Even subtle misunderstandings could lead to a loss
Bridge is a tough, tough game and that is probably one of the main reasons it is so addictive; there is always something to learn and that applies to even the players at the very top of the game.
The toughest thing about the game, I think, is not the actual process of improvement but is in trying to pinpoint just where one has to improve.
It's easier in tennis or golf: If you are hitting the ball far at golf, or slicing it off the tee, or if all your forehands at tennis are floating long, you can immediately see the problem and then find out how to fix it.
At bridge, however, you may lose points on a hand and don't really know why until you go back and look at the hand again — in other words, a post-mortem.
The post-mortem at bridge is hugely important.
Going over the bad results after a session in a non-judgemental, constructive manner with partners and team-mates allows you to establish just what you need to do to avoid repeating the same mistakes time and time again, and that is the key to getting better.
All of the above is leading somewhere, and the somewhere is to take a look at the performance of the Bermuda team in the recent Caribbean and Central American Bridge Federation's Championships where they finished fourth in the six team field, behind Barbados, Guadeloupe and Costa Rica and ahead of Jamaica and Panama.
In last week's column, I expressed some surprise that they hadn't finished higher, as the team comprised four experienced and talented players.
In hindsight, perhaps my expectations were unrealistic given that David Sykes/Fabian Hupe were an almost brand-new partnership, and while Alan Douglas/Ed Betteto have played together a bit over the last year all of that pales in comparison to the top pairs in the game who quite often have played together for multiple years, even for decades.
In my column of two weeks ago on how to play bridge, I wrote that the biggest contributor to success at bridge was the bidding.
At the top level, everyone plays the hands and defends pretty well, but it is the bidding that causes the separation between those that win and those that don't.
And where the difference shows is not in the straightforward, uninterrupted bidding sequences.
It shows in the competitive auctions where the opponents are trying to push you around and in the small nuances of a bidding sequence that steer a pair towards the right contract.
And that comes from practice, practice, practice and play, play, play — and then post-mortems over hundreds of hands and many years.
When I asked the team for their observations on their performance, both Ed, who I believe was playing captain of the team, and Jack Rhind, our resident ACBL director who took over as chief tournament director of the CACBF, pointed straight towards the bidding and the vast experience of the top Bajan and Guadeloupe pairs.
“My expectation prior to leaving for Costa Rica is that Bermuda would finish fourth,” Jack said. “Why? The top three teams have been well established for quite a long time, especially Barbados and Guadeloupe.
“For example, Dominique Gerin, Jean-Claude Pelltier and Phillip Matheau all played on the Guadeloupe Bermuda Bowl team here in 2000!
“They have four pairs who play solidly together all the time. They won the last CAC Championship with the other pair that did not compete in Costa Rica this time. Barbados have two solid pairs in Dave Blackman/Tony Watkins and Kip Roptchell/Patricia Cummings. They also play all the time and consistently do well.”
Costa Rica have several players who switch up partnerships as they did in the Open Teams.
They also are very consistent and tend to be in the picture in every event they play.
Isabella Chaplet and John MacGregor won the Pairs Championship last time.
And a similar perspective from Ed Betteto: “The better teams have pairs that have played together for ten years or more!”
The team from Guadeloupe have a core of eight people from which they can draw for a particular event, all of whom have many years playing together. This is going to sound rhetorical, but bears saying — this is simply little or no room for bidding misunderstandings.
“Judgment is judgment for everyone, but misunderstandings, even subtle ones, usually means a loss against a solid team.
“We chatted with three members of the Guadeloupe team at a reception (they all live in France if I recall), the least experienced of whom played in three Bermuda Bowls, one having played in eight.
“Having said all this, in no way did we ever feel overmatched, but we could not eradicate our bidding glitches, and that is what we have to work on.”
So there you have it, a real post-mortem which pretty much pinpoints what has to be done — more opportunities to practice and play against pairs who know just what they are doing on pretty much every hand.
My opinion of the potential of this team has not changed, and if they stay together and put in the time they will undoubtedly be challenging for honours at the CACBF level in the future.
If they stay as a unit they are likely to dominate at the local level, and will almost certainly be favourites to qualify for the next national competition, and I for one will be watching their progress with interest.
It is now up to the other local players to up their game and make sure that this team is pushed to the limit in order to win anything, and there are a few pairs that can do this, if they are prepared to put in the work.
There was an interesting hand from the CACBF, which we feature this week.
South has a difficult bid after partner's double; just a bit too strong for one Spade and a little weak for a jump to two Spades — once he decided on the latter, North had an easy raise to game. West had a routine opening lead of the King of Hearts.
Declarer took this with the Ace, ran the 9 of trumps, and was both surprised and disappointed when it lost to East's King. East exited with the 9 of Diamonds.
After some thought, declarer decided that East was very unlikely to hold any of the unseen high cards, so he rose with the King of Diamonds and led a Club to the Jack and Queen.
After cashing the Ace of Clubs, declarer ruffed the 8 of Clubs with his Jack of trumps, while West discarded a Heart. Declarer led a trump to dummy's ten, then cashed the Queen of trumps.
Declarer paused to consider the situation. West had started with three trumps, five Hearts and two Clubs, so he had an original 3=5=3=2 shape.
As West had discarded a Heart on the third round of Clubs, he must have three Hearts and two Diamonds remaining.
So, declarer advanced the Ace of Spades and threw a Heart from his hand.
West threw a Heart, a Diamond seemed pointless, and was then put on play when declarer exited with a Heart.
After cashing his remaining winner in Hearts, West was forced to exit with the 10 of Diamonds.
This was run to declarer's Jack for the game-going trick.
Notice that, if declarer had won the Diamond shift on the table, he would no longer have been able to make his contract.
Simply put, there would not have been enough entries to draw trumps, ruff a Club and cash the Ace of trumps.
A really well-played hand that avoided a bad score after the aggressive bidding.