The New Partnership


New bridge partnerships often have a ‘honeymoon’ period where the pair performs well in the early stages of their time together. The pair seem to take care to bid carefully and to think about how their bids will be interpreted to avoid misunderstandings. As one friend said, you try not to do anything crazy, or that might be open to interpretation, and you carefully follow basic rules and agreements.  This can lead to great results on the first couple of outings as both players try to keep things simple.

However, problems are sure to arise, particularly when the opportunity for discussion has been limited.  While defence tends to be more straightforward, bidding is a minefield of opportunities for stuff-ups to arise. For example:

  • Let’s say you agreed to play splinters – that’s easy. Everyone knows 1S followed by 4C is a splinter. But what is the range? What are the continuations? What is 4D now? Is it a cue showing first or second round control. Do you show a small singleton as having second round control or not?
  • How about if the bidding goes 1D 1S 2C? Is 2C forcing? If the auction had gone 1D 1S 3C, would 3C be a splinter agreeing spades or natural with a strong hand?
  • What about your pre-empts? Can a pre-emptive 2S bid have a 4-card heart suit on the side? There are so many different treatments, and players will often base their treatment on their experience which might not be the same as their partner of the day.

The problems increase for new partnership when the opponents start to ask about the meaning of the bids. Often the response made is ‘undiscussed’ or a guess at the meaning. This tends to cause a level of dissatisfaction for the opponents who might feel like they are being denied information. Recently I played with a new partner and on the first board I opened 4H.  The opponents asked about the 4H bid and my partner responded: “This is the first bid we have ever made together but I expect it to be a pre-emptive bid with less than opening points and long hearts.”

Consequently, any new partnership can be beset by difficulties as situations arise which are undiscussed. Keeping calm when dummy comes down and partner’s hand is nothing like you imagined from the bidding is a key factor in maximising your results.  After all, the opponent’s don’t know you have had a massive stuff-up, and you can’t change the dummy you are given or the contract you have reached. You can create the impression with the opponents that ‘all is well’, and often this alone will be enough to allow your contract to make as you sneak through an early trick to make 3nt or calmly drop an honour from the closed hand on the opening lead to prevent a ruff.

A recent podcast I listened to talked about conventions and what can happen if you haven’t talked about the continuations. This next board is one such example of this as my partner and I were playing our first event and we hadn’t had much discussion about continuations over the multi-2D openings we had agreed to play. When this auction arose on this next board our side did well to come out with a plus.






♠ A73



♣ AQ5

♠ Q106



♣ J983





♠ KJ5



♣ K7642





♠ 9842



♣ 10

W                  N                E                    S

2DMulti          P                2HPass/Cor        DBL

2NT20-22      P                3CPuppet        Pass

3NTNo Major  All Pass

After the double, redouble would typically show the strong balanced hand; pass would show hearts and 2S the weak two in spades, but this was undiscussed. I didn’t want to make a bid that might be misinterpreted so I opted for 2NT which is clear. Partner’s 3C was intended to be garbage stayman now but I didn’t read it like that, so I was in 3NT which made on a heart lead when the diamonds behaved well. Hilarious!

The moral here is that even misunderstandings can produce good outcomes. As my coach used to say in shooting – “even the bad shots have to go somewhere and occasionally they score 10 out of 10”. A bidding mix-up, even if you are an established partnership, doesn’t necessarily mean you will get a bad result. Accept it, concentrate and figure out how to make the best of the situation. You never know – you might end up with a great result!

© First published Australian Bridge: June 2022