Malcolm examines a hand at the recent Felixstowe congress which involved defending against an unusual system. Click on SuffolkAtTheNationals to read more.
Are you one of Suffolk's 'missing' bridge players who is consistently left in the dark about local competitions and news?
Up to 200 of the county's 1,000 EBU members could be affected because information, such as an inaccurate email address, is on the EBU database - or simply does not exist.
The good news is that you can check and, if necessary, update your personal details. To find out how click on MISSING
Welcome to Suffolk Bridge's new website which will bring you results, news and much more besides.
The county now has one dedicated website - www.suffolkbridge.co.uk - as opposed to the two which existed before. It is hosted by Bridgewebs, whose package of bridge friendly software is used by most clubs and counties.
add it to your favourites!
Richard Evans & Paul Rickard are the new webmasters running Suffolk's dedicated bridge website.
If you would like to publicise a forthcoming event or submit a news item for this website click Richard or Paul
Having been an incompetent bridge player for a number of years, I took a decision several years ago to become an incompetent Tournament Director. Something in which, I have greatly succeeded in becoming, over the last few years.
During training I was informed that the game was to be taken with great seriousness, it was no place at all for brevity, so on many occasions I have been forced to visit tables that were clearly amused by something and ask: “Are you enjoying yourselves?” When I receive a positive answer I have to remind them: “Well, don’t!”
However this does not normally have the required effect, and often leads to further bouts of giggles.
I have found at the table, that Directors have two enemies, Players, and often other Directors, (I have been guilty too), when we should all pull together, and sing off the same song sheet (and other clichés).
There is however, one incident, at a large event a couple of years ago, at which I was present, that needs to be recorded, and serve as a warning to all Directors and players alike. I will stress that the players involved were all experienced, and of no-little ability.
Director was summoned, by a combination of North and East, and arrived quickly, as they had correctly remembered to append the word ‘Please’ to the request.
East commented: “We are playing in 2Hx, and pointed towards his partner as this was being said. North nodded, and South commented: “I’ve done nothing wrong.”
South's comment appeared a little odd, as N had led ♦A, and E had presented a dummy of 13 cards (the normal amount I’m told), containing a monstrously powerful three points.
S had exposed nine cards before he’d been stopped by other players, or there may well have been two dummies (or more) at the table. The exposed cards were five spades KQJxx, two hearts and two clubs.
With no Diamonds exposed by S, the instruction was given to play out the first trick only. All hands followed to the ♦A and as S played he commented: “I’ve done nothing wrong, I just want you all to know.”
W was given the option to instruct N to lead or ban a suit, and seeing the Spades in S banned N from leading spades.
As a surprise to all, N led the ♦K, which also held. This was followed by the ♦Q.
At this point W commented: “Are you sure this is right?” S again commented that he had done nothing wrong and was not at fault in any way.
Director obviously believing W's comment to be to the effect that he should have had the opportunity to ban or instruct a lead before the Q was exposed. Director held up play, and looked at W, who simply commented: “Is this right? Am I supposed to be playing this?”
As this was said S commented: “Don’t look at me, I’ve done nothing wrong.” There was no comment from either N or E, but E had covered his face with his hands, and a strange muffled sound was emanating from behind them. N had turned away, and 10 cards hid his face. N and E made the mistake of looking at each other, and for a moment N looked like he was going to fall off his chair. Several nearby tables had stopped playing and were watching, in their minds, the cabaret.
It took just over a minute for silence to reign at the table, only to be broken by S: “What were you laughing at, I’ve done nothing wrong.”
N offered an apology to the Director, suggesting that he may have been misinformed. So a recap of the Bidding was requested.
N - 1NT, E - pass, S - 2♥ (transfer), W – X, N pass (two hearts and only two spades), all pass.
So N should have been dummy with an exposed card. E should have been a defender with 13 penalty cards. S ‘who had done nothing wrong’, should have been declarer with nine exposed cards, and poor W - who actually had done nothing wrong - should have been on lead, but had been pre-empted by N.
