A 16 year old, her Mum, 2 newcomers & 2 stars win bridge championship!
Six women have played England to triumph at the 2023 Lady Milne Bridge Championship
Congratulations to Debbie, Sally, Nevena, Anne, Venetia, Kath and captain Heather! These six bridge playing women took the lead in the final stages this past weekend, to win the 2023 Lady Milne teams championship.
This was a tournament of firsts for the England women. First place for the team, Venetia and Sally proving family ties can lead the way were first out of 36 pairs, topping the Butler Results with a one imp per board average (playing 70% of the event). Debbie Sandford and Kath Stynes played their first representative event for England. Anne Rosen and Nevena Senior sat across the table for the first time at a Lady Milne (COVID drove the 2020 edition online). Heather Dhondy took her place at the event as the first woman to captain a former regular partner playing with her daughter in another first - a mother and daughter pairing. Actually Heather is the only woman to captain the England team twice. Venetia set another first - she is now the youngest woman to represent England at the Lady Milne, taking the title from her mother Sally Anoyrkatis who set it when she and Heather first played it 33 years ago.
The event was hosted by the Scottish Bridge Union and staged in Perth, Scotland - 21-23 April 2023. Here’s a little information about the players before we take a look at a few hands that sealed the deal for England.
Venetia Anoyrkatis & Sally Anoyrkatis – we first met Venetia at an EBU Junior Teach-In many years ago, keeping her brothers in line, but bridging in their shadow still. She is the younger sister to a fine English representative brotherly partnership. Her dad captained the English Junior team when I was directing the Junior international so I can say with confidence that the family is wonderfully friendly, funny, kind and involved with their kids game. In 2019 the family played in Devon at the Riviera Congress – it’s great to see Sally continue her winning form partnering her daughter.
Debbie Sandford & Kath Stynes have been playing together for the past few years and the result is a great credit to their hard work and perseverance – I first met both players as beginners, which means each has only been playing bridge in this millennium. Debbie and Kath are a genuine testament to hard work, great attitude and unique effort. They are an inspiration to women everywhere. Yes you can succeed by developing a partnership with a woman of similar ability and ambition.
Nevena Senior & Anne Rosen Nevena and Anne have been friends, teammates and across the table opponents for many bridge years. They were both on the gold medal winning team at the 2008 Women’s Team Olympiad, partnering different women. They play together on and off and have been regulars at women’s trials in the past few years. You can listen to Nevena talk bridge with the Sorry Partner team here. She also put herself out there on TV doing her bit to promote bridge via the WIfe Swap TV show in 2004. Anne is an accountant who adeptly juggles raising a family with managing her husband’s bridge club finances and a professional career as a Supervisor at the Financial Reporting Council.
The Lady Milne is an interesting championship for women who play bridge in England. To earn the right to represent England at the Lady Milne, women must trial. They compete as pairs in the only event on the English Bridge Union’s calendar for women. It offers a genuine possibility to compete internationally. This comes by dint of the administration focusing selection only attentions to other more lucrative medal prospects in the women’s game. Thanks to England experiencing an incredible run at European and World women’s events, and perhaps due to the inability of any pair to hold a partnership together for more than a few events, the EBU operates a moving goalpost strategy to ensure only a select few can ever represent England in European or World Championship competitions.
As a result, English representation at the Lady Milne, an annual home international competition where the 4 UK nations and Ireland meet, presents a fantastic opportunity for developing and aspiring players.
Which gives rise to the future stars of our game.
Lady Milne Teams & system cards (Photos of teams L to R Northern Ireland, Wales, SBU, Ireland, Scotland, England)
Let’s have a look now at how the win was achieved. The format is two ½ days play meeting each of the other competing nation for 32 boards (England Ireland, Wales, Scotland Northern Ireland and the host nation fields a second team if able). Each team seats one pair as EW at their Home table, the other NS at the other table. The captain can opt to change seating lineups after 16 boards. At the end of each match the teams score up using the IMP scoring scale and the net result is converted to Victory Points using the WBF scale.
