An exciting day in prospect as the round-of-sixteen matches finish. Will Scotland come back against the French? Can Canada really beat Monaco in the Open? Will the Bermuda Bowl holders go out? Only time will tell.
I have been writing the Lille posts in real-time rather than waiting for the end of the day - one reason why they are published shortly after the final card was played. Hopefully it works even though you only read them at the end!
With Anne and Sheila at the other table, Liz and Sam had a slow start when the French talked them out of a non-vulnerable game on the first board. While imps trickled in on the other boards the French then bid a game missed at most tables to get another game swing, followed by aggressive actions from both Liz and Sam leading to a three notrump that makes on a very good day - unfortunately this was the three down day (as it probably would be six days of the week, to be fair!). Then Anne and Sheila let a game through and suddenly there was significant daylight between the two teams as France extended their lead to fifty-two imps. Not an insurmountable lead with thirty-two boards to play, but imps urgently needed in the next set.
Meanwhile, in the Open, Canada played in Exclusion Key-card Blackwood whilst conceding the lead back to Monaco and the Dutch had a massive first set, turning a 39 imps deficit into a 27 imps lead against France. The Scottish women need some Dutch courage!
For the second set Maida and Sheila came in for Sam and Liz. It had the desired effect when the French bid a slam missing two aces and an immediate game swing. Sheila (and Anne) then went down in a tricky game to give the points back but better play at both tables earned eight imps when 2NT made and 3NT went down a couple. Then four game swings in five boards, three to Scotland, to confirm that this was the wildest set of the match. Looking around at other matches, they were also averaging a turnover of seven imps per board, just what the Scots were looking for. Then the French got a little lucky, deciding to double a non-vulnerable Sheila in four clubs when they were vulnerable with two eight-card major fits so fourteen imps went back. But another game swing on the final hand meant that the Scots won the set 74-43 imps and go into the final sixteen boards with just a 23 imps deficit.
(Meanwhile, in the Open, Canada go into the last set with an 18 imps lead over Monaco and even their own supporters saying that they've used eight of their nine lives so far. The French continued their capitulation to the Dutch)
Liz and Sam came in for Anne and Sheila in the final set. France started by bidding a very thin game, its only virtue being that it made and extended their lead to thirty imps. Five more when our thin game failed (of course, the other way around for these two and the match might be even). Some tricking imps came in but then a game swing out on the eleventh board was effectively the end of the contest. In truth there was just not enough in the final set unless you were lucky.
A very good run for the team but I know they'll be desperately disappointed. This was not the top French team that won the silver medal at the Europeans and they knew it was an opportunity to go deeper into the event. It's two years until the next major international event but I'm sure all of this team will be working hard towards that - hopefully the SBU will support them.
(Monaco scored 44 imps in the first six boards to extinguish Canadian hopes).
Tomorrow the Transnational Mixed Teams starts. Liz McGowan and Heather Dhondy, with some Icelandic men, won the inaugural event in 1996 in Rhodes by winning the 36-board final. It has developed into a fully-fledged competition now with full-day quarter- and semifinals and an 80-board final. There are currently three teams with Scottish players entered (although they will be joined by some of the women and old people) - Scotland, with the Outreds and Gerrards; Celtic Collection, Jim, Jun with the Irish women; and Badger, Paula Leslie joining forces again with Frances Hinden (and two hangers-on). Badger has medalled at least twice in recent history and are certainly my favourites to make the knock-out stages.