This lead out of turn had probably instigated the whole chain of events. In pairs I think they would have been told about wasting Directors time and been awarded 40/40, as three rounds had been commenced.
However this was in teams of four. So with the proviso, that on the other table, no side had achieved anything brilliant, or (stupid), the board would be cancelled.
Directors be warned – players can misinform you. Get the full facts, before offering a solution to the problem that THEY have caused.
Wikipedia, that most reliable of sources for absolutely anything you desire to be misinformed about, lists no fewer than 86 bidding systems and that's without taking into account a number of derivative systems and refinements deemed worthy of a discrete mention. Much of what's on offer is frankly pretty insipid.
'The Official System' sounds like it would be just the thing in North Korea or the autumn conference of almost any UK political party conference except, of course, the Liberal Democrats who play their bridge with no system at all never mind one that's officially official. I have no idea how it works; just scanning the title left me too bored to read any further.
Reith One-over-One sounds too Calvinist to be much fun and the Scientific Sisters, Eastern and Western, (there really are two of them) are again a mite too bluestocking sounding for my taste. Culbertson and Goren were a great music hall comedy double act in their day, but I'm more of a Morecombe and Wise sort of bloke. They have left a fine legacy of work but so far as I can find out none of it contributes anything very useful to the game of bridge.
However, with a little tinkering what was probably Eric's most famous line can be turned into a useful put down to a complaining playing partner: 'Listen Sunshine, I am making the right bids - but not necessarily in the right order!'
I felt I might be homing in on something when I came across the various 'Clubs', especially Swedish, French and Amsterdam but on closer inspection they delivered a lot less than they promised (or at least what I hoped for). Sorry Poland but I've just never thought of you that way.
I moved on to the more richly promising Vanderbilt system. I know very little about Mr Vanderbilt beyond the fact that he is commonly held to have invented the game and that he wasn't short of a bob or two. Unfortunately his bidding system is now deemed to be as moribund and largely forgotten as he is.
The only remaining fragment of the glory that was once the Vanderbilt system is Goulash, a variant of the game 'in which the cards are not properly shuffled and are dealt several at a time'. Apparently he (Vanderbilt) 'gave some advice on how to play this unusual form of the game'. I have been unable to find out anything else about it which is a shame because I'll bet we've all played Goulash without ever intending to at some time in our lives.
Simplified Precision was the last born and runt of the litter
It would be handy to have some officially authorised rules to sort out the resulting mess after dear dotty old Uncle Charlie has dealt the cards in his characteristic 'forage what you can off the floor' way but gets very crabby if anybody even so much as hints that anything slightly irregular has just happened.
Any consideration of bidding systems can hardly avoid bumping into the sprawling but fragmented and now much diminished Kingdom of Precision. The dynasty was founded by mad, bad, King Icelandic Precision who, in keeping with Viking tradition saddled his children with highly improbable names.
Power Precision Club was the first born, so-called because being the eldest his father naturally expected him to lord it over his younger siblings. So it proved and he ultimately inherited his father's dark and chilly throne and an unfortunate cod allergy.
He was followed by Super Precision Club who, being of a more studious nature entered the Church where by using the murderous talents endowed to him by his Nordic lineage made his way swiftly up the ecclesiastical greasy pole to become Iceland's first cardinal by the age of eighteen and was greatly respected for his mendacity, venality, and silky poisoning skills.
Precision Club suffered the common fate of many a middle child as evidenced by his father's disinclination to think of a really good name for him. He was something of a disappointment to his father, an opinion not improved by receiving a letter from his under achieving offspring informing his father that he had discovered Canada.
Hurt by his father's low opinion Precision Club became something of a recluse and was rarely seen outside his home. He has been dead for over a thousand years now but Canadians still don't get out much. Proof, if proof is needed, that the Precision family casts a long and deadening shadow. Something we shall encounter again in considering the last of this star-crossed brood.
