Monday, 20 October 2008

Beijing U21s. Part Seven

So, the competition is over and the medal has been won. Everyone would have liked a Gold one, but reaching the final of a World Championship and winning a Silver medal is a fantastic achievement and the whole team should be very proud.

The only thing that remains is to look at what went right and what we can learn for next time. The first thing is to never give up — after day one we had lost two matches and were on 48/75, not in a qualifying spot and not the start we had hoped for. But we stuck to our guns and won the next 11 to zoom into first place. The second thing is that plenty of preperation is essential — lots of practice with your partner, discussion of sequences, as well as making sure you arrive early for every match and start your campaign on the right foot.

The England team did all of this, and we return home heroes.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Thoughts of a Selector (5)

Well done to both our Open and Women’s teams who have both made the final of their events. Both are now guaranteed at least the Silver medal, but of course will be going for Gold.

Open team

The first half of the semi-final was very close and the match looked like to might go the wire. The coach in his posting, promised a step up in performance in the second half, and he was so right, as England won it resoundingly. Meanwhile Italy beat Norway by a similar margin in the other semi-final, so they will be England’s opponents in the final.

Looking at Italy’s form, they were comfortable winners of Group A, quite a tough group, and then in the knockouts have beaten India, Poland and Norway. They will undoubtedly be England’s toughest opponents, but you would expect that in a final. I’m sure England will be up to the challenge.

Women’s team

The England Women took the lead in the second set, and from that point on never looked in danger of losing their semi-final against Turkey. They won the match comfortably in the end. The other semi-final was a close battle between two strong teams and in the end it was China who emerged the victors, so they will be England’s opponents in the final.

China started slowly in the event. They struggled in the qualifying, only getting through in 4th place in their group. However they seem to have stepped up a gear when they reached the knockouts. First they beat Poland by a large margin, and they followed that with wins against two of the fancied teams, Germany & USA. The last time they played in a knockout match China were the winners, so England will be eager for the chance to reverse that result here.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Beijing Open. Part Five

Today witnessed the complete demolition of the Germany team by our England Open team. A terrific performance saw the Germans throw the towel in half way through the final set, not a common occurence to say the least. They were 143 IMPs down at the time.
We have been overwhelmed by wishes of congratulations and good luck for the final, so thank you all for them! Predictably we will face Italy in the final — (arguably, perhaps) the best team in the world. But our performances in this tournament give us hope of causing an upset, and we will certainly be giving it our all. Hope to post more in a couple of days!

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Beijing Open. Part Four

Our quarter-final against Romania passed by relatively comfortably. The eventual winning margin was around 120 IMPs or so, and the whole team performed superbly to never give Romania as much as a sniff of a comeback. Our reward for the quarter-final victory is a semi-final tie against Germany, our group winners. The team is feeling in good nick and we are full of confidence.

The first day of our semi-final has been a difficult one to summarise. We are only 8 IMPs behind after 48 boards, and we feel we have not been at our best today. That leaves us extremely hopeful and confident that we can crack on tomorrow and forge a passage to the final. The team have had dinner, and will soon be in bed, getting hopefully a good night's sleep to prepare for tomorrow. Thanks to all the well-wishers, we will do our best for you all to emulate the fantastic England U21s and make the final. By the way, our women are in excellent shape, 73 IMPs up at the halfway point in their semi. Good luck to them too!

Thoughts of a Selector (4)

Congratulations to the England Under 21’s who have won Silver.

The Seniors lost their Quarter final match to Japan, but congratulations to them for getting to the last eight.

The Open and Women’s teams both won their Quarter-finals fairly comfortably and are now preparing for their Semi-final matches. If they win their Semi-final they will be guaranteed at least a Silver medal. If they lose they’ll take part in a 3th/4th place play-off for the Bronze medal.

Open team

The Open team will be playing Germany in the Semi-final. Germany were the winners of England’s group so this match will not be easy. However a 96 board head-to-head match is very different from a round robin, and the England team will raring to show the Germans who is boss. Tough a this is, it’s still preferable to taking on either of the other semi-finalists who are Norway, the 2007 World Champions and Italy the 2005 World Champions.

