Before I walk across the table and discuss responding to preemptive bids, we need a little change of pace. Having been involved in various forms of competition most of my life, I became acutely aware that in athletic endeavors it is not always the most gifted athlete that steps up to the podium to take the trophy or medal. In all forms of competition and at all levels, there is an “x” factor that enables certain competitors to succeed when on paper they should be doomed to failure. They have a mindset that convinces them that losing is not an option and that, no matter what the odds or the state of adversity, victory is right around the corner if they will only bear down and tough it out. These people are what I call “Grinders”, and while they are often identifiable, no one seems to be able to explain exactly why they succeed.
I got to wondering whether this “x” factor was only present in competitions involving physical skills, or whether it can also be a factor in games such as bridge. This sent me to the Internet and a site that mentioned the “x” factor and referenced a book entitled “How the Experts Win at Bridge” by Burt Hall and Lynn Rose Hall (1996). Who? People that know me would bet that you could not find a bridge book title that I didn’t know about, but there it was. Having already used up my bridge book budget for 1997 and beyond (by February no less), I decided to ask before I ordered. I sought out the only person that I know of who has read more bridge books than I have, my bridge teacher, Pat Peterson, of Hernando, Florida. Pat’s response was a little surprising. She said “Of course I know the book, I own it and refer to it often, it is a wonderful practical resource.” I next looked at the used book sites to see if I could find it “on the cheap.” Amazing, in a world where bridge books are being discounted before they hit the shelves, this book was offered only at its original price of $16.95. That in itself was quite a recommendation, so I gave up a week of bridge games and bought it. When the favorite bridge books of the experts was published in a recent Bridge Bulletin, almost all of them listed How the Experts Win at Bridge. It turns out to be one of the most practical bridge books that I have ever read. It is not a “wishy-washy” presentation. The authors give you clear direction.
Sure enough, in a section entitled “Some Final Thoughts on How to Advance your Play,” I found a subsection on The “X” Factor. It turns out that this element was first mentioned in a Bridge Bulletin Article by Roselyn Tuekolsky in the January 1996 Bridge Bulletin. In summary, both resources concluded that there is an “x” factor in bridge that is vitally important to the success of all top level players. It is an elusive quality that transcends talent—often described as guts, competitive spirit or simply killer instinct. People with the “x” factor never give up. Even if they are hopelessly behind in a knockout match, they do not understand that; it never enters their mind that they cannot win, and as a consequence they often find that +1400 that turns the match around. They apparently do this by simply summoning their resources and going for the jugular until the bitter end. Often it is not as dramatic down 5 vulnerable doubled. The classic situation in bridge is when opponents have found a game contract that is apparently impregnable, and a defender, refusing to give up, finds a way (such as an uppercut or trump promotion) to bring the contract to its knees.
Now that we have examined the concept, I am sure you are saying, of course, I know people like that, but who wants to play with those miserable unhappy people? A grossly unfair statement. Often competitiveness is mistaken for unpleasantness simply because the player is in what I call “the zone”, and has shut out the world to completely focus on the problem at hand. If they did not have that single minded skill, they would not have the “x” factor. Simply stated, not all highly competitive bridge players are unpleasant and not all unpleasant bridge players have the “x” factor.
The expectation of duplicate bridge is that anyone paying an entry fee is entitled to do whatever it takes (within the bounds of the Laws of Bridge and ethical behavior) to succeed at the cost of the other participants. Your entry fee does not entitle you to play with smiling conversationalists: conversely it does not entitle others to treat you with rude behavior. No one, even the super talents, is excused from the application of the “zero tolerance” standard. Admire those with the “x” factor; if you want major success, find out how they summon it up. Find one for a partner if you can. If I told you who they are, you would be stealing all my partners!