His descendants live in Norfolk to this day
Simplified Precision was the last born and the runt of the litter. As his name suggests he was not the sharpest blade in the drawer but this at least meant his father had no problem when it came to choosing a name. Simplified Precision hung around the royal longhouse for several years until his father, seeing no evidence of Super Precision's great intellect or depth of religious feeling in his younger son, and despairing of him ever making his own way in the world by the traditional Viking career path of fire, slaughter, and pillage, endowed him with what we now know as Norfolk just to get rid of him.
His descendants live there to this day, cousin marrying cousin generation after generation and greeting one another in the street with a characteristic 'one club to you cousin', to which it is customary and polite to respond with 'and one diamond to you cousin'. Whereupon they pass on their way with neither of them any the wiser about who it was they just spoke to or able to make any sense of what they have just heard...
Many moons ago, back in the 1970s, Fleur (my wife) and I served as Mate and Master on small coasters (cargo ships) working around the British Isles and Near Continent, known as the Home Trade Area in the Merchant Navy.
We began to play bridge in the mid 1960s, assisted by Alfred Sheinwold’s Autobridge, and graduated from kitchen to club bridge when living at Rye, East Sussex.
One day, while our ship was in Littlehampton, which we visited regularly, I discovered a local bridge club only a short walk from the harbour, where they played rubber bridge some afternoons. One wet afternoon, while the cargo could not be unloaded, we ventured along and were made most welcome.
After this it became a treat to discover (usually via the library – no search engines in those days) the whereabouts of a local bridge club, and sometimes their evenings coincided with our time in port. From memory we played both rubber and duplicate, though how we fared at the latter we rarely found out as we had sailed away long before the results appeared.
Hospitality was usually welcoming although at a visit to the Club in Bristol (v swish – own clubhouse with bar and steward) I was told on arrival that a tie was in order, and a tartan one was produced which definitely did not match my Carnaby Street flowery shirt! Suitably chastened we played very badly, not helped when one opponent asked the meaning of a bid and we both answered – hopefully the same but probably not.
"It’s a sad thing that we don’t get to know better the people we meet for an evening once a week...We live in a fast-changing world but let’s take a more leisurely approach and be prepared to relax and communicate with each other."
Most memorable was playing three nights in succession in Cork, first in a hotel, next in a convent school and then in the army barracks, though that was the night after the Aldershot bomb, which cast a shadow over the evening. The Irish are the most lovely and generous folk and we enjoyed many happy times there.
Bridge has moved on since then with the introduction of bidding boxes, announcements, P2P and other “improvements”. It seems to be played, increasingly, by those who are retired and wish to keep their minds active. Does that strike a chord?
Why did one learn to play originally? Well, it was a guaranteed friendly afternoon/evening, especially when supplemented by drink, food, conversation and more drink. But it’s a sad thing that we don’t get to know better the people we meet for an evening once a week. Too often one discovers that one of the club regulars, now no more, had something in common.
At Roydon (Diss) BC we have a halfway break for tea and biscuits, so we do get to chat for 10 minutes, but even then it tends to be current politics, weather and gardening. There are many old colonials (for instance) playing bridge still with interesting personal histories to relate. Perhaps we should prepare a brief cv – or would that contravene GDPR legislation?
We live in a fast-changing world but let’s take a more leisurely approach and be prepared to relax and communicate with each other. Shall I get the ball rolling? OK – click on A Passage to Wisbech and watch yours truly when he was rather younger in 1982.
One of the joys of holidaying in Orford – aside from plentiful supplies of fresh fish, wonderful pubs and restaurants, and unspoilt coastline and countryside – is the proximity of Framlingham bridge club.
The local Conservative Club, nestling a short distance from Framlingham Castle, provides a comfortable home for the bridge players (not to mention a bar in an adjacent room). And the summer holiday is not complete without a pilgrimage to see the friendly faces of Fram.