The standings at the end of each match can be viewed here: Match 1, Match 2, Match 3, Match 4, Match 5 NB: You will be asked to login to REALBRIDGE - THIS IS OK and FREE to do. Thereafter if you click on any team or board number you can peruse the bidding and play.
The readers who follow each match link with an eye to mathematics, will note that England held second place behind Ireland for the first four matches, and indeed dropped to third in the first half of the final match. So we will give closest attention to the final stages of the tournament. But first we’ll look at where the imps went during the event.
All three pairs play the same general style - five card majors, 2 over 1 game forcing and three weak twos.
In Match 1 England played Ireland. The result after 32 boards was a 7 imp win to Ireland - 12 boards were flat, England gained imps on 11 boards, but suffered double figure losses on 4 of the 9 other boards. Here are a few deals to set the tone. The Match 1 Scorecard with bidding and play details are here.
Board 1 was a cruel one for the English pair who bid slam in a minor while the opponents settled in 3NT. North opened an eight loser hand and partner responded her five card suit, so instead of making the weak NT rebid, she raised, which set South on a path to a minor slam. EW got off to the correct lead, dummy was revealed with a shape and high card points that gave little, no finesses were helpful, and the contract failed. 11 imps away.
On Board 2 England scored at both tables to gain 12 imps right back. At both tables the auction was uncontested - South opened 1S, North bid 1NT and South rebid spades. Next the bidding went differently. The Irish North now passed the contract out. Nevena opted to remove 2S to 3C holding: S - HT862 D863 CAKJT83. Anne took the opportunity to show her extra values with 3H, which Nevena raised to four. When Anne corrected back to 5C the game was reached. The play was not trivial at either table when spades broke six-one, but the heart finesse worked so NS were home in 5C. But at the other table declarer fatally cashed one high trump too many and the contract drifted off.
On Board 13 North did her best to do damage in the bidding by opening 2D. After having announced her suit North led the QC hoping partner might lead diamonds later. Declarer had no problem taking the trick and returning it, to establish ten tricks for her side. At the other table North did not bid diamonds, so E/W had an uncontested auction to 3NT. When North led the seven of diamonds declarer had a make or break decision - how were the diamond honours split? The decision to play the person on lead for KQ diamonds doomed the contract when South covered the jack of diamonds with the queen. Actually declarer might have given herself a small chance by ducking the DQ. South will continue the suit, but must later throw the king of clubs under the ace to set up an entry for partner. Certainly a findable defence. But alas it was not to be and 13 imps went away.
Board 25’s loss was due to aggressive bidding all round at one table. England opened 2D in the East seat and partner jumped to 5D after South’s Leaping Michaels call. North bid 5S, committing NS to 6C if South’s suit was hearts, as was the case. Making. At the other table after a milder auction, NS settled in 5C, although arguably 3NT might have encouraged South higher, but after 4C North had nothing helpful to offer so South’s pass is reasonable.
In Match 2 England faced Northern Ireland. The match was an extremely one-sided affair which helped the women close to within .21 VPs of leaders Ireland.
In Match 3 Wales emerged with a two IMP victory, which gave event leaders Ireland some breathing space at the top. The match was all to and fro. With only 7 boards scored as flat, and 13 decided by over or under tricks shifting the score by one or two imps only, 12 boards remained with any possibility for noticeable gain or loss.
Holding this hand(click image for full deal) sitting East you open 1D. Partner responds with a non-forcing weak jump in spades. Would you rebid your diamonds after North doubles for takeout? - This was Board 6 and the very reasonable decision to rebid 3D did not work out for superstar Nevena Senior. South promptly doubled and when NS collected two more defensive tricks than the English NS at the other table, who defended 2SX, it was 12 imps away for England.
No table seemed to handle Board 13 optimally. Perhaps the auctions at every table are indicative of the “we must bid game” style that is being popularised in the international game these days. What looks like a fairly ordinary 3 of a minor part-score for whoever is allowed to settle there, was played and punished at the five and even six level. Have a look at the deal here and make your own assessment. Better still discuss with your partner, or tell us what you think in the comments below.
