It was about 20 years ago that I first became friends with Janet de Botton, and urged her to take up bridge. Although I knew she’d love it, I didn’t hold out much hope that she’d get beyond ‘social’ bridge; the club scene was (and still is) pretty weird and intimidating. But Janet amazed me: as soon as she’d mastered the rudiments, she insisted on coming with me to play for low-stakes at St John’s Wood Bridge Club. I warned her: some of these people aren’t nice, they’ll yell at you. But she came, they did yell, she lost all her loose change — and she still had the pluck and drive to keep coming back.
Soon we graduated to higher-stake bridge at TGR’s; then she started playing in tournaments and got a top team together. And now — who would have thought it all those years ago? — she and her team have been selected to represent England in a match against Wales. Her first England cap! I’m proud of her, and rather pleased with myself for setting her on this path. She’s also been lucky in having the brilliant Artur Malinowski as her long-term partner. They’ve grown into a formidable pair, with an understanding and trust that is invaluable at the table. A simple example from a recent rubber bridge game (Janet was North, Artur South):
Janet pre-empted, East overcalled, and Artur jumped to 4. 3would have been forcing so he wasn’t showing extra values, just bidding what he thought he could make. But Janet looked again at her hand — and cue-bid 5. Artur had complete faith that her bid was based on the Aand a diamond void — she wouldn’t have bid on with a singleton. Without hesitation he jumped to 6. How easy-peasy they made it look!
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