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Who wants to be a … Bridge Teacher?
By Mike Pomfrey
Bridge Magazine May 2001

When I took redundancy from the Civil Service some four years ago to become a bridge professional I little guessed what a precarious existence it would be. A very few people make a comfortable living from journalism or from sponsorship, but the market, at least in the UK, is small. I chose the teaching option, there being few bridge teachers in my area. It’s been rewarding, but not in financial terms. Some writing for the EBU’s Bridge for All has been welcome and working with Trevor King on Alpine Bridge holidays is great fun, though that has some way to go to become a profitable venture. So the dread prospect of returning to full-time office life was seriously looming.

Everyone dreams of winning the lottery or of some other quick route to security so when the unashamedly populist but addictive Who Wants To Be A Millionaire appeared on our screens I was immediately attracted. I could do that, I thought, but getting there would be another matter. I must have tried around 100 times.

Bill Hirst had persuaded me to play in the 2001 Australian Gold Coast congress. I couldn’t possibly afford it but went anyway and of course it was fantastic. I returned on Wednesday February 28th, thoroughly jet-lagged, made a desultory phone call to Millionaire and was given a standard multiple choice question. These are usually pretty trivial but mine was on American sitcoms, about which I know absolutely nothing. I made a wild guess which proved to be correct and joined a list of probably several hundred thousand other aspirants.

I got home from a bridge class on the Friday (two turned up) to find a message on the answerphone from Celador, the programme makers, asking me to ring back ASAP. I was on a short list of 100! But now comes the really random hurdle. They give you another question, which has a numerical answer, but which is often so obscure that you couldn’t possibly know it. You have to make a guess, within ten seconds, and whoever is closest (out of ten of you) gets on the show. I was asked the width, in inches, of a water polo goal. I desperately tried to imagine one – ‘five seconds left’ said the voice - and I blurted out “120”. I put the phone down and thought, “you idiot, it’s nowhere near that big, you’ve blown it”. I lay awake that night wondering if I could possibly be right, ran down to the local library in the morning and discovered the actual width is three metres, about 118 inches. No sleep that night either with the excitement that I might have made it. Celador rang back on Sunday to confirm that I was indeed closest, to make arrangements for me to travel down to the studios at Elstree, and of course to condemn me to yet another sleepless night.

Daughter Lizzie was home for the weekend from Birmingham University and she jumped at the chance to be my studio guest. She insisted I take her good luck mascot, Mini Moose (99p from IKEA). Moose has successfully steered Lizzie through A levels and her friends through interviews, but he’d yet to be tested on a really long shot, like her driving tests (I try to get advance warning of those so I can be in another county, or even another country).

To digress for a moment. When Lizzie was seven I tried to teach her to play bridge. In the very first session she was defending my Four Heart contract and steadfastly clung on to the master trump as I ran winners in a side suit. Eventually she gained the lead, cashed the trump and beat the contract. I asked, why she hadn’t ruffed earlier ‘because then I’d have had to lead diamond,' she replied scornfully, if any idiot could recognise endplay, analysis that would have been beyond the great majority regular players at your local club. ‘Move over Nicola and Pat, he comes the next world champion,’ I thought, but sadly she immediate lost interest in such an easy game. She's just started playing under Mike Amos's tutelage, and showing dangerous signs of addiction.

Being on Millionaire is really good fun. First, you meet your fellow, contestants for lunch. Everyone’s really friendly, you all wish each other luck … and of course you are all sizing each other up. In the afternoon you get a rehearsal. Phil takes you through the fastest finger procedure. Believe me; it's nowhere near as easy as it looks on the telly. Your four options are in a rectangular pattern on the screen you have to get the order in your head before you hit the button, which are in a line below the screen (and quite small, so you have to be careful) and then you have to remember to hit the OK. Afterwards you get to answer a couple of practice questions in the chair, which by comparison is far less stressful. Then it's off to wardrobe, dinner, make up, fit microphones and finally on to the set for the real thing!

There was a contestant carried over from the previous night. He was going along fine when a key psychological moment occurred. Have you ever been in a safe 3NT at match pointed pairs, there's slightly risky finesse for an overtrick, you're about to take it… and a little doubt appears in you mind. It nags at you, grows and grows … and you chicken out. Well that's what happened to Dave. Hi was about to say ‘final answer when it dawned on him how much he was risking, and from that moment he was doomed. Those of us waiting recognized it and started flexing our fingers. This is the really tense bit; this is what you’ve come here for.