Women’s team

The Women’s team will be playing Turkey in the Semi-final. Turkey were 4th in their group and have got to the Semi-final by beating Finland and Russia in the knock-outs. England will be very happy with this draw, it’s preferable to taking on either of the other semi-finalists who are USA, many times world champions, and China, playing at home and one of the new forces in Women’s bridge.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Beijing Seniors. Part Six

Well, I suppose all good things have to come to an end. We finally met our match in the quarter final against Japan. The eventual margin was exaggerated by our attempts to get a lot of IMPs back in the 5th session, but there is no doubt we were beaten comprehensively. We could all have played better, but our opponents played very well and in luck, so this would have been a difficult match to win under any circumstances.

We can now devote our time to cheering on our Open and Womens squads both of whom have done fantastically well and made it through to the semi-finals.

Farewell from the Seniors in Beijing.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Thoughts of a Selector (3)

Hearty congratulations to all our teams for reaching the knockout stages of their events. They have surpassed expectations, a fantastic achievement. Well done from everyone back home to our players, captains and coaches, and good luck in the knockouts.

The importance of attaining a high finishing position in the group stages has become truly evident. Not only does it give the team a choice of opposition in the first knockout round, it also give the team a high seeding, which means if they reach the later stages, they will be kept apart from the stronger oppositions. This certainly appears to be the case for those of our teams that won or came 2nd in their groups.

Open team

The Open team finished 2nd in Group D are were drawn against Bulgaria in the Round of 16. They were quite happy with this draw, there were many more difficult teams they could have been pitched against. It wasn’t easy, no match is at this stage, but in the end they won by a fairly comfortable margin of 45 Imps. They won’t be unhappy with their next draw either, in the Quarter-final they meet Romania, with the prospect of Germany or Netherlands in the Semi-final if they win. Had they not finished 2nd they would have had a much tougher draw. USA, Poland, Italy, Brazil, China, Norway are all in the other half of the draw, I’m sure England will be pleased to have avoided them.

Women’s team

The Women’s team won their group with the 2nd highest VP score, only Germany scored more. They were able to choose their opponents in the round of 16 and were very happy to pick Singapore. It was not a walkover, but the final margin of 53 Imps was comfortable enough. They, like the Open team, won’t be unhappy with their next draw, in the Quarter-final they meet France, with the prospect of Russia or Finland in the Semi-final if they win. Germany, China, USA & the Netherlands are all in the other half of the draw, I’m sure England will be pleased to have avoided them.

Senior’s team

The Senior’s team finished 6th in their group and were picked by Poland in the round of 16. The match was a struggle for a long time but they emerged as winners in the by a comfortable margin of 50 Imps. In the Quarter-final they play Japan, and if they win that they will face Indonesia or the Netherlands in the semi-final.

Under 28’s

The Under 28’s finished 6th in the qualifying Swiss and were picked by France in the Quarter-final. France started the match with a carry-over of 12 Imps. They were unable to overturn this and eventually lost by 50 Imps. Well done to them nevertheless for getting this far, in a field of 74 teams this was no mean achievement. The players will now move into the pairs and the individual events where they have a further chance of glory.

Under 21’s

The Under 21’s won the qualifying group and as a result were allowed to pick their opponents for both the Quarter and Semi-final, a huge advantage. In the Quarter-final they chose the Netherlands. They started with a carry-over of 12 Imps and won the macth in comfort, ny a margin on 74 Imps. They have chosen China for their semi-final opponents who they beat comfortably in the group stages, and again start the match with a 12 Imp carry-over. The other Semi-final is between France & Bulgaria.

Beijing Open. Part Three

We completed the qualification stages on Friday, and courtesy of a game swing on the last board of our match against Serbia we managed to finish second in Group D. We discovered that our round of 16 opponents would be Bulgaria.

Saturday was our busiest day — with four sets of fourteen boards against a strong Bulgarian line up. The first segment saw us 19 IMPs to the good, but after the second we were only 8 up. The third segment was the one which decided the match, both pairs had superb cards and we galloped out to a 50 IMP lead. The last set gave us one nervous moment, when the Bulgarians who were obviously pushing bid a poor grand slam which made, but we came out comfortable winners by 45 IMPs.

The draw will see us line up against Romania today and tomorrow in the quarter final, and should we get through that we would face the winners of the Netherlands/Germany semi final. It is 1h30 until play starts here, so I must go and brief the pairs on the systems of the Romanian team. But, keep your fingers crossed for us!

