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Second Saturday Success

We were going to enter a team game again today.  However the Compact Knock Out we had in mind did not attract enough entries so instead our two partnerhsips dropped into a single day 2-session Open Pairs.  As noted yesterday our departure flight to London leaves too early to permit us to play in any of the more superior 2-day events.

There are 21 tables in play in our Open Pairs and on the whole it feels like a good club game.  We actually meet for the first tme this week a pair playing original Standard American (rather then the now ubiquitous 2-over-1) and they're even playing strong 2-bids.  Whatever next ?!!  We start with the obligatory bad board butthen things get better and we finish the session in second place overall with 59%.

It's cold and has been raining outside as we go to the break, and together with Ti & Richard we head north a few blocks from the convention center to eat at an Italian-style restaurant Ferraro's.  When we have eaten John McAllister comes and says hello.  John is the producer of a movie Double Dummy (http://doubledummymovie.com/  The film deals with the competitive world of youth bridge and the realtionships among young players forged by the game around the world.  Obviously the aim is to promote bridge to a young audience.  John has found my blog and hopes that I have some kind of in to youth bridge that will help promote the film.  Sadly this is not the case. though of course I do know people for whom youth bridge is in their remit and I will happily spread the word where I can.

The evening session seems on the surface to go less successfully.  A pair bids 6NT against us that needs two finesses and a 3-3 break but it rolls home, then on the next board a thin 3NT that Deep Finesse can beat comes in for the opps on the normal lead. The final rounds go well however and on the last board I pick up x Kx AKQJxxxx xx third in hand vulnerable.  It goes pass-1S-? and i make what I consder to be the normal jump cue bid in the opponent suit, i.e 3S =do you have a stop for NT? Partner does and we take the normal 10 tricks.  It is a good score. When the smoke clears we have had a surprising 60+% session and have moved up to 1st overall.  That's worth our biggest mp haul of the week, 15.5golds.  A win is a win and I'll take it.

Tomorrow really will be the last roll of the dice for my first NABC.  We will skip Graceland and play in a 2-session Fast Pairs. Then it will be an Uber to the airport.  I have had a great week and my sincere thanks to the other members of te Gang of Four without whom none ofthis would have been possible.  Thank you partner Brian McGuire and teammies Ti Davis and Richard Kalkbrenner, you were all great!

A final update from Charlotte airport if I can get a link and then back to London.

Nearing The End

Well, it's beginning to feel like we are on the home stretch.  Back at the ranch (the Stay Alfred apartment at the Chisca in S, Main Street) the Gang of Four discusses what we want to enter for the remaining days.  Brian and my flight leaves at 6.00pm Sunday so unfortunately the two of us won't be able to play in the Play Thru Swiss as it will not finish in time. Eventually we decide that Brian and I will play in the Open Pairs on Friday and then we will have another go at a Compact Knock Out on Saturday.

In the Open pairs the field is good rather than great, though in an early round we meet US Bermuda Bowl player Adam Wildavsky. I remember Adam particpating in the  Lederer Trophy, London's top invitational teams event, when it was held shortly before that year's Bermuda Bowl in Monaco.  As soon as I mention this Adam raps out the year - 2003.  Adam asks to be remembered to Bob Rowlands, a top London player whom Brian and I both know.

Our first session is dotted as usual with good boards and bad but we defend adequately and the session feels positive,  The first estimate on the Bridgemate says 53% which if it is true will be a bit disappointing.  Our instincts are on track and the final result is 55,86% which is a base camp for this evening's session. 

The Memphis Rock & Soul Museum. The displays give a fascinating insight into early rural life in the South.

During the dnner break Brian and I visit the Rock & Soul Museum in downtown Memphis. I find it fascinating reading about the struggles of early rural life in the South, from which the music emerged. When we come out it is clear from the crowds that there is an event on at the next door Fedex Forum. I am not sure what though - the Grizzlies basketball team is not scheduled at home.

