As an international shooter, my most memorable matches were events where I performed well against opponents who were also playing at the top of their game. I know of very few athletes who are excited by beating opponents who are not playing well or who are having an off day. It is much more exciting to win when you beat someone who is playing at their best. I feel the experience is the same in bridge where playing against the better players and winning is far more satisfying than scoring large victories against lesser ranked opponents.
Nevertheless, it is the nature of bridge tournaments that we will often find ourselves matched to play against unfamiliar or lower-ranked opponents. In these circumstances, it can be easy to be lured into believing a match might be an ‘easy ride’ when in fact the opponents might prove more difficult than their ranking leads us to believe. I have often seen strong pairs or teams lose in early rounds of a tournament because they under-estimated their lower-ranked opponents, or because they allowed their over-confidence in their own ability to cause them to push for a contract they wouldn’t attempt against a more highly fancied pair.
When we play against opponents with whom we are quite familiar – we have an advantage as we usually know their systems, style of play, and often their strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, when our opponents are a pair about whom we have little knowledge, it is critical that we avoid allowing our past experiences and knowledge to influence our decisions. On this hand, our experienced opponents did just that when they assumed a bid had a particular meaning and failed to ask for any explanations during the bidding or play:
Here West assumed that South’s 5♣ bid was voidwood agreeing spades instead of natural. It’s not quite clear to me what the double was meant to accomplish. If five clubs had been voidwood, then perhaps the double asked for a lead of the suit above or below. If the bid was natural (as in this case), then doubling simply gave the me an opportunity to run to a potentially better contract.
Five diamonds should go one off on best defence. On the lead of the ♥K, East overtook and led a club to his partner’s presumed ace hoping for a ruff. Sitting South (and alerted by West’s double to the club threat) I rose with the ace and started running all but one of my trumps. West who was guarding all the suits had to find five pitches. On the fifth diamond West was down to (East’s hand is irrelevant):
Squeezed in three suits, whatever West discarded gave me the contract.
When approaching matches against unknown, unfamiliar or lesser ranked opponents, having a routine to quickly review the system card and discuss any unusual treatments or conventions with partner before playing the first board will assist in ensuring fundamental errors are avoided.
Clearly, approaching matches with both a positive mindset and a confident attitude is important. However, it is critical to success that this confidence doesn’t cause us to fail to complete such basic tasks as asking the meaning of unusual bids before taking an action during the bidding or play.
© First published Australian Bridge: February 2020