You get a hint from the club’s lively website of the relaxed informality and gentle sense of self-deprecating humour which underpins everything they do. How can you not like a club whose list of committee members says of one ‘could have been stationery cupboard monitor but missed her chance,’ and of another ‘All and everything duties’.
This year’s visit was full of surprises. For starters, the floor was adorned by a brand new, plush carpet of patterned, midnight blue. (I suppose Corbynista red was unavailable...)
But the real humdinger was the array of new faces: ten of them by my reckoning. And thereby hangs a story…
A year ago, with the slide in table numbers showing no sign of abating, the prospects for the club looked bleak. But since then two factors have come into play.
First, the decision some four summers ago to start a club teaching programme, not just at the club, but also in Huntingfield and Saxmundham. Teaching beginners to play bridge has similarities with planting a vineyard. You do not see the fruit of your labours for a while. Some pupils wither on the vine, so to speak; others who stick with it choose not to darken the doors of a bridge club and opt for social bridge at home with their friends.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle any bridge club faces is persuading the understandably anxious or timid pupil who has ‘learnt bridge’ to dive off the top board and forego the comfort blanket of supervised lessons for the real thing – a duplicate evening at a club. Seriously scary.
How do you calm their fears and worries and assure them that they will not make fools of themselves?
Well, a year ago Fram took the decisive step to make one of their weekly Monday sessions every month a ‘Mentoring evening.’ As the name suggests, an experienced player teams up with a novice and fulfils the role of a bridge godparent.
By chance, my annual visit coincided with such an evening. Six full tables, several Mentoring Pairs with confident ‘improvers’ who clearly had been taught well – and plenty of smiling faces were on view.
The turnaround in the club’s fortunes from 12 months ago could not have been more striking to a casual visitor and owes much to the hard work of those running the club…not least the ‘stationery cupboard monitor.’ The vineyard is bearing fruit.
Just as important, the experience of Fram may offer a blueprint for clubs who find themselves in a similar dilemma to that which faced the bridge players near the Castle on the Hill.
It was some time before I learned that the well-known saying about skinning a cat also applied to bridge. Learning the game in England is still pretty much like growing up in North Korea or some other monolithic, repressive, one-party, Gulag like Sevenoaks or Sunderland – you simply have no idea the world can be otherwise than you have always known it until you leave or otherwise become exposed to the corrupting heresies of competing ideologies, and so it was with me.
It came as a bit of a surprise to discover that ACOL and bridge were not near synonyms and, moreover, not only were there other ways of skinning the same cat but our island nation was just about the only place on the planet where ACOL was the prevailing orthodoxy. I scanned the tabloids every day for some time following this disquieting revelation expecting to read that an armada was on its way from Spain to impose religious conformity but as each day passed and there was still no mention of it in the Beano or Dandy I reckoned I could relax a bit.
Revelation piled upon surprise as I finally plucked up courage to enquire of an elder of the game what the acronym 'ACOL' stood for. I wasn't expecting the answer to set my pulse racing but I was pretty miffed to discover that the nation's flagship bidding system was a complete fraud in that it was not the intriguing acronym it pretended to be but simply the name of an unremarkable road in London where a bunch of upper middle class types whiled away their plentiful leisure hours in the 1930s coming up with a quite clever wheeze.
For all my initial disappointment I shortly decided that for now at least I could live quite happily with the more quietly dignified Acol I now considered it to be even if it wasn't quite me. Written in its unpretentious lower case form it has a comfortably tweedy 1950s English feel about it. Acol smokes a pipe and wears slippers around the house. It doesn't own a car but has recently acquired a black and white television although it still favours the radio which it refers to as the wireless and never misses The Archers. It wouldn't dream of leaving home without wearing a hat and thinks cardigans are the height of sartorial elegance.
