Back of the Pack Part 4
This week, Partner, ever one of nature’s optimists, had signed us up for our first EBU* Congress. This was scheduled for the sumptuous surroundings of a large hotel near Russell Square, and promised to be a true fiesta of bridge stretching over several days.
*EBU stands for the English Bridge Union, not the ever-popular European Buildings Undersecretariat.
From an extensive menu of events, Partner had selected the “Flighted Swiss Pairs” as offering our best chance. This proved not to involve cuckoo clocks, yodeling or golden eagles, despite its name, but was a technical description of the scoring system. Essentially, starting somewhere at random, at the end of each match of seven boards you moved either up or (in our case) down to play next against more suitable opposition. By the end of the day, the field was sorted by magic into a neat hierarchy, with everyone playing at their own level in the final match. Very neat.
Upon reflection, there were two viable tactical approaches open to us neophytes. The first was to score 0/20** in our first match, to move briskly down to the bottom table (number 137 as it happened) and to spend the rest of the day sparring with the other handful of no-hopers who had had the temerity to turn up. The other, rather in the style of a Harrison Ford movie, was to scrape 3/20 or 4/20 in each match, and to slide gracefully down the cliff face of bridge mediocrity, fingernails grating on the rock, to eventually end up on the bottom table anyway.
**This 20 referred to the number of VPs or “Victory Points”. Enough said, I think.
In the event, the decision was taken out of our hands by drawing a couple of mavericks in the first round who eventually ended up in second place overall. They’d apparently taken up playing bridge during their first years at Oxford, had stayed up most nights playing to the detriment of their degrees, and seemed to have continued the practice virtually uninterrupted for the next half century. I think our standard of play was such a shock to them that they became disorientated, and unaccountably only moved off at the end with 16/20 under their belts. So fingertips slipping slowly down the precipice it was.
It is probably best to draw a veil over the actual play of the next 1,287 boards that seem to be involved in any EBU competition. The whole thing was much of a blur anyway. Suffice it to say that good-humoured jocularity was not uniformly displayed by our opponents*, that we had no idea the “Alert” card could be used so many times in one hand, and that the Director took to circling around our table in a close orbit to cut down on transit time for the next occasion on which he was summoned.
* “Enjoy the game, and be nice to each other” gets my vote for the new EBU motto. But then, I clearly don’t take the thing seriously enough at all.
Finally the event concluded, although we were both so numb that it took 15 minutes before we realised no-one was going to throw** any more boards in our direction. Then, tottering dazed out into the foyer upon which the darkness of midnight had long since fallen, a miracle. We were not bottom. I feel the need to say that again: we were not - how can I put this more clearly - in last place. There was one pair in attendance who were even more hopeless than us.
** Yes, throw. The silence of concentration at these events is broken only by the steady tread of circling officials, the periodic "crump" of a board landing at its new destination as each table finishes with it, and the occasional crash as one of the senior competitors checks out to join the Great Table in the Sky.
What a ridiculous sense of success and pair of broad grins that fact produced. Dear me. Not bottom. Where was that next Congress did you say? In Aberdeen? Not a problem; we’re sure our wives will be suitably understanding.