The evening session starts with a bad defence for a poor board but then we get it back with a somewhat fortunate slam when i am able to bring in the side suit by pinning 10x with the jack. We declare only six of the 26 deals so our defence is being tested all the way.  Brian hits it off with one of our opponents Gary Kessler when they discover their shared interest in music.  Gary runs recycledrecords.com so they swap contact data.

The set feels reasonable but then we spoil it with some bad boards at the end. This time the estimate on the Bridgemate deteriorates and we end with 50.62% which leaves us outside the top 20 overall on the two sessions combined and fifth in Flight B.

"Could have done better" - the story of a bridge player's life,

Back in London, Gitte has had 10 tables at the Ruff Club in Camden (a suburb just north of central London),  That is quite good.  Gitte used the BriAn telephone app to score the duplicate in whch players can enter the scores on their own devices (mobile phones (cellphones in US speak) or tablets. It is a great little app and you can see details at www.brianbridge.net  BriAn stands for Bridge on iPhone and Android.  

I am grateful to Gitte for running some of the sessions I normally host in London while I am away and to all the other relief directors I arranged - Victor, Sue, Clive and Szczepan. Thanks all - you have made this trip possible.

Hold The Press!

Thursday starts off with me finding that I feature on the front page of the tournament's Daily Bulletin. You can link to the bulletins and read the story here.  Earlier in the week I had emailed the Bulletin to let them know I was blogging and then on Tuesday evening after play had finished for the day met up with Bulletin editor Sue Munday.  Sue is obviously a skilled journalist as she was able to make a coherent story out of a number of very disparate remarks I made while chatting to her. 

As an aside I see that Sue's husand Jim is pat of the Pavlicek team that beat the original No 1 seeds in the Vanderbilt. As of Thursday night the Pavlicek team is still going and has reached the quarterfinals. Results are here.

As a result of the story in the Bulletin a couple of people come up and say hello. One is Barry Rigal whom I knew as a teenager at the Young Chelsea Club in London.  We work out that it was around 1976 or 1977 when we both played there - kinda when dinosaurs ruled the world!  Soon after that Barry moved to New York and has since carved out a notable career in bridge.  Another is Michael Ranis, another 20-year on acquaintance from Young Chelsea.  it is good to see all these people here.

Today we are entering the Silidor Open Pairs.  This is the major pairs tournament of the week and it is a national event attracting a high standard entry and awarding 'platinum'  master points. It will be played over two days (four sessions) with a cut after the first day.  We enter and are given an asignment card without a seating assignment.  Puzzled I ask a director.  She explains that this means we are a seeded team and will be assigned a seat shortly.  "Us seeded?", I think. "Shurely shome mishtake?" I think they gave us the card because they wanted to get rid of the last few seed cards and we seemed likely foreigners. 

I watch the seeding process taking place.  Two officials are eyeballing the cards and sorting them into groups. It looks like they have a handle on who is who and we end up correctly in the lowest group ('never heard of them'). The seeding groups are then successively inserted into the various sections of the competition with the idea that the good playrs will be distributed evenly throughout the movement.

We go to our table and it is a small world - here come Christophe Grosset and Stefan Skorchev. Stefan of course is Brian's old colleague from the Acol.  A couple of boards later David Gold comes by and introduces his partner Eric. Eric is Eric Greco a past winner of this event and several other NABC championships. Out of the Vanderbilt in their respective teams. they had formed an impromptu partnership an hour before game time.  Why am I feeling nervous? The first board goes ok but we let through a bunch of overtricks in 1NT on the second board, never a good idea at pairs.  And so it goes.  At one point, against Ifty and Chris from California I revoke which has the curious effect of allowing me to make an impossible contract.  Don't worry, there are rules for that and with the help of a director we broker a deal for three down.  There are occasional highlights too, so much so that Brian thinks we may have had a passable set, but I just think there are so many hands where a trick or so got away that it will not be good. Sure enough our session score is a humble 42.4% which means we will struggle to make the cut later.  We go to dinner (Korean bipimbap since you ask) with Ti and Richard and they are faring no better.

