With the open team coming home, a day off for the women, and only the seniors playing, some thoughts about the open team.
Commenting on the performance from afar is a little like being a kibitzer on BBO. Seeing all fifty-two cards makes everything clear and it is very easy to forget that the players are in a more difficult position. Although I do see many of the hands on BBO, it does not mean that the Scottish players are facing the same auctions, the same leads and the same defences. Basically I am guessing, based on their results, what is likely to be happening at the table itself. If any of the players wish to comment publicly or privately to me, I am very happy to correct any misconceptions I may have portrayed.
One point I do understand well is that the difference between the top teams and the rest is small, especially when it comes down to a single twenty-board match. You do not have to make many small errors, or misjudgements, to find yourself losing heavily.
And this appears to have been the problem for the open team. They have been playing to my expectations, just making the odd mistake too many and scoring poorly because of that. I have no doubt that they are all trying hard, but they lack the experience of continuously playing long matches against good opponents and getting punished for this. Small errors, and misjudgements, have been killing them. Although it is not the youngest open team we've seen, I doubt that stamina has been a problem, at least not in the sense that most would infer. But when every board is a battle, every mistake seems to cost imps, and you face tough decisions on most boards, it is a tiring experience. Coping with this day in and day out is what playing at this level requires and we, in Scotland, do not provide meaningful practice or training for this.
I do feel that this was the best team that was available. There is no pair from the (Euro or Camrose) trials who I'd want there instead and there is no doubt that this team is stronger than the one we are sending to Lille (luckily the opposition is not so tough). Open bridge in Scotland is not strong at this point in time and has not helped by many of the better players moving into the senior team (although I fear that they would not have improved the open performance by much). Perhaps it is time for a change to open-to-all trials and consider what Scotland wants to, and can, achieve at the Europeans. Time for youth? Coaching for our stronger pairs?
So why are the women doing considerably better than the open team? I think there are a few reasons.
Firstly the standard in the women's game is considerably lower. Although there are some professionals, hardly any in the women series would find a place in an open team. The Scotland Women's team is not much weaker than the Open team (if at all, I hear them say), so it is no surprise that they finish higher in a weaker competition. Secondly the team has more established partnerships and is a real 'team', rather than a collection of three pairs. I know, and more importantly so do they, that they are very supportive of each other. No-one is going to berate you when you lose -1100 on a part-score. You may not believe that this is important, but I think it is far easier to play the next board when you know you are not going to be crucified for your previous decision.
As regular readers will know, I am not a great fan of butler scores. But in the Europeans you play enough boards and the 'field' is so strong that they do give an indication of where you stand as a pair. Of course, some pairs always play against the 'strong' teams, but in the open everyone is strong relative to Scotland.
Our best open pairs are clearly not good enough. This is the third European in a row where the team has finished in a disappointing position, and even the mid-table position in 2006 was built on beating minnows who have improved immeasurably since while Scotland has not.
Currently we are among the weakest open teams in Europe. Does the SBU, and its members, want to do anything about it?