Board 28 shows the power of simple natural systems - Venetia bid her suit in response to partner’s 1H opening, and eventually agreed suit and the English EW pair played game in hearts, making. At the other table, East’s 1NT was alerted, suggesting it was systemic rather than a typo or operator error, which might explain why the bidding was pushed to the five level. Perhaps East never having showed an impressive stand alone spade suit propelled Wales one level too high. At the end of match 2 & 3 Sally and Venetia led the Cross-Imps.
Match 4 pitted England against Scotland. The state of the leaderboard likely gave captain Heather pause for quite some thought before deciding her lineup plan - with a big win desirable to close on leaders Ireland who were facing an equally matched Wales, this match was ideally a chance to go into the lead ahead of the final round. But. Historically this is the biggest match for England at the Lady Milne with both teams having had multiple wins and enjoying a long established rivalry.
Cross-Imp leaders Sally and Venetia played throughout (Sitting EW bds1-16 and NS 17-32). Nevena and Anne sat NS 1-16 and Debbie and Kath EW 17-32. Imps went in or out on all but five boards in the match. Mistakes, overbidding and sensible decisions marked this match just another day at the bridge table and when the dust settled England won the match by a meagre IMP. But in the other key match Wales did England a favour by beating Ireland to reduce the leaders margin, but in doing so gave all but two teams hope for victory!
And increased captain Heather’s head scratching. Luckily she is good at her job.
As we will see in a moment.
After 16 boards the event standings were as follows:
Ireland 67.02 Ahead by +30 imps
Wales 63.13 Ahead by +30 imps
England 60.41 Ahead by +12 imps
Scotland 48.86 Down by -30 imps
For the final sixteen boards, Heather Dhondy multiple international and the only woman to captain the Lady Milne team in 45 years sent in multiple medallists Nevena and Anne as NS, and Cross-Imp leaders for most of the event Sally and Venetia as EW. A nervous time for all three first timers one at the table and two in the Vu-Graph room.
We know what happened in the end. But how did our budding superstar fair under pressure, and did the expert pair do their job well? Let’s have a look now.
(click on the image for the Match Scorecard link)
On Board 17 Nevena made a 3NT not made in the other room which was trivial after East led and continued hearts rather than the more challenging club suit. Good job.
On Board 18 method won the day for a 6 imp gain when NS bid a nice 3D contract after Nevena overcalled the Unusual NT showing the two lowest unbid suits. At the other table Sally played in 1C making.
Board 19 and 20 delivered 12 imps more thanks to double partscore swings to England. These were achieved after both pairs showed fine judgement to outbid their opponents in competitive auctions to reach making three level contracts.
Board 23 was a bit unlucky for the SBU. Their EW pair reached the right spot and made the requisite tricks, but at the other table Sally opened her 9 count and when her partner made a perfectly normal game forcing bid later in the auction NS for the SBU were put under pressure defending and underpointed 3NT. North got off to the correct lead, but erred later in the defence and Sally brought the contract home for 10 imps to England.
System style set up a very simple auction for Sally and Venetia to reach 6H on board 25 and demonstrates the beauty of the 2 over 1 method in action.
At the other table the SBU pair play acol style, so the continuations after a reverse are something for partnership agreement, and here it seems Guy could not set suit with a forcing 3H to agree suit, so was forced to rejoin the auction after 4D from her partner. Either this was misinterpreted by her partner, or East simply decided to stop in the last making spot. Either way it prevented EW reaching slam and earned England a valuable 13 imps, and a very real prospect for victory.
Board 28 was a quirky board. How do you judge your hand when you hold 11 points and 12 cards in the majors, 6 apiece? Well the English experts showed their stuff - West opened 1D, Nevena bid 2D (both majors we assume - she certainly had both!) East bid 3D, Pass Pass. Now giving her partner no chance to misinterpret (or pass a double) she bid 4D, and sure enough, partner holding S Q3 H J D A983 CT87643 bid 4S. The contract made, putting 9 significant imps into England’s pot.
After Board 28 the standings were:
England had done their job. Flattish boards for the rest of the event sealed the leaderboard and a win for the England Women’s team.