Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Watching the Final, Five

The excitement is over. I expect most of you know that the England team won the Silver medal. The feelings are amazingly mixed. The team themselves must know how close they came to winning the whole championships and a gold medal and these opportunities don’t come along too often. On the other hand to be the second best team in the world surpassed English ambitions and expectations, so everyone involved with the team should be amazingly proud. Our young players are as good as any in the world and that’s great credit to those involved in training them who give up so much time and passion to the players. Michael Byrne and Alan Shillitoe have done a fantastic job, not just in the last ten days in Beijing, but over an extended period of more than two years. We and the team owe them many thanks.

Here’s what I wrote yesterday afternoon as the match went on. All the hands and scoreboards are to be found on the web or at BBO. Email me if you cannot find them. Scroll down for my final comments.

Board 17
A flat Board to start with. Both Norths with an eight carder headed by AK go on to 5H after West has sacrificed in 4S. With three Spade tricks to lose that’s one off. Still -15

Board 18
More Heart and Spade competition. Rob has made 4S+1, but the French have bid the same and a second flat board looks inevitable. Only ten. One IMP. -14

Board 19
Rob two off in a pretty hopeless 3NT, but after a better start the French declarer went two off as well. No change

Board 20 has some swing chances. Rob has made 12 tricks in 4H, but Spade lead would defeat 6H or 6NT. French up to 4NT and thinking. This might be a swing for either side. In 6H now all depends on the lead from Ed in North. He has SKxx, but has lead a safe club. Oh dear! Not so safe -13 where it might have been reversed. -27 now and we do need some good boards.

Board 21
Another -11 after a series of unlucky guesses by our East. -38

Board 22
Flat 2S making a very lucky ten tricks.

Board 23
A bit better on a fairly horrid sort of hand the French end in 3NT going three down, while Ed and Tom play 4S. A cross-ruff develops and nine tricks are made for 5 IMP pick up. -33

Board 24
England drop an imp in 4S, -34, although there still seems some confusion about the score for Board 21. It’s possible Ben did not go down but with eight boards left, time is running out and nothing seems to be going England’s way

And so it turned out to be. Just a few imps changed hands in the last eight boards, except on Board 29 when an excellent slam, well bid by Ben and Rob gained 11 IMPs to give us a glimmer of hope with just three boards left, but there just wasn’t the ammunition to get those last final swings. The French clinched the gold medal by 25 IMPs. (Well 24.7 if you want it exactly!)

Final thoughts

Congratulations to the French team. They played well and in the end had the steadier nerve in the crunch zone. We must not lose sight of this best performance ever by a U20 or U21 team and must look to the future. At the international level, the future looks bright. Some of this team are about to move up to U25 level and with all their skill and talent should be able to make an impact. There is also a strong nucleus remaining, which will form the basis of the U20 team of the future. The cycle is already underway, because the European Championships, with the opportunity of qualifying for the next World Championships in 2010, is only 9 months away.

It is only human to be disappointed, but the reality is different. Well done to the team. All three pairs played an equal part in the success and that’s real progress because in the past, the team has had to rely on two pairs.
The real work now is to try and use this success to publicise the game and persuade more schools and teachers to encourage youngsters to play, to try and set up more university bridge clubs and get more young players to start playing. We all know that it is great fun and Beijing demonstrates that we can actually all do well on the international stage.

The attention now turns to the two major Championships of the Olympiad where both our Open team and Women’s Team have reached the semi-finals of their events. The Open team play Germany, which will be a very tough match over two days and the Women must be slight favourites against their Turkish opponents. How great it will be if in a few days time we are celebrating an even more spectacular performance than that of Dan and Adam, Ben and Rob, and Ed and Tom. Well done, lads.