Flanked by their Varsity teams (Oxford left, Cambridge right), Master of Winks for Oxford, Madeleine Moore, presents the Varsity Cup to the President of CUTwC, Sophie BrawnAndrew Garrard/English Tiddlywinks Association

The Varsity match. The pinnacle of a university club’s sporting calendar. Unfortunately, Cambridge University Tiddlywinks Club (CUTwC) have been lacking an opponent in recent years – although the tiddlywinks Varsity match dates to 1958 and was contested annually for decades (with CUTwC winning most), there has been a dry spell since 2013.

To the delight of the winking establishment, then, Oxford sought to compensate in 2020 by offering to host a match on February 29th thus ensuring only one “annual” match had been missed. Such was their enthusiasm for this resumption they even brought two more players than were strictly necessary, breaking the automated score table and making the room excessively cosy.

Fortunately, everyone had the chance to get chummy in the pub beforehand, and the games got under way once the delicate balance of beer and caffeine had been achieved.

Madeleine Moore and Will Chappell of Oxford look on anxiously as the scoreline of the game hangs in the outcome of Ethan Lees' next shotAndrew Garrard/English Tiddlywinks Association

Tiddlywinks is a complex sport, comprising delicate shot play, capturing (squopping) opponent winks, building defended piles of winks, and strategic area control. Sophie Brawn, the always-cheerful President of CUTwC, supported Molly Birch in showing none of this to Oxford. Molly exclusively employed the risky “Dave Taylor” approach of potting each wink as soon as possible rather than getting embroiled in tactics, and Oxford, lacking experience, could not counter – especially with Sophie on rescue duty.

Madeleine Moore, Master of the Winks at Oxford, had a personal stake in the match with her brother, Patrick, lining up for the CUTwC team and partnered with the highest-rated player in the tournament, Edward Brown. Their cousin, Cate Moore, also represented Oxford. A sibling grudge game narrowly went the way of CUTwC in the final round. All games engaged in by this CUTwC pairing were tactically complex, and needed to be engineered to their high scores.

The final triumphant scoresCUTwC

Zach Bond, a long-term CUTwC member in his last chance for a Varsity Quarter-Blue, partnered Marc Mills through some closer games. Oxford were sometimes untrained in basic tactics, but they had clearly practised their shots, and were able to hold this Cambridge team to narrow wins.


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Finally, Ed Green, the most experienced player on the CUTwC team and the only member already holding a Quarter-Blue, was partnered with Ethan Lees – a late substitute. The gap in experience perhaps told, and all of these games were very close. This pair gave Oxford their only game win, in the final round – but perhaps they were just being sporting.

In all, CUTwC maintained their dominance in collegiate winks with an 82½-29½ win, but a novice Oxford team acquitted themselves well. By the end of the first round they had scored as many points as one year’s team did in the entire match.

If they can be tempted to ETwA national tournaments, this bodes well for the future of the game. A good time was had by all - team photos were staged, CUTwC remembered to bring the trophy so it could be presented to them, club anthems were sung (in the traditional mix of keys), and everyone retired for beer and curry.

What more could we have asked for?

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