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Beijing Seniors. Part Five

We won our match against Poland today and are in the quarter-finals (along with the England Open and Womens Teams, and the Under-21s who are through to the semi-finals). It was quite nail-biting for a long time. We dropped 5 IMPs in the first set and another 1 IMP in the second, and it was not until well through the third set that we took the lead. The final margin of 50 seems comfortable, but the match was anything but. Poland are a tough and experienced team and the IMP total in the match was lower than any other round-of-16 match not only in Seniors but also in Open and Womens.

Tomorrow we start the two-day quarter-final against Japan who beat Germany today. We lost 13-17 to Japan in the round-robin over 16 boards and are looking to put that right over 96.

Beijing U21s. Part Six

And now we're into the Semi-final!

Our match against The Netherlands went pretty much to form, we won 20 in the first set, then 15 then 7 to win by 54 IMPs. Every pair played two sets so the team is feeling fresh and confident.

Our match against the Chinese is a bit of an unknown quantity — we played them in the round robin and beat them by 45 IMPs, thanks in part to a 3D doubled up one that our lads rolled home for 13 IMPs. We have to start sensibly and keep the pressure on, and make sure we cut out the errors — matches are lost not won.

Now, time for a game of Mario Kart I think — Rob Myers has thoughtfully brought his laptop and if I can only figure out how to use the keypad I might be able to win the Mushroom Cup...

P.S. Having just read the Seniors blog I can only apologise for my erroneous statement implying that the seniors team did not make it all the way up the Great Wall of China. That was based on speculation and assumption, and I should not have in anyway suggested that they are all a load of decrepit old people — they are a bunch of athletic tigers, waiting to take down the enemy as Poland found out to their cost today!

Friday, 10 October 2008

Beijing U21s. Part Five

A day off blogging for the esteemed Captain, so it's up to the Coach to fill in.

Another sterling effort from the lads who followed up a solid win against Argentina by bringing home the Ashes in style by taking a maximum from the Aussies. This put us 2VPs ahead of the French at the top of the table and we were keen to hold on to this advantage as it would give us preferential choices for the knock-outs. This was accomplished by means of a resounding tonking of Singapore, whose hopes of qualifying were simultaneously left in tatters. This in addition to the very surprising demise of the the Poles — who won the U20 Euros by the proverbial country mile.

So, given choice of finishers 5-8, we elected to lock horns again with the Dutch and then choose the winner of China vs Norway as our possible Semi opponent. Not only that, but in both matches we would start with the maximum possible carry over of 12 IMPs.

So, all that remained was the obligatory game of celebration night-time frisbee — something of a ritual in these parts, it's all about the long game you know.

Must fly. Got to tuck them up tight in bed for an early night and read them a story.

Beijing Seniors. Part Four

Well, we qualified for the round of 16, albeit with a quiet finish, losing narrowly to Brazil and Japan. We ended 6th in our qualifying group and will play Poland in the round of 16. They chose us (when they could have chosen Hungary) so our task is to show them they made the wrong decision! We start playing earlier than usual tomorrow — at 10 o’clock — and it is the longest day of the whole event because we have to play 56 boards. If we get through that, later rounds will be 96 boards spread over two days.

In a sense, the main tournament starts tomorrow, and we are certainly treating the match as the first in a new event. The weakest teams have dropped out so the bridge will now be less random and we will have to play well. We are looking forward to the challenge.

Yesterday’s rest day was welcome (although it would have been better after the end of the round-robin) and, despite what you may have heard elsewhere, some of the Senior Team (David and Peter) did visit the Great Wall, including a walk to the highest watch tower!

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Beijing U28s. Part Four

We went to the wall today. No — don't worry — it was the Great Wall of China, not in the bridge sense.

Tuesday involved some scrappy bridge but we emerged with a respectable number of VPs upon which we consolidated with two decent wins on Wednesday. We're now lying third and failure to qualify would be a gross misfortune. Dare we think about finishing high enough to choose our opponents in the knock-out?

The team is in good spirits and confident but sensible. The captain and coach are nervous wrecks and checking their travel insurance to see if tranquilisers are reclaimable.

Keep your fingers crossed, our blog reading people!

Beijing U21s. Part Four

The matches on Wednesday went reasonably enough. We chalked up 23-7 against the Netherlands, the crazy pair having a very tough time of it when faced with my top pair. Against Poland we lost by 4 IMPs, but had the better of the big hands. They had a few lucky partscores to creep ahead though.