The second set starts more brightly.  As we move round the tables we meet Marie & Matthias again from the Meltzer team and also former Norwegian soccer team captain Martin Andresen playing with Fredrik Helness. You can read Martin's soccer bio here.  Martin had spells in the English Pemier League and during the time he played for Wimbledon used to come into Young Chelsea in London for a game with Rune Hauge, the well known soccer agent who is also a keen and successful bridge player.

We circulate aound picking up scores here and there but then we have a suicide set against Georgia and Igor (italy and Moldova respectively). Looking back this will be the set we want back as it will ultimately cost us qualification for tomorrow. We play against world champion Krzysztof Martens of Poland and then we play current Bernuda Bowl winners Joe Grue & Brad Moss both of whom appear in Aces & Knaves.  They don't really have their game faces on - they are just horsing about having fun.  They have a bidding misunderstanding (Joe didn't see the vulnerability which was critical for their auction) and Joe goes five off in a hopeless 3NT. Against Bermuda Bowl winners I'll take that every day.   

We finish the 26 board session with a score of 55.95% which gets us agonisingly close to the qualification line. We place 194th with 182 to qualify.  I really enjoyed the tournament and would have liked another day. But hey, this is the NABC and there is always another competition.

Museum And a Win

It's Wednesday and the team is united again as Ti and Richard have finished with the Rockwell Mixed Pairs.  So we are going to try a "Compact Knock Out".  This is a uniquely ACBL style of competition.   But before that starts at 1.00pm we are going to do some sightseeing.  It's a toss up whether we go to the ACBL Museum at Horn Lake, or Gracelands, the Elvis Presley mansion.  We are bridge players so the Museum wins. 

The Museum is housed in the ACBL offices at Horn Lake, Mississippi.  This is a few miles south from Memphis across the Mississippi state line. We drive but there is an NABC tour bus party also visiting at the same time.

The Museum is well worth the visit.  The showcases and wall displays are curated to professional standards. The interpretation panels are well written and interesting and the displays are well lit.  There is a host of video material.  We are able to read about the early personalities of bridge and their contributions to the game and their achievements:  Vanderbilt, the Culbertsons, Charles Goren and Helen Sobel, the Dallas Aces and their struggles with the Italian Blue Team,a nd so on.  There is inevitably a panel about the infamous 'Buenos Aire Affair' of 1965 and other scandals that have rocked bridge. There is an excellent library room with not only books but full runs of the important English-language bridge periodicals and for eye candy there are display cases featuring the Joan Schepps collection of Trump Indicators.  These are natty little devices with an arm or dial to turn to show what the current trump suit is.  There is another collection of these in the privately run Bridge Museum in Leerdam in the Netherlands.   If there is one criticism of the Horn Lake museum it is that there is very little material from the 21st century.

Read on about Wednesday below the photos.

Harold Stirling Vanderbilt, the inventor in 1925 of the modern form of bridge. Known as "Mike" he was the heir to the New York Central Railroad fortune and was a successful America's Cup yachtsman. The panels are mounted over a large mural of the SS Finland, the cruise ship on which contract bridge was first played.

The Vanderbilt Trophy which is being played for this week. The portrait in the background features Ely and Jo Culbertson.

Items from the Joan Schepps collection of trump indicators.

Back to Memphis and we enter the Compact Knock Out.  The format is that there can be up to 16 teams in each 'bracket' of the competition. To win, you will need to win four 12-board matches, scoring by IMPs.  The top 16 teams by master point rating form Bracket 1 and so on down the master point scale.  It means you play teams of roughly your own standard.  The master point awards you can win become slightly less generous as you go down the brackets. Bracket 1 is full with 16 teams. It is replete with well known US and European name players and will be super tough to win. We are in Bracket 3 of 4. The lower brackets 2, 3 and 4 are not quite full - there are twelve teams in our bracket.  We win our first two matches in the afternoon and now will return in the evening for the round of four. 

