There is a time in everyone’s bridge life where a special type of magic cloth seems to cover the table. Your finesses all work, the partnership always finds the right defense, the auctions are perfect and you always seem to be in the right contract. Those moments are to be celebrated and cherished, placed in the heart, brain and soul to be reviewed when days are hard and the game too tough. With proper care those memories will be alive for your entire life.
For the ten days of the 2017 World Youth Bridge Championships held in Lyon, France, there were many such moments – the USA winning the Gold in two events, the French team medaling in four more, the Thailand team so aptly named “Magic Eyes” obtaining its first medal in World Championships in this writer’s nearly 50 years of competitive memory, as did Japan. Chile had its moments, as did Australia, Norway, Uruguay, Germany, Sweden, India and England among others. All told there were over eight hundred players (over a thousand counting the French Federation’s Schools event that took place simultaneously) under the age of 25 from every continent save Antarctica and that’s only because we have not been able to train the penguins to hold the cards – yet.
Yet no one could have predicted the result that came out of Asia, with the teams of China dominating the competition at the four levels of the World Bridge Federation’s Youth Championships. Teams from Hong Kong, Taipei and Beijing all performed well, with medals and strong showings in each of the events, but it was the teams of Shanghai that put on a display of skill and competitive drive unlike any other moment in the history of these games.
It is not to diminish the accomplishments of all those who competed to relate this tale of dominance, but because of the strength of all those in attendance that makes the performance of these young athletes all the more astonishing.
The 84 Sheng Xing players crossing the bridge to the CITÉ Centre de Congres, Lyon Photo by Simon Stocken
The Sheng Xing Teenage Bridge Club began as a project a few years back as an alternative to other activities for the advance placement students from different middle schools in Shang Hai. Currently Sheng Xing has over 1200 students meeting once or twice a week to gather together to compete, train and learn the game of bridge. One of the favorite events of the year is the Parent-Child game which draws over 400 pairs.
The opening events of the Funbridge World Youth Bridge Championships (Funbridge is a terrific application used by many of the world’s younger players to train) were the Juniors, Youngsters, Girls and Kids Pairs. Sheng Xing has athletes who are limited to 16 years of age, so the young people competed in the latter three categories. And compete they did, acquiring two gold, two silvers and two bronze medals in their events, sweeping the Kids (Under 15) title.
Above: Two of the youngest members of the Sheng Xing contingent review their scores. Below: Sheng Xing athletes watching the monitors as the results from the team matches are posted – photos by Simon Stocken
They were just getting started. The following six days of team competitions (six players, operating as a team of four in rotation) witnessed the Youngsters and Kids capture two more Silver Medals and another Bronze, but the Girls team became the lead story.
The Girls Team of Sheng Xing 1 (Yunpeng Chen, Chenyun Ge, Yajie Lu, Yijia Lu, Xinyao Ruan, Jiaming Xu, Captain Xiaochen Kong, (not pictured, Coach Dr Donna Lombardini) had an acceptable start, defeating a strong German squad and another rising star from China, the Sh Xin Jiangnan Team. The Girls were very anxious, especially given that they were one of the youngest teams in the event. The Girls Team Championship has a wider age range, with young women up to and including 25-year-olds. Sheng Xing 1 averaged under 15.
They had yet to face the powerhouse French Girls team, the strong favorite for the Gold Medal who dominated the qualifying rounds, losing only to Chile, a leading contender for the medal rounds coached by the exceptional Hanoi Rondon.
The great French Gold Medal Pair Winners Sarah Combescure and Mathilde Thuillez;
Chile’s Coach Hanoi Rondon.
The French Girls Team came into the Worlds a formidable squad, exceptionally well coached by Wilfried Libbrecht.
The Sheng Xing squad found themselves in third place after the first three matches, but with France scheduled to be their first match on the second day, there was a lot of discomfort among the players.
Dr Donna Lombardini Wood
Their coach Dr Donna Lombardini had been delayed and did not arrive until the first evening of qualifying. There is often no way to describe how a team suddenly comes together, nor exactly what it is that is the catalyst for the same. The Sheng Xing Teenage Bridge Club’s Xiaochen Kong had put together a superb team, yet their confidence did not match their success. Kong sat the Girls Team down with Lombardini after dinner and suddenly the team’s entire demeanor changed. The results proved it. The next five matches were soundly played, and while suffering a loss to the French Girls in that opening round of the second day of qualifying, the Sheng Xing squad finished a strong third behind the French leaders and local rivals Sh Xin Jiangnan, with Chile rounding out the top four. In all, five Chinese teams made the final cut, joined by the younger second French Girls team to set the stage for the Knock-Out rounds.
Dr Donna with her team preparing for the last moments of competition – photo Simon Stocken
France 1 continued its dominance defeating China RFZD handily, while Sheng Xing 1 began a string of victories that was a harbinger of events to come. Trailing by 3 after the third quarter to another powerful team from the same club, the Sheng Xing 1 girls met with Dr Donna (as she is known in the bridge world) for a few minutes before delivering an astounding performance in the fourth stanza, outscoring their Sheng Xing 3 opponents 62 – 5 to earn their semifinal berth. France drew Chile on the other side of the Semifinal Bracket, and won by a comfortable margin, despite a late rally by the strong South American squad. Meanwhile, the match against the eventual Bronze Medalists, Sh Xin Jiangnan Team was essentially over before half time as Sheng Xing continued its explosive offensive display.
The final between the number 1 teams of France and Sheng Xing was set, but no-one – including this writer who had picked France to be the team to beat throughout the championships – was prepared for the performance orchestrated by the Chinese. Dominant from the very start, the girls from Sheng Xing leapt out to a 47 IMP lead on the first four deals of the 56-board final, and finished the first quarter with a 66 – 10 lead over their opponents. France never gained ground and despite their best efforts and fine play, resigned the battle after the third quarter.
The author with Dr Donna congratulating one of the pairs from the victorious Sheng Xing Girls Team 1 – photo Simon Stocken
This young team from a school’s program in Shanghai had accomplished what might be the greatest upset in their category in history. A few hours after the celebration, I sat down with the team, Dr Donna and Ms. Kong to discuss the great ride they had just completed. The girls are shy, so the two adults did most of the talking. “Dr Donna lifted them to their best game” Kong stated, “They became strong, a powerful and proud family”. “All I told the girls was that they are a great team, that their hard work would be enough” Dr Donna said, “that they were ready and that it was their time. They did all the playing, we just supported them. They are World Champions now, and for the rest of their lives”.
At the Great American Bridge Tour Headquarters in South Dakota, where Dr Donna is the CEO, there is a saying:
“The Right Word To The Right Person At The Right Time Changes Everything”.
In Lyon, France, the right words may have been enough. So much so that after Dr Donna refused to take the podium - for it was the Girls and Captain’s time - the Sheng Xing Teenage Bridge Club had its own ceremony, presenting their beloved coach with her own Gold Medal.
The most successful team in World Youth Bridge Championships history:
The Sheng Xing Teenage Bridge Club
Pairs: 2 Gold, 2 Silver, 2 Bronze for a total of 12 Player Medals
Teams: 2 Gold, 2 Silver, 2 Bronze for a total of 36 Player Medals
Teams Captains/Coaches: 2 Gold, 2 Silver, 2 Bronze for a total of 12 Medals
Total Team Medals: 60
Photo courtesy of the World Bridge Federation
Geoffrey S Jade Barrett, American Correspondent, csbnews.org.
Submitted 31 August 2017