Sunday, 17 October 2010

Philly Youngsters, Part Seven

So it wasn’t meant to be. For the second World Junior Championship in a row, the U20s had to settle for the silver medal.

Starting the day 35 down and with only the single stanza to play, it was important not to let even more swings go out the gate and make the task much more difficult. Early on, we gained a game swing when Dan and James caused them to miss theirs. It went straight back after a Polish pre-empt kept us out of ours. But as the stanza progressed, we seemed to be making gradual inroads into their lead.

The advancement juddered to a halt halfway through the set. A deal which had seemed to be more IMPs in suddenly became a game swing out as the old defensive bugbears raised their ugly heads once more. This was followed by another on the next board and the critical momentum and pressure that we had built up had fully ebbed away. There were some brief flashes of hope in the dying boards, but the Polish demonstrated greater accuracy in card play at the critical moments to run out deserved winners.

Both Michael Byrne and I would like to say how proud we are of the team, the effort they put in and the performance they produced. For Dan McIntosh and Tom Paske it was a second disappointment in a world final after Beijing. For Shivam Shah, Tom Rainforth, Graeme Robertson and James Paul, this was their first international medal and surely not their last.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Philly Youngsters, Part Six

They certainly don't like to do things the easy way.

After yesterday's remarkable turnaround, the team faced 64 boards against the Polish. The first three stanzas to be played today, the other tomorrow (or today as you read this). Straightaway there were opportunities. A reckless slam try from one of the opponents looked to have scored an own goal, but Tom Paske made the completely natural lead - the only one to give it away. From there, things degenerated over the remainder of the first half of the match. More no play slams and games being let through the net in an ever increasing torrent of IMPs.

At 70 IMPs down with 32 to play, a line-up change was required and the new formation brought instant success. Over the course of the third set, the team halved the deficit to close play 35 down. Can lightning strike twice? Who knows, but psychologically the team is in the ascendancy, while the Poles have to sleep while mulling over the fact that it could have been all over already.

Do these English boys really know what defeat is?

Come and support them on BBO Vugraph at 3PM UK time for the final exciting stanza - well it will be if we complete the fightback.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Philly Youngsters, Part Five

I think it is fair to say that today will be burned bright into the history of English Bridge.

The World Championship semi-final against the Netherlands. As soon as board 2, the action had started. Dan and James had a mix-up using their defensive methods against a short club and conceded a 1400 penalty. However, there had been issues of whether the 1C bid had been alerted properly on both sides of the screen. The resulting ruling went against the team, but captain MGB decided to appeal. The rest of the set was up and down. Despite a couple of other big swings out, we still led by three at the end of the stanza.

Immediately things went wrong at the start of set 2. A tricky discard problem caused a slam to be let through and the psychological tone was set. The Dutch couldn't get anything wrong and we couldn't get anything right. The result? 1-78. It is fair to say that things weren't the brightest in the England camp at that time.

We regrouped. There wasn't much to the set three boards but we eked a few IMPs back. Twelve of them. So prior to beginning the final set we were looking at the wrong end of a 62-IMP deficit and only 14 boards to do something about it.

This lot are made of stern stuff. They have a lot of experience of generating obscene quantities of IMPs in very short spaces of time in online matches. So they didn't ever stop believing that it was possible to come back. Quite the opposite. If they could get off to a sharp start then they knew that the pressure would start to tell. After all, the opponents could only lose it from here.

The first few boards in the Open Room didn't encourage much, indeed we lost a further game swing next door. But then James and Dan threw caution to the winds and rolled in a couple of light games. In the other room Graeme was allowed to make a cold-off 3N and the noose was definitely tightening. We also received the news that we had won our appeal that transferred a further 17IMPs into the account.

The critical deal came four from home. The Dutch East came in over a 15-17NT and in a competitive sequence his partner made what he thought was a lead-directing double. His partner took him seriously and 'saved' over our 4H game. This resulted in a 1700 blowout and the decisive 15 IMP swing. Both pairs came out to score up thinking they maybe hadn't done quite enough. As the scores totted up, suddenly the impossible became reality. We had won the semi final.

