Around this time each September, I get to say, ‘I’m off to Tangier for a few days to play high-stakes bridge’ — which always makes my life sounds wonderfully Bond-esque. The invitation comes from my generous friend Stuart Wheeler, and really is as glamorous as it sounds: stunning house and gardens, pool, Pimm’s…
But what really stands out is how convivial everyone is — I mean, for a group of bridge players. Playground-style bickering is far more normal. But then Stuart’s guests are mostly Portland members, who are famously courteous; they’re only half-kidding when they insist just two comments are allowed after a hand: ‘Well played’ and ‘Bad luck’.
Andrew Robson, the prized guest every year, is of course urged to criticise and teach — we all want to learn — but he too displays exquisite tact. The whole room burst out laughing at one point when he told Rob Kendall: ‘It was a perfect bid, but with a different hand.’
Despite the flowing wine and the late nights, the standard is always high. Here is how Rob tackled this slam:
West led ♣K; East overtook and returned a club. Rob ruffed. Next he played the ♥K, overtaking with his ♥A. On cashing his ♥Q he got the bad news. But all was not lost: time to reduce his trumps. He cashed two diamonds and carefully ruffed a third. Now a spade to the ♠A and another diamond ruff. And now — a spade to the ♠10! When that held, he simply ran his diamonds, forcing East eventually to ruff from his ♥95.