Keep calm and don’t panic!

In previous articles I have written about comfort zones and maintaining a positive outlook at the table. Sometimes circumstances combine at the bridge table to create a challenging and unfamiliar environment for players which stretches our comfort zone and tests our ability to stay positive.

Recently my comfort zone was stretched when I lined up with a new partner in Adelaide’s national teams’ championship. Any new partnership is confronted with the challenge of understanding partner’s style. What will partner do in this or that circumstance? Are they optimistic or pessimistic? Do they overcall on solid hands or marginal ones? What are their pre-empts like? There is certainly an element of partnership understanding that comes into play, particularly in the marginal hands and those with competitive bidding. It is easy to say that all these aspects should be discussed before the event, however often it is only after playing with someone for a period of time that true partnership understanding can arise as we become familiar with what partner does on the marginal hands.  All of these factors combine to create an element of uncertainty and tension at the table requiring extra concentration as much thought is put into each decision and increasing player fatigue which in turn can create errors.

Inevitably situations will arise during bidding which have been undiscussed and there will be a few truly awful contracts reached along the way. I give great credit to my partner who greeted each dummy with an impassive face and gave nothing away no matter how difficult the contract.  He has certainly learnt the art of giving the opponents no inkling of the challenge he was facing as declarer.

This deal arose during the event while playing one of the top teams (hands rotated for convenience):

Dealer: East

Vulnerable: Nil





♠ 10873



♣ 1082

♠ J52



♣ Aq93





♠ K6



♣ J5





♠ AQ94



♣ K764












All Pass




Many holding the South hand might choose to overcall one no trump or double rather than bidding one diamond with their seventeen count after the one club opening which showed a minimum of three cards. Sitting north and faced with partner’s two no trump rebid a raise to three no trumps didn’t look terribly appealing with perhaps only one trick. There seemed to be a lot of points around the table! In these circumstances my motto is to trust partner has their bid and despite some doubts about whether my decision was correct, I raised partner to game. 

The play of the hand posed some challenges after the spade lead and return won by declarer’s king and partner took a long time to consider his next move. East’s opening placed him with most of the points and using West’s double showing majors to place East with a 4234 shape, declarer cashed the A and K felling East’s queen creating an entry to dummy from which he ran the 9♦. When this lost to West’s king, the defenders took their two rounds of spades and West exited with a club. Having lost four tricks, declarer rose with the ace and continued with a diamond to his jack claiming nine tricks when that held.  Note that declarer can also succeed by working on clubs at trick three.

On this occasion the decision to push on turned out well for our side, but we were not always so fortunate in the event yet no matter how poor the contract, each time partner met each challenge with equanimity.  His calm demeanor assisted on several marginal hands when the opponents were misled into the wrong lines of defence or attack and a few hands later it was my turn to show the opponents a calm & confident appearance when presented with my own challenging contract:

Dealer: West

Vulnerable: Both





♠ 10952



♣ AQJ6

♠ AQ6



♣ K83





♠ J84



♣ 752





♠ K73



♣ 1094
















All Pass

1 – 12 – 14 HCP

2 – Both majors

After initially passing opposite partner’s weak notrump opening, I elected to compete with three diamonds taking partner for more values in the minor suits after North showed majors. This decision could have proved costly since two spades can be defeated by two tricks on best defence and three diamonds doubled isn’t a walk in the park.

Placing East with all the missing diamonds I ducked West’s spade lead to East’s king who surprisingly exited with the K won by my ace. I crossed to dummy with a spade continuing with a low diamond covered by East’s eight, jack with West showing out. Crossing to dummy’s A♠, I continued Q and J ruffed by East’s nine and I discarded a club.  East played a club to partner’s ace who exited a heart ruffed by East’s ten & overruffed with the ace. I played a low club to the king, followed by a club ruffed low in hand and East could only take one more trick when my 7 forced out the king.

When faced with difficult problems such as those displayed on hands like these, the player who keeps calm, slows down and thinks clearly about the options and inferences from the bidding will maximise their chances of success. Worrying about how to make the contract rather than whether you should be in it will stand you in good stead and whatever happens – don’t panic!

© First published in Australian Bridge. June 2019.