Oh blow - I have just lost a chuck of stuff I wrote about the evening session.  Now it's time to play bridge so I will update again later.  In short we won our Bracket - I'll go into detail later

 

A Day Off

Out of the Vanderbilt we have the day free.  Richard & Ti are entering the Rockwell Mixed Pairs; Brian and I stay at the apartment.  I write my blog, Brian writes copious notes about last night's Vanderbilt hands.  We get some laundry done.

Eventually we go to the Convention Center to see how Richard & Ti have done and how the Vanderbilt is going.  After a pizza dinner Brian and I play in the Open Pairs. After the testing bridge of the last few days this is like playing in a club game. Everone is still very friendly.  I go for 1100 which not suprisingly doesn't please Brian.  You know the old bridge joke: Partner 1 - "Why did you bid 3C?"   Partner 2 - "Because it was my turn!"   We do 58%, good for 6th place.

After the game I meet with Sue Munday of the Daily Bulletin.  Sue wants to do a piece about the blog so I will look forward to seeing something in print.

Richard & Ti have not survived the cut in the Mixed Pairs so tomorrow Wednesday we will try another team game.  During the day I will remember my bridge partner and friend of some 30-odd years John Balson, whose cremation service is today in London.  Hazelle my partner who has not made the trip will be going to represent me and as John was involved with many aspects of life there are likely to be a lot of people there.  A sad loss.

Mugged in the Vanderbilt

Perhaps i'm a sore loser.  I didn't update last night as I when I got back to the apartment I was still steaming from our quck exit from the Vanderbilt.  It wasn't the fact of the loss rather the manner.  More of this anon - let's start with the morning.

At 10.00am we walk across the road to the Halloran Centre (sic) For Performing Arts and Education for the world debut of a bridge movie called Aces & Knaves www.acesandknavesthefilm.com). The Halloran is a new stylish performance centre and we take our seats in a medium sized film auditorium.  The film, directed by professional journalist and filmmaker (and bridge player!) Jackie Paré, is a documentary type film about why people play bridge, who plays bridge, how top bridge is, and how considerable cheating at the top end of the game was exposed in 2016.

There are interviews with many of the top stars of bridge but also regular players both young and old, inputs from brain scientists and footage from old news reels and other historic outakes.  I don't want to give too much detail as some of you will doubtless want to see the film for yourselves.  The film transitions from the 'aces' to the 'knaves' - those who seek to stay at the top of bridge by collusive cheating with their partner.  There is an insight into this murky world of subtefuge and whispering. and how in 2016 some of these cheats were outed.

After the screening some of the bridge stars who featured in the flim (Boye Brogeland, Christina Lund Madsen and Zia Mahmood) joined director Jackie Paré on stage to answer questions.

This is a well-made film and a credit to bridge - the sort of insight into bridge that makes people want to take up the game.   Hats off to Jackie Paré and her co-makers for a great piece of work.  The credts roll and there is a list of and sponsors and donors. i suddenly catch sight of my name and remember that I gave a modest $50 in an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. Money well spent.

Aces & Knaves will next be shown at the Boston International Film Festival in April.  There is a streamable trailer on the Aces & Knaves website.

Jackie Paré onstage at the Halloran with,(l to r) Zia Mahmood, Christina Lund Madsen and Boye Brogelund

And so to the Vanderbilt.  68 teams enter and by 'seeding point' holding (master points adjusted in some way) we are seeded 67. The field needs to be reduced to 64 teams.  Seeds 1-54 are given the day off and the bottom 14 teams will scrabble for 10 places. Two teams will have a 60-board head-to-head and the other 12 including us will be placed in one of three pools of four.  The 'fourways' work like this:  in the afternoon you play a 30-board match; the two winners advance (and get the evening off) while the losers play off over another 30 boards for the qualifying place,

In the afternoon we sit down against Jade Barrett from South Dakota and his partner Nathan Doyle who is wearing his Junior Team Ireland name badge.  Jade is the dominant character at the table but he goes out of his way to be welcoming and to make sure we are enjoying the match.  We get off to a good start and I settle down, feeling we are playing reasonably and we are at least competitive in this match. So the 15-board set continues but we suffer a double game swing out when both games could have been beaten for -16imps and another game swing out negates our early good work and we reach half time 35-41 down.

