I wanted a nice, non-competitive afternoon of golf with my wife, mother and sister. They wanted to crush me. The setup was that they would play a “scramble” meaning they could pick the best shot of their three each time, while I would just play my own ball. Three against one.
We tied the first hole. They won the second. On the third hole, though, I had a chance. I hit a great drive and then saw all of them hit poor tee shots. I was surprised, then, when they all dropped their balls next to mine.
“Oh, we can play your ball too.” It turns out, it was FOUR against one.
There’s a big danger, particularly in duplicate bridge, that we can be our own worst enemy. If you don’t have the right mindset, you will find yourself hemorrhaging tricks and also the score. The worst thought you can have when dummy comes down is “Dagnabbit! Down again!”
Instead, whenever you are declarer, go into your planning mode and let the scores fall where they may.
Take this deal for example:
You are South. You hold:
In first seat, none vulnerable, you open 1. Partner responds 1. What now? Just rebid 1NT. This is not any convention. It shows 12-14 balanced and denies four hearts. Only raise with three card support if the thought of notrump really turns your stomach. Partner raises to 3NT. Great!
The full auction has been:
The lead is the 4, and dummy comes down:
Our reaction can not be "Oy! The spades are going to kill us!". Go through your normal notrump plan. Start by counting winners: we have one spade trick, three heart tricks, no diamond tricks and one club trick. That brings us up to five tricks. Where can we get more? Hearts, diamonds and clubs all present opportunities for extra tricks. If the heart suit is 3-3, we'll get an extra trick. If the club finesse is onside, that would be one extra as well. That means that if everything works right, we can get 7 tricks before we allow the opponents to kill us with spades.
We try the J and East covers with the K. We can hold up once (or not-- it's not likely to matter), but they continue spades and we win our ace.
Should we play hearts and clubs? No. Why should we run the risk of going down extra tricks? If the finesse fails (or the hearts are 4-2), we will have set up an additional loser for our side. The defenders can always take one diamond trick and four (or five) spades. Let them have those tricks. If you try to postpone the inevitable (or get mad at partner for being in a bad contract), you'll help the opponents.
The full deal:
Sometimes, playing it this way will allow you to make if the spade suit is blocked or the opponents misplay their spades. On most days though, if you take your medicine and go down one, you'll probably get at worst an average result.
You are in a normal contract. You have 26 HCP combined and no major fit. You aren't the only one about to be down.