One of my partners maintains an impassive expression no matter how awful the final contract. We are not all blessed with such equanimity in the face of an unexpected action by partner. Some players will often sense that their partner is unhappy with a bid which has been made or a signal which has been ignored in favour of a different defensive line. While the opponents may be ignorant that anything is amiss, in long-term partnerships where one is attuned to the normal vibe of partner, it is often easy to pick up when partner is unhappy with an action we have taken.
This next deal related to me by an expert player illustrates one such occurrence. He (South) elected to bid five spades and immediately sensed his partner’s displeasure with the action. When dummy came down it was clear to our expert that North had wanted to ‘take the money’ with a penalty double. With his focus slightly distracted by the thought “my partner isn’t happy with me”, South failed to find a winning line in this tricky contract after West’s lead of the ace of hearts.
1 – Splinter
After ruffing the opening lead in dummy there are a few lines to success, all of which involve locating the queen of spades. One line is to cash the ªA and ¨A and exit a spade to South’s king (dropping the ªQ). When South continues with the ¨9 towards dummy’s jack, it makes no difference whether West ducks or wins since all roads now lead to making the game by way of ruffing North’s diamonds good.
The game can be made if spades split 3-1 provided the queen is onside, or if spades are 2-2, so deciding which holding West held was critical to success. Declarer will have taken account of East’s splinter which implied length in the other suits and with the knowledge that West has nine cards in the red suits assumed spades were not breaking 2-2 taken the finesse. However, with his attention distracted by thoughts of partner’s displeasure with the decision to bid on, perhaps declarer did not sufficiently consider the alternative views – i.e. holding a singleton spade, would West have bid five hearts rather than passing what could be a making game? Or, would pass for this pair mean two quick losers in the suit and passing the decision to partner?
Clearly on this hand there was a difficult road to navigate for a declarer whose concentration was impacted by the distraction of thoughts about partner’s dissatisfaction with his decision.
What can a distracted player do to refocus?
In an earlier article (Managing Internal Distractions), I discussed preparing mentally how one could deal with internal distractions. In that article I posed three questions which should be answered:
What can go wrong during play?
How will I react?
What can I do to limit the potential damage?
In the case shown above, the answers to the first two questions are quite simple:
- Partner is unhappy with my decision; and
- I have lost concentration.
To address the third question is a bit harder and involves using a process to re-focus your concentration. This refocussing will enable you to eliminate the thoughts which are distracting you from the task at hand. In shooting I had a routine for every shot, and I would mentally visualise the shot process and say my cue-word before starting the shot firing process. At times however, an event would occur which interrupted that rhythm and broke my concentration. In these cases, the process I used to re-focus involved a simple relaxation technique and the use of a cue-word.
Bridge allows plenty of time for all the hands to be played, so taking a minute to clear your thoughts and refocus on the task at hand is perfectly acceptable. To use this type of methodology in bridge, when you are declarer (or even defender) and dummy has come down, a simple routine you could employ on every hand might be to:
- Consider the bidding;
- Count your losers;
- Consider the opening lead and its inferences and count the hand shapes;
- Count your winners;
- Decide on the initial line of play.
- Take two or three deep breaths and say these as a series of words e.g. Bidding; Losers; Opening; Winners; Decide. (The Chinese call this to ‘BLOW’ and they teach their young players to do this before playing on every hand. I added the fifth step since it seems that deciding on an initial line of play is part of the process being undertaken at the beginning of each hand.)
Say a cue-word like ‘focus’.
- Go through the list and consider each of these aspects in detail until you are concentrating properly again.
Utilising this type of process on every hand will help to
get your mind focussed and into the right frame of mind to play. Making use of
this to re-focus will help prevent distractions from adversely impacting your
© First published in Australian Bridge; October 2019