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Disaster Strikes
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Bridge, like many endeavors, is a game of mistakes. Even the best players make a few mistakes almost every time they sit down to play. An expert player isn’t just capable of performing spectacular coups; they have disciplined themselves to make very few errors on simple hands.

Champions further distinguish themselves through the way they react to their own mistakes and the mistakes of their teammates. Where a lesser player might fold beneath the gravity of a misplay, winners continue to battle. This is one of my favorite aspects of our game: to be a bridge player, you must be able to fight.

Here is a hand from my team’s semifinal match against Israel in the recent World Junior Championships in Philadelphia.

Fay K.
A4
A982
AKJ
KQ64
Tarnovski B.
J1075
J43
Q107532
Chiu J.
8
Q10765
64
A9873
Fisher L.
KQ9632
K
98
J1052
W
N
E
S
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
6
P
P
P
D
20
6 West
NS: 0 EW: 0
2
4
8
J
0
0
1
1

As you can see, the main obstacle of this hand is managing to lose at most one trick in the trump suit. (How to Solve Suit Combinations) 9-card suit combinations are only slightly more difficult to solve than 13-card suit combos. Conveniently, Ray Hornby details the play of an analogous problem in the first reply of the comments section.

Cashing the ace and then leading towards dummy gives the best mathematical odds, losing two tricks only 17% of the time. This is closely followed by crossing to dummy and running the 10 (19%), which is superior to running the Queen (24%) because you can still recover against KJxx in the North hand. The latter two lines also don’t consider the contextual problem of dummy entries. However, for reasons unknown to even myself, I crossed to dummy with a spade ruff to run the Queen of Hearts and breathed a sigh of relief when the King popped up. I was soon claiming when (gasp!) the defense pointed out that clubs were 4-0 and (double gasp!!) I still could have made the hand if I’d played for four clubs on my right, which is the only bad split I can counter.

Needless to say this was a huge blunder. Chess players might score the hand “6-1 ??” In international competition a result like this is almost certain to lead to a devastating score and, sure enough, we lost 17 IMPs on the hand when the Israeli declarer played this elementary suit combination correctly.

Even though this was my worst hand of the entire tournament, I still like it for several reasons.

  1. It’s interesting to note that sound technique makes this hand cold for 7 while I went down in 6 when I threw fundamentals out the window.
  2. It stresses how precautionary measures against improbable but defendable layouts pay big dividends in the long run.
  3. Getting this hand wrong seriously challenged my mental fortitude, which is an area of my game where I usually pride myself.

So what do you do when a blunder like this happens? Every player has their own preferences but I recommend taking a water break or doing whatever you have to do to step away from the table for a minute or two. Take a deep breath, and steel yourself for the fight ahead. Tell yourself you will not allow whatever happened to negatively affect you or your partner or your team for the rest of the match. Get over it. Move on. Continue fighting. One terrible result has not lost an event as often as the subsequent bad results incurred because of poor emotional fortitude.

There's a quote I often think of in these situations.

Be not ashamed of mistakes and thus make them crimes-Confucius

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