The match is being played in a great spirit. Nathan sometimes seems a little over-awed by Jade but he is still a good player.  They are playing a loser-based bidding system rather than a high-card point system; there seems a lot to learn and get right and there is judgment involved too. Jade will occasional comment to Nathan about whether he approves of Nathan's choice of bids.  Jade's professional existence is as a bridge team team builder and trainer and he spends up to 40 weeks a year on the Regional Tourament circuit,  One very much gets the impression that he is motivated by helping others improve and that playing the Vanderbilt is just a bit of fun downtime. Nathan is a project as much as a partner.  As for helping others, Jade even takes time out to show me that I am not holding my cards in a secure enough way to always hide them from prying eyes.  i take his tip on board.

We sit the same way in the second half.  We get a game swing and a slam swing but we also let a game through and we will need our teammates to have a fair card.  They chip in some bits and pieces but when we add it up another 14imps has slipped away and we lose a possibly winnable match by 20imps.  We are not out yet - we will play in the evenng repecharge.

In play in the Vanderbilt against Jade Barrett and Nathan Doyle.

For the evening match we are drawn against Team Davison, seeded 61. This comprises Susan Davison and Sharon Phillips from Manhattan, each playing with a Turkish pro partner, Omer and Gokhan respectively.

Our teammate Ti has encountered Omer before and asks us to handle him. We soon find why. Susan is a very nice person who frequently visits London as she has family in Holland Park, a nice suburb in the west part of central London.  Omer on the other hand is what is known in the trade as an 'operator'.  He doesnt stick to the conventional bidding rules, bending bids to fit his hand. He has anyway a very loose and active bidding style, and is completely unilateral always trying to marginalise his partner and between deals constantly teaching at the table.  He gets dealt hand after hand that fits his style and keeps finding Susan with magic cards that get him out of jail. I stupidly go down in a cold 4H for 10imps out and we are a recoverable 23imps down at the half.

In the second half Omer comes into his own. He does not pass throughout on a single one of the 15 deals.  In a hand that is typical he bids 1NT (14-17hcp), partner responds  2C, regular stayman, and Omer now directly bids 3NT.  "You don't play Garbage Stayman", I wryly remark as dummy hits with 12hcp.  "Oh, yes we do,  I forgot that possibilty," he says. Brian has cashed the A from AKx of diamonds to have a look.  He sees Kxxx Axxx QJx Qx and needs to find the Q or 10 of spades from Q10xx.  He doesn't, continuing diamonds,  and with  x Kxx xxx AKJ10xx in Omer's hand that is nine tricks.  He ignores stayman at least once more and again the dummy suits him.  The only break we get is when Susan bids 1S, Omer responds 2D, Susan rebids 2S and with 19hcp including Kx of spades Omer bids a direct 6NT.  Susan's dummy is A9xxxx - xxx KQJ10.  There is a spade to lose and the diamond finesse doesn't work so after the HK lead Omer finishes four down when 4S was good. And apparently it's all Susan's fault for not opening 2S.  A torrent of other boards, however, goes Omer's way and there is clearly no way we have won this match.  We lose by about 40imps but the feeling is we got mugged as much by the cards as by the opponent.

Later Ti and Richard tell us that their Turk Gokhan has bid in the same style, including opening 1NT with a singleton. Ti, who is a bit of a straight eight when it comes to bidding - just bid your hand and don't do aything unothodox - is annoyed too. Opening 1NT with a low singleton or too far out of your agreed point count is apparently barred in ACBL-land and Ti is wondeing whether she should have called the 'police' - the tournament directors - at the time.  I just feel it was bad bridge but paid off and that we have been left standing in the street with no clothes on. 

So we are out. There is nothing left to do except congratulate the opponents and move on.  It's a shame as had we won would have been playing the Lavazza team, the experience of a lifetime.  As I finish up writing this, Brian comes in with news of the first stanza today.  Davison is losing 14-84 to Lavazza after 15 boards.  i can't say I am surprised.

