I think being a good bridge player means having played enough that you are familiar with all sorts of things that might happen at the table, so you can deal with them automatically and don't have to think too much.
Last night I played at the St Andrew Bridge Club with John Faben. Twice I was declarer in a routine contract that was suddenly in jeopardy when trumps didn't split nicely. I didn't cope well. Here's the first:
I upgraded the 19-point East hand to open 2NT. We don't play together often and our system is based entirely around bidding Puppet Stayman whenever possible, so John duly bid 3♣ which asksfor a five card major. I didn't have one, so he then bid the major he didn't have and I bid game.
I got a friendly lead of ♦A and another Diamond. Looking at dummy I thought I would now make 11 or 12 tricks depending on the Club guess. I started drawing trumps. On the second round South showed out, so I now know that North has a trump trick. I played one more round of trumps, leaving North with just the winning ♥J. I then set about Clubs, cashing the ♣A then leading the ♣J to finesse South.
Then, and only then, did I stop to think. If this Club finesse lost, then North could draw my remaining trumps and win all the Diamonds. Although I thought South more likely to have the ♣Q, I could have safe guarded my contract by finessing the other way, as if South won the ♣Q she couldn't draw my trumps. Even better than that, I should have started on Clubs after only two rounds of trumps. That way if the Club finesse lost no return would hurt me - and if playing Clubs early somehow lead to a Club ruff North would only be ruffing with a natural trump trick.
At the table I had to make a decision. I could put all of my eggs into one basket, carry on with the finesse of ♣Q against South and make 11 tricks if it worked, or back down and try something else. I backed down. I tried the ♣K from dummy (might drop the ♣Q), then sticking with the idea that North had the ♣Q took a Spade finesse, which if successful would also have lead me to ten tricks.
My Spade finesse failed, South cashed the ♣Q she wasn't supposed to have and with a trump trick still to lose I was down one in a 29 point game.
On the very next hand I had a chance to redeem myself, when trumps also split 4-1. Had I learned my lesson? Sadly not.
I opened the East hand 1♣ and when partner showed Spades via a double we soon got to game.
South helpfully cashed her ♥A and continued Hearts. It looks like my only other loser is the ♠A, so as before I set about drawing trumps. North ducked the first two rounds. At this point I should simply play a third round of trumps. If North takes the Ace now I can win any return, draw trumps and I'm home. If he ducks again, leaving himself the bare ♠A, I also just start taking my winners and let him get his one trick at any point.
But I had another plan - a foolish one. I ruffed a Heart in dummy, then played a round of Spades. North won his Ace and suddenly it dawned on me. If he makes me ruff now (by playing a Heart) I'm out of trumps and he still has one left. Now there is not in fact any danger here, as we've had three rounds of Hearts already so he doesn't have any, but I still feel I messed up as I didn't see that coming.
In the event North returned his final trump and I claimed the rest for 4♠+1.
So what have I learned? I'm not sure, but next time when the trumps split 4-1 I'll play side suits early, and avoid ruffing so I can keep trump control.
The rest of the evening had some highs and lows. At one point we bid to a rather dicey 7♠ (most other tables were in 4♠) which is makeable but went one off. Perhaps John will detail his rue about that on his blog. Towards the end of the evening I got very tired, and at one point when I knew I had the setting trick against 6♣ just focused on following suit and not revoking to give the contract away.
I hope to play again soon.