I’ve never forgotten a conversation I had some years ago with the talented, blunt-talking Norwegian player Espen Erichsen. We were discussing the dangers of getting demoralised at the bridge table. You make a couple of idiotic mistakes, your confidence takes a knock, your judgment grows cloudy, and soon you’re playing worse than ever. We’ve all been there.
Well, not all. Espen is a top professional: he would never succumb to those sort of emotions. But he recognises them in others. And far from expressing any sympathy, he gave me a piece of advice which I must say took me aback: ‘When a man is down, you must kick him.’
I suppose that’s what you call the killer instinct, and it’s what makes champions. But Espen shows no mercy even when his opponents are waving the white flag; he just can’t help himself. I recently played in a match against him, and our team was losing heavily. By the time the last board came, we had no chance. That didn’t stop Espen taking time to inflict the maximum possible injury:
Espen’s partner led the ♥Q. I won with the ♥A and played a spade to the ace and another spade. Espen won and started thinking. Many people would lazily switch to the ♣Q — giving me time to establish the ♥9 for a diamond discard. Not Espen. He played West for the only useful card he could plausibly hold: the ♦10. At trick four, he returned a low diamond. West’s ♦10 forced dummy’s ♦Q, and when West gained the lead in hearts, a diamond return …well, all I can say is ouch!