Usually, when you go to an SBU Congress you will roll-up at the Peebles Hotel around lunch-time having struggled with the end-of-the-week traffic, have difficulty in finding a parking place, lug your heavy suitcase up these impressive stairs, find out that the sandwiches are all gone, and your room is not ready. Then when you eventually get a room and unpack you find you have forgotten your black socks, and your tuxedo is badly crushed - bothersome. Nonetheless, it is with growing pleasurable anticipation you head down to the lobby to meet and greet old friends!
It would be and it will be a weekend of delightful social contact, laughs, hugs and kisses, lousy bids, flashes of brilliance, lucky and unlucky slams and all that. In other words - atmosphere, glitter and action (bridge-wise at least). And to start it off and finish it, there will be a speech from the distinguished President of the SBU and a prize-giving ceremony where you will see these super-stars whose finesses always work and (most of the time) never play a wrong card.
This year’s only SBU Congress was not like that, very sad to say. It was however an opportunity to indulge in a succession of good bridge events, playing against others similarly inclined. Probably the opposition was on average more alert, less tipsy perhaps, and in the later stages less tired because they slept in their usual bed, and had not been up late in the bar discussing the slam they failed to make. Not the same, different, and reminding us of pleasures lost, but which hopefully will return in not so long a time.
We started on Friday night with an SBU Open Pairs event, held on the “BBO” platform and very ably supervised by Howard Greenwell and Anne Brodie-Alan. My thanks to them for impeccable performance, not one complaint, difficult to believe from Scots, but yes. There were 56 pairs, and the first three were:
Earl McGregor & Helen Wood; well ahead of the second pair of Shelia Vass & Eric Starritt; who in turn also out-distanced the third pair of Mary Fenton & Liz Grant.
Also, on Friday night, we had an innovation, an SBU Bronze Pairs event, held on the “Real Bridge” platform, initially billed as a mixed event but then changed to be gender-neutral for practical reasons (within the SBU bronze ranks 60% of the members are female). The TDs, Damien Byron and Julia Palmer had the difficult task of coping with pairs with their multiple computing devices, loud and soft audio controls, and misbehaving video cameras, in the SBU’s first official event on Real Bridge. This experiment, and it was truly experimental since many players were unfamiliar with the format, was a success and the three leading pairs were:
Judith Smeaton & Mike Hammett as a pair were narrowly ahead of Chris & Lynne Goode who in turn were well in front of another married couple Yuen Man & Simon Rowbottom. Congratulations to all three mixed pairs.
The winners being a mixed pair, therefore, also win the prize donated by myself (one bottle of champagne for each player) as an apology for changing the event conditions after the original announcement. I will be in touch, well before Hogmanay!
On Saturday we started with the lengthier events, those that in a normal congress are often split over several sessions and even over different days. In this instance a Congress Swiss Pairs event with eight rounds each of seven boards, with some entrants from other home unions. Held on the BBO platform but managed by IBEX (a team of English professional bridge event managers), what could go wrong? Seems like a standard event, we do these all the time at congresses, everybody knows how it is scored, right? Well not really, us Scots do Swiss Pairs (for the last 20 years or so) by ranking the final result in terms of IMP and then smoothing the results through a conversion to VP. Not written down anywhere, just in the collective memory of SBU congress aficionados, so we want to follow our SBU tradition. Debatable, however, and unknowable if you last played in an SBU congress many, many, years ago. Truth to tell, deciding the winner using pure match-point percentages when you only play eight pairs in a tournament with 74 pairs over 56 deals does not seem quite like a match-pointed event, so tradition won the debate that ensued. However, it took some time and the results had to be remeasured so there was a hiatus whilst we verified the results. The irrepressible pair of Roy Bennett & Harry Smith won convincingly whatever the measurement scale, followed by Eric Priest & Alan Gordon, with Abi Milne & Jim Hay in third place on the podium.
On Sunday, the Congress Swiss Teams was not troubled with theological debates and the results were crystal clear.
The team of Stephen Peterkin & Sam Punch and Alan Goodman & Brian Short won convincingly, ahead of Harry Smith & Roy Bennet and Liam O’Brien & Ronan Valentine. Yes, that deadly duo again. This second team just edged out the third-placed team of Rona Moss & Veronica Guy, Peter Moss & Tim McKay.
Putting aside the fact that Scots sometimes think differently from the English, the IBEX team provided a polished service and delivered their guarantee that the cataclysmic horror of playing the same opponents twice did not occur. Oh, the shame if they had not delivered!
Having congratulated the winners, thanked the backroom staff who made it run so well, all that remains is for me, the Congress Manager to wander off into a quiet dark room and do the accounts to see if there is any money left for prizes. “Prizes!”, I hear you say? “Yes, Congresses always have prizes – it's traditional.”
Yes, tradition wins again, there will be prizes. I will be in touch, make sure that the postal address held on your Mempad account is up-to-date.
Winter Weekend Congress Manager