On Saturday afternoon, precisely half of each of the pairs that had won the silver medal in February sat down in an attempt to do even better this year. Events had conspired to deprive the team of the services of Frances Hinden, Dave Kendrick, Paul Barden and (until Sunday morning) Gareth Roberts, the most unlikely excuses coming from Frances (sent to Bolivia on business at short notice) and Dave (playing bridge in Bombay). We brought in Philip Wood to partner Jeff Allerton, Ed Linfield for Chris Jagger and tried out a new pairing of Jonathan Mestel with Fiske Warren, bringing in those reliable Tolly regulars, Steve Siklos and Julian Wightwick, to make a team of 8.
We were the "A" seed in Group B. The butlers show Fiske/Jonathan +52, Steve/Julian +70, Jeff/Philip +21, Edmund/Chris 0, and Gareth/Chris +39, the last two partnerships being over half a weekend each.
The team finished joint second with Berks & Bucks, 4 VP's behind Warwicks. We missed out on the second qualifying place by virtue of the result in the head to head match, which was a post-dinner disaster on Saturday evening. It was all desperately close, and 2-4 more IMPs in any one of 5 matches would have been enough to qualify. As it was, with just below 70% of the victory points available, it was a little unlucky not to qualify, though we did have a very easy draw.
This was an excellent team effort; with the exception of the B&B match a bad card somewhere was invariably cancelled out by a good one somewhere else. In the B&B match the deficit represented 145 IMPs lost on 4 boards out of 12; 48 went on one board where the opponents bid slams missed by our pairs and 34 on another when Jonathan & Fiske had their only bidding misunderstanding of the weekend: not bad for a completely new partnership. In the second half of that match, an intrusive bit of harrassment from the TD, complaining about slow play, broke Jonathan's concentration at the crucial moment in the defence of 4x and that was -790 instead of +200: a swing of 32 IMPs.
This little effort apart, Fiske and Jonathan had a pretty good weekend, marked by aggressive bidding, quite a few tight doubles of the opponents' low level contacts and some skillful dummy play. As an example of the aggression in the bidding, Fiske overcalled 1 with 1 (playing WJO's) at red on board 28 holding Jx AKxxxxx Kx xx. When the bidding came back to him he rebid 3 and Jonathan bid 4 on Axxx 109 xxxx Kxx (whilst at the same time being surprised that his RHO had supported his partner's s on a doubleton). This made exactly when s were 2-2 and the minor suit aces were onside (though the K was always likely to be a trick on the bidding). On the way home Fiske (having been taken to task for not preempting with Q10xxxxx, 3rd in hand at red after 2 passes with nothing else except Qx) said that he could not remember a hand on which Jonathan, with 5 or more cards in a suit, had not bid.
Chris Jagger adds: An interesting hand came up on the Sunday.
Steve and Julian bid 1-1-3-3NT-4-5-5-5. Some people might elect to rebid 2 rather than this rather preemptive leap to 3, but the hand is a little too good for 2. Now what after 3NT? There are certain auctions that should be avoided, and pulling 3NT on this auction is one of them. However on this occasion there is something to be said for it, as 4 or 5 could well be the best spots. There must be a case for the other hand to pass 4, and converting to 5 is certainly not ridiculous, as with plenty of values in aces and kings one would expect it to be safer to play in the biggest fit. Julian elected to make a slam try with 5, which again could be right if partner has solid diamonds, though to me this is a bit optimistic. Steve bid 5 and in my view there they should have played. It seems to me that this auction is analogous to ones where a minor is agreed and you rebid a non-forcing four of a major as a possible last making contract. (And having 5 as non-forcing in my view makes the slam try that much more attractive, as 5 is likely to be a silly contract.)
The upshot of all this was that they played in 5, not the greatest spot. Plan the play on the king of clubs lead. One option is to ruff in dummy, draw three rounds of trumps and then fall back on the diamond finesse. Better in practice I feel is to win in hand, and run the 10 straight away. If this wins, then two rounds of trumps and run the diamond suit. If not, then the only way for them to make trouble is to play another club - maybe not so clear as this would be wrong if declarer had KQxxx Kxx 10x AJx, when a heart switch would be necessary. Even if they get a diamond ruff in then this is okay provided that the longer trump hand gets the ruff (so that there is now no other trump loser).
Fiske and Jonathan's opponents had a Precision relay sequence on this hand: 1* - 1NT* - 4* - 6. I think 4 denied a four card major, and showed at least seven diamonds to two top honours and a club void. How often does this come up, I wonder! It's a reasonable contract, but the heart lead was not difficult to find, and there was a trump loser.