<Les Dames de Coeur> approached me to write a column about bridge for their web site. I was surprised because I believe there are surely players more competent to undertake this task, but after thinking it over, I accepted the challenge. I did this for 2 reasons: firstly, who could refuse such an offer, and secondly, I believe that my bridge will improve because of it. This is what I wish to share with you, how to improve your bridge, little by little.
Despite varying levels and goals, I have rarely met players who are indifferent to “a bon coup”. We all appreciate good bridge and this is evidenced by our reactions.
Bridge is an ocean, an abyss of difficulties which often paralyze us and causes us to under estimate our ability to improve At the table, I have noticed that comments about the game are made politely and accepted with great interest.
A famous African proverb asks the following question: How does an elephant eat? One bite at a time!!! This applies perfectly to bridge.
The idea is to find a good method for improving our bridge and this is what we will attempt to achieve throughout my columns.
The first topic we are going to explore is the importance of correctly completing the Convention Card. We will do this with the goal of improving our bridge.
The Convention Card
You have undoubtedly noticed that many ‘good’ players and teams have their convention card on the table. These are mainly the players who participate in tournaments where the convention card is required. It clarifies the bidding conventions used and eliminates a lot of confusion.
But, is this its only use? Absolutely not! The convention card is also a tool which facilitates discussion before a game when we will be playing with a new partner. But, its main use is to allow us to adjust our method of play with our regular partner/partners and to improve upon our weaknesses. It reminds us of the conventions we play which rarely occur. Very often, following a confusing sequence of bids, we hear a partner asking, “What do we play?”
Completing your convention card correctly, verifying it, and reviewing it prior to play is an extremely important means of improving your play.
An important obligation: The two partners must use the same system and conventions. This, it goes without saying, is extremely important for partners who play regularly.
This being said, we will now exam the convention card itself.
The front of the convention card:
The first line identifies the players and even here there is a correct procedure. ACBL’s website provides a complete and simplified explanation concerning the convention card. Our partner’s name is written first and our’s second. This is not simply a question of manners, but since bridge is a social game, this allows the opponents to easily identify their opponents.
Now, what is covered by the convention card? There are eighteen sections covering bidding, card play and specific information necessary to the opponents. Bids highlighted in red must be alerted. We must say “Alert” when our partner places one of these bids before him. The opponents have the right to know the reason for the alert when it is their turn to bid. It is the player who alerted who provides the requested explication. Bids highlighted in blue are declarations. For example, if our partner makes a Jacoby Transfer, when he bids 2diamonds, we must say “Transfer” or “Transfer to hearts”. Everything in black is, as stated in bridge jargon, “standard” and no explication is required unless the opponents ask questions.
And, what about these explications. It is important to know that simply naming the convention being played, for example, “We play Smolen”, is not sufficient. It is important to clearly explain the meaning of the bid. Continuing with the Smolen example, we would say “He has 4 hearts and 5 spades and points for game”. I often notice that less experienced players don’t ask for clarification. I believe there are several reasons for this, but shyness is an important one. And this is a barrier which must be overcome. It is necessary to ask the opponents questions. They have the obligation to answer politely and completely.
Asking questions to understand the opponents’ system of play is essential. The more we question, the more our bridge improves. Also, it is vital to the quality of our bids and leads.
Another important point: We cannot consult our convention card during the bidding and play of a hand. But when it is our turn to bid or play, we may consult our opponents’ convention card if we feel this will aid us in our decisions.
The back of the convention card:
This is where we mark our results. Bridge players know that their memory is not always reliable. The act of keeping track of our game allows us to review and discuss difficult hands with our partner. The exercise of taking notes on the back of our convention card helps greatly when we undertake a post-mortem of our game.
One final point, I strongly suggest you study the section concerning leads on the convention card. These leads suggestions, identified as “standard”, will become, once well learned, a fatal weapon against your opponents achieving their contract.
I have now concluded my first column and I promise you, it was more challenging than anticipated. If you have comments or suggestions, please forward them and I will follow up with you.