More importantly today saw all the England teams join together and go on a team outing. Jason Hackett did everyone a favour by hiring a coach and guide and organising a trip out, first to the Forbidden City and then to the Great Wall of China. Of the 20 players (U21s, U28s, Open and Ladies — sadly there were no members of the senior team since they don't really have the stamina to make it up the Great Wall!) that went off, only 5 climbed all the way to the top. Adam Hickman and I went first and on the way down we passed Ben Paske, Susan Stockdale and Martin Jones who also reached the pinnacle. The rest made it up a few steps before discretion took over and they took refuge in the cafe.

Tomorrow the final 3 matches await us, then the tricky decision of whom to choose!

Thoughts of a Selector (2)

We’ve reached the rest day and there is one day to go in the qualifying stage so time to reflect of the progress of all our teams, and sum up the position of the main opposition.

It’s still all going very well, all of our teams are still occupying their respective qualifying positions, and three of them, the Women, the Seniors and the Under 21’s are virtually assured of qualification to the knockout stages. Let’s look at the series one by one.

Open team

The Open team are still going well in Group D, and are still lying 3rd in their group. It’s panning out very much as I predicted in my last report, with five teams in contention for the four qualifying slots. Every match is important but there will be three matches on the final day that will have a large bearing on the final outcome of the group. They are Germany (1st) against Turkey (4th) in round 15, England (3rd) against Germany (1st) in round 16, and USA (2nd) against Indonesia (5th) in round 17. Germany have a sizeable lead but it is not yet an unassailable one, they can still be caught. The most important thing for England is to qualify, but if they can qualify in 1st or 2nd position that would allow them to have some choice of opposition in the first knockout round, and avoid the top seeds (listed below).

What about the other groups? There always seems to be one group that gets labeled the group of death, but in this case I think there are two groups that could qualify for that label.

First take a look at group A. Italy look safe, but behind them Denmark, Canada, France, Brazil, South Africa, Ireland, Pakistan & Japan are all teams that would fancy their chances of qualifying, but at least four of them are not going to make it. Even worse, from their point of view, is the fact that Estonia are occupying one of the qualifying slots at the moment, which mean five may not qualify. Also don’t rule out Romania and Finland who are also in there with a chance.

Now look at group B. Israel lead by a large amount and look safe, and main contenders for the other slots are Netherlands, China, Hungary & India. Again there could be a few casualties in this group, Austria, Sweden, Argentina & Russia, all fancied teams, are all quite a bit off the pace.

There are no big surprises in group C. Norway & Poland are neck & neck at the top, with just half a VP separating them, both look safe. Behind them the main contenders are Bulgaria, Spain, New Zealand and Belgium.

Who will be the top seeds? Well it can still change quite a bit in the last three matches but if the seeding were to be done on the currents scores the top eight would be 1. Germany 2. Israel 3. Italy 4. Norway 5. Poland 6. USA 7. Netherlands 8. Estonia, quite a formidable bunch.

Women’s team

The England Women’s team have continued their terrific form in Group E, winning thirteen of their fourteen matches so far, and have collected the maximum 25 victory points from six of them. They lead their group by 15 VPs from second placed USA and are a massive 50 VPs ahead of third placed Italy. They are certain to qualify for the knockouts, and the only question now is whether they can hold onto their lead and win the group. The match that will probably decide the group comes in round 15 when they play the USA, if they get a decent result from that match they should take the group. It will be very advantageous to win the group, as it will give the team a better choice of opposition on the first knockout round, and also get them a higher seeding for the latter stages which is very important. USA, who are currently second in the group look safe too. The other qualifying slots are currently occupied by Italy, Poland & Japan, with Brazil leading the chasing group.

Women’s Group F is very tight. Hosts China lead the group, but they are far from safe. The other qualifying slots are currently occupied by Finland, France, Denmark & Russia, with Spain and Scotland not far behind. China have a really tough finish, they still have to play Finland, France and Denmark, and France and Denmark also have to meet each other, so there will be opportunities for the chasing group, which means Scotland have a good chance of qualifying.

