By Hugh Grosvener (Reprinted from ABF Newsletter No. 189 January 2018)
From the 2012 Summer Festival of Bridge Celebrity Bridge Speaker series.
To be successful at bridge you need to establish a good partnership, and yet the care and nurturing of partners is one of the least studied subjects in the game. Encouraging and allowing your partner to play as well as they can is one of the simplest ways to improve your results. [Ed: as noted by John Newman in his article about the Spring National Open Teams]
Your partner is the only person in the room who is on your side (with the possible exception of your team-mates). It is surprising how often people seem to enlist the opponents' help in ganging up on their partner. Very few people play better when being criticised by anyone, least of all the person who is supposed to be part of their 'team'. If you want partner to play as well as they can, try being pleasant and supportive.
One of the most important tests for a partnership is how it reacts to a disaster at the table. What you need to be able to do is get over it, and move on to the next board. You cannot fix the past - concentrate on the future. There are different approaches that suit different partnerships, so you need to work out a strategy that will work for you and your partner. Some partnerships choose to say nothing, some try to use humour; personally, I like to apologise. In general, the main problem that needs to be resolved when something has gone wrong revolves around trying to apportion or assign the blame. I have found that apologising gets over this problem quickly, and tends to end the discussion. If you are prepared to say sorry, partner will have trouble arguing with you. The end of the day is the best time to work out whose fault the disaster really was. [Ed: the end of the day or never]
If some part of your system is causing problems for either you or your partner consider ditching it. The marginal benefit of playing any particular convention or gadget is fairly small. Firstly, the situation has to come up; secondly both you and your partner need to remember the convention; and finally it needs to result in a good score that you would not have got using natural bidding. If partner expresses doubt or concern about any particular agreement, it is almost always best to get rid of it.
Whatever the level of experience of your partnership, some amount of system documentation is a good idea. This does not need to be complicated or long-winded; a simple list of agreements you have made is enough. This helps resolve a lot of arguments that otherwise come up. If it is on the list, we play it if it is not, then we do not play it. If we talk about adding something to the system, then it needs to be added to the notes before it is part of the system. Both players should have identical copies of the system notes.
CHOICES IN THE BIDDING
Try to choose bids that you are confident that your partner will understand. This seems like self-evident advice, however I sometimes get the impression that people like to set tests or traps for ther partner. If you have the choice between making what you think is the technically perfect bid that your partner may not understand, and a more obvious bid that is slightly inferior:, consider carefully. The 'best' bid in any particular situation can be judged in a number of different ways - for me, the one that is practical and less likely to cause trouble is often superior to the one that demonstrates my cleverness at the risk of making partner look stupid.
BEING A GOOD DUMMY
When you are dummy, your only job is to try to help partner avoid revoking (or leading from the wrong hand). Otherwise, this is the time to relax and save your energies for things that are your business. Keeping an eagle eye on partner's declarer play is counter-productive, and will not improve their performance on this hand or subsequent ones.
There are all sorts of different carding agreements that you could agree to play. Choose ones that you are both comfortable with. Try to come up with relatively simple rules to determine what each particular card means. It is better to know what a signal means than for the meaning to be perfect in every situation. As in many areas of bridge, this is a difficult balancing act between making the agreements simple and bullet-proof, and maximising efficiency. I would suggest that you err in the direction of simplicity.
CHOICES IN SIGNALLING
Make the clearest signals that you can. Avoid trying to give two messages with one signal. If you have a choice between a simple, clear signal and a subtle one, I would suggest simplicity.
HELPING PARTNER IN DEFENCE
While defending, be on the lookout for any opportunity to help partner. If partner needs to keep a suit because you cannot hold it, try to discard it early so that they will know. If something goes wrong while defending, resist the temptation to blame partner. Consider whether you could have helped more. There is usually plenty of blame to go around.
THE COMFORT ZONE
Very few people play better while being criticised or pressured by partner. There is enough pressure inherent in the game without partner adding to it. If you can help partner to stay in their comfort zone, they will make fewer errors, and your partnership (and team) results will improve. Incidentally, you will probably have a more pleasant time too.