To get good results at bridge, it’s not enough to play well — your opponents need to play badly; and if they won’t oblige, you’ll need to help them along. Some players do this the unethical way: they try to intimidate their opponents with officious behaviour, or else create a whirlwind of jollity designed to shatter their concentration. One player I know — I’m tempted to name him but I won’t — always manages to make the sort of cutting remark that leaves his victim unable to dwell on anything for the next hour. He once walked behind me before a match was about to start and paused to say, ‘Ooh, you’ve got a small bald patch.’
But none of this shoddy behaviour is necessary: there are legitimate ways of prompting opponents to make mistakes through the art of deception, and how much more satisfying they are. Getting them to cover an honour when they shouldn’t, for instance, or duck the setting trick, or lead the wrong suit… And here’s a wonderful new trick I learned the other day from the great Martin Hoffman:
West led the ace and king of spades and switched to a trump. If you guess which way to finesse diamonds you have ten tricks. But there are other chances: play low towards the ♣Q: if East holds the ♣A and hops up with it, you will score two clubs (and can pitch a diamond from hand). But East played low and the ♣Q won the trick. There are other legitimate chances: you can hope East started with ♣Ax (highly unlikely), or ♣Axx, in which case you can duck a club and then ruff one, bringing down the ♣A. None of it works. But Hoffman did something I would never have thought of: after winning the ♣Q he crossed back to dummy with a trump and led a club towards the ♣2! This time East did hop up with the ♣A, fearing Hoffman had the ♣J. A perfect con — and done in the nicest possible way.