Women’s Group G has been completely dominated by Germany. They’ve won 12 and drawn one of their fourteen matches, and have just had a run of seven successive maximum 25VP wins. They are virtually certain to win their group, and Netherlands, who lie 2nd, look fairly safe too. There will be a mad scramble for the other qualifying places, it’s impossible to predict who the other qualifiers might be.

Who will be the top seeds? Well it can still change quite a bit in the last three matches but if the seeding were to be done on the currents scores the top eight would be 1. Germany 2. England 3. China 4. USA 5. Netherlands 6. Finland 7. France. 8. Italy.

The England women will be hoping this order doesn’t change, since at things stand they would not be due to meet any of the strongest teams, Germany, China, USA & Netherlands, until the semi-final.

Senior’s team

The Senior’s team are currently lying joint 3rd in group K, and they now a comfortable 36 VPs ahead of the last qualifying slot, so with only two matches they are certain to qualify. Their aim now is to finish as high as they can since if they finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd in the group, this will allow them to have some choice of opposition in the first knockout round. USA who lead, and Japan who are second have built up quite a large lead over the rest, and may be too far ahead to catch, so the realistic target for the England team to aim for is 3rd in the group. France (joint 3rd) and Chinese Taipei (5th) also look safe.

A similar situation exists in Group L where Indonesia who lead and Australia who are second have built up a big lead over the rest. Poland (3rd) Canada (4th) and Egypt (5th) look fairly safe too.

The top seeds, as things stand, would be 1. USA 2. Indonesia 3. Australia 4. Japan 5. Poland 6. France 7. Canada 8. England, but both groups are so close that this order is likely to change quite a bit by the finish.

Under 28’s

The Under 28’s continued their fine form, and although they are not yet guaranteed to qualify, they are certainly in a very good position. They are currently lying 3rd with an 18 VP lead over the last qualifying slot. All the teams at the top have already played each other, so the teams that are making a late surge will find it difficult, as they will probably have to play the teams at the top in each of their last three matches, so it won't be easy for them to dislodge any of the leading teams. Ideally the England team would like to finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd in the group, as this will allow them to have some choice of opposition in the first knockout round. They are only 12vps behind leaders Poland, so it’s still possible that they could finish in first place. The leading 5 teams, who have been at the top most of the time, are Poland, Israel, England, Belgium & China, and I’ll be surprised if any of these five don’t qualify.

Under 21’s

The Under 21’s are 2nd in their group, they have qualified in comfort and are now setting their sights on finishing as high as they can in the group. France lead the group and Bulgaria are in 3rd place. Ideally the team would like to finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd in the round robin, as this will allow them to have some choice of opposition in the first knockout round, and as things stand it looks very likely they will achieve this.

Under 26’s

We’re not represented in this event, as our team did not qualify from the Europeans. Poland are leading this event, and are followed by Netherlands and Australia.

Other Home Nations
A very brief round up of the other home nations:-

Ireland are 9th in Group A, 10.5vps behind the last qualifying position and still have a chance of qualifying, Scotland are 14th in Group B, Wales did not enter a team.

Scotland are 7th in Group F, 7vps behind the last qualifying position and still have a chance of qualifying Ireland are 13th in Group G, Wales did not enter a team.

Ireland are 11th in Group L, Wales are 15th in Group K, Scotland did not enter a team.

Under 28's
Ireland are 42nd, Scotland are 48th, Wales are 51st.

Beijing Open. Part Two

Tuesday morning started with a match against the high flying Indonesians. The match was extremely low scoring, and was decided by a slam deal which went in their favour, so we emerged with a 13-17 loss. Then we played La Reunion, and we duly achieved the maximum 25 VPs we were looking for. The last match of the day was against the Greeks. We were winning comfortably, but in the last couple of boards the Greeks bid a roughly 50% slam which made, narrowing our winning margin to 17-13. We lay in 4th overnight, with everything being very tight.

Wednesday saw us kick off with a solid 20-10 win against Switzerland, and the second match of the day saw a 23-7 win againt Venezuela, who played solidly despite their lowly league position. The good news from our point of view was that Greece beat Indonesia, so we sit 3rd in the group, a couple of VPs clear of Turkey and more importantly 10 clear of Indonesia. Hopefully we can take advantage of that result and go on to secure our qualification on Friday.

Thursday is a rest day; some of our team are relaxing at the hotel, having a swim or using the gym, whilst some have gone on a trip to the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City. We are in the final straights of the group stages, and on Friday we play Belarus, Germany and finish off with Serbia. Fingers crossed I will be able to post again when we have secured our qualification for the last 16!

