I enjoy the bridge catbird seat several times a week. From where I sit, I have the opportunity to observe many very effective bridge players, not only across the table, but to the right and left as well. At the risk of demystifying bridge, I am going to reveal to you five traits that they all have in common. (Are you surprised I could find five?)
If you think I am going to tell you to count down the entire hand, or flawlessly manage the dummy, well, it is much more basic than that. The good news is that developing these habits can be accomplished by ordinary bridge players like you and me. Here are five constructive things you can work on to produce immediate results:
1. As declarer, always analyze the opening lead against the convention card lead table and often you will know exactly what cards the opening leader has in the suit. It is easier to play well if you know the location of all the key cards! Even if you think you know the answer, stop a moment and ask opening leader's partner what their leads are. Many club player's are notoriously negligent in filling out the opening lead information on the convention card and by simply looking at the card you may get misinformation. Do not rely on relief from the director if the lead does not correspond to the card as marked and you lost a trick relying on it. In a club game, such relief is often not granted for a variety of reasons. Now that I have mentioned this issue, conference with your partners and make sure your convention card conforms to your partnership's lead understandings. If you do stuff like lead Ace from Ace/King, or lead top of nothing in suit contracts, you have some marking to do.
2. As declarer, when you see what appears to be a signal, ask the that opponent's partner about their primary signals. Again, do not rely on the convention card. The standard here is, of course, attitude, but some better players give count in the suit. Occasionally, both count and attitude may be played upside-down, exactly reverse of the way you and I would play it. Some players give count in no trump and attitude in suit contracts. Asking the question if more efficient and reliable than stopping play and reviewing the card, which may not be correctly marked in the first place.
3. Watch the opponent's discards, particularly the first discard. It may be attitude, but many players play the first discard as odd/even (odd I like the suit and even I don't), and a few play Lavinthal. If they simply say "Lavinthal", ask them to explain it if you are not certain. Again,don't rely on the card, ask!
4. Highly effective players when they are defending don’t sit and stare at their own cards or the dummy, they watch the cards that partner plays. Make it a habit.
5. Whether declaring or defending, remember the auction and bring the implications of the auction into your plan for the play or defense of the hand. How many players do you think can't repeat accurately the auction after 2 rounds of play? Make it a habit to not be among that number.
If as a matter of routine you do all of these things, you undoubtedly are very effective and you can leave this post. I am still wondering why it is so hard for me to routinely so five 5 simple things on every hand.
Analyzing opening leads is the toughest. Good opening lead analysis comes from lots of experience. If you play long enough, it just becomes a matter of recognition. If you don’t have years to gain that experience, then applying some process is necessary. If you want a comprehensive analysis go to Easley Blackwood’s book on Opening Leads. That is a good reference, but too much to read from cover to cover. More will be added about opening leads in a subsequent post, but if you will review the convention card "standard leads", you can from that source develop a manageable approach to “sniffing out" lead analysis.