Sam Punch (Professor Punch to you!) crowdfunding her Keep Bridge Alive campaign. As a sociology professor at Stirling University in Scotland, Sam is helping demonstrate the social benefits of playing bridge.

More Swiss Teams - And a 5-2 Record

Fully jet-lagged up, five hours out of one's own time zone, and completely away from one's normal routine it is easy to lose track of time and space. But if it's the A/B/C Swiss Teams it must be Sunday.  The other members of the 'Gang of Four' (Ti, Richard and Brian) all like their team games so that is what we are entering.  Two sessions at 1.00pm and 7.30pm.  It attracts 49 tables.

There is a slew of other tourneys happening on the same day.  The 'Key Platinum Pairs' is rumbling towards its conclusion - Zia Mahmood will emerge as champion with Curtis Cheek and David Gold with Kevin Rosenberg - Michael and Debbie's son - will be 4th.  There is an IMP pairs game and there are various restricted master point games and single session games as well. It just boggles the mind - my mind anyway - that so much bridge can happen simultaneously.

The A/B/C Swiss is another of these events where players of all standards play in a single pool but master points will be given out to different stratifications. So you can finish first in the B stratum or first in the C stratum and you will get enhanced MP awards.  That is not for me the attraction: what I enjoy is meeting new players and sometimes finding yourself playing among the famous stars of the game.

We lose our first match 0-20, which sounds a bit careless, but then win against a youngish mixed pair Matthias and Marie who tell us that they live in North Germany near the Dutch border. Matthias has spent time in London and played at TGRs, the money club in London.  No-one can do this for an extended period unless they are pretty darn good players as the standard there is so high.   Later I discover that Ti & Richard have been playing against Rose Meltzer & partner.  Rose has the rare distinction of being a female Bermuda Bowl winner!  You just think wow!

We win our next match too against Juan and Luisa from Miami and then eke out a narrow win against Jimmy Pelham, African-American and deaf as a post but clearly a character, paired up with Chris Compton from Colorado.  We go to the break above average on 43vps with a 3-1 record.

Before leaving for the break I talk to a couple of the 'caddies'.  Team games are not organised as they are in the UK with pre-dealt deals. Each match has its own set of boards and these are hand dealt at the tables by the players. in an 8-board match therefore you deal and play 4 boards and then ask the caddy to swap them for the other four boards at your team mates' table. There is no hovering over the other table, trying to swap baords without looking. I take a photo of Holly and Carrie, two of the caddies working our section. Holly in particular seems noticeably smiley and helpful as she buzzes betweeen tables and would get my vote in the happiest caddy competition!

We need groceries for our apartment at the other end of Main Street, but amazingly there are no proper grocery stores anywhere in the central area of Memphis, so dinner turns out to be a cheese sandwich at the apartment. Then it is back  to the Convention Center for our last three matches of the day.

Brian and i sit down down against 'Peter' and 'Mike' from Poland, acually Piotr and Maciej, whom we played against the day before in the pairs.  Their Polish Club is working well today and we get blitzed again 0-20.  Then we win our last two matches against opponents from Louisiana and Ohio respectively and finish with a pleasing 5-2 record albeit only with 68vps out of 140. Still that is good for 5th place in Flight B and 3.39 Gold MPs.  I am not sure what this counts for but it must be better than the proverbial slap in the eye with a wet fish!  

The winners of the event turn out to be Stefan Skorchev and team (Geoff Hampson, Haig Tchamitch,  Christophe Grosset) with 111vps. Stefan spends time in London and is a sometime colleague of Brian at the Acol Club in North London.  He has even played in my Friday night game at the Ruff Club.

Along the way today we have entered the Vanderbilt which starts tomorrow, the highest level knockout tourney I have ever gone in for. We are there for the experience not with any expectation at all except of a quick and overwhelming knockout,  but it should be fun and I am looking forward to it.  

