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Don't Look Back PDF Print E-mail
by John Gillespie

I played the Sunday Swiss on July 11th at our Ottawa Sectional and counted at least 7 present or former Canadian Champions in the field but we had something they didn’t, a North American Champion.

He is Alex Xiao, 12 years old and along with his regular pard Derek Smith, were the top performers in 6 mini-tournaments run by the School Bridge League (www.schoolbridgeleague.com) in North American Elementary schools this past school year.

I played 5 of the 7 matches with Alex and was very curious (afraid?) to see what the bidding would be like. You see, Carole Berry and I teach these kids and although we try, the kids just don’t get anything too sophisticated about the bidding. We emphasize play of the cards.  What’s the point in telling a 10 year old to bid game when they have no idea how to win that many tricks? 

When they start bidding they have two distinctive styles, always and never.

Photo: John Gillespie, Carole Berry, Alex Xiao and Bill Wheeler (Margaret McManus not shown). Click photo to enlarge.

So we played the system invented by Alex and Derek.  All bids are natural (and I mean ALL) with the exception of a 2♣ response to 1NT which appears to be a “bit of interest” bid that usually has some clubs in it but maybe not.  Might look like Stayman but maybe not.  I’ll have to ask Alex before we play next.

First match, Alex is nervous but when the opponents stretch to a thin 3nt, he pulls out a red card and asks “is this the right one?”  He finds 300 reasons for it and two hands later, he finds 800 reasons to play it again.

Second match, he displays his deceptive kids carding approach as declarer, leading Rusinow (J from QJ) off the dummy, Q from QJ in a different suit from his hand and reversing the order randomly throughout the match.  This has a couple of Canadian junior champs shaking their heads, chuckling and working harder than usual to figure out what’s going on.

Third match, I open 1♠, it goes 2♥, 2♠ by Alex, pass, pass double and he found the dark blue card all on his own.  This led to us buying the contract in 3♠, down one against partners +420 in 4♥.

No spectacular plays to report but his 100% natural bidding and incredible judgment within a purely quantitative bidding approach was unbelievable.  In the 8 hands Alex declared, he made 7 of them, most of the just in +110 and +140 variety in competitive auctions.

I told Alex early on my theory that in this event nothing really matters until the last 2 matches.  Teams rarely win from the front because every time you win, you face a tougher opponent.  Win some lose some, step on the accelerator and win the last 2 matches to get a piece of the cheese.  I did note that Alex had past his previous high number of hands played at the start of match #4 and just hoped for the best.

Second last match first hand, I opened 4♥ on a 3-7-3-0 11 count and Alex went straight to 6♥ with a 4-3-2-4 hand that included the ♣ Ace. Down 1 to their 2 aces but reverse my black suits or his and it was cold.  Sigh.

Second hand, I open 1♥ on a shapely 10 count and Alex drives me to game (doubled) with a 7 count for +590.  So much for stamina concerns.

A couple of hands later, my rho opens 1♦ and I bid 4♥ on AQxx, AKQxx, x, ATx feeling constrained by our (lack of) system.  Alex raises to 5♥ so I bid 6 and he lays down xx, JTxx, xx, QJxxx.  So much for worrying about fear and intimidation!  Both black Kings onside and no funny splits, +1430.  And what a partner!  He says, “Sorry, I should have bid 5♥ on that first one”.

We are now playing for a piece of the cheese but as so often happens, we draw poorly.  Our four opponents for the last match have at least 8 Canadian Championships that I know about.  They slip a 3nt by ME and a couple of overtricks to win by 14.

This puts us in 9th with 8 making the overall but with 4 wins and 3 losses and we only played against one opponent with a losing record at the time.  In the words of Satchel Paige, “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you”.

Many thanks to ALL our opponents who gently said “I’m not looking at your hand, but I could.  Hold em higher” and generally made this a most positive experience.  Also to the team, Bill Wheeler who played with Alex in rounds 4 and 5 and Margaret McManus who played with Carole Berry throughout and is the poster gal for teammate/partner.

The most amazing thing about Alex?  Bill puts on a great BBQ between sessions and I personally saw Alex put away a hamburger, hotdog, large salad plate, 6 desserts and 4 apples.

Alex and Derek Smith won the North American Elementary School tournament series but were unable to go to Washington for the presentation. Derek is a budding filmmaker and put together this video. Enjoy!