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Kiwi Kibber #2: Schooled

Posted by Nick Jacob on Wednesday, 16 July 2014 at 18:54

Bridge administrators around the world continue to ponder how to connect with more young people. Particularly in the Anglosphere, the majority of new players are adults rather than children or teenagers. It seems we have resigned ourselves to the fact that young people are too gripped by social media and swayed by the abundance of alternative hobbies to be absorbed by the challenging and frustrating but ultimately beautiful game we play.

It isn't like this at all. If you have not read Justin Lall's blog (archived, but still full of wonderful information) then I direct you to his interpretation of bridge as a teenager. Young people, believe it or not, aren't zombies that go lifeless without a phone. The ability to concentrate hasn't disappeared in the age of instant access to content. The same qualities that attracted Ish and Ash, Justin Howard, and the Edgttons to the game as kids still interest young people today.

Most young people play bridge with family members when they start out. Many of the top players, like Denis Bilde from Denmark, come from strong bridge-playing families. But equally, there are others who are introduced to the game by family members but kept here by friends and mentors they acquire through bridge. Look at Michael Whibley and Liam Milne, for instance; both top Australian players who started young but didn't need family mentoring to get to this level. They graduated the hard way: building a sphere of positive influences in the scene while living and dreaming bridge.

But how do we reach across the divide to connect with young people? I've heard it said that families don't play cards any more. Maybe this is true; maybe we can go a step further and say that board games are also a thing of the past. Regardless of any truth or falsity to these claims, one thing that is true is that kids and teenagers still enjoy puzzles, solving problems and connecting with people. The kids who used to play euchre are now playing Minecraft; the teenagers who used to play chess are now playing DotA (both computer games). The social element is there, the logic element is there, but the form has changed. To market bridge to the youth, the youth in the scene need to be the draw.

Take Finn Rennie, for instance. Everyone has seen him at the ANC, even if he isn't always known by name. Such is the effect that the young have upon the bridge scene. They are refreshing, and people take notice. Finn's the 11-year old who has been tearing it up for the Victorian youth team. He can usually be seen cracking jokes aroung Pete Hollands, Laura Ginnan and Justin Howard, all of whom he plays with most weeks. His mother, Jane, introduced him to the game and brings him along to events, but he is immersed in the social scene, not just participating in tournaments. That's what keeps youth in the game. Most of our friends are bridge players. Many of these bridge players live across different towns, states and countries. That doesn't mean we grow into travelling, bridge-playing vagabonds (I don't speak for myself here!) but it does mean we become invested in the general bridge scene. And that's the challenge not just for bridge administrators, but for the bridge populace.

So, it was an easy to decision to sit behind Finn yesterday and see him in action in Round 5. His partner would be Victoria's Laura Ginnan who, aside from being about to represent Australia in Turkey, achieved something even more noteworthy this year: getting married! A passing of the baton, perhaps? Their opponents would be Kandice Ng and Edward Young, representing South Australia for the first time. Both learned at school three years ago, and if their chatter about the hands is any indication, have been playing bridge with zeal during this time. Kandice studies engineering while Edward studies health science.


Clockwise from left: Edward, Finn, Kandice and Laura.

Board 8 created some waves across the field, and this match was caught in the wake.

The board before this, Edward and Kandice had had a misunderstanding about a 2 overcall, Edward thinking that it was any strong hand. So when I looked at Kandice's hand, only to see that Edward had started with 2, I felt for sure that Edward had generalised this rule a little too freely. Kandice showed immense trust in her partner, however. Her 2NT was strong, 3 and 4 were natural, and Edward's 6 leap had me tingling. Surely Kandice would bid 7NT now? Nope, she knew what to expect and, after considerable thought, passed.

Over to Finn. What would you lead from his cards? A heart looks right to me. It pays to attack when they have had a strong auction based on long suits, even though holding ten-fifth of diamonds suggests this suit won't run. Finn tabled the heart seven, and I mentally fist-bumped him. Edward drew trumps (Finn correctly keeping his diamond length) and tried to cash diamonds - no dice. Next he cashed the club ace and ran all of his trumps before conceding the last trick. One down was good enough for a flat board.

Laura showed her experience on board 16.

The young South Australian pair had a tough auction to a tricky contract. Finn presented a heart, so Laura fired three rounds into declarer. Edward started to work on trumps, however Laura took dummy's king with her ace to continue the heart attack. Edward stuck in the 8, which was good enough to hold the trick. However, now Laura was a trump ahead of him, so his attempt to draw trumps was unsuccessful. One down was worth 12 IMPs when the Victorian pair reached 3NT.

Finn was perceptive and admiring - that's when you know you've done well as a partner! "You made him trump so that your trumps would win... smart."

However, Kandice and Edward would have their revenge. Board 2 hit the table, and the endurance of the twenty board match was starting to take its toll.

Finn's overcall had the effect of bumping the auction to an uncomfortable level, and I thought he showed excellent judgment in doubling the optimistic university students. However, if he was ruthless in the auction, he was reckless on his lead. The 4 could have worked a treat against a 5-2 fit with potentially poor hearts in the 1NT opener. Instead it was Edward who enjoyed the treat, winning Laura's king with the ace to fire one back. This picked up the heart suit, and Edward scampered for home on the red suits. Ten tricks was worth +650 and 11 IMPs to South Australia: an expensive lesson to the kid sitting North.

The match was relatively tame by youth standards, with only 98 IMPs being exchanged. South Australia came out on top by 54 to 44 and it was a pleasure to see the match played in great spirit. The three newcomers showed their enthusiasm and skill and we will be seeing a lot of them in the future.