Imagine going to a golf tournament and finding yourself competing against Rory McIlroy; or a tennis match and facing Roger Federer. That’s the wonderful thing about bridge: turn up to any open international event and there they are, up close, the superstars of the game — playing against you!
I recently spent a gruelling seven days at the Open European Championships in Tromso (Norway), playing in the mixed teams and pairs with David Gold (we reached the A final of the pairs but then floundered). Each time we competed against a champion — be it Geir Helgemo or Sabine Auken or Philippe Cronier — I felt such a sense of privilege. But beware: too much awe can distract you. Which is why this week’s hand has no merit except to serve as a warning. Don’t end up making a fool of yourself, as South did when West sat down at the table. West was the legendary Helgemo. South was me: Dealer S EW Vul.
I deny passing! Or rather, let me explain. A few minutes previously, Helgemo and his partner had joined our table, and he and I had been joking about how cold it was in the Arctic Circle. Then I picked up the South hand. I opened 1♣. But when the bidding tray came back from the other side of the table, I looked down and saw my partner had responded... 1♣. Somehow I had placed the green pass card on the tray. I turned to Helgemo. ‘I’ve got a serious bidding problem,’ I said, ‘and even you won’t be able to guess what it is.’ I decided to bid 1♦ — which I felt was least likely to be passed out. David responded 1NT, showing 12-14 points. I bid 3NT. ‘Wow,’ said Helgemo, when I put dummy down. ‘That’s the best dummy from a passed hand I’ve ever seen.’ 3NT was off on a heart lead (5♣ or 5♠ makes). But you can’t say I didn’t make an impression.