This is a report on the annual schools bridge championship in Scotland. I was there with two teams of four from The High School of Glasgow, making our debut in the event. Several strong teams from other schools have recently finished school, plus the event was not well publicised by the Scottish Bridge Union, so there were only six teams in total. On the upside this meant at least one of our teams was guaranteed a top 5 finish.
My school bridge club only started last November, and we're still very much novices. When we arrived at the Bridge Club in Stirling some of the friendly pupils from Hutcheson's Grammar school came over to say hello, and ask if we play Four Card Majors or Five Card Majors. Our captain instantly replied Four Card Majors, a nice bluff as he'd never heard of this before. The boy from Hutcheson's then demonstrated his roundhouse kick in the car park. You don't see that too often at the bridge club.
The format was everyone playing everyone else in a series of short team matches. My two teams coped brilliantly. A lot of it was new to them. For example, they had never before played with:
- Sitting in seats by Compass Points
- Cards arriving pre-dealt in boards
- Square Tables (not school desks)
- Bridgemates for scoring
- Quiet (ish) at the table
- No Jaffa cakes during play
Very soon after arrival Liz McGowan got everyone organised and playing straight away, and a hush fell on the room. I sat on the corner of one of the tables, kibitzing along with the other teachers and Stirling locals. "This is intense" one of my team said as she picked out her first set of cards, and counted and recounted her points.
In the few months we've been playing we've barely touched on bidding, which means most contracts are very low. This can occasionally lead to a good result, for example in this hand:
Our North-South played 1♦+1. After two passes South opened 1♦ and in our safety-first style North passed too. On the opposing table the hand was passed out altogether. However, there's a limit to how far you can get by only ever bidding at the one level, and we did pay the price for a few missed games:
On this board our East-West played a comfortable 1♥+2, whereas the Aberdeen East-West won the board comfortably by making 4♥= and securing the game bonus.
At the lunch break we went to sit out in the sun and enjoy the delicious Marks & Spencers sandwiches. The team resolved to be a bit bolder in the bidding, except for the one notorious overbidder who was strongly encouraged by his team-mates to be less bold. This was following something of a bumpy patch in the morning when the opposition made 4♦x followed by 4NTx. "He bid it so fast I thought he was bluffing" was the doubler's excuse.
In the second half the bidding improved and I was pleased to see people with good six card suits opening then rebidding their suit. More importantly than the bidding, the card-play improved too. It's no exaggeration to say that the 25 or so hands we played in the tournament were as many as we have played in the rest of the year combined. As a loyal kibitzer I felt the excitement when the kids did well, and of course also felt pain inside every time someone forgot to draw trumps.
Overall, the eight novices did really well to step up and play competitive bridge for the first time, and I was very proud. As one of the organisers wrote to me afterwards: "I thought they were great ambassadors for their school and the game as well.".
And as for the final result? We did indeed finish in 5th and 6th. Here's how I remember it:
|1||Hutcheson's echidnas||? VPs|
|3||Hutcheson's dragons||? VPs|
|4||Hutcheson's ?||39 VPs|
|5||High School B||37 VPs|
|6||High School A||22 VPs|
Each match was scored out of 20 Victory Points (VPs), meaning an average result would be to draw each of the five games 10-10 and finish on 50 VPs. So well done to both our teams, and particularly 'B' who were close to overtaking one of the Hutcheson's teams.
Thanks to the organisers and hopefully see you again next year!