Our fastest finger question was on political parties. Phil had emphasised that it's all very well being fastest, but it's more important to be right, so don't rush it. I ignored him, convinced that several of my fellow contestants would be quick, and went all out for it. It was a big disappointment to find that Norman, who had been practicing for months, had pipped me to the chair by a third of a second. Norman is a lovely bloke who was going strongly until he blew all his lifelines on a stinker of a question and suddenly it was all to play for again. We had to put four of Snow White's dwarves in alphabetical order - dead simple, but try it at speed - and this time I made it to the chair. There's a short break while they shift the furniture around - otherwise, apart from a little editing, the timing feels very like the programme you see on the screen.

Actually being in the chair wasn't scary at all. It helps to be used to facing a class, and playing high level bridge does train you to think clearly under pressure. But Chris Tarrant is brilliant at putting you at ease, you feel he's on your side and, most importantly, he gets the audience on your side as well. So, a few preliminaries, a reference to Moose, and we're off.

The first question was on boy bands. ‘Oh, no, not popular culture,’ I groaned, but fortunately it proved obvious. After that it was plain sailing, apart from asking the audience about Zoe Ball's father, until the £32,000 question. This is a big milestone and I had determined not to pass at that point. £32,000 would mean a few years grace to try to get the teaching career moving. So, which Hollywood actor founded the Sundance Institute? Well, everyone knows that Robert Redford played the Sundance Kid, so it had to be him, even though I didn't know for sure. It was an anxious wait before Chris said “you just won £32,000” and mercifully we ran out of time at that point, just when I badly needed a breather.

Most of the contestants and their guests had accepted Celador's offer to put us up at a hotel. After a quick drink in the studio bar we were whisked off to consume copious quantities of red wine (my round of course). All the others were incredibly supportive, wishing me luck for the next night, which is a hard thing to do when you could have been in the same position yourself.

A funny thing happened the following morning. Lizzie and I did a little modest shopping and in the shopping mall was a gleaming yellow Toyota MR2 sports car. I thought it was a lottery and, feeling lucky, I asked to buy a ticket. ‘It’s not a lottery, it's a promotion,' said the girl disdainfully. ‘And I can tell you can’t afford it' remained unspoken but clearly implied. (I had a test drive in one the other day, by the way - a transport of delight but no room for the golf clubs.)

So back to the studio in the afternoon to meet the next night's contestants who would be going for it once I had finished. Being an old television hand by now it was amusing to move around, chatting easily with Chris who usually turns up on the set at rehearsals. Then onto the same routine as the previous night - wardrobe, makeup, mike and off to the set.

As the moment approached for our entry into the arena the Floor Manager came up. He was concerned that Moose, who occupied my breast pocket, was making life difficult for the camera crew. But Chris stepped in and, sensitive not to break my mood, insisted Moose should stay. Nice touch.

Back in the chair I felt not at all nervous but very tired. Would the brain function? Fortunately the answer to the £64,000 question popped straight into my head. It was such a relief, knowing the adrenalin was going to keep me focused. From then on I could really enjoy the show and try to make it entertaining.

The best moment was phone a friend. As most of the world knows, I had asked my ex-wife Georgie to be one of my five possible contacts. It seemed the obvious thing to do; she's very knowledgeable, I trust her judgment and was happy to offer her a percentage of anything she helped me win. And when the £250,000 question came up -'What's the symbol on the national flag of India?' - I was sure she'd know. Of course, Chris milked it for all it was worth. When he asked me if he should tell her how much money was involved I was emphatic that she would want to know. So it proved, causing a burst of laughter in the studio.

So, after I gave my final answer and before he confirmed whether it was right, Chris raised the tension by calling a break for adverts. During the break, off camera, he swore at himself in front of the audience for prolonging the agony and called up to Lizzie, ‘How are you feeling?’ ‘I’m fine, I know the answer,' came the reply. What a family of smartasses.

The £500,000 question was a doddle. I know they're only easy if you know the answer but I'd seen capybara in a zoo only last year. I didn't know who Tomas Masaryk was, for a million quid (Georgie's mum does). I've wondered since if I might have been able to work it out, especially if I'd saved the 50/50 lifeline, but hell, who's complaining about half a million.
Oct. 6, 2015
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Maybe the solution is something along the lines of:

1 plays 8 with a carry forward of say 32

2 plays 7 with a carry forward of say 24

3 plays 6 with a carry forward of say 16

4 plays 5 with a carry forward of say 8

You could even allow 1 to pick first, then 2, etc with the c/f for playing against 5th being +8, 6th + 16, etc.
Oct. 3, 2015
Peter Hasenson edited this comment Oct. 3, 2015
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Or better still, England should not have allowed themselves to lose 10 IMP on the last board and cost themselves third place!!!
Oct. 3, 2015
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The music is optimal :)
Oct. 1, 2015
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Kieran: Not only do I make you right, I also can not understand why only 48 boards per day is considered satisfactory - why not c. 60?
Sept. 30, 2015
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Here is a link to a video of the great event:
Sept. 29, 2015
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Here is a link to a video of the great event:

