542
C A63
   West       North       East       South   
P 3d P 3s
P 4d P 4s
P P X all pass

4s went 3 down for 1100, a result duplicated exactly in the other room, but played by SOUTH! A casual enquiry established that teammates had bid the board the wrong way round, and we sat in dejection at the fouling of the board. Alan Mould came in and joked `25 IMPs to you, unless you'll accept that the board was fouled'. A closer examination revealed that it had not been - the auction having been:

   West       North       East       South   
1h P 1s 2c
2s P 4h P
P X 4s X

["Not a curious hand," said Oscar the Owl. "Neither side can make 4s!" (JM)]

With 22 IMPs this board, there was no recovery from this, and we eased into the semifinals, to meet a team clearly well past it - Rowlands, Lee, Lunn and O'Neil, from Surrey. This proved to be a surprisingly decisive encounter. My only particular memory of the match being slipping a contract through against Bob Rowlands - Bob never stops grumbling, even during the play, and when at trick seven he realised what had happened it turned into almost a thunderstorm. `It wouldn't be the same without Bob grumbling' I commented, getting a smile even from Bob, before he returned the compliment with interest!

The final was on paper an easier encounter, and after the first board it felt even more secure:

H AK85
D AQ64
W         E
S 64
H QJ109
D 3
C QJ10653

Uncontested we had the economical auction: 2c-2d; 2h-2s; 2NT-3c; 3d-3s; 4c-4NT; 5h-7h.

The 2h bid was either natural, or 25+ balanced, and 2s asked which. Then 3c was five card Stayman, with the 3s bid showing hearts and denying spades. 4c showed a concentration of values, and the 5h response showed 2 or 5 of the key `aces', without the h queen. The next bid was easy. The surprise was that opponents bid 2c-2d; 3NT-P.

We were always comfortably up, but then in the second last set they bid two very thin games which happened to be making, and the last set there were a couple of tricky auctions for our teammates. The more interesting was KJ3 4 AK9853 K64 opposite AQ104 AQJ 64 AJ103. Opponents counted their points and bid 6NT - Ed and John had a more sophisticated but less successful auction starting

1d-1s; 2s-3c; 4d

It's hard to argue too much with this bidding - 3c showed either a fifth spade or a very strong hand (how else could John bid this hand?). Meanwhile, thinking partner was likely to have a fifth spade, and reckoning the diamond source of tricks would be very useful, Ed reasonably jumped to 4d. Thereafter they quickly progressed to 7s - actually a quite respectable contract, but not a making one on this occasion. [Not Very respectable. (JM)]

When the dust had settled we were 6 IMPs up. And the only thing that remained was to avoid going out of the first round of the Nicko the following year!