Credit to the Dutch, they had played superbly in a memorable match. We are sorry it had to be them, because we know them well. Their coaches Marten and Monique are genuinely really nice people who have their teams play the game the right way. We hope they can win the Bronze tomorrow as some consolation.

Anyway, we are just trying to wind down now to get some sleep before tomorrow. Poland await in the final.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Philly Youngsters, Part Four

World Championship KOs are places of extreme emotions.

We finished off the Round-Robin with two more wins - 20-10 against Germany and 18-12 against Poland. With first place wrapped up we exercised our rights by selecting Hungary for the quarter-finals and the winner of Sweden-Netherlands for the semi. Despite not being at our best, we prevailed in a scrappy match by 57 IMPs.

Who would we end up playing? At half time, Sweden were up by 20, but the Dutch came storming back to win by over 30 leaving several of the very young Swedish team in tears.

For every winner there is a loser.

Tomorrow we try to make sure that at least for another day it won't be us.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Philly Youngsters, Part Three

Consolidation was the name of the game today. And the boys duly delivered. After a tough opening match against Israel which they drew 15-15, we had a number of other contending teams to play. USA1 were up next having climbed through the field to second place. Despite a slam swing out, they didn't really have a sniff and a 20-10 victory propelled them back into the qualifying maelstrom. The dangerous Norwegians followed and tight play in both rooms limited them to a single partscore swing out and gave us another solid 22-8. The final match of the day was against the Chinese Taipei team who by now were well out of things. Again, ruthless play saw them through with a 25-4 victory.

These results leave them 26VPs clear of Israel in 2nd and 52VPs clear of the ninth placed team. Winning the Round-Robin is a huge advantage since it bestows the right to pick opponents in the QF and then which QF supplies the semi opponents, although we were informed in the Captain's meeting that there will not be any carry over.

So, time to keep calm and finish the job tomorrow against Germany and the perenially dangerous Poles. Then, hopefully see how things lie and negotiate a 40-board QF.

Now the team feels its collective stomachs rumbling. More updates tomorrow.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Philly Youngsters, Part Two

So fortunes can change. First up were USA2, who we turned over 20-10. Although it has to be said they were handicapped in that half of their team was even shorter than Shivam and could barely see over the table to see their cards. Emboldened by this, the team promptly nosedived to the Canadians 13-17. The field kept beating itself up though, so despite this reverse we were still well in contact. Knowing that a couple of big wins would see us go screaming skywards, they set right to it. The Hungarians were lasered 24-6, the French were fried 25-4 (simultaneously dropping them out of the QF spots) and the Aussies barbecued 25-4 as opponents were tilted out left, right, centre and pretty much every way imaginable. The end result? England U21s leading the RR qualifying after 9/15 rounds by 11VPs from the Germans.

Chickens, however, have most definitely not been counted. The remainder of the matches are mostly against teams who are currently in qualifying positions, so the boys will need to keep it tight to retain their spot at the head of the field. Much hard work remains to earn the right to pick QF opponents.

Now we are packing the kiddies off to bed nice and early to get their much needed snooze. I think tonight's story is the one about the big bad wolf who liked to splinter with singleton honours.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Philly Youngsters, Part One

Afternoon all, the coach here. Now we are settled in and play has started, it is time to reflect on a disappointing start to the event. Despite turning up bright, breezy and prepared (and with some insider advice from visiting Swedish pro Mr Hallberg) we were turned over by his countrymen 11-19 after a couple of iffy scores. Things were rapidly righted against the Dutch with a 24-6 pasting that saw the team move into something nearer top gear. However, as in many other sports, the half-time break came at the wrong time for the team and the rhythm was broken. Two more losses in the afternoon to Uruguay (13-17) and a tough Chinese team (10-20) have dropped us to ninth, one spot out of the qualifiying places.

Despite these results, the team know that things are very much in their own hands and they have much more in reserve to give than the others. The field is still tightly bunched and the short ten board round-robin matches do throw up some freak results. One or two bits of bad luck or bad play and it can be difficult to catch it back on even the weak teams.

Still, I have now devised part one of my coaching masterplan. I have located somewhere where we can get our morning cup of tea in. Can't really function until we have got a good brew into the system. That is the first thing, for part two, where can I get hold of some Weetabix...