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Beijing Seniors. Part Three

Since my last report we have played 5 matches. Yesterday we scored 25, 17, and 12 against Hong Kong, Pakistan and South Africa, and today (Wednesday) we got 23 and 16 against Denmark and Estonia.

With two matches to go we are third equal in our group and almost certain of qualifying, but we have very little chance of catching either USA in first place or Japan in second. We are in a battle for third place with France (equal third with us) and Taipei (3 VPs behind in 5th). Third place is important because we would still have some choice, albeit limited, of knock-out opponents.

A feature of our matches seems to have been to fall behind early on and recover in the last few boards. That was certainly the case in our matches against Pakistan and Estonia, which we won 17-13 and 16-14 respectively after trailing a long way behind after the first 10 boards. Our team's slam bidding seems to have improved since Pau. David and Colin picked up two big swings to overtake Pakistan in the last 4 boards by bidding a good small slam and a good grand slam, both missed by Pakistan.

Tomorrow is a rest day. David and I are visiting the Great Wall, and the other team members all have plans of their own. It will be the first day that we do not have dinner together as a team.

We have our last two matches on Friday — the last day of the round robins. Our opponents are Brazil and Japan.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Beijing U21s. Part Three

Having completed 12 of the 17 matches we are virtually assured of qualification and have set our sights on winning the group.

The team is doing so well (having won the last 9 matches — most of them heavily) that it has got to the stage where they're disappointed simply by failing to get a maximum win!

Yesterday we scored a great 70 out of 75 VPs. Glowing with pride I rushed up to the first person I saw to have a gloat — it was Pony Nehmart of Germany. After spending a quick ten minutes assuring her that we did actually know each other and yes, we had indeed met (about 20 times) I brought the topic of conversation round to the scores. She didn't bat an eyelid at my grand announcement of 70 VPs, instead she was explaining that her team were desperate to find out who it was that had cost them the 1 VP they had dropped all day — they had chalked up 25, 25, 24! Ah well.

Tomorrow we have our friends the Dutch, who normally do crazy things like drop singleton Kings offside and finesse missing the Queen of trumps in nine card fits, and then Poland who are having a rough time of it so far.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Thoughts of a Selector

We’ve passed the half-way point of all the qualifying stages so this is a good time to reflect of the progress of all our teams.
We couldn’t really hope for a much better start, all of our teams are occupying their respective qualifying positions, and two of them, the Women and the Under 28’s are currently leading their events. Lets look at the teams one by one.

Open team
The Open team have had a great start, and are currently lying 3rd in their group. They had a reasonably good draw, not too many strong teams in their group, but with only four teams qualifying nothing can be taken for granted, the team will have to keep performing well to get through to the knockout stages. Who are the main threats? Well USA, many times world champions are one, they must be favourites to win the group. The other obvious strong teams must be Germany, who are currently leading the group, Indonesia & Turkey. These four teams, plus England, are currently occupying the top five spots, and I’d say it’s likely that the qualifiers will come from these five teams. Of the other four teams mentioned, England have lost 8 - 22 to USA but have beaten Turkey 24 – 6, witnessed on BBO by many of you this morning. They still have to play Germany and Indonesia. If the team can get good results against these two, and a few big wins against some of the weaker teams, they will be well placed to qualify. Ideally they would like to finish 1st or 2nd in the group, as this will allow them to have some choice of opposition in the first knockout round.

Women’s team
The Women’s team have had a fantastic start, they lead their group by 21vps. They’ve had a good draw and have capitalised on it with eight wins out of nine, most of them by large margins. The main threats in their group would appear to be USA and Italy, currently lying 2nd & 3rd in the group. They still have to play these two teams, so these two matches will clearly be key. The team is very well placed to qualify, but would ideally like to hold onto the top spot, as this as this would allow them to have some choice of opposition in the first knockout round.

Senior’s team
The Senior’s team are currently lying 4th in their group, with eight qualifying for the knockout stages, so they too are well place to make it through. The’ve been handicapped by the loss of one of their players, through illness, but have shown much resilience to remain in contention despite this setback. They’ve already played the team who most would reckon are the group favourites, USA, and has already been stated were particularly unlucky to lose that match when a 2% grand slam bid by the opposition very fortunately made. Ideally the team would like to finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd in the group, as this will allow them to have some choice of opposition in the first knockout round.

