It is with a real sense of loss that we learn that Philip and Sally Wright are to leave Cambridge. The flourishing fortunes of both the Cambridge Club and the County in the last few years are very much due to Philip's efforts and enthusiasm and he will be much missed. The really exciting event of the last year has been the purchase of a duplimate dealing machine by the Cambridge Club. The idea was Philip's, after he borrowed one from Hertfordshire (this involved two trips to Welwyn) to test it, and the organisation of its purchase and subsequently its use has been his responsibility. The County has the benefit of the machine for all its events. Philip's interest in the game and the time he has given to running events will be hard to replace.
When did you start playing bridge?
About twenty-five years ago. I learned to play by reading books and started to play rubber bridge once a week with a group of similarly inexperienced players.
I believe you and Sally met at the bridge table. How did that happen?
Sally and I were introduced to one another by some mutual friends who said they were desperate to get two more to play rubber bridge. We actually met for the first time on their doorstep. Only a lot later did we discover that the wife hated bridge and had made a noble sacrifice in the interests of a bit of matchmaking!
I first started playing bridge at the Cambridge Club round about 1982. I remember vividly my first County event - it was a teams event of some kind - that you directed. I was much impressed then with your competence and friendliness as the director. How did you become involved?
When Sally and I first started playing duplicate we found the Cambridge Club much too fierce for us and we migrated to the gentler pastures at Cottenham. I had not been playing there long when I was persuaded to be the club's rep on the County Committee and a bit later they twisted my arm to be County Tournament Organiser as no one else would do it. This led to the amusing (in retrospect) situation of my directing the County Pairs Final with no previous experience of directing. I vividly remember being called to rule on a revoke and not being too sure what a revoke was, let alone how one ruled on it!
Twenty years later you have been Tournament Organiser at the Cambridge Club and again of the County. How does it seem to you that bridge in the County has evolved during that time?
I think the overall standard has improved. Club heats of the County Pairs and Individual remain popular and entries are good for the Teams Knockout, where a lot of people are prepared to risk meeting some of the perceived better teams and they often do very well against them. The introduction of Swiss Pairs last year proved very popular and I suspect this will become an increasingly important fixture in the calendar. The advent of Green Pointed Swiss tournaments has had an adverse effect on some county events. Entries for the Swiss Teams club challenge have been disappointing recently, particularly as it is designed for less experienced players in the county who would not play in other events (although the S Cambs League remains very popular). There was a slight increase in the entry for the Newmarket Open Swiss Teams this year, with all playing the same predealt hands and having hand records, but numbers are less than half what they were 20 years ago. We would see greatly increased numbers again if this became a green pointed event, which it could be if someone was prepared to take on the organisation together with the EBU.
One suspects you grew up in the West Country. When and where did you acquire your enthusiasm for mountains?
I first went to the Lake District when I was a student and after that I went walking there or in Snowdonia at every available opportunity. I "discovered" the Alps about 25 years ago and since then have got to them about every other year on average. For me, getting high in the mountains, with the physical challenge and the wonderful views, is the best exercise there is.
Please tell us about your recent trip to Mount Everest.
I have been fascinated with the mountain since I was a boy and for a long time have wanted to trek in that region (having given up ambitions to climb it). When the opportunity presented itself I thought this was unlikely to recur, so deliberately chose the toughest trek that was not actual mountaineering. There were 16 in the party (sleeping in two person tents) with about the same number of porters, 4 yaks, 5 sherpas, and a cook who produced the most wonderful meals three times a day, often under the most adverse circumstances. We flew from Kathmandu to Lukla (landing on a dirt strip on a mountain ridge at 9000ft) and trekked (for 19 days in total) through increasingly awesome scenery, first up to Namche Bazar and then east for a week, gaining less than 1000 ft a day to give time for acclimatisation, until we were at 16000 ft, right below the face of Lhotse, with Everest out of sight just beyond. Then it got really tough. We came back across the grain of the country, crossing three passes all about 18000 ft and climbing 4 minor peaks, all also about 18000 ft. There were three superb viewpoints of Everest itself, one on Kala Patar (looking down on Everest base camp) less than five miles from the summit.
Please remind us of the Wraight Convention. Having played it for some years, what is your considered view of its value?
Playing Acol, you may have a problem as responder with a balanced 10 count, if you are unable to bid a four card suit at the one level, since 1NT shows 6-9 except over 1, and the 2NT rebid shows 11-12. You are also in difficulty with a balanced 3334 hand with 6-7 points if partner opens 1, when a raise in clubs takes you past what may be the best contract of 1NT. This can be true of both minors if you are playing "inverted minor" raises. All these problems can be solved by making all 1NT responses 6-10 points, (which also means that a 2 level response can show at least 10 points and a good 5 card suit or 11 points with a 4 card suit). With this wider range, if opener wants to make a game try, 2 can be used as a conventional enquiry. (In response, 2NT shows 9-10, a 3 level bid shows 8-9 with a six card suit, and 2 bids 6-8 points, with 2 of major = 3 card support for partner or 2 = 5 cards if partner opened 1, and 2 = none of those). In my experience one does not usually miss 2 as a natural bid (we play 2 followed by 3 as "I wish I'd never heard of `Wraight'") and the convention has often proved useful, both to bid some simple hands which are otherwise surprisingly difficult, but more important to be able more frequently to stop in 1NT when this is the right spot.
Is there a bridge hand that has given you particular pleasure and which you'd like to talk about?
I can never remember any complete hands, except the ones I get wrong. I do remember some years ago at the club I was playing in a part score in hearts after RHO had bid spades. LHO led J. Dummy went down with A9xx in spades and I held Q10. I played the A dropping the Q from hand and on the next trick played a small spade from dummy. As it was "obvious" to RHO that I was going to ruff this, he withheld his K and my 10 won. He was determined not to be caught twice so played the K on the next small spade - ruffed - and the 9 was now a winner. (We got our comeuppance in a similar situation last year at Brighton, when we were well placed in the Swiss Teams. I had doubled the opponents in 5 after a competitive auction in which Sally had bid spades. I led J from Jx, dummy went down with AQxx and declarer called for the A. On the next round he played a small spade from dummy and Sally, with K9xxx, was fixed. In the end she played small, declarer scored his 10 and went on to make his doubled contract. Next time I have resolved to lead x from Jx in partner's suit against a suit contract...!)
We have had the pleasure of playing in several Teams events with Philip and Sally over the years - we will miss our team-mates. However, Cambridge's loss will be Cumbria's gain. We wish you and Sally well in your move.
Philip, thank you for talking to us.
Ann Curtin and John Turner