It was great to be back playing live bridge at the Portland Club last week. I was lucky enough to be invited to one of its first dinners since lockdown, and I’m pleased to say that nothing had changed: a lively supper was followed by brisk and exciting bridge until the small hours, and a terrible but strangely satisfying hangover the next day. I don’t normally drink while playing, but the Portland is one of the most enjoyably relaxed bridge clubs in London. Despite the high stakes, there’s always fun and banter, and certainly never any shouting, blaming or calling for directors. To eschew the very fine wine on offer would be quite against the spirit of the place — that’s my excuse, anyway.
As it happens, even if I’d sipped nothing but water I’d have had no real chance of winning, as I ended up playing all evening at the same table as another guest — Andrew Robson, no less. This was a rare treat, but I can’t pretend I wasn’t a little disappointed that each time we cut for a new partner he ended up as my opponent. Still, he couldn’t have made it more enjoyable, and even at midnight remained as sharp as ever, pointing out interesting things we might have missed. I could have beaten Andrew here, for instance, if only I’d seen it:
Sitting South, I led the ♣K, then switched to a trump. Andrew drew a second round, then played the ◆7. I followed low, my partner captured dummy’s ◆10 with the ◆A and returned a club. Andrew ruffed, crossed to dummy’s ◆K and played a heart towards his ♥K — contract made. Did I notice what I might have done, Andrew wondered? The answer was to play my ◆Q on his ◆7: then he’d have had no entry to dummy to play a heart (due to the blocking ◆J). Note that had Andrew played his ◆J first instead of the ◆7, I would need to duck — and so would my partner!