The world is a scary place to an undersized five-year old. Not only are there the obvious monsters under the bed and in the closet, but there are all those other dangers lurking on a day-to-day basis. You might have to eat broccoli or talk to a stranger or, worse, answer a question in front of the whole class. I was particularly afraid of this last one, because when I looked out into the faces of my kindergarten classmates, I didn’t see my friends, I saw judgmental blurs.
It turned out that I needed glasses. Those helped me overcome one of my fears, and I eventually conquered a few more: I love broccoli and I now am comfortable enough with public speaking that I go to country clubs or bridge clubs and give seminars on bridge. That said, I’d still rather not come face to face with a particularly large spider. In bridge a healthy dose of fear can be useful, but too many of us let fear prevent us from making the right choice.
Fear can creep up in many ways; “What if I bid game and it goes down?” “What if I bid slam and a side-suit breaks really badly?” “What if I give up the lead and my opponents take the rest of the tricks?” This last one, in particular, can be detrimental.
Take this hand, played by a bridge player who wishes to remain nameless and who perhaps shouldn’t have married me if she didn’t want to be named in bridge stories.
The auction went 1NT all pass.
The lead is the J. What’s your plan?
The spouse-of-mine-who-shall-remain-nameless found the correct play of ducking the first spade (LHO didn’t lead J from AKJ10x) and the spade continuation. RHO won the second with the A and returned a heart. Now what?
At the table, she was afraid of what would happen if she lost the lead. She made the common mistake of succumbing to existential dread rather than making the logical choice (I think she may have included this line in the vows). She won the heart return, but then tried a club finesse, hoping to keep the lead a little longer.
How should you approach it? If the hand with spades (LHO) has the ace of diamonds, there’s nothing you can do about it. LHO is entitled to the spade tricks (three more of them) and the diamond ace. That said, keep in mind that the contract is only 1NT. You can afford to lose six tricks. If you play diamonds, you’ll eventually take three diamond tricks, two clubs and two hearts. If the other opponent has the diamond ace, the play gets interesting as the opening leader will have to find a bunch of discards on the run of the diamonds.
The full deal:
This sort of thinking affects us not just in low-level contracts. Fear of “something bad” happening can prevent us from doing the right thing in high-level contracts as well.
Let’s bid this hand:
Partner opens 2 and it’s our turn. We picked up this hand with no great expectations, but now that partner has shown 22+ we should think about the possibility of finding a slam. That said, unless I have a lot of news for partner, I’ll generally start with 2, waiting (I dislike step responses). Partner now bids 2. That’s excellent news for our hand. This hand is now worth even more in support of hearts.
Some players would be afraid of missing a game and would jump to 4. However, jumping to 4 shows a minimum, so that’s not an option. Start with 3 which sets hearts as trump and shows some slam interest. Don't be afraid that partner doesn't know this. If that's the case, then you should teach it to her. If you're sure that partner won't know (and you're going to teach them after the hand), then you might as well guess to use Blackwood or just bid 6, as you can't scientifically ask about this hand. After your 3 bid partner now bids 3 (a control bid) with more slam interest. You could choose to be brave and use Blackwood yourself or you can bid 4 now to show your own honor. Since you lack a club control, you might not want to barge into slam or keycard. Partner uses Blackwood, and you eventually wind up in 6. Now you get to play the hand.
The lead is the J and you face this well-bid dummy. Unfortunately your spade honors are duplicated. What’s your plan?
You have one loser in diamonds and one in clubs. You should use dummy’s long diamonds to pitch your club. How? You’ll need to ruff diamonds until dummy has the only one left. You need to be very careful with your entries. You’ll need to play up to four rounds of diamonds (if they split 4-2) before the suit is good and then you’ll need to get back to dummy to take that last diamond. Let’s count our dummy entries: the K, the Q and the A. Those cards are precious. Here’s the plan: after winning the opening lead in hand, we’ll start by playing a low diamond and ducking it in dummy. This is scary! You’re in slam and you’re losing a trick! There’s that voice in the back of your head fighting you, but you have to be bold.
Before executing our plan, we must ask whether or not to draw trump. Here, you can draw one round of trump, but not two. If we draw two rounds of trump and they split 3-1, the person who wins the diamond trick might play a third trump, ridding us of an entry prematurely. It’s fine to draw one round, however. But what if opening leader ruffs a club? Then you'll go down. That's a bad split, which can happen, but you shouldn't be afraid of unlikely things at the cost of likely things (like 3-1 trump). Now boldly play a diamond and call for a low one from dummy.
Win whatever is returned (in your hand, keeping all your dummy entries) and play a diamond to the ace and another diamond. As long as everyone followed when you played the second round of diamonds, you are now cold. You’ll ruff a diamond high. Draw two rounds of trump ending in dummy (yes, one of the rounds may be unnecessary) and ruff another diamond. Now your fifth diamond is good and you can get back to it by playing a spade. This requires careful planning and play, but also a willingness to give up an early trick even though that can be a scary prospect.
The full deal