INSIDE JUNIOR BRIDGE

by Alex Foley - Sheffield

In the world of junior bridge, two bids have reached a level of notoriety and admiration that causes them to spoken about between young players in awe-stricken hushed voices. For the timid, the mini-mini one no trump opener (8-10 points, balanced), and for the more foolhardy, the system EHAA (Every Hand's An Adventure, where the only forcing opening bid is 4NT!). Most juniors, who tend to be a little aggressive to say the least, class these bids as among the ultimate conventions available.

However, I recently discovered a bid which may soon take it's place at the top of the leader board for the most ridiculous bid ever contemplated. An opening 1C bid, showing a hand with any point range and any shape, asking partner to bid their best suit. Strange, I thought that's what you tended to do anyway. The two eleven year olds who proudly alerted this gem said their system was 'modified Acol' but didn't realise that before long they will have rewritten junior bridge folklore.

This bid was unearthed during Easter at the national Under-19 Pairs final, which attracted a very reasonable (for junior bridge) 14 tables and was held in London at the Young Chelsea Bridge Club. Nationally junior bridge tends to be almost non-existent except for in small pockets of players who resist the trend to think of bridge as 'sad'. A handful of private schools across the country (notably including Loughborough Grammar, the top junior bridge centre in England, and in Yorkshire Queen Elizabeth Grammar in Wakefield) strongly promote bridge, as do several bridge clubs up and down the country (full marks to Brighouse and Spen in Yorks), but in other areas there are no young bridge players at all. I play in Sheffield, and now that a couple of older juniors have left for university, I believe I may be the only junior player in South Yorkshire.

Qualification for the final was required, a feat possibly more difficult than the final itself for two reasons due to the lower standard. Firstly play is so slow that the event only contains about 18 boards, often not enough for the top pairs to play each other. Secondly the standard is so variable that a good score (e.g. sacrificing successfully to save 300 points) can be a disaster because other pairs are not bidding and playing as they should. After getting through the qualifier in the autumn, my partner (Steve Raine from Scarborough) and I managed to get in a few practice sessions despite the distances involved in preparation for the final.

One successful 'practice' session took place in the English School's Cup event earlier this year in Loughborough. Although we were not eligible for the main event as we go to different schools, we were able to enter the secondary competition with a pair from Manchester. After a disastrous journey with train delays and cancellations which resulted in me driving the two of us to the event, we managed to defy the bad omens and win the Swiss teams even with a mediocre score of 99 VP's out of a possible 100!

After this, we took it as a good sign that the transport arrangements for the final were also problematic. The key to the flat in which we had arranged to stay in London had not arrived by the time we had to leave, so a James Bond style key transfer had to be arranged in Rochdale station on the way to London. Thankfully this went smoothly and we arrived in London on Easter Sunday lunchtime, in perfect time for the teams event of the Easter Congress, to which we had free entry. How did we do in that? Well... we like to think that it was a practice for the next day!

The social side of junior bridge is very different to senior bridge, as there are very few serious players. This leads to everyone knowing each other very well, and so junior events are always enjoyable just to meet up with old friends. As we get older we notice more and more young players whom no one recognises coming through, and realise that we were just the same four years ago. It does begin to get scary though when the 9-year-olds play tag in the corridors and then beat you hands down at a hand of bridge!

The standard was very variable during the day, with some poor pairs playing very well against us and good pairs playing badly against us! One hand in particular involved an over ambitious bidding sequence, resulting in an impossible contract of 5S being reached. However, undeterred, the opposition (both of whom regularly play for England) proceeded to lead the king of clubs from four low into the AQJ10 to make the contract for me. On the whole we seemed to be taking advantage of the 'random effect' of having so many unpredictable players, and despite a couple of disasters we were confident at half way when we went out for a quick tea.

In the second and final session, we encountered one particularly difficult hand:

SK Q J 10
Hvoid
DA x x
CA J 10 x x x

With a one diamond opener on my right, I found it hard to describe my hand. Any bid in clubs is not forcing and may be the wrong suit but there is a lay-down slam if partner has two of A spades, K clubs or Q clubs. Doubling risks partner jumping to four hearts but in the end I chose this bid, as there seemed to be no alternative. The opponents now kept quiet. Steve replied 2D, a bid which is descriptive but can describe so many hands that it did not really help. Still terrified about the possibility of a heart contract, I decided to sign off in 4S, assuming we had a fit after the 2D bid.

In the end four spades just made on a 4-3 fit, but thankfully 6C was not on as my partner had nothing in clubs. In fact, I think that if your system allows it the best bid in this situation would be a Michael's- style bid to show 5-5 in the black suits. The extra strength of the spades should make up for the shortage.

In the end, we surpassed all our expectations, finishing in an excellent third position ahead of several international players. After our success at Loughborough and this result, we hope that we may have caught the eye of the England selectors and are eagerly awaiting the trials in the summer!



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