Under 28’s
The Under 28’s couldn’t really hope for much more at this stage, after 9 of their 17 rounds they lead their field of 74 teams in the Swiss. Poland have been leading for most of the way, and the England team beat them in round 7, they then beat hosts China (currently lying 3rd) in round 8 and took over top spot from Poland in round 9 by getting a maximum win against India. There are still some good teams working their way up through the field, as is likely to happen in a Swiss event, but with wins against all the top teams they have played so far, the team will be able to take on these other teams with confidence. Also, since this is a Swiss and there are no rematches, it is comforting for the team to know they won’t have to play Poland or China in any of the later rounds. Ideally the team would like to finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd in the group, as this will allow them to have some choice of opposition in the first knockout round.

Under 21’s
The Under 21’s are currently lying 2nd in their group, and with eight team qualifying look very well placed to make it through to the knockout stage. It’s not at all clear who the major threats are, but clearly one if them is France, the current leaders, and England have already played them. Ideally the team would like to finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd in the round robin, as this will allow them to have some choice of opposition in the first knockout round.

Other Home Nations
A very brief round up of the other home nations:-

Ireland are 7th in Group A, Scotland are 13th in Group B, Wales did not enter a team.

Scotland are 10th in Group F, Ireland are 14th in Group G, Wales did not enter a team.

Wales are 10th in Group K, Ireland are 13th in Group L, Scotland did not enter a team.

Under 28's
Wales are 46th, Scotland are 49th, Ireland are 61st.

Beijing Open. Part One

So, after a good start on day one when we achieved 57 out of a possible 75 VPs, we had a tough second day, including a middle match against the powerful U.S.A. team. We only managed to obtain 47 out of the available VPs.

We woke up today knowing that we needed to get three good results, and all three pairs contributed to a fine day. In the first match, we were 23 IMPs down against the Philippines with 6 boards to go, but at the final whistle a 28 IMP win, 22-8 in VPs, was recorded — a fine comeback. In match 2 we played Botswana, and comfortably managed to rack up our second maximum of the tournament. The last match today saw us play a strong Turkey team, who had won 7 and drawn 1 of their opening 8 matches including a victory over the U.S.A. An extremely solid team performance, broadcast live on BBO, saw us win comfortably, by 40 IMPs, which secured a 24-6 win in VPs. So with 71 VPs out of a possible 75, we are lying in third place in our group overnight, with four qualifying.

Tomorrow we play Indonesia in the first match (they are currently 5 VPs behind us in 4th place in the group), Reunion and Greece. With more solid performances, and a bit of luck, we should remain on course for qualification for the round of 16.

Beijing Seniors. Part Two

In the Senior Teams, the field is sorting itself out after 3 days and 8 of the 15 round-robin matches. Our own team has not been very consistent — in our last 5 matches we scored 15, 25, 5, 4, and 25 respectively against Taipei, Kenya, Hungary, France, and New Zealand. We are lying 4th equal with 128 (average 120) — OK for qualification but we would like to be first or second so we can choose round-of-16 opponent. We are a long way behind second place at the moment so we have some work to do! The draw has been changed from that originally published and our remaining matches in order are: Hong Kong, Pakistan, South Africa, Denmark, Estonia, Brazil and
Japan. The first of these, on Tuesday morning, is particularly important since Hong Kong is tied with us for 4th place.

We have a lot to live up to, since the England Junior, Open, and particularly Women’s teams are all doing well.

One good thing is that we have found a couple of very decent Chinese restaurants 10 minutes' walk away and costing about one tenth of the prices they charge in the hotel. Apart from breakfast (which is included in the room rate) I don’t think we will eat in the hotel restaurants again (or drink in the bars!).

Beijing U28s. Part Three

Yesterday's rain cleared away the smog and gave us a wonderful springtype morning. Oh and the Bridge? We faced the much feared Poland on vugraph first match and the only bad aspects were the misanalyses by the commentator. I had a hard battle with a line of Polish supporters in the front row but won on points 97 to 96. The players had an easier task, although a promising lead slipped away to a narrow win. Still, good bridge by all against a world class team.

Next came our hosts and a similar victory, being one IMP short of an extra victory point. Excellent Bridge all round.