Upper case ACOL is the family from Hell bellowing expletives into their mobile phones
Acol is the kind of convention you inadvertently bump into the shopping isle of your local supermarket and it immediately apologies even though you were to blame and insists you go first at the checkout because you have only a few items to pay for. Acol might not be very exciting but it's companionable and polite and makes a steady neighbour.
Upper case ACOL is the family from Hell bellowing expletives into their mobile phones while pushing several heavily laden shopping trolleys two abreast down the isle and leaving a trail of maimed and dying shoppers in their wake for their feral progeny to walk over while they pillage the shelves of anything they know instinctively will be bad for them.
Move fast if you see them approaching the checkout because they are not going to wave you ahead to pay for your single box of matches no matter that they have a small massive of items piled high in a freight train of trolleys stretching back to the far wall. Whenever I lose this particular race I derive considerable malicious consolation from knowing that the total food value of their haul is close to zero and contains all sorts of undesirable additives that will do them all no end of harm.
ACOL is a three-car family and the house is filled with myriad IT gadgets all of which are completely unnecessary. Pride of place goes to a medium-sized HD cinema masquerading as a television which offers eight hundred channels all of which are utterly banal but mum and dad only ever watch Sky Sports and the Shopping Channel. Their ghastly offspring live upstairs in Stygian darkness playing corrosively gruesome computer games that in a few years will turn them into a brood of serial axe murderers thereby gaining them the celebrity status they crave. Nobody in the family has ever read a book or has any idea the BBC even exists. ACOL is a convention for our time: pretentious, loud, garish, materialistic, philistine and self-obsessed. I don't know how dull but dependable, cardigan-wearing, Acol became pushy, designer-label clad ACOL but I know I don't like it. What I need is a bidding system somewhere between these two extremes.
Is bridge daring to break out from the Dark Ages?
One-day cricket was introduced nearly half a century ago and my father’s reaction was short and dismissive in equal measure.
‘Tip and run’ he snorted in the style of ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ (who probably was disgusted). What he would have made of 20-20, let alone a recent suggestion of 100 ball games with 15-a-side, does not bear thinking about.
However, if cricket had not re-invented itself in a successful attempt to attract new spectators to the game, it would be in a sorry state today.
Bridge has not been so swift taking such a leap from the Dark Ages. Yes, it has adopted bidding boxes (after furious debate) and electronic scoring (ditto), but little has been done to think beyond the club bridge ‘model’ in an attempt to win over new players to the game.
Most bridge clubs pay lip service to the internet and websites (uploading the scores each week – and that’s it), despite their huge potential to entice people to the wonders of the world’s best card game. As for Facebook (which, for many people, has replaced local newspapers as their prime source of information), forget it…
At times, one could be forgiven for thinking that bridge, particularly at club level, is turning its face against the real world rather than embracing the new methods of communication. Perhaps it is a reflection of the age profile of the average bridge club member.
The appetite for change exists. Thinking ‘outside the box’ is almost certainly the reason for the extraordinary success of Funbridge, which now boasts a community of more than 400,000 members from 250 countries (including 21,000 in the UK) who play more than 800,000 deals on-line every day.
One of the many reasons it is fun is the bite-sized format. You can play five board games on-line against friends, strangers or a robot – done-and-dusted in under half an hour.
Or you can create a team of four and play 15-board matches four times a month in a league with about 10 divisions.
Our Funbridge team of Paddy, Cloppy, Minortaffy and Dobbee - don’t ask - make up the Suffolk Barstewards (yes, I know: put it down to a rural sense of humour). And it is fun, with the quality of the on-line repartee usually dwarfing that of our play.
Chatting recently with Andre Gray, a Suffolk and Ipswich regular, he reckons the quality of the Funbridge software means the computer’s ‘defence’ is the best around on-line. My experience is that your card play has to be razor sharp and you normally pay dearly for taking any liberties with the bidding.
Does Funbridge beat the ‘real thing’? Of course not. But unquestionably it offers something different to normal club bridge and it is striking a chord world wide.
