The shower lied to me. For the first I-won't-say-how-many years of my life, I thought I had a good singing voice. I only ever sang in the shower, so I was my only audience. It wasn't until I demonstrated my singing in front of my parents, and they weren't even able to fake enthusiasm, that I realized how bad I was.
There are two phases in your bridge playing career. In the first phase, you’ll finish playing a hand and have no memory of the cards that were played. You're just enjoying yourself and don't know whether the play was good or bad. That’s normal. You don’t remember the opening lead or partner’s first discard, because you were too busy making sure that you had a plan or trying to figure out what to do when you won an ace or even just worried because you had five suits in your hand instead of four.
Some players never move past this stage, content to live in the moment. That’s fine, but bridge moves from being a game to being a passion the first time you recognize your own mistake. “Oh! I didn’t see my partner’s two or I would have known to play diamonds.” Or, “That was silly, I didn’t keep my entry to dummy’s clubs.”
It’s not a change that feels good. You’re going to feel like you are worse now because you realize how bad you are. I have unfortunate news: that feeling will never go away. Once you’ve gotten to the point where you can see your own mistakes, you can’t unsee them. You just see different mistakes from that point to eternity. That’s why you have to look at this as both a curse and a blessing. Like finding out my singing was bad in front of my sympathetic parents instead of in front of my unsympathetic friends.
The first step to improving your game is to recognize what you are doing wrong. The next step is to stop doing that particular thing wrong so you can spot the next thing that you did wrong. How can we do this?
From the very beginning of your bridge-playing days, you’ve heard teachers say, “Make a plan.” That’s excellent advice, not least because no teacher says, “Make a good plan”. Beginners can’t make a good plan. They don’t know what works and what doesn’t. You need to model for them the process of knocking out an honor or ruffing in the short hand. As you gain experience, the goal is to turn “a plan” into “a good plan”. You need to have experienced the pain of ending up in the wrong hand or of drawing too many rounds of trump or not noticing that a card is good in order to make a good plan. Your experience in noticing your mistakes should translate into improved plans.
See where you are in your planning on this complicated deal:
The contract is 3NT
Our plan for notrump starts with winners. We have three spade winners, two heart winners, one diamond winner, and one club winner for seven total winners to start. We have options to get extra tricks in hearts, diamonds or clubs. Which should we choose? Diamonds is the best bet. For us to get two extra tricks in diamonds, the only thing we need is for the suit to split 3-2. If that happens, we’ll take three extra tricks to make our contract safely. If diamonds don’t split, we can fall back on other options.
Coming up with this plan is a good base. Next, you need to see the pitfalls from experience.
With diamonds the goal, how do we approach the suit? We’re going to play the ace of diamonds and another diamond, then a third round will set up the suit. That means that you need to play three rounds of diamonds to set up the suit and then you still need to get to dummy to play the rest of the suit.
If you win the first trick in dummy with the J, you can't get back enough times to play diamonds (you can try it with a deck of cards if you don't believe me). Overtake the J with the A (to save that 2 to play to dummy later) and now play the A and another diamond. If the opponents continue spades, win in dummy and play the third round of diamonds (if they play anything else, you will likewise try to win in dummy and play another round of diamonds). Now you can get back with either spades or hearts to set up the suit and later use your remaining entry to cash your good diamonds.
The full deal: