Join Bridge Winners
Away from Tannery Row
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Your partner is the local expert with whom you are playing for the first time. You have gathered that her methods, to which you have agreed, include strong no trump, 1 2+ cards, 1 usually 5+ but may be 4=4=4=1; five-card majors, keep it simple.

Your hand as dealer at an unimportant form of scoring and any vulnerability is:

432 32 AQ32 AK32

You open 1 because 1 would promise a less balanced hand than this and 1NT would promise more points. LHO overalls 1, partner doubles and RHO passes. What call do you make?

For those who have not already posted that I should have made this a bidding poll, this isn't a bidding poll. This is an article about how to help you do something Michael Rosenberg and I think you should do - not break tempo in tempo-sensitive situations.

You are painfully aware that some people play a 2 rebid by you as a reverse. You don't know whether your partner is one of them, but if she is you'd better not rebid 2. You are also aware that some people who play 2 as a reverse play that 1NT does not necessarily show a spade stop. You don't know whether partner is one of them, but if you rebid 1NT and get raised to three and lose five spade tricks an eyebrow might be raised. Maybe you should rebid 2 - after all, you have two more of those than you've so far promised, but partner may think on seeing your hand that you had at least one fewer.

You don't know what to do, so you dither before doing something And this means that whatever you do, partner will know that you don't know what to do.

You are the local expert, playing with an earnest student of the game for the first time. You have outlined your methods and he has given every sign of comprehension.

Your hand in third position at an unimportant form of scoring and any vulnerability is:

1065 AK76 K3 QJ108

Partner opens 1, RHO bids 1, you double, LHO passes, partner bids 1NT. What call do you make?

You are aware that some earnest students of the game play that because 2 is a reverse, 1NT might not show a spade stop. You bid a careful 2, over which partner bids 3. 3NT is out of the question now, but he might have two low spades so you give him 4, passed out for plus 130. Beautifully done.

Well, maybe. That 1NT wasn't, shall we say, in perfect tempo. Can you be sure in your heart of hearts that you wouldn't have raised a sans souci 1NT to three? Or are you, as Michael Rosenberg puts it, a basher who has become a flexer?

Could this whole business have been avoided? Sure it could, but the way in which it could have been avoided is not one that players at any level regularly put into practice. And yet, it is something that is advocated in just about any worthwhile beginners' textbook:

Plan your next action while deciding on your current one.

I have a reputation as a very fast player. This is entirely justified - one of my proudest achievements was when I played with one of the slowest players in England and as we rose from the table, he said "we'd better hurry - they've all started the next round" (this being a normal circumstance for him). They had in fact fifteen minutes left in the current round.

One of the reasons I play quickly is that, like Skid Simon, I have a genius for recognizing in seconds that I will not know what to do if I think for hours. Another is simply this: I have the habit of thinking after I've done something "right - what will happen if the auction goes like this? or like that? or like the other? and it comes back to me."

On the hand at the start of this article, for example, I will already have decided when I open 1 that if it goes 1M to the left, double, pass I will bid 1 if that M was hearts, 1NT if it was spades. That way, partner will be free to act as carefully or otherwise as she likes - if it turned out that we play 3NT off the spade suit she can tell me afterwards that I could have rebid 2 or 2, and I will nod sagely, and our opponents will leave the table not feeling that they have been robbed.

Only the other day Fred Gitelman was talking about someone who took a while to lead after 1NT all pass. "What did you have to think about? Did you never see this auction before? Just lead." Quite right too - and yet, bridge players don't think like this. When they lead, say, 5 after a dither partner will not be so keen to play them for K10652 as if they'd led it right away. Instead, they'll play them for 53 and having read some pernicious piece of computer-inspired literature, and make some brilliant surrounding play when they get in at trick four.

When it goes 1NT on your right and you have some nondescript collection, start thinking what you're going to lead if it gets passed out, or raised to three. Then when it does, you can save partner a lot of pressure - particularly if you're going to make a lead that you know could be tricky to read. 

What does this have to do with anything? Well, suppose you've got five diamonds to the ace and not much else. The opponents conduct an auction that goes on for ever. In the middle of it, partner doubles some control-bid in diamonds. Eventually, LHO bids 7.

Unless you're firmly in the habit of thinking every time "What will I do if...?" you might not be ready for RHO's conversion to 7NT. And yet...

I remarked a long time ago when I was commentating on real Vugraph - the BBO version was several years in the future - that bridge players never thought in parallel, only in series. In competitive auctions, someone would think and bid. Then the next guy would think and bid. And so it went on. The play was exactly the same - someone would huff and puff and pull out a card and put it back and finally play one, only to have the performance repeated by his LHO.

Bridge is a thinking game. No one attempts to deny that, least of all I or Michael Rosenberg. But there isn't a rule that says you can't think when it's not your turn to act. You can play in tempo if you try. And I'll buy you a drink when we meet in the bar while the think-in-series people still have fifteen minutes of the current round left.

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