Close encounters of the bridge kind

I contested the pairs event in shooting at my first Commonwealth Games. In that event my partner was having a poor day. The format meant all competitors shot their match at the same time, with the scores for the pair added together. I was a quick shooter so finished ahead of most, and was thus able to watch my partner complete the event. Despite struggling for form, she focussed on every shot and never gave up, even though internally she must have been feeling ‘down’ knowing she was scoring below expectations. It was because of her attitude and perseverance right to the end of the match, that we ended up winning the gold medal on a countback. Our success was very much due to her determination to fight to the end, since her last series was the best of the match.

In bridge events we often face days like my shooting partner’s, where things aren’t going as well as we would like. Finding a way to remain focussed, forgetting about the last ‘bad’ board or how far behind we are is an important skill to acquire.

Recently I competed in the Gold Coast Congress, which starts with a Matchpoint Pairs event named after well-known international, the late Bobby Richman. This year there were 228 pairs playing the first day of qualifying, after which the field is stratified into groups of 28 pairs (slightly fewer in the bottom two sections). They then play a three-session final over 1.5 days, consisting of 3 board rounds against each pair. My partner and I narrowly missed qualifying for the ‘Championship’ section and consequently played in the second group – ‘The Plate’.

With the placings displayed prominently after each round, players know how they are faring. Towards the end of the first day and with two rounds to go, we held a strong lead over the field. My partner said to me: “We want to aim for flat boards to finish the day”. Our next opponents were a well-established pair who were looking for an opportunity to create a score swing.  

At favourable vulnerability in second seat, our opponents tried to do just that on the first board of the round:

Dealer: West
Vulnerable: EW





♠ J74



♣ A75

♠ –



♣ QJ1082





♠ Q109652



♣ 63





♠ AK83



♣ K94






All Pass





1 – Penalty interest
2 – Penalty

North has a decent hand for the 4NT bid, but unfortunately found his partner with a complete misfit. I led a low club which dummy won (leading the Ace is better). Declarer played a diamond to the king and crossed to dummy by ruffing a spade. He then attempted to set up diamonds by playing the ace (discarding a spade from hand) and ruffing a diamond, hoping for a 3-3 break. When this didn’t work, declarer lost control of the hand and when the dust had settled, we had chalked up +1100 for a top board. Not quite the ‘flat board’ my partner was hoping for!

It turned out our strong result on day one was vital as during the final session, our lead dwindled through some defensive mistakes and optimistic bidding, both of which are fatal errors in matchpoint events.  As we approached the last round, we found ourselves holding a one-point lead and drawn to play a strong pair. It would have been easy for me to be somewhat dispirited, having seen a commanding lead disappear and facing a pair who were unlikely to give us any free points.

At times like these, it is important to stay positive and remain focussed on each board. Using a cue word to focus and setting a goal for the round like ‘go plus on each board’ can assist with this process.  When the final board was played, it proved to be an interesting matchpoint problem:

Dealer: West
Vulnerable: None





♠ Q8764



♣ Q765

♠ 102



♣ J10982





♠ A



♣ A43





♠ KJ953



♣ K






All Pass





Deciding to bid 3♠ rather than follow the law of total tricks and bid game (which would have been automatic for me in teams) was purely a matchpoint decision. My partner went into the tank before passing, but as 3♠ promised a weak hand, he eventually passed. South has a great hand, but with three small hearts opposite a passed hand, he was clearly in a dilemma: his choices were to double for takeout, bid 4 or pass. As as my partner’s pause indicated he wanted to go on, he opted for the last choice.

While the spade game makes, with no defensive tricks in my hand it looked to me at the time as if the partscore would give us a plus – my objective for the round. We will never know what South might have done had I bid game immediately. As it turned out, many pairs found a nice save in 5 so +170 vs +100 brought us an above average score and enough points to hold on for victory in our field.

I think all of us who have played bridge for a while have experienced a similar close encounter at some time in our careers. Being able to manage one’s emotions, remain focussed until the end no matter how badly the day has been going, and make an advantageous decision when under pressure, helps build confidence for the next event. 

© First published Australian Bridge: April 2020