by John Turner & Ann Curtin

The Saffron Walden Bridge Club meets every Wednesday evening at the Conservative Club. We have visited Saffron Walden several times to play matches, but always in winter, so we were very much struck on this occasion with the beauty of the town itself when we played at the club mid-August. We parked in the market square which (unlike Cambridge) is mercifully free of ugly stalls with canvas awnings and one has a clear view of the lovely facades of all the buildings facing the square. The Conservative Club is a few steps up a road leading from the square. The Conservative Club occupies a splendid building in its own right. The Bridge Club operates from a large and comfortable room on the first floor. The ground floor is like a huge pub, with a three-sided bar.

This present location is the Bridge Club's second home. The club was started in the late seventies by Jack DeLee, who is its present chairman. Fortunately, as we arrived, Jack was at the bar, having a pre-game drink, and told us about the club's history. Jack himself learned to play bridge during the war when he spent time in an army hospital. After the war he didn't play at all for a long time. Jack became the proprietor of the King's Head pub in Saffron Walden. Wednesday evening was his night off and he had a firm arrangement with his wife that he stayed home on his night off. In the mid 1970s he resumed playing rubber bridge with three friends in the pub on a Wednesday evening. One table of rubber bridge developed into a club evening with several tables and in 1979 Peter Burrows joined the club and organised duplicate bridge. Fiske Warren joined the club a year later, became very much involved in its organisation and it has continued to flourish.

In 1992 Jack gave up running the pub. The club could not be sure that the new pub owner would have a similar interest in bridge and it therefore moved, to its present premises. There is no club subscription - the club is funded by table money of 1.00 per player. All members belong to the EBU.

The two most famous members of the club are Fiske Warren and Chris Larlham. Fiske has been much involved in the running of the club, especially in its early days. He started teaching evening bridge classes (at Saffron Walden County School) in 1983, and continued for ten years. Having run the local market dry he no longer gives the classes, but gives lessons when asked, and recently has been coaching the enemy (Balsham). The classes used to generate a fair number of recruits to the Bridge Club.

Fiske is a fine player and has reached final stages in both Crockfords and the Gold Cup. He plays regularly for the County A team and regularly represents the County at the Tollemache. He has contributed to the County's qualifying for the final for several years recently, but actually winning the Tolle for Cambs and Hunts is yet to be achieved. Fiske's current role in the club is that of `Honorary Expert'.

Everyone in the county will know Chris Larlham, the County Captain, who selects the teams for the Eastern Counties League, and the organiser of the South Cambs League. Chris's position in the club is that of Club Captain and Tournament Director. Chris has held this post for some years and the club is extraordinarily fortunate to have someone with his cool efficiency and friendly charm to run its sessions.

A quite interesting ending came up on one hand against David Nicholson and Chris Larlham. The full deal (rotated for convenience) was:

E/W vul
S AK63
H Jx
D J8x
C J7xx
Dealer E
S xx
H Kxxx
D Jxxx
C Axx
W        E
S xx
H Axxx
C Q9x
S QJ1074
H Q10x
D 109
C K108
John(E)       Chris       Ann       David      
1d P 1h X
2h 2s 3h P
4h 4s P P

Over a very thin double from David, I raised to 2h and Chris came in with 2s with, it seemed, a lot in reserve. Ann pressed on to 3h with her quite decent hand and side-fit in diamonds. David naturally passed and I went on to 4h, over which Chris bid 4s, which I doubled.

Ann led a small h to my Ace and I then played dAKQ, Chris ruffing high. He then followed with sAK, clearing the trumps, and exited slightly deceptively with hJ to the hQ. Ann took this and wrongly switched a small club, which as it happens ruined my holding in that suit, leading to just two off (+300 was still very good for us as 4h has no chance). Suppose, however, Ann plays back a third heart: now declarer would have ruffed in dummy with the s3 and would have had to attack clubs himself. Assuming that he has preserved the s6 as a further entry to dummy (which requires two unblocking plays), what should he do? Chris suggested that he would have run the cJ, which I would have covered with the Queen, King, Ace, endplaying Ann. But she of course can foil this by not playing her Ace. Declarer must then re-enter dummy with the s6 and play clubs again, taking a view about the position of the cA/9. (In fact, if you consider the bidding and play so far the cA must be with Ann.) However, when I later checked the hand with Chris by e-mail he admitted that he had probably forgotten to preserve the s6 as an entry!

We were doing quite well until we met Jane & Kit Orde-Powlett in the last round, getting two near-bottoms. The first of these was:

E/W Vul
S KJxx
H xxx
D 9xx
C xxx
Dealer E
S xx
D AKQJ10xx
C xx
W        E
S x
H QJxxx
D xxx
C AQ10x
S AQ109xx
H xxx
D -
C KJxx
Jane(E)       John       Kit       Ann      
2h* 2s 5d 5s
P P X all pass

Jane opened a Lucas 2h, showing a weak hand with just 5 hearts plus at least a four-card minor. I had an easy 2s over this, and Kit didn't have much of a problem either - he bid 5d! That would certainly have made, probably with an overtrick, but Ann bid on to 5s, encouraged by the vulnerability, and Kit quite reasonably decided to double this rather than gamble 6d. With the clubs lying nicely for me I easily got out for two off, losing three hearts and a club, for -300. This turned out to be a very bad score, one declarer going three off in 5s but not doubled, another (Chris Larlham) managing to get out for just one off in 5sdoubled. Like me, he'd had a Lucas 2h opened against him and I was intrigued to find out how exactly he'd managed the tenth trick. He said the defence started with diamonds, ruffed, and he crossed to dummy's sJ and immediately played a club - which is quite risky, with one trump still out - on which East played the Ace and continued with a second diamond. Then Chris crossed to the sK, finessed the cJ, cashed the King, ruffed the last club, then - the key play - ruffed the third diamond. Then he exited with a heart and West was well and truly fixed. Well played!

* * * * *

The atmosphere at the Saffron Walden Club is extremely pleasant. The bridge is taken seriously - Chris produces by e-mail for those interested an EHA (even-handed analysis) after each session. He analyses the hands, obviously from his point of view, but also indicates how different pairs have performed on various hands. In addition, there is a tremendous feeling of warmth. The members know each other well and an evening playing bridge at the club is also an occasion for meeting and chatting to friends. Visitors and new members are most welcome, as was confirmed by the most enjoyable evening that John and I spent there.