Sarah Waddington, Giles Woodruff, Julian Foster and I won the County Knock-Out Teams, after a nailbiting final against the other university team of Alistair Flutter, Ben Zalin, Jon Green and Graham Hazel.
The first set was action-packed in the slam zone. Sarah and I were in 6 after a bidding mishap - one down - and on another hand Jon and Graham had a misunderstanding to reach 7 requiring hearts breaking 3-3 (which they duly were!). However this was not complete disaster as in the other room our pair were in 6 redoubled which with the overtrick would have scored 2230 and gained us 3 IMPs - but unfortunately declarer was so relieved to make the redoubled slam he didn't notice the chance for an overtrick! So after the first set we were 27 IMPs down...
We slowly clawed a few imps back in the next two sets and then bid and made a 22 point, 10%, 3NT contract in the last set to scrape a win.
This victory entitled us to represent Cambs and Hunts in the Pachabo, the inter-county teams of four competition. This is held in early June in West Bromwich, quite handy from Cambridge - an easy two hour drive. So we set off at the crack of dawn for a 1pm start as our captain informed us it would be jammed solid on the A14 out of Cambridge, stationary on the M6 and going backwards at the M6/M5 interchange...After an easy two hour drive we had plenty of time to check in, have lunch and relax.
You may think we would now be in the perfect frame of mind to play good bridge, but we had omitted to take the captain's other piece of advice about getting an early night, and instead had gone on an evening punt trip to Granchester. Fortunately the captain (who had gone to bed very early) was playing as badly as the rest of us so he couldn't complain!
After a poor start we hovered around average for the remaining sessions and tailed away again slightly at the end. This was also partly due to the scoring system (well, we have to blame something!). It is in fact a very good method but is so unusual that it takes a bit of getting used to. You play three board matches against each other county and each match is scored out of 10 VPs. 6 of these are available as a point-a-board score, so each board gives you 2 if you beat your opponents score, 1 if you draw and 0 if you do worse. The other 4 VPs are a measure of how big the swings were. Like teams you have to bid and make games, but if you think your opponents are going to be in the same contract at the other table then you should try and make more tricks than them to win the point-a-board VPs.
Here is an example hand that shows the scoring method in action. It was in our match against local rivals Northamptonshire, so tensions were running high. The first two boards were completely flat, so the match hung on the final board...
The auction was straightforward, so the first problem was the lead. At both tables the 9 was chosen. There are two reasons for leading from shortage here - firstly to get a ruff, which is unlikely as you only have one trump, and secondly to set up tricks in your partner's hand. This second reason implies a heart lead is best as if dummy has a good suit for his 3NT bid it is going to be diamonds rather than hearts. On the actual hand a heart lead defeats the contract (providing East is awake enough to duck the first round) as he will get in with the ace of trumps and play a club to his partner's ace for a heart return (but how can we prevent partner from trying to give us a club ruff? - ed.) However both declarers were given a second chance.
The lead was won in hand and the king of spades played to East's ace. Now the defence faced its second problem. East can see the K,Q and J of clubs so he knows his partner must have seven clubs to the ace for his vulnerable preempt. This means that the defence have three aces and if partner has led a singleton diamond there could be a ruff. However, if East leads a diamond back and West has a doubleton, declarer will be able to throw his singleton club on the third round of diamonds. So maybe East should cash his partner's ace of clubs, get back on lead with the ace of hearts and then try to give West the ruff. The snag with this is that partner may think you have the singleton club rather than declarer and try to give you a club ruff, giving declarer enough discards for all his hearts.
A solution to problems of this sort is to cash an ace and get a signal from partner as to whether they want a ruff or not. However this runs into another problem, which is how should West signal. Generally when asking partner if they want a ruff in their first led suit they would encourage (i.e. play a high card) in the new suit to say he doesn't want a ruff. However in this situation when cashing the ace solidifies dummy's holding in the suit it is perfectly reasonable to assume that this is a suit preference situation as partner is going to have to switch (like when you lead an ace and dummy has a singleton). Therefore West could play a high heart to say he prefers diamonds to clubs i.e. wants a ruff.
At neither table was West put to the test of trying to decide what signal he should play, as both Easts just returned a diamond. This gave declarer the final problem. When West follows to the trick declarer could keep the lead in hand, draw trumps and lose two more aces, discarding his third heart on the ace of diamonds when he gets to dummy with the Q of hearts. This is the teams line to be sure of making ten tricks.
Alternatively, declarer could overtake the diamond and cash a third round, throwing a club. If West can't ruff this then you will make an overtrick, but if West can ruff it and then switches to a heart you will have two heart losers and go one down - the sort of risk you might take at pairs.
But what should declarer do at this form of scoring which is a mixture of the two? Making the overtrick will win the point a board resulting in a 6-4 win, but going off will lose the point a board and more VPs for the swing - a 3-7 loss. The Northants declarer cashed his ten sure tricks, but I decided to risk the contract to make my overtrick, duly winning the match.