Live bridge is back. It kicked off two weekends ago with Eastbourne’s Swiss Pairs. I went with my friend Ollie Burgess, and although numbers were down, things were as they’d always been: the same familiar faces and scarcely a face mask in sight. But after competing online for so long, it felt strange — like appearing in a documentary about how bridge used to be played in the past, with bidding boxes, Bridgemates and duplicate boards that we slid across the floor to the next table once we’d finished with them.
Soon enough, though, the sensation of real cards in our hands began to feel not just normal but pretty wonderful. So did the banter and laughter at the table, and being able to discuss hands between rounds with fellow players, including superstars like Andrew Robson. I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed it all.
The Pairs was won by Claire Robinson and Szczepan Smoczynski (known by all as Saucepan) — a fantastic achievement in a tough field. On this hand Claire was one of the few defenders to beat 4H (see diagram).
Claire (South) led the ♠A. Deciding that her partner was likely to hold the ◆A for his opening bid, she switched unerringly to diamonds — not, however, the routine 4th highest but a far more thoughtful ◆2. This encouraging low card was a clear signal that she wanted a diamond back — she knew what her partner didn’t: that another spade wasn’t cashing. (Had she been the one with a singleton spade, she would have returned a high diamond to ask for a spade ruff.) Saucepan won with the ◆A, returned a diamond, and got his ruff for one down.