Bridge is a game you can never fully master, which is why it’s so endlessly stimulating. No sooner have you puffed your way up one learning curve than another beckons, harder than the last. Over the past two decades (and more), I’ve read countless bridge books and strived to sharpen my game by every means possible. Like most of us, I’m still far short of where I want to be.
Yet it’s only in the past few years that I’ve realised that what matters most — at an advanced level — is not cardplay or defence. No, watch the stars and you’ll soon see: championships are won or lost in the bidding. I’d even say it might be the hardest part of the game — a constant test of your judgment. No amount of practice can prepare you for every type of hand or ensure that you and your partner are always on the same wavelength. Even the world’s top pairs have regular mishaps. I was recently kibitzing one of the top pairs of all, Geir Helgemo and Tor Helness — who must have played more than a million hands together — when this hand cropped up:
Helgemo was East. His double promised 4 or more hearts. Helness’s 4♣ was a cue for hearts. Helgemo signed off in 4♥. Helness made another attempt at slam: keycard was no use, as his partner might hold two small spades, so he cue-bid 5◆. But Helgemo obviously took this as natural: he must have thought Helness was too strong to bid diamonds directly over South’s 3♣ (3◆ would be non-forcing). I have no idea what their agreements are: what would 4◆ have meant over 3♣? And I wouldn’t dare assign blame. All I know is that a heart slam was making, 5◆ was four down — and it makes me feel a lot better about my own bidding disasters.