The success of Funbridge in a relatively short space of time is underlined by the amazing numbers taking part. In addition to the growing U.K. membership, there are 60,000 members in the US and 56,000 in France (it’s a French based site). And let’s not forget 12 players in Antarctica (what else is there to do?)
It must also be proving a ‘nice little earner’, as Arthur Daley might say, for its inventors. Although players get a free trial, they then pay a sum per number of boards, per month or per year. The annual option, which is the cheapest per board, works out at around £2 a week. With 400,000 members, I will let you do the maths…
The first question in my mind when asked by Richard to write a 'blog', which apparently this is, was: 'Why me?' Any of you who know me even slightly will doubtless be asking yourself the same question so for your benefit I'll let Richard explain...
'I want something that's light and written by an enthusiastic but not expert player. I don't want it to be highly informative in the usual way of these things - and I thought of you,' he said.
I took 'not expert' to mean 'not very good' and when it comes to be being 'not highly informative' there's nobody in my league. I could see no flaw in Richard's reasoning so I agreed to have a bash.
Should you have come here looking for and expecting a cerebral analysis of a particularly thorny hand that defeated many a renowned international pairing at the last world championships - this is not where you want to be.
If you are the kind of player who sees nothing wrong with leading a singleton against 3NT* or cheerfully informs the opposition that your partner's 1NT bid is worth 12-14 points no matter where it happens in the bidding process then this blog is just stuffed full of useful tips guaranteed to take your game even further downhill...
Most of us are just blagging it, not just in bridge but in almost everything else. I'll give you a couple of examples from my own record of sporting excellence.
I have the honour of having played cricket at county level for Suffolk. I'll grant you it was for the over 70's side and I was a last-minute replacement for a player who pulled out or quite possibly died en route to the ground so they were desperate and I happened to be there.
Further, not only was I incompetent but I was also ineligible by virtue of being under age (an achievement in its own right at over 60) but I was assured that neither of these things constituted an adequate excuse for me to avoid the chance to disgrace myself and my county and I did not disappoint.
The opposition batted first and I remained on the field for one ball before being literally carried off with a pulled hamstring after sort-of-sprinting too enthusiastically to cut off the ball before it crossed the boundary. However, when I tell the story I tend to omit all the inconsequential details and just leave in the bit about playing cricket for Suffolk.
Many years before that I gained representative hockey honours from the Army Apprentices College (AAC), Chepstow without ever turning up to play. I have no idea how I was selected in the first place given the inconvenient truth that I had never watched a game of hockey much less played in one nor had I ever expressed the slightest interest in doing so. I was terrified by this prospect but, aged just 15 and fearful of speaking out, I solved the problem by not turning up for the game.
Much to my amazement not only did I not get shouted at but nobody even referred to my absence and I was selected to play again, which problem I solved in the same way as before - again without any repercussions. I'd obviously played well in my absence because I was selected for, and did not attend, a third game.
By now I was beginning to rather enjoy the sport of hockey in which to excel it was only necessary to not take part. Alas, following my third no-show the selectors not unreasonably felt they could do better and my name never again appeared on daily orders in a hockey connection. Notwithstanding my failure to even so much as pick up a hockey stick I was deeply gratified to note upon graduating from my not-very-benign alma mater that I had been awarded representative honours in a sport I knew nothing about.
The AAC closed years ago so I'm probably safe owning up to that one now. More than half-a-century on and thousands of bridge hands later I have reached the seemingly impressively labelled rank of advanced master but a glance at the skyscraper of ranks above my present level tells me I'm still really only blagging it – I bet I'm not alone in feeling that way.
* I'm vaguely aware there is a clever way of indicating to partner that you want an unusual opening lead and so the lead of a singleton against a NT contract is not necessarily a bad thing but most of us ordinary mortals don't know that and if we do know it we have no idea how it's done so please don't write in.