Sept. 29, 2015
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I have seen a report - don't get your hopes up if you are expecting anything much…
Sept. 29, 2015
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Adam ‘Plum’ Meredith
Extract from ‘Aces All’ by Guy Ramsey 1955

The chapter begins…

Of all the characters who inhabit the bridge world, Adam Meredith - ‘Plum’ to everyone - is the most difficult to understand. Many rank him as the best card-player of all; some even consider the order, `Plum first, and the rest nowhere.' And yet¬ and yet….he is regarded as `difficult' properly to partner; and some of his most devoted admirers will concede that he is capable of flinging 5,000 points, and the match with them, clean out of the window for no more than a whim or a mood.

Upon Meredith's shoulder there perches from time to time what Edgar Allan Poe would have styled `The Imp of the Perverse.' When in psycheing vein, he will psyche persistently, even obstinately, disregarding a succession of horrible results. He is quite capable of playing - in fact, he actually so played the Masters' Pairs of 1953 – ninety-nine boards on end with consistent sanity interspersed with brilliant technique; and then, when comfortably in the lead, he will perpetrate some ludicrous opening bid and find himself in a contract that even his card-play cannot negotiate to safety; or he may initiate the auction on a three-card suit for no apparent reason at all. Nico Gardener was his partner during the latest of these inexplicable and unreasonable outbursts and even his suavity was threatened when he saw his first victory in the event imperilled.

I think it is fair to say that `Plum' would rather make eight tricks in a 3 spade contract with no more than three trumps in one hand and two in the other, than bid a difficult Seven and make it by the use of a Vienna Coup. Moreover, he is a lone wolf; where all the other `name' players have established one or more solid partnerships, Meredith is likely to play now with Schapiro, now with Reese, now with Harrison-Gray; or with Gardener, or Leist, or Juan…. No ¬one knows - least of all the British Bridge League! - who will be partnering `Plum' in any given event.

In the Lederer's Club of pre-war days, `Plum' was a long, lanky, gangling youth with nails bitten to the quick and a lock that dangled into his eyes. As his forehead is high, this meant that his visits to the barber were few and far between. He used to pay his losses in a mixture of cash and postal orders kept in a schoolboy muddle in the poacher's pocket of the inevitable, shabby sports¬coat he almost always wore.

But the callow youth, with his coltish gait and attractive diffidence of manner, already possessed a maturity of card-sense and card¬play. Even then he displayed what is his dominant present-day characteristic - the trance.

Faced with the Meredithian impishness of bidding, English people are apt to explain it by saying, with a shrug of the shoulders: `Of course, Plum's Irish!' They believe that the unstable brilliance of the man is due to his race.

Even on their own premiss they are wrong; for `Plum' hails not from Eire but from Ulster; his stock is not that of Killarney but of Co. Down. There is barely a trace of Irish in his speech -only a trained ear can spot the rarest possible inflection. It is not Ould Oireland but the Old Adam that makes Meredith the player-and the person-he is.

Adam Meredith is one who holds passionately his own convictions - but they are, nine times out of ten, not the convictions con¬ventionally expected. Long before the war, Plum was a pacifist, convinced and unconvertible. Unlike the men who voted that in no circumstances would they fight for King and Country and then, in September, 1939, stormed the recruiting offices (if they had not already perished in the International Brigade!) Meredith went before his tribunal to register as a conscientious objector.

In the thirties, `Plum' owned a car almost as dilapidated as my own. It was always a toss-up whether his battery or mine were the flatter - whether the Morris would push the Studebaker or vice¬versa after a long session of play. But (with such a car he needed to be!) he was a very fine driver, and it was only reasonable that Meredith should go into the A.R.P.

It was no surprise that he volunteered as an ambulance driver; no surprise that he drove through the heaviest of the blitz: he never lacked courage. But it was also no surprise that the section he served, caught by the hysteria of war, revolted against the handful of pacifist comrades enrolled in their ranks (despite their demonstrated valour) and actually went on strike against their retention. And so, Meredith was before his tribunal again and `sentenced' to ag cultural employment.

Relations of his owned a farm; and there his official residence was fixed. It is no secret, however, that for a great deal of the war he was in London; and when he was in London, he was playing cards.

