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Expert Errors
By: Fred Gitelman

Originally Published in Canadian Master Point, January, 1993

Most bridge articles are about brilliant bids or plays by brilliant players. Believe it or not, these brilliant players also make their fair share of terrible bids and plays. This article presents three bridge problems, one each concerning bidding, play, and defense. These problems all come from the 1992 Fall Nationals in Orlando. In each case a famous player made a horrible error. I will try to analyze how such good players can play so badly.


You hold:


You are one of Canada's top players. You are playing in the finals of the Life Master's Pairs. You open 1NT (11-14) in first seat at favourable vulnerability. I happen to think that this is a terrible bid, but suppose that is what you decide to do. LHO doubles (penalty) and partner bids 2 showing clubs and hearts. RHO skips the bidding all the way to 6. Your 10 seconds are up... What is your bid?

This is not a problem. Do not even think about bidding 7. The famous player holding this hand did so. Partner had nothing and the result was -1700. 6 was cold, but so was 6. Defending 6 would be slightly below average. Bidding 7 was good for a complete zero. Although this result should not be too surprising, it has little to do with why you should pass. This is an example of one of the main sources of expert error: The breaking of partnership discipline.

Your 1NT opening was a deliberate distortion of your hand. This sort of tactical action is acceptable at pairs as you only have your partner to answer to. Once you open 1NT, however, you must stick with it. Your partner has told you he does not want to play in 1NT doubled and that he has some clubs and hearts. He has not invited you to sacrifice at the 7-level. After you take a shot and open 1NT, you must remain consistent and continue to treat the hand like a no trump opening. This means that you have limited your hand and transferred the captaincy to your partner. You must stick by that decision.

It does not matter whether 7 goes for 1700 or 1100. If you make bids because "it could be right" or because "you felt like it" and break discipline in the process, your partnership is doomed. Your partner will not trust you. He will not enjoy playing with you. Unless your table presence is as good as Zia's (he also has his share of silly results), your results will be terrible.



It's the LM Pairs again. You and your partner are one of the top pairs in the history of bridge. Nobody is vulnerable and you are East. Your RHO opens an 11-14 no trump (these weak no trumps sure come up a lot!). You double for penalties. LHO passes. RHO alerts this pass and explains it as forcing a redouble; either for penalties or to show a one-suited hand. Partner passes, and RHO redoubles. You and LHO pass, and partner runs to 2. This is doubled by RHO and you run to 2. LHO bids 2, ending the auction.

Partner leads the 3 and your 9 forces the A. Declarer cashes the top diamonds, discarding a heart. Dummy's third diamond is ruffed by declarer and the J is passed to your Q. You cash a top heart on which partner discards. How do you continue?

The great player holding this hand made another common expert error: Trying to get in the Daily Bulletin instead of counting to 13. He cashed the A and played a low heart for partner to ruff. Partner will know to give you a club ruff, and the A will provide the setting trick. Brilliant defense.

Here is the complete deal:

Partner did not have a trump left and your brilliant play resulted in declarer making an overtrick. -110 would have been below average. -140 was a zero. Yes, partner and LHO bid their hands poorly and declarer probably misplayed the hand, but the "brilliant" defense was truly horrible.

At the time of the problem, you know that partner is either 1156 or 2155. If partner has 1156 (more likely as partner ran to 2, not 2), the underlead in hearts is disastrous. If partner has 2155, the underlead is not necessary. Your partner is a very good player. He is supposed to be able to count the hand too. After cashing the A, lead a top heart. If partner has a trump left, he will have no trouble ruffing your trick and giving you a club ruff. Let your partner get in the Daily Bulletin.


You are in 4. A spade is led.

This is a hand from Bridge Master. Bridge Master is a computer program that Sheri Winestock and I sell. Bridge Master presents you with declarer play problems at whatever level of difficulty you wish. This hand is not very difficult; it is intended for intermediate players. Many of the experts who saw this problem in Orlando went down. The reason was the most common source of expert error: Playing too quickly.

A novice might make the mistake of using the A to take the diamond finesse. They would make the contract whenever RHO held the K. An easy improvement is to draw two rounds of trump and play the A and Q. The J will provide trick number 10. This looks so obvious that many experts stopped thinking at this point. A good habit to get into, before embarking on any line of play, is to ask yourself: What could go wrong?

The answer is not too difficult. On the above layout, LHO will win the K and play another diamond. RHO will ruff out the J leaving the contract with no hope. The solution is also not difficult. After drawing only one round of trump, lead the Q without cashing the A. The defense will win and cash two spade tricks, but declarer is in control. Declarer will be able to unblock the A and draw trump, ending in the dummy. The J can then be used to discard declarer's club loser.

Even the best players in the world occasionally make careless errors. If you are aspiring to expert status, beware the pitfalls I have described. You will always make mistakes, but if you can remember to:

  1. Always maintain partnership discipline
  2. Try to be sensible, not brilliant
  3. Take your time, ask yourself: What could go wrong?

you will find your mistakes fewer and further between.

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