Kiwi bridge players awarded gold medal after scoring error nearly denied them victory
Two of New Zealand's top card players almost had their victory at the "Olympic Games of bridge" cruelly snatched away by a scoring error.
Michael Cornell and Ashley Bach blitzed the field at the World Bridge Games in Wroclaw, Poland in September, coming out on top of a field containing some of the best card players in the world.
But a basic scoring error saw the Kiwi pair mistakenly awarded second place behind a German pair and denied their rightful gold medal.
After a two week investigation by the World Bridge Federation, Cornell and Bach were awarded joint first prize on Friday to become the first New Zealanders to win the prestigious open pair's championship.
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Cornell, from Auckland, said it was a "fantastic" result.
"We're champions of the world. It's more than we ever dreamed of," he said.
The controversy has caused a stir in the bridge world, with Bridge Federation president Gianarrigo Rona issuing a statement rebuking players for commenting on the error on social media.
He said the "supposed winners recognise themselves that they failed to adequately check the scores obtained within the time scale provided for.
Rona said: "In all sporting contests it is important to have certainty of the result that has been obtained according to the respective rules & regulations that are applied and cannot be modified despite, unfortunately, that they may have influenced the result."
New Zealand Bridge chairman Arie Guersen said it was good result for the New Zealand federation right from the grassroots through to the top players.
He said a joint title was the right result.
"It's an extremely difficult thing to take the medal away from one pair and award it to another after the ceremony.
"But it was hard on Michael and Ashley knowing they had won but didn't get the medal."
New Zealand bridge development officer Richard Solomon said it was the biggest result a pair had come away with at the "Olympic Games of bridge".
He and Guersen said the win was the icing on the cake after a period of positive Kiwi records.
The New Zealand team had never qualified for the knock-out stages in 45 years of trying. The women's team also did the best they've ever done by reaching the Top 16.
And at another event, two Dunedin brothers took home a fair play award for sportsmanship.
Bach has been playing bridge for 30 years, while Cornell has 58 years of game experience.
They both began young, and although the number of bridge players has remained steady in New Zealand, the game could benefit from more publicity, they said.
Bach described bridge as a series of "never-ending puzzles and challenges".
"The game never changes but every hand is different," Bach said.
The pair said you needed a combination of concentration, memory and card sense.
Cornell made a comparison in rugby terms.
"The top five-eighths in the world for example, they are completely natural. They're light on their feet and they instinctively know what they're doing.
"I don't know any top bridge player that doesn't have a natural card-sense."
The pair championship were decided over 102 rounds.
In a montage of bidding and declaring, Cornell and Bach made it into the semi-finals, and then the two-day final.
The pair, who have 11 years as a partnership under their belts, played two boards against every team.
After finishing their boards, Cornell and Bach were ahead of a German pair.
"When we came out, we could see on the scoreboard, they had to get 87 match points out of 100.
"We knew they were close," Cornell said.
"And in fact, they got 90."
The German pair were declared the winners, but behind the scenes, a scoring glitch lay undiscovered until the next day.
The glitch made a 30 match point difference, and if the scoring had been correct, the New Zealand pair would have won by around 25 points.
"When we walked out, we had a very big finish. Ash whispered to me "have we done enough?" And initially we thought we had."
On Saturday, Cornell and Bach were also part of the team that won the National Bridge Congress team event this week in Hamilton.
- Sunday Star Times