Last match was against a high-flying India team. Our people severely clipped their wings but left them with the VPs they started with. I have tried not to personalise things, but feel compelled to mention Ollie and Andrew who I watched for this match. Their defence against a number of speculative Indian contracts, which could well have slipped through, was excellent.

The latter point brings me to the reason for our success so far. Sure, mistakes have been made by the team (well maybe not their captain!) but we have not let a single error by the opponents go unpunished.

Over half way now in the Swiss and hopeful of greater things...

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Beijing U28s. Part Two

A disappointing start to what ended a very satisfactory day. Portugal played well and IMPs were very hard to come by so the 12-18 loss was acceptable. However, it resulted in a next round draw against the much feared USA in the next round. Philosophically I thought better that we meet them early than have a crunch match towards the end in a struggle to qualify. Well, as things turned out, it was more than a propitious time to meet the favourites. The team played well and collected everything that the USA kindly passed our way and we won 22-8!

The same team carried on the momentum against Turkey and once again gave very little away whilst gladly accepting the occasional gift. When the smoke cleared we had 24 and I suppose Turkey had the balance; I didnt bother to look. Now lying third and 10 VPs clear of the non-qualifying area.

Next stop is Poland who are carrying all before them. However, we are also the team in form and I hope that these words are not served up for lunch.

Beijing U21s. Part Two

After surviving the 90-minute opening ceremony, which as far as I could tell dedicated the whole of the middle section to giving praise for the many uses of string (I kid you not), our team started with a modest 11-19 loss to France, before crushing Ecuador 24-6. A slightly tired match aginst the USA saw us go the whole match without conceding a single game swing — our worst board was 7 IMPs out — so it was somewhat disappointing when this resulted in a 12-18 loss.

Today, however, has seen us return to form. A rather embarassing 100 IMP win over Botswana gave us 25-0. Then we faced Norway. Despite bidding a reasonable slam that went off we won 25-4, just as we did in the Europeans. The European silver medallists, Bulgaria, awaited us and we emerged victorious 16-14 in a tight match. This leaves us in 3rd place, approximately one third of the way through the round robin.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Beijing Seniors. Part One

An unexpected start to the Senior Team's campaign. Andrew Thompson did not show up at the airport and we were unable to contact him for over 24 hours. When we eventually did, we discovered he had been taken ill in London and had been taken to hospital without his phone or address book so could not contact us. We think he will be OK but not up to travelling to Beijing, so we have drafted Peter Czerniewski as a playing (as opposed to non-playing) captain, to play with Ross Harper.

Afer one day (3 of 15 round-robin matches) we have made a reasonably good start beating Sweden 24-6 and Wales 18-12 before losing 18-12 to a good US team — but it would have been 19-11 the other way if their 2% grand slam had been going down!

It is interesting to see which teams are doing well. Japan and South Africa are above us in the standings and Taipei (who we play tomorrow morning) are on the same score as us. As opposed to that, the teams you would expect (France, Italy, etc) are not doing so well. Still — it is very early days.

Beijing U28s. Part One

Scrappy first match against Croatia where no-one played particularly badly and the result could easily have been reversed. Ended up in a 12-18 loss. We then got a lucky draw against Zimbabwe and made the most of it by scoring a blitz; in fact the margin was 101 IMPs. Same pairs then took on better opposition in the form of Estonia. We dropped 2VPs on the last board but still managed a 23-7 win. The margin was mainly through an excellent lead against a slam where game was played at the other table and a fortunate positional slam bid at both tables but putting our defender on lead with the singleton.

So we are occupying the last qualifying spot and the team are instructed to hold onto it for all they are worth. Portugal next, who had two maximums but went off the boil in the third match.

(Concise) Thoughts from a Beijing NPC: Phil King (Open)

We asked Phil King what he thought his team's prospects were and he replied:

It looks like a decent draw.

We have a pretty good record in this event, so knockout stages and then hope for a bit of luck with the choices available.

Thanks Phil!

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Beijing U21s. Part One

The team survived the 12-hour flight ok, though were overcome with disappointment that there was no film on the plane. (Tom Paske in particular was hoping to catch the recent "Sex and the City" movie.)

We were picked up at the airport by our Chinese hosts and transported with a minimum of fuss to our accommodation, which is very comfortable.

Now — just the jet lag to overcome!