The irony of the situation was this: that Meredith needed neither his pacifist convictions, nor the period in the A.R.P., or even the tribunal's decision that he should do agricultural work, to exempt him from the forces! He is a severe and chronic asthmatic-he spends half the year out of England-and, but for his moral courage he could have avoided military service on that account, without incurring the risk of hostility that always besets a `Conshie'. More¬over, work on a farm - with the pollen clouding the air-is the worst possible employment for an asthmatic.

Meredith has, you will deduce, a strict code of honour. It is strict, but it is also individual. It may well be quixotic; or it may be legal¬istic: but it is seldom what you would expect.

For example, he was nominated for the British team of 1950; he was due to play with his captain, Harrison-Gray. The other nomina¬ted pair were Schapiro and Reese. For reasons mentioned elsewhere, Reese and Schapiro were dropped. Meredith resigned his place as a protest against, not the dropping, but the timing of the decision to drop the other pair.

Instead of merely retiring, he bearded the then dominant per¬sonality in the international game, Sir Noel Mobbs, K.C.V.O., O.B.E., Chairman of the Portland Club, Chairman of the B.B.L., and stated his objections. Mobbs informed him straitly that the projected withdrawal might well result in keeping him out of the international game for ten years. But `Plum' was not the man to sacrifice his convictions to expediency. He stood his ground.

Sir Noel retired from the B.B.L. after Brighton, and Meredith was again a live candidate for the team; although, in the event, he did not play either in ‘51 at Venice, ’52 in Dublin or in ‘53 in Helsinki.

Again, in a match against the touring American side of Crawford, Stayman, Leventritt and Rapee, one of the American players claimed a penalty to which the letter-but certainly not the spirit-of the Laws entitled him. In the uproar which followed, with both captains giving their views; with all bystanders participating in the discussion (for the sporting acceptance of a ruling is not the strongest point among bridge-players! alas!); and even with midnight telephone calls to the Portland Club, one person, and one alone in the room, kept perfectly calm: `Plum’ Meredith, the technical offender, who, moreover, insisted that the opponent was fully entitled to the penalty he had so dubiously claimed.

Even out of the bridge world, `Plum' is a Quixote. He has a passion for the ballet-an odd interest for a card-player-and, when the Ballet Negre came to London, and teetered between success and failure, he turned `Angel' and backed it with the hard-earned savings he had amassed at bridge.

He backed the Ballet Negre with service as well as money, for the ace bridge-player of Lederer's was not to be seen in the Club during the whole run until after the performance at Prince's. `Plum' was , taking cash at the box office, checking the accounts night after night. With the malice characteristic of too many card-players, it was I suggested that Meredith was keeping an eye on his own bawbees. I think it fair to say that I disbelieve this; but Meredith has a streak of `sea lawyermanship' in his make-up which almost cancels out his often exalted moral tone.

At the table, you will see his eyes swivelling from side to side, assessing every nuance offered by the opposition, estimating not only each bid but each mannerism. On these he feels he can, quite legitimately, act. But (like one or two other players, of whom S Kosky stands as the supreme example), he will refuse to draw any inference from his partner's shuffling … to the despair of some of his regular associates.

By the same token, Meredith would, like most players, scorn to `peep'; but if a player carelessly shows his hand, Meredith will quite ruthlessly take advantage of what he has seen.

At the table, Meredith is the psychist par excellence. A team-mate, and a great admirer of his, once went on record with this aphorism: `For Plum, a three-card suit is not only biddable, it is rebiddable! More, it is playable.'
Take, for example, a hand like this:

976 A52 KQJ104 103

You would pass, would you not? Or, perhaps, not vulnerable against vulnerable opponents, you might be tempted to hazard 1 Diamond

safest chance to show a safe lead, intimidate the opposition and lay the foundation for a potential sacrifice. Not so our `Plum'. He was 40 on score, and he opened . . . 1 Spade!!! -aptly described by Norman Squire as a `normal bread-and-butter' bid for Meredith.

His partner on this occasion was Joel Tarlo and he bid 2 Clubs. Meredith rebid 2 Diamonds (at last something approaching normality. What would have happened if he had been put back to 2 Spades? He would have stuck it almost certainly; and, which is worse, made it more than probably!)

Over 2 Diamonds Tarlo bid 4 Diamonds - obviously a slam try at the score; doubtless showing a big fit with the second suit; doubtless affirming a long and solid suit of Clubs; and, probably, very probably, im¬plying shortage in Spades.

To 4 Diamonds you would (if you are anything like me) pass with almost unethical rapidity. But again, not so our `Plum'. He bid 6 Diamonds!

Tarlo went down with: 2 Q8 A987 AKQ964. He, at least, had his bids.

