Hird & Houlden Out On Their Own In The Individual
20/09/21: The season's first competitive weekend action saw some of the top male and female players in the country head to Eton to take part in the revived Ranking/Individual Tournament in association with Advanta Wealth, producing an often spectacular series of matches featuring some rarely seen pairings.
Only one player remained unbeaten in each competition - Riki Houlden on the men's side, who became the first winner of this competition since Peter Cohen in 2012, and Karen Hird on the women's side, who therefore became the inaugural women's champion.
The original ranking tournament was first played in the early 2010s to publicise the then new ranking system, with the idea being to invite the top-ranked players to take part in an individual tournament. The rankings are still going strong but no longer require the publicity; the idea of an individual tournament for top players remains a good and popular one, however, and the revived 2021 edition had the added benefit of providing parallel tournaments for the men and women.
Injury and non-availability meant that not all of the game's best players were there, but extremely strong fields were assembled for both competitions, 12 for the men and 8 for the women. Both competitions followed similar formats - five rounds of one game matches, with a new partner and different opponents for each player in each round. The final results - given the inherent non level playing field in terms of finding an overall winner - were less important than the quality of the individual matches; this meant that the day struck an excellent balance between highly competitive (certain games and certain players more so than others!) and high quality but fun and pressure-free early season practice.
The men's competition was lucky enough to feature all four players from last season's Kinnaird Cup final, with Tom Dunbar, Seb Cooley, Jonny Ho and Riki Houlden all raring to go. There was experience in the form of Richard Tyler, Manuel de Souza Girao and Nick Shaw and youthful promise from Hugo Young, Tony Barker, Sahil Shaw, Ismail Salim and Alex Abrahams. Seven of the 15 games finished 12-10 or 12-11 and all were terrific to watch - when else will you get the opportunity to watch Tom & Riki take on Seb & Jonny for example? Seb got his money's worth, managing to ensure that all five of his games finished with both pairs in double figures, three players - Hugo, Tony and Ismail - ended up winning four out of five, but the only man to remain undefeated throughout the day was Riki Houlden, who came out on top in all five of his matches (including a 12-11 and two 12-10s).
The eight players in the women's tournament also featured a nice blend of youth and experience. Nine times ladies champion Karen Hird was head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the field, winning all five of her matches, but there were excellent performances from everyone else involved - Emily Scoones, Harriet Asquith, Marjolaine Briscoe, Faye Kerr, Rachel Wood and Highgate youngsters Catherine Vos and Lorenza Valensise.
Overall, the experience was a hugely positive one for all involved and will hopefully now become an annual fixture, with room to expand the field in both tournaments next year.
My thanks go to Eton for hosting the tournament, to Advanta Wealth for their sponsorship and to all those who took part.
K.Hird & L.Valensise beat E.Scoones & C.Vos 15-13
R.Wood & M.Briscoe beat H.Asquith & F.Kerr 15-3
K.Hird & F.Kerr beat M.Briscoe & C.Vos 15-13
H.Asquith & R.Wood beat E.Scoones & L.Valensise 15-11
K.Hird & M.Briscoe beat E.Scoones & H.Asquith 15-6
F.Kerr & C.Vos beat R.Wood & L.Valensise 15-5
K.Hird & R.Wood beat H.Asquith & M.Briscoe 15-9
E.Scoones & F.Kerr beat C.Vos & L.Valensise 15-5
K.Hird & L.Valensise beat E.Scoones & R.Wood 15-13
H.Asquith & C.Vos beat M.Briscoe & F.Kerr 15-9
S.Cooley & I.Salim beat J.Ho & R.Tyler 12-6
H.Young & T.Barker beat T.Dunbar & A.Abrahams 12-7
R.Houlden & N.Shaw beat M.de Souza Girao & S.Shah 12-2
R.Houlden & S.Shah beat S.Cooley & A.Abrahams 12-10
J.Ho & T.Barker beat T.Dunbar & M.de Souza Girao 12-5
H.Young & N.Shaw beat R.Tyler & I.Salim 12-3
T.Dunbar & R.Houlden beat S.Cooley & J.Ho 12-11
M.de Souza Girao & T.Barker beat R.Tyler & H.Young 12-11
N.Shaw & I.Salim beat S.Shah & A.Abrahams 12-8
H.Young & I.Salim beat S.Cooley & N.Shaw 12-11
R.Houlden & M.de Souza Girao beat T.Dunbar & S.Shah 12-10
J.Ho & A.Abrahams beat T.Barker & R.Tyler 12-10
T.Dunbar & T.Barker beat S.Cooley & S.Shah 12-10
R.Houlden & I.Salim beat J.Ho & M.de Souza Girao 12-3
H.Young & A.Abrahams beat N.Shaw & R.Tyler 12-4