Wednesday, 28 May 2008

The Open Team's Road to Pau, part 2

Is rubber bridge a game of the past? Do you consider that to play top level tournament bridge you need to be able to play and understand complicated systems, conventions, lead styles and signalling methods? If your answer to the second question is yes then you are probably right but I believe it is no coincidence that, over the years, four of the current Open Team, Alan Mould (NPC of the Ladies Team) and myself all developed our card play and defence playing rubber bridge at Manchester Bridge Club.

Let me introduce you to the players. My idea is not to bore you with lists of facts outlining their great achievements but to provide information that will help you relate to them as individuals:-

Paul Hackett

One of the world's great players and regarded as the creator of the modern European Bridge Professional. Paul has travelled the world and has won more tournaments in different countries than anyone else. As well as fulfilling his playing commitments Paul has been instrumental in creating many well known tournaments such as The NatWest Trophy, The Molex, The Commonwealth Bridge Championships and more recently The Warren Buffett Cup.

Paul has helped many young players especially in the Manchester area and it was he, then a director of Manchester Bridge Club, who first introduced me to rubber bridge. Paul offerred to sponsor me in the £2 a hundred rubber bridge game as he felt I would benefit from playing with and against some of the great rubber bridge players and which included John Meizes, Frank Wood, Jeff Morris, John Hassett, John Holland, Howard Melbourne, Dennis Robson, Raymond Semp and Bernard Goldenfield, to name just a few. Paul has also been instrumental in introducing promising players to international bridge by inviting them to play with him in overseas events. Thanks Paul.

Paul's other interests include Calypso music, dancing (watch out Darren and Mark), the theatre, genealogy and bridge politics.

Paul is married to Olivia and is the father of Jason and Justin and with Barbara, Justin's wife, are probably the most famous bridge family in the world.

Jason and Justin Hackett

Twins Jason and Justin are widely regarded as the number one pair in Great Britain and have already won gold in the 1994 European Junior Championship and the 1995 World Junior Championship. Can they win gold in the open section of 2008 European Championship? Jeff Morris, director of Manchester Bridge Club, has been quoted "I am sure that one day they will be world champions at senior level". Let us hope they start this year at the Europeans.

When you first meet Jason you could get the impression he is solely focused on bridge. If so you could not be further from the truth — I remember sitting with Jason and his father on a warm summer's evening in Deauville with enormous glasses of lager in front of us and listening to Jason telling us of his exploits bungee jumping in Australia, white water rafting in New Zealand, and on a solo journey by train from Russia to China.

Recently Jason has been assisting with the training of our junior teams.

Justin was married to Barbara, a German ladies international and world champion, on the day England beat Germany 5 goals to 1. The elite in the bridge world were there paying their respects to Justin and Barbara and I remember well Ross Harper announcing the score between each speech — some night. Sorry about the score Barbara but it is not often we beat Germany at football.

Justin is an excellent footballer in his own right and at one time considered turning professional but ended up playing bridge. A keen Manchester United supporter but we will not hold this against him if he helps us win a medal.

Tony Waterlow

I have only played in the same team as Tony on one occasion but found him an excellent team mate (he needed to be with the results we were bringing in) with a fine taste in French wine.

Prior to retirement Tony was UK Chairman and Managing Director of a major international company. He has played bridge with Paul for over 20 years and won the silver medal in the 1995 European Pairs Championship. Tony has won most of the top domestic trophies and with Paul has an excellent record in the English trials — they played together in the European Championships in 2002 and have numerous Camrose caps.

John Armstrong

John developed his bridge at Cambridge University playing with the likes of Brian Callaghan, Steve Barnfield, Richard Fleet, Richard Granville and Graham Kirby.

In 1977 he formed a partnership with Graham which lasted 20 years and during which they represented Great Britain in two Bermuda Bowls, two Olympiads and seven European Championships wining gold in 1991 European and silver in the 1987 Bermuda Bowl. Some record.

He formed a partnership with John Holland in 2005 and they have finished in the top four of the English trials each year from 2005 to 2008.

Main interests outside bridge are orienteering, hill walking, classical piano music and reading my fantasy novels.

A superb bridge player with great table manners and temperament and with John Holland could make a big impact on this year's championship.

John Holland

I have been fortunate to play in the same team as John for the past ten years and I can not speak too highly of him as both a bridge player and team mate.

He played with Michelle Brunner for approaching 30 years during which time they they have won the Portland (mixed pairs championship) three times and the Hubert Phillips (mixed teams) six times and must be recognised as one of the best mixed pairs in the world. John has won virtually all the major domestic trophies although surprisingly the Gold Cup has eluded him. He played with John Armstrong in 2006 European Championship and the experience should stand him in good stead for this year's event.

As I have already said the opposition will be tough but we believe this team will do us proud.

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