Half way through we are in a marvellous 33rd equal, out of 140 pairs. There's now a three hour break, to allow the Hotel to serve dinner in two seatings. Many people in the Congress are staying the whole weekend, full board. Thus most of my banter between rounds is about whether the other couple are staying in the hotel or not, not great stuff. In fact at one point when everyone else is itching to start Anna starts to giggle as my chat's so poor.
We are sadly not booked into the Hydro Hotel, and so walk into Peebles for a pub dinner. John's gang are off to an Indian, but Anna wants somewhere quiet. For the first time we've ever played together, it's Anna who cracks and decides she wants to get out the hand records and have a look at them.
After a couple of hours it's time to go. I'm not allowed to finish my pint as Anna wants to make sure we're fresh for the evening session. This consists of another 24 boards, from 8pm-11pm. Really, there's no way we're ever going to be fresh, and a post-prandial late-night bridge-overload slump is inevitable. With our remaining hour before play starts Anna tries for a power nap on a big leather sofa and I walk up and down in the cold.
Round Five - 11/20 VPs
The event is now divided into three rooms. Me and Anna are flying high and are in the top room, albeit the second bottom table. Our opponents this round have come up from England, and straight away she is muttering about the cold draught from the window, and he is getting upset when the person sitting behind him (who, like him, is rather fat), bumps his chair when sitting down. They spend the next few minutes muttering to each other. Then I casually mention that we're not S.B.U. members, and she gets very uppity, saying that if this was the E.B.U. we'd never be allowed to compete without membership.
In the bridge we get a flying start with a textbook Crowhurst auction (Board 1) leading to Anna making 2♠+1. Then the opponents miss an easy slam (Board 6), despite their Modified Hackett convention ("Paul denies all knowledge of it").
Anna sitting East deals and opens a standard weak two. South's double shows 16+ and 4 Hearts (the other bids of 2NT, 3♣ and 3♦ show the other combinations of weak and strong hands with and without four Hearts). Sitting West I have a one count with four Spades, vulnerable. I go for a conservative 3♠, which perhaps does the trick as when North bids 4♥ South lets this go. Declarer makes all 13 tricks on a Club lead, but defending 4♥+3 is still a good one for us.
On John's table the opposition played 4♠x minus loads.
Things briefly go a bit haywire as we end up over-competing to a doomed 4♥ (Board 2), but overall it's a fairly good round. Beryl is getting so sullen I start to have a bit of fun, by being as polite as possible. At the end of the round I practically shout "Well played, thanks for the game." to each miserable opponent in turn. They don't reply. It's nice at least that they weren't rude to each other, just to us.
Round Six - 12/20 VPs
Our narrow win from the last round is just enough to keep us in the top room. Next we play a lovely couple, and there's no malice even though the Director is called to our table at lest three times. On one board I've got 11 cards, another board 15 cards, then there's an enquiry as to whether we've benefited from unauthorised information on the hand below (Board 10). Specifically, has Anna's pause before passing 3♠ helped me decide to double it?
Sitting West I open a club, North overcalls 1♠ and Anna doubles. The double shows 6+ points and at least four Hearts. When it comes back round to me I bid 3♣, and North overcalls 3♠. Anna apparently now hesitated for a bit before passing, though I don't think she hesitated for very long. When it's back to me, I realised that we have at least 21 points between us, and I can play in any suit except Spades, so make a final takeout double. Anna passes this (should have bid 4♥).
3♠x-1 goes one off, but the Director has been called and it might be ruled back to just 3♠-1. It doesn't really matter whether we get +100 or +200, as we can make 12 tricks in Hearts. Once they find this out, the opponents aren't too bothered any more (but the Director does rule in our favour, and the result stands at 3♠x-1).
Then it's bad to worse as I make a blunder in defence to 3NT, setting up declarer's ninth trick (Board 9). I seem to do that quite often, set up declarer's tricks. But it's difficult, as sometimes in matchpoints it's essential to cash your winners to prevent overtricks. We are partially reprieved next deal (Board 11) when opponents have a bad auction to 4♠+1, missing a slam (why do people transfer into a Major then bid game in it, when they've only got five cards and it could be a 5-2 fit?). Then comes my crowning glory, a dubious bid that paid off handsomely (Board 12).
I have the juicy West hand and open 1♠. When I see Anna pulling out a card to reply I'm almost certain it's going to be 2♦, but then I see 2♣ and we're in business. I think of splintering in Diamonds, but want to keep the possiblity of a major game so bid 4♣. This is clearly forcing (3♣ is invitational), but I'm still a bit afraid Anna will pass. When she bids 4♠ I'm cheered by the double fit and start thinking about how to investigate slam. I think for a bit then decide to just bid 6♠.
When dummy comes down I've hit the jackpot, it couldn't be any more suitable. Anna's got all the missing honours in spades and clubs, nothing wasted in diamonds, and a handy King doubleton in hearts. It's such a good dummy in fact, that I easily make all 13 tricks. Of course, if Anna's Ace-King of spades were in diamonds instead I'd look rather foolish.
