In 3rd grade, I was bad at baseball for many reasons. I was little; I wasn't very coordinated; and, worst of all, I was afraid of the ball. At one point, I was ready to quit in the middle of a game. I hadn't had a hit all season and I was due up to bat against a pitcher who must have been 25 years old. He was throwing so fast I couldn't even see it. The pitcher and I had one thing in common--when the ball left his hand, neither of us had any idea where it would wind up.
I told my father I wouldn't bat against him. He said to be brave. I refused. He said I would be letting down my teammates. I refused. He offered me $10 and I hopped into the batters box. I have no memory of what happened next, but I still have a bruise.
Bridge, like baseball, is a difficult game to learn and even harder to master. There are no shortcuts because it can be hard to focus on our own mistakes or ways to improve. Ok, maybe there's one shortcut: play with money on the line.
If there's money on the line, you better get your head in the game or else leave with more than a bruised ego. I've heard players playing for a dollar a point (meaning a vulnerable game is worth $600). Even just a small amount of money on the table can force us to concentrate on getting better.
Try this deal out. Imagine you're playing in a high stakes game.
After your 2 opener and 2NT rebid (partner bids 2), your partner stares at you for a while. You have no agreements. Partner bids 6NT. Pressure is on.
Dummy comes down. What's your plan?
It's always a good idea to count tricks in notrump. You'll take two spade tricks, seven diamond tricks (if they don't break 3-0) and two club tricks to start with. You can take two heart tricks also by knocking out the ace. Seven diamonds, two spades, two clubs and a heart will be enough. Most players would do that calculus, win the first trick and play the A (both follow low, a relief) and K.
Try it. What happens next?
It depends on which diamonds you played from your hand.
If you carelessly played the 2, you just cost your partner about $1800 (you're going down 3). Did you bring your checkbook?
You must look for this type of blockage as declarer. Here, you should throw the J on the first round of the suit. You can still finesse if West has all 3 diamonds and, when the suit splits 2-1, you can play the K, throwing the 10 (it doesn't really matter which honor you play as long as you preserve the 2).
Making mistakes hurts always hurts, but if we feel that financial pinch, we can be pretty sure not to make the same mistake twice.
The full deal: