My year in Finland was filled with many great experiences, highlighted by some truely exciting bridge. This happened to be a great year for bridge in Europe. I was able to attend many great events. These events included the 2005 World Championships in Estoril, Portugal - where I got to experience my first Bermuda Bowl and kibitz some amazing players and matches, 2006 World Open Bridge Champships in Versona, Italy - where I got the opportunity to play against some of the best players in the world and learn that I could more than hold my own, and 2006 Procom Software SA European Bridge Championships in Warsaw, Poland - where I got to absorb the European styles of bridge and understand the contrasts and rivalries.
All of these were great bridge experiences, but my experiences of playing bridge with the Fins surpassed them all. In Finland, I was fortunate to quickly be accepted into their bridge community of top players, interesting events, and great people. One of the immediate challenges to bridge in Finland (other than being without any regular partners) was learning and adapting to the many new systems I encountered. As a player, I had studyed several systems, but I had never been immersed in the pleathera of varied systems I would begin to see regularly (4-card Majors both Finnish and Swedish style, many flavors of strong club systems, Magic Diamond, light initial action systems, forcing pass, and more...) My proclivity for asking lots of system questions and seeing what might be problem auctions paid off greatly (though I do think some of the Fins got a little tired of me giving them bidding sequences to see what they would mean in the many different systems.) In the end, all of this was a great stimulater of ideas and aided in the development of my personal bridge system.
One of the early highlights was playing with a talented and experienced Finnish player Petri Ukkonen. We were fortuate to have seome early success and develop the beginnings of a regular partnership. We were invited to participate in the trials for the Finnish national team and despite taking the first day to find our form - we had a successful performance of coming in second (while have a chance to win up till the end.) The other great experiences are too many to ennumerate, but playing with many excellent partners while winning the first division of the Helsinki Fall Teams League and the summer fun of the Hanko Bridge Week were some of the most noteworthy and enjoyable.
Bridge in Finlnad is of a much higher qulaity than I had expected before going there. After playing and making friends with most of the top players I have high expectations for their bridge future. For such a small country there are plenty of players with world class talent and experience. I hope and believe that the top partnerships will continue to mature and develop, thus allowing them to challenge on the worlds biggest stage.
Finally, I'd like to say thank you to all the friends I made in Finland. Your hospitality, partneship, and acceptence was greatly appreciated and won't be forgotten.