Yesterday (Friday 22nd) we played our first NABC event. Our team of four is Richard Kalkbrenner & Ti Davis from Little Rock, Arkansas, Brian McGuire and myself from London, England. Ti and Brian met at a previous NABC and have been friends now for five years.
The Bridge is being held at the Cook Convention Center on Main Street in Memphis, a 15-minute walk from where we are staying. Instead of walking one could take the "Main Street Trolley", a tram car that runs along Main Street, or even try a tourist horse drawn carriage.
It's a beautiful spring day in Memphis so walk it is. Like with most US cities there is limited proper shopping in downtown Memphis - that's all gone to the suburbs and the malls - but there are various food outlets, entertainment venues and historic buildings and it's all pretty clean and attractive to walk along and they have certainly made an effort to keep the downtown alive.
When we arrive at the Convention Center we can choose from a whole array of events to enter. We are not eligible for the Key Platinum Pairs - that is for the great and good, and later I see that David Gold has had a good start. We ignore various side games and games for new players (less than 299 US master points, or less than 49mps) and go for the 0-10000 Swiss Teams, limited to players with less than 10,000mps. You will probably gather that master points are a key feature of your US bridge status and go a long way to defining your life.
To complete the entry I have to join the ACBL. A short form to fill in and a simple debit card swipe and for a few moments, before the next guy in line is serviced, I am the ACBL's newest member.
Because of my previous playing experience I am given a starting point on the US master point scale. They give me 800mps which is probably a bit low (at the same point a few years ago in Brian's US bridge trajectory they gave him 3,000 - all right he is a better player than me, but these points will determine in which 'bracket' our team will be placed to play various team games). I don't really understand all this so I just accept. Then it's to work.
During the day we are going to play eight 7-board matches. There are 83 teams entered and if we finish the day in the top half we will qualify to play a second day tomorrow. We get off to a poor start, losing the first match 1-19, but bounce back immediately with better defence to win the second match 19-1 and even our record, but it's going to be a struggle from there as we will miss too many games and slams.
Everybody is delightful to play against. During the day we will meet players from all over - New York, Florida, Portland on the west coast, a pair of military veterans from Alabama, and a pair of college age kids from Chicago.
The standard is high - you get no gifts - and absolutely nobody is playing 'vanilla' Standard American. There is some "Two Over One", the current popular system in US club bridge, but we also meet strong club pairs and at least three of the pairs we play against are using some kind of weak NT. We also encounter a pair playing the multi two diamond which is only allowed in better quality events in the US. In keeping with local practice they have to 'pre-alert' and if they use it they have to offer us a recommended written defence in case we are unfamiliar with it.
After four matches we stand at 1-3 (one win and three losses) but we are not out of it. There is a two hour dinner break and we walk down in the sunshine to Beale Street the main music and club drag in Memphis where we have a huge meal of catfish and ribs in the Blues City Cafe.
Back at the bridge we win our first two matches after dinner but the jetlag kicks in and I get tired and we fade away to finsh 3-5 and we have not qualified for Saturday. We will make fresh plans for playing in other games. Our last round opponents were David & Avril Rodney from Washington, old team mates from London 20 years ago when they lived in the UK. It took a while for us to recognise each other but it was good to see them and catch up a bit.
Other Brits have done better than us: Lyn Fry's team with Lizzie Godfrey, Simon Cope (sometime British team coach) and Diana Nettleton have finished fifth and Richmond regular Bjorn Tiller in harness with Tom Paske has also sneaked into Saturday's final. I wish them good luck.
After play has ended we go across the street to the Sheraton Hotel for the 'Opening Party' - food, drink and dancing to an amazing ensemble called The Bouffants, four female vocalists and five male instrumentalists covering Motown and other similar songs. There are some prizes on offer and Lyn Fry wins free entry for the week.
I am really dog-tired now - it's coming up to 6am British time. It's still pleasantly warm as we walk back along Main Street to our accommodation but when we get there I am happy just to crash. Tomorrow is another day....