Now, how could `Plum' have read the hand so accurately? First, Tarlo did not force over the opening 1G~ and still had enough to suggest slam. How come? Obviously he had no Spade fit at all. Secondly, he would not issue a slam invitation without at least two Aces. And-this is the key point-Meredith had the first-round control in Hearts. What if Tarlo had two losing Spades? Well, unless the man on lead had A.K. of the suit (K.Q. he would not lead), he would be more than likely to lead something else on the bidding.

Here is the whole hand:

QJ10843 AK5
KJ 1097643
2 653
J875 2


West did, in fact, open the `safe' Spade. East overtook and led back a Heart. `Plum' went up at once; drew trumps; established the Clubs by ruffing, and made twelve tricks.

`Why the so-and-so didn't you lead back a Spade at Trick 2 to shorten dummy and kill the Club suit?' demanded an irate West. West was, of course, right; but `Plum' had the answer at once. `This is the play: North ruffs the Spade, comes to hand with a trump and ruffs his last Spade with D A. He leads the table's last trump and reels off his remaining four Diamonds. There are five cards left. West can, of course, throw all his Spades, but he still has a discard to come on the last trump, and he has left in his hand H KJ. and C QJ875. What does he shed? He is squeezed flat.'

Meredith, though slow in play-he has been held to have set the fashion in trancing-is, you will perceive, extremely rapid in analysis.

What is the idea of opening a Spade on this hand? you may well ask. Well, bridge-players have known for thirty years that the pre¬emptive value of the Spade suit is considerable: Spades are, says Victor Mollo, the most `masculine' of the suits-they can both outbid all other denominations and force any competitive bidding to start one range higher. Therefore, considerable value attaches to the side that opens with Spades.

Moreover, the psychological (or psychic) school always labours under a dread (or complex) that an adverse Spade game may be `on'. Hence, steal their bid! Norman Squire-a player too often ignored by the pundits and a writer of considerable humour whose passion for technicalities makes him, on occasion, difficult to assimilate- who plays a great deal with `Plum', did not altogether over-state the case when he wrote: `On all our opening hands we bid 1 Spade and on all our responding hands, we respond 1 Spade. The actual Spade holding is irrelevant. . . .'
Sept. 28, 2015
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By all accounts, Adam Meredith was a card playing genius who liked to bid spades whenever it was his turn to bid!

Adam ‘Plum’ Meredith of New York City (b. Ireland) 1913-1976
Bridge Professional

• Bermuda Bowl 1955
• European Teams (2) 1949 & 1954
• European Caps (5) 1949, 1954, 1955, 1957 & 1959
• Camrose Caps (8 - 8/0/0)
• Gold Cup (5) 1948, 1950, 1952, 1953, & 1956
• Lederer Memorial Trophy (4) 1947, 1953, 1957 & 59
• National Pairs (2) 1949 & 1951 (with Boris Schapiro & Terence Reese)
• Masters Pairs 1953 (with Nico Gardener)
• Two Stars (2) 1945 & 1946 (with Leo Baron & Nico Gardener)
• Eastern States Master Pairs USA 1960
• Honorary Life Master EBU 1956
• Co-Author Baron System of Contract Bridge (with Leo Baron) 1948


Heard at Eastbourne Congress 1960:
“She has an enormous bag full of knitting.
How could I think she was going to psyche?”
Adam Meredith

Moved to New York 1957

Legendary for unconventional bidding and dummy play

Ruth Sherman provided him with an income from her $460,000 estate


A player tears a small piece of paper from the corner of his score pad and
Handing it to his partner says, “Write down all you know about bridge.” Traditional


A player tears a small piece of paper from the corner of his score pad and
handing it to Adam Meredith says, “Write down all the hands you don’t open 1 Spade?”


“Universally known as ‘Plum’ if he telephoned you it was always
‘Adam Speaking’ in a grave tone. Of course, one didn’t know who it was from Adam!”
Terence Reese speaking about Adam (Plum) Meredith

Sept. 28, 2015
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Jeff: BZ were on the team that qualified - I was in Croatia at Euro 2014 and saw them play with my own eyes
Sept. 27, 2015
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BTW, does anyone know why Poland has not (as yet) done the right thing?
Sept. 26, 2015
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For sure
Sept. 26, 2015
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You may be right but I feel it unlikely. Hopefully we shall find out in the wash (sooner rather than later would be good!)
Sept. 26, 2015
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Yes, mandatory
Sept. 26, 2015
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Time for a ‘Poland - do the right thing’ post?
Sept. 26, 2015
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Maybe cleanest ever (sad to say, happy to see)
Sept. 26, 2015
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PS Yom Kippur starts this evening
Sept. 21, 2015

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