On John Faben's table he was also sitting West. After opening 1♠ like me, he rebid 4♦ over partner's 2&clubs. This was a splinter, which suits Easts hand very well with four small Diamonds. Something went wrong after that though as they finished in 6♣ (not 7♣ and not 6♠).
Anyway it was a glorious sight to see that perfect dummy, and we end up narrowly winning this match too.
Round Seven - 3/20 VPs
We've now played 6 rounds, and won 4 of them, lost 1 and drawn 1. We're up to Table 14 out of 70. As it turns out, this is a high-water mark, and we bomb dramatically in Round 7.
It's fairly poor from our opponents too, and the whole round is a bit shambolic. We play half of the first hand (Board 15) against Ed Jones and Alex, before the Director informs them that they are sitting on the wrong table. The Board is played again against the new opponents. The first time round on the board our opponents were heading for 5♦ (just making, good for us), the second time 3NT (making +2, bad for us). Since the auctions differ the hand is annulled.
It restarts well - we win the next one when they go off in 4♥ (Board 14). Declarer is poised to make it with two tricks to go, but plays the last two the wrong way round. I realised what was going on in defence and was tremendously relieved when declarer bodged it. Then I make a very saucy 2♦ on a 5-1 fit (Board 16, with a super endplay), and I wonder if we might do alright. What was I thinking?
We've done well to hold it off for so long, but now it's time to bomb. Nothing spectacularly bad happens, just a bit of vulnerable overbidding (Board 13, Anna) and sloppy defence (Board 18, me), but it's enough to see us losing the round 3 VPs to 17.
Round Eight - 12/20 VPs
After the big loss we're out of the top room and into the middle room, where we'll play the final round. It's the nicest room so far. The bridge from this point on is a bit crazy, and there's a constant risk of something stupid happening.
We started the round late as I'd nipped off to the toilet, then when I got back we had one of the slowest auctions ever. It's painful for me and I'm bidding it, not sure how the opponents coped (Board 23).
Anna's sitting West. She counts her point five times then opens a 20-21 point 2NT. I'm straight away thinking that my hand falls into the danger zone of maybe-slam with 11 points. There's going to be a decision to make later, but for now I just bid Stayman. Anna shows 4 Spades and we've got a trump suit. One of the things we have discussed system-wise is that after Stayman 4NT is Blackwood, which I now bid. Slam might not be good, but if we've got enough aces I'm bidding it anyway. Anna thinks for an age and finally comes up with 5♦, showing 3 keycards. Then I think for two ages and in the end decide that since I've asked for keycards, and we've got all five, I can't really back down now. So I bid 6♠.
North leads a Club, which Anna runs round to her Queen. North is furious, and is banging her remaining cards on the table, rather unethically making it quite obvious to her partner she's just blown a trick by leading away from the King. The rest of the play goes smoothly, apart from Anna accidentally ruffing her winning 4th diamond, but we still make 6♠= for a good score. That's our third Spade slam of the day.
In the post mortem East-West are arguing and it occurs to me that I'd totally missed South's double of 3♣. That ought to have been a wake up call, but in fact the next hand (Board 19) I commit an even worse error, not noticing that my own partner had doubled. To be fair, and I said this afterwards, the double cards and the tables are both red.
South opens a Multi 2♦, North relays 2♥, now South shows her suit with 2♠. As far as I'm concerned, sitting East, this is now passed round to me. I really ought to double, as partner could have an opening hand, but I decide to pass and defend. When I see how weak dummy is I realise we're getting a bad score, and wish I'd doubled. It goes two off, but that's no consolation. When scoring up, it turns out that Anna had already doubled 2♠. North didn't realize this either and we have to call over the Director to fix the BridgeMate.
It doesn't help us much getting +300 instead of +100, as really we should be in 4♥. The one advantage of our +300 though is that it means we get a better score than John on the board, who also doubled 2♠ but his partner with three aces only bid 3♥ for +170 (note that even if NS find the Diamond ruff 4♥ makes).
Then it's the opponents turn to play and fail, as we benefit by passing out a big 4♣ overcall and taking it two off (Board 20). Both me and Anna nearly had another bid and could easily have gotten overboard ourselves. There's an air of madness about every board. On the penultimate hand we have the following bizarre auction (Board 21).
Opponents open yet another Multi 2♦ and I again double to show Diamonds. Anna raises this, but when I later bid 4♣ to show my two suiter (it's a competitive auction) she decides that actually I don't really have Diamonds and must instead have a monster hand with Clubs. She raises me to 5♣ and I play there, going one off, though briefly I think I'm going to make it as I forget I can only afford to lose two tricks.
Anna had the honour of playing the final one (Board 22). Who wouldn't want to be in 4♠ here?
♠ Q J 8 6
♦ A K 9 6 4
♣ K J 6
♠ A K 9 7
♥ Q 9 8 5
♦ J 7
♣ 7 3 2
It went one off with the Ace and Queen of clubs both offide, for a poor finish.
It was now after 11pm, I was far too warm and me and Anna were both repeatedly complaining of being frazzled. Time to go. Anna manned up and drove the whole way back, to watch a recording of the evening's Strictly Come Dancing quarter-final.
What a day.