International bridge runs on a two-year cycle - the European (and other zonal) championships in odd-numbered years, qualifying the successful teams for the world championships in even-numbered years, like this one. For adults, cycle follows cycle like the succession of the seasons, but for juniors there are only two and a half cycles in each five-year age group. So this world championship, the culmination of two years of work and play, is an opportunity to be seized.
And today, two days after most of the under-26 team arrived in China, and with body clocks still adjusting to the 7-hour shift, play started. There are 22 teams in the U26 event: we play a six-day round robin of 14-board matches against each of the other 21, with four and three matches on alternate days. Looking through the list, we fear no one, but respect all the teams we know. Almost all the teams have a fair chance to finish in the top eight and play in the knock-out stage.
We started against Israel, the seventh of the six European qualifiers from Slovakia last summer - we were sixth (now that I've written this I expect someone will explain the arithmetic to me). Jacks lay in the wrong hand for us on a couple of swing boards, and we lost by 15 IMPs. This hand had a simple but instructive point when West led a club, as Ben did, against 4H. A club ruff is threatened, but after cashing the ace of hearts you have no quick route back to hand to continue trumps. The Israeli declarer tried a spade to the king and ace. Ben continued clubs, then came in with the king of hearts and gave Shahzaad a club ruff to beat the contract. Declarer could have made on this line by playing spades when he won the second club, but only because the jack drops doubleton. A better approach is to win trick one in hand and play a diamond towards dummy to establish a link back to hand. When the ace is onside, you can next discard a club on the king of diamonds, averting the threatened ruff.
Our second match was against Egypt, who were awarded medals at the opening ceremony for winning the U26 online championship. The match swung back and forth and ended in an honorable tie. Then Poland, traditionally very strong, but without some of its best players at this event. The Poles bid a thin grand slam early on, and played it well to make the contract, ending up winners by 5 IMPs. And our fourth match was against New Zealand, who judging by early results are one of the weaker teams. This board, also mentioned in Giorgio's report, was bid to a grand slam missing a cashing ace at no fewer than nine of 22 tables. When West declared 7C, having opened a strong 2C or 1C, South doubled for a lead, not much minding whether North led a spade to cash his ace or a heart to give him a ruff. Or so he thought until declarer ruffed the heart lead high in dummy, as Liam did in the U21 event. Our pair - I've forgotten their names - bid 2C(very good hand)-3C(fair hand with clubs), 5D(how many aces have you got, not counting diamonds)-7NT(thirteen)-(X)(that's not enough). New Zealand bid semi-competently to 6H, and were unlucky to find that was also 200 off. The best story I heard was from China v Norway in the U21 event. China bid 2C-3C, 4NT-7NT, doubled by South to ask his partner to find his ace with the opening lead. A spade lead would have meant +1400, but North, not unreasonably but unluckily selected the two of hearts. Has a declarer ever before won the first trick with a three in 7NT doubled? That trick being the extra one he needed to make his contract.
On several other boards we did play better than New Zealand, winning the match by 35 IMPs to end the first day in tenth place. Tomorrow we play Netherlands, USA 1, and France, three fancied teams. If we can score above average, we will fancy our chances.