Archive for August, 2008

Remembering John Armstrong

Early in July when John Armstrong unexpectedly died the world lost not only a great bridge player, but also a most gentlemanly one. The Times obituary can be found here.

John Armstrong 1952-2007

John Armstrong 1952-2007

The last time I played John was in the 2006 Commonwealth Games bridge tournament. It was in the Swiss Pairs component and of course Armstrong-Hackett were the number one seed. My partnership not only reached table one and got to play them but as luck would have it we had an extraordinary win after a series of monumental disasters for our esteemed opponents. It was a moment of glory for us, not so much the win itself, nor even overtaking them for a while, but the fact that such great players were interested in our scorecard for a few rounds….It was really only fitting that despite their setback against us, they nonetheless won by a country mile.

The win was unusual for me, having been beaten up by Armstrong more often than I care to recall. One such occasion was the NEC, held in Yokohama each February. I wrote up the 2002 tournament for the now defunct Bridge Today. Here is the article as it appeared.

How we beat the team that came second in the 2002 NEC

Cathy Chua

‘That’s it, I’m not playing any more, I’m going home.’ We’d just scored up round two of the NEC. Darren Wolpert III (aka The Kid) had lost to Australia and he’d had enough. Actually we’d blitzed our opponents in round one as well, but they were Japanese and already home. They had nowhere to run.

Then Sweden, and we were holding our own until the last couple of boards. Let me explain that my partnership couldn’t get to the tournament until 35 minutes before play started, straight from an overnight flight from Sydney. By the end of match three I was out for the count. I picked up two nondescript hands, did nondescript things with them – utterly relieved that I’d had nothing to do. And so PO Sundelin and Johann Sylvan picked up two fine slam swings and it was my fault. If only I’d read the next day’s Bulletin before this match. Kokish declined to feature our encounter, even though it was on the top table, because of the Swedish bidding methods. I could see his point. There are things I’d rather do with Sundelin than watch him relay. More or less anything, actually. If only I’d known, I would have done anything to stop him.

Still, a third sensational set in a row by our teammates Bruce Neill and John Roberts saw us keep 14 VPs, just a couple off the pace. It was enough to make you go down to breakfast and hope people had noticed your score. I had enough VPs under my belt to saunter up to the table where John Armstrong and his teammate Pablo Lambardi were sitting. We had one of those chats you can have when you are winning. ‘Beat Canada I see’. ‘Beat Canada I see’. It was a bit repetitive. England had played Canada in round 3 and maxed them as well.

‘How do you like that Jurek Czyzowicz?’ I think it was me who’d asked that. I’d been relying on the sheer momentum of the physical process to keep me awake during that first day but Jurek made mincemeat of that plan. Never mind bridge. If they had world pausing championships he’d be Canada’s man. ‘Yes,’ said Pablo plaintively in agreement. ‘All the time he thinks, thinks, thinks. What’s he thinking about? I don’t understand. Maybe in the middle of a difficult contract you think. But he thinks all the time. He’s on lead, he thinks. What’s there to think about when you are on lead? You just lead a card.’

It took me aback a bit, I must admit. It’s not the sort of thing you expect a good player to say. I began to wonder if the next match – against England – would be a piece of cake. Evidently their main strategy was not to think. Perhaps some members of the Canadian team thought too much. But surely those English had understated the case for thinking all the same.



August 30, 2008 at 1:48 am Leave a comment

Upsetting the Chinese. Afterthought on the Shanghai 2007 World Bridge Championships

I don’t recall the title, but in one of Kinky Friedman’s novels he has a Jewish character make the observation ‘The thing I like about the Chinese is they don’t care that we killed Christ’.

Frankly that’s pretty much what I’ve always thought the Chinese perspective would be. So when the US world champions on the victory dais last year held up a sign which said ‘We didn’t vote for Bush’, I thought the Chinese were as likely to care about that as I do whether Paris Hilton wears underpants.

US women receive their Gold Medals at World Bridge Championships Shanghai 2007

US women receive their Gold Medals at World Bridge Championships Shanghai 2007

(photo by Simon Hinge)

An aside here….I’m on a mailing list for Hilton hotels and for the life of me I couldn’t understand why I got so many emails about their Paris establishment. ‘Click here for Paris Hilton photos’. ‘Paris Hilton free here’ ‘Paris Hilton special….’ there was no end to them. Quite useful, no doubt, if one lived in England, but not to somebody over the other side of the world. ‘Paris Hilton. Free sex movies.’ was the last straw. I dashed off an email to complain: ‘If the Hilton in Paris can have free sex movies, why can’t the Sydney Hilton?’. Well, it transpires that Paris Hilton is a girl – presumably conceived at the Hilton Hotel in Paris by parents who had both a taste for ancient Greek literature and a hankering for a boy. I need a better email filter.

Back to the subject at hand. The question is ‘Did the Chinese really actually care that the US champs made that statement???’ It is well known that the US bridge administration attempted to inflict all sorts of draconian penalties, so presumably they cared. But is there any actual evidence that the Chinese cared? If so I’d love to see it. I’ve talked to Americans who said the Chinese cared, but they didn’t actually have any information as to how that manifested itself. Could it be there was simply a presumption that the Chinese would care? Your thoughts would be appreciated.

August 28, 2008 at 3:37 am Leave a comment

Now the ANC is over – part four

Open Interstate 1st round robin Victoria vs NSW continued.


August 21, 2008 at 2:22 am Leave a comment

Now the ANC is over – part three

We are looking at Victoria vs NSW, first round robin of the Interstate Open teams: session four


August 19, 2008 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

Now the ANC is over – part two

I thought it would be interesting to take a detailed look at the match my partnership played against the winning NSW team – session four of the first round robin.


August 19, 2008 at 3:16 am Leave a comment

Is this just a New Zealand thing? Doing it on your own.

A little while ago I posted this hand:


August 14, 2008 at 2:32 pm 1 comment

Now the ANC is over – part one

The lowlight of this year’s ANC was surely the absence of the Northern Territory. One wonders upon whom this reflects badly. It is hard to believe that the ABF could not relevantly assist the NT to field teams. Does it too mean that the NT has simply not gotten out of the ANC what it should? That is, enjoyable bridge and the camaraderie of the friendly rivalry of the States? If so, then this reflects badly on one and all of us who should be bending over backwards to make our newest member most welcome.

The impact of the absence of the NT was severe. The event was already truncated by the number of boards being decreased to 20 from the usual 24 – why on earth was this done? – and was made shorter again by two byes for each team over the course of 5 days. In the case of the Victorian Open team, for example, we had two whole days with only one match and therefore two whole days where one pair did not play at all. It was completely unsatisfactory.

The ABF has to figure out some way of rectifying this situation, the simplest being a triple-round robin or a double-round robin of longer matches, if, that is, it is unable to bring the NT back to the fold. One can only speculate that this means the NT is no longer going to be hosting the Interstate – does anybody reading this know the answer to that one?

The Northern Territory first joined the Interstate in 1987 and over the years have improved from a team that couldn’t win a match to a team which was capable of beating anybody, though not yet good enough to challenge for a high finish. No doubt both its involvement in the Interstate as well as the possibilities opened up by Internet bridge have played their part in the improvement of the NT. One way or another they add a lot of interest to the ANC – PLEASE COME BACK TO US, NT!!

August 13, 2008 at 10:22 pm 6 comments

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