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Over the weekend of 6th/7th August, top Open Bridge players from all over New Zealand converged on New Plymouth for the prestigious North Island Pairs Championship. Bringing home the bacon were Auckland’s Matt Brown and Whanganui’s Steve Baron. (No “bacon” for Steve, though, being strictly vegetarian! He was very complimentary in his victory speech about the excellent catering, being especially good for non-meat eaters.) Both players seem to be on a roll of late, with Matt Brown being selected to represent New Zealand in the World Bridge Championship in Lyon, France later this week. Matthew and his teammates also reached the quarter-finals in the World Bridge Championship last year in Poland. Steve Baron recently won selection to represent Central Districts in the Interprovincial Bridge Championship later this year.

Matthew and Steve dominated the tournament right from the beginning and powered to a comprehensive win of almost 112 match-points  (that’s 3 clear boards with a top on a board being 38) after fighting off a late challenge from the Palmerston North and Wellington based brothers Charles and Anthony Ker. Against such tough competition, with many of the best players in New Zealand competing, it is unusual for one pair to stay out in front of the field for virtually the whole tournament.  It is common for the leader board to change regularly in the cut-throat world of Bridge where a momentary lapse of concentration can mean a bottom board. The event was split into five sessions with Matthew and Steve’s “springboard” coming from a superb 68.8% in the second session.

Steve Baron Matt Brown North Island Pairs August 2017.JPG

Steve and Matthew

New Plymouth Bridge Club president, Murray Carter, commented that there were 40 pairs who turned up for the event. He said, “We are particularly pleased with the turn-out and caliber of this tournament and this was also the first time New Plymouth had ever hosted the event”. The tournament was conducted over 2 days, with 39 grueling rounds of three boards and a total of 117 boards being played by all pairs. The event was well directed and scored by Caroline Wiggins.

Making the moment even more memorable for Matthew and Steve was the fact that this was the first time the pair had ever played together. Matt Brown said, “It was very satisfying to get this win with Steve, given I had never played his Bridge system (Precision) before in my life, but I’ve got a good memory and we both understood each other very well. It just clicked for us”. Steve said, “I was particularly lucky that Matt didn’t have a partner for this tournament as his regular partner, Michael Whibley, had already left for the World Bridge Championship in Lyon, France, and Matt doesn’t leave until Wednesday”.

Matt Brown is a rising rock star of New Zealand Bridge having also won the New Zealand Teams Championship in Hamilton in 2015. What is also surprising is that Matthew, a computer science student at Auckland University, is only 21 years old and has already been playing the game for 8 years.

The New Plymouth Bridge Club has been in existence since 1954 and has a steadily growing membership of over 300. There were several New Plymouth based pairs who entered the tournament with locals Colin Carryer and Sandra Calvert being the highest placed, coming a very credible 7th overall.

Here are a couple of good boards from that second session for the winners. In the first, there was a touch of good fortune but it was combined with good play too.

Board 10
East Deals
Both Vul
9 7 5 3 2
A J 4 2
9 4
8 5
10 8
7 6 3
A Q 7 6 2
A 6 2
W   E
K 9 5
5 3
Q 10 9 7 4
Q 6 4
Q 10 8
K J 10 8
K J 3
West North East South
    1 NT Pass
2  Pass 2  Pass
2 NT Pass 3 NT All pass


Even though West has no major, Steve and Matthew have to go through Stayman to invite the no-trump game. Steve’s 1NT was 13-15. He fancied that club suit as he accepted with minimum points. A low spade lead did him no harm though he then played the club suit the percentage way, for split honours by leading the queen from his hand. He gave up one club trick but was able to make four tricks in the suit, along with three spades, two diamonds and one heart from a complete top…+630.

Over to Matthew on Board 21:

Board 21
North Deals
N-S Vul
A Q J 9 7 5 2
9 8
Q 9 3
8 4
A K J 7 4
K Q J 6 2
W   E
10 3
Q 10 6 3
A 8 6 5 4 2
K 6
9 8 5
A 10 7 4 3
K J 10
West North East South
  3  Pass Pass
Dbl Pass 4  Pass
4  Pass 4  All pass


Matt (South) led his Spade-smallK overtaken by Steve who cashed his Spade-smallQ. Steve exited a club to the ace. Declarer erred by drawing three rounds of trumps (only one round could be afforded initially as he was soon to require two ruffs in the East hand.) and next led their singleton diamond. Matthew played low, even though he knew it was likely to be a singleton lead. The king scored with the queen forcing Matt's ace, but with only one trump left in the East hand, the contract could not be made.

These were the top positions after an excellent weekend of Bridge:

1. Matthew Brown - Steve Baron


2. Anthony and Charles Ker


3. Chris Bolland – Peter Delahunty


4. Andi Boughey – Carol Richardson


5. Kate Davies – Anne Somerville



Richard Solomon



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