Day eight, Sunday 22nd September
We've decided to give Sally and Barry, the senior members of the team, a day of rest before the knock-out phase starts. The other four sit down against Pakistan feeling confident. The first board is a dangerous double-fit hand - the high cards are equally divided but East-West can made 6D while the limit for North-South is 2S. Fiona and Michael bid hearts then sell out to 4S doubled. In the other room, East-West for Pakistan try 3NT by West, doubled by South. Frances leads spades, Graham wins and returns the jack, and Frances ducks. Declarer happily claims the rest, that's -850 instead of the +500 available, lose 13 IMPs. Not to worry, one of the strengths of the team is that the players don't let a bad board affect them. The boards are swingy, and for most of the rest of the match the swings are positive, so we end up with the big win I'd hoped for, 67-25. Meanwhile, USA2 lose 44-40 to Romania, and we lead by 12.28 VPs going into the last round, making us big favourites to finish on top.
In the last round, we play China, who are in 5th place, while USA2 face mid-table Taipei. We have some good boards and some less good boards, but it all seems to be under control, and when we score up we find we've won 41-34. We have bar-coded photo-ID cards, which we can scan to get a printout of the official scorecard: Michael gets one and alertly spots that a score has been put into the Bridgemate by the Chinese North with the wrong declarer. I find a Director to correct the mistake, changing +50 to -50, and the result becomes 38-34. That small difference promotes China from 5th to 3rd place. USA2 have lost heavily to Taipei, so we finish a full match ahead of them.
As winners of the round robin we have the right to choose our quarter-final opponents from among the 5th to 8th placed teams, then USA2 picks their opponent, then China picks theirs. Russia in fourth place will get the remaining team. After that we can pick which quarter-final our semi-final opponents will come from. We have a team meeting and agree a strategy. At 4:30pm there's a "Captains' meeting" in the Vugraph theatre for these picks to be made in the four events. When it comes to the mixed teams, I call out "Latvia" - they have one good and one competent pair, but they're playing four-handed and are bound to find the going tough in a long match against strong opponents. Then I choose to face the winners of China v USA1 in the semi-finals. However, if both USA teams win their quarter-finals, under the rules they will have to play each other in the semi-finals while we, I hope, play the winners of China v France.
Matches in the knock-out comprise 96 boards over two days, played in three sets of 16 each day. At least the first two sets tomorrow will be shown on BBO.
All four Englanad teams have reached the knockouts. Captains aren't allowed to watch at the table in the BBO rooms, so there's likely to be a row of England officials sitting anxiously in the Vugraph theatre, paying some attention to the commentary but mostly watching our teams on BBO.