I have posted a small bunch of photos on my Facebook site ('Ned Paul')  but it's late now and I must finish posting here now.  In the morning we will go to the showing of the film 'Aces and Knaves'.  Check back tomorrow for another update.

 

 

At the table with Dutch superstar Jan Jansma (left) and his American partner Jay.

A Positive Session

Brian and I played in the A/X pairs today, a stratified pairs event in which the A players have a combined 12000 master points or more and the X players have below this, yet everyone plays in the same player pool.  This means you can find yourself playing against some pretty well known people. In the afternoon for example we played against Dutch star Jan Jansma and his American client Jay.   At last year's Lederer Trophy in London Jan partnered Zia Mahmood and I kibbitzed them for three matches.  

We finished below the line a bit in the afternoon (47%ish) but this evening we had our first positive session and got up to a respectable 55%.  This could have been better had I not made a poor play to let through 3NT by Nancy Passell (playing with Petra Hammon). On learning that we were from Britain, Petra mentioned that there will be several good US players at the EBU Spring Foursomes in Stratford-upon-Avon (WIlliam Shakespeare's city) in May.  The Spring Foursomes is probaly England's highest standard and most coveted open teams event.

Throughout the day we have met a lot of nice people, and they have been universally welcoming to us as Brits.

Tomorrow I am rejoining the Gang of Four (Ti, Richard, Brian and myself) to play another Swiss Teams.  We are going also to enter the Vandy which starts on Monday, even if we get trashed!

At dinner with the team Richard, Brian and Ti.

First Day of Play

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....

 

View of the Mississippi from the apartment window

Arrived...

Well, it's been a long day travelling. It's now Friday 6am London time as I write this from the 'Stay Alfred' Airbnb in Memphis. 

Brian and I left Heathrow on the 12.10pm to Chcago, an 8-hour flight, and then had five hours to kill at O'Hare before the onward flight to Memphis. There were a few bridge players on the Memphis flight, which arrived at 11pm local time.  Then we had to find a taxi into town. Ti and her bridge partner Richard had already arrived and in fact played today in the opening warm up event. Tomorrow Brian and I will join them for our first teams event, a team game limited to those with less than 10,000 US master points.  I hope to get a feel for the average standard of those playing but even in a restricted event it will not be low.

The apartment where we are staying is about 20 minutes walk from the convention centre where the bridge is taking place.  Until recently it was a derelict hotel called the Chisca with most of the rooms boarded up.  Many still are as it is in the early stages of renovation.  But the 3-bedroom apartment seems comfortable enough for our needs.

Tomorrow morning's tasks:  filling in an ACBL convention card with Brian, and arriving at the event registration desk with enough time to join the ACBL.

The Adventure Begins

Tomorrow I fly to America for my first ever North American Bridge Championships  (NABC).

The American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) organises (or should that be 'organizes'?) three of these 10-day NABCs a year - Spring, Summer and Fall, and they rotate around not only the USA, but Canada and Mexico too as all three countries in a rare example of international co-operation are consituents of the ACBL.

The 2019 Spring National is in Memphis, Tennessee so that's where we are heading.  'We' is myself and Brian McGuire, a London bridge friend and occasional partner.  Brian has been to several of these things and along the way he has met and joined up with a lady friend Ti from Little Rock, Arkansas.  We will be meeting Ti and her bridge partner, whom I haven't met, in Memphis and will be playing as a team of four in various of the NABC competitions. 

These NABCs are humungous congresses - they report the attendance by the number of tables in play over the 10-days and this figure will grow over the week to several thousand.   The centrepiece of each NABC is a knock out teams competition that attracts the stars of world bridge.  For the Spring National this is the Vanderbilt Trophy, a trophy dating from 1928 when it was put up for competition by Harold Stirling Vanderbilt, the inventor of the modern game of bridge. We are not at the level required to play in the Vanderbilt but there are many other team and pair games to choose from and I am in the hands of the rest of the team as to what of the many competitions we will actually compete in. 

Participating in an NABC has long been on my bucket list and as all this is a new experience for me I will try and post a daily update of my progress.  Now I shall finish packing my bag...