Stroking


o Introduction
o Don't call partner names
o Don't teach unless he wants you to
o Teach if he wants you to
o Be willing to be taught
o Try not to put him under pressure
o Always greet the dummy the same way
o Agree to play his pet conventions
o Don't let them know you have had a disaster
o But let them know opponents have had one
o Don't complain if team-mates have a disaster
o Let them think they are playing against idiots
o Dont say anything to partner
o Pay no attention to their Convention Card
o Always be charming

Thanks to Marc Lee for this article. It appeared in Bridge magazine, in early 1992 I think.


Introduction

Learned tomes by the score have dealt with every aspect of card play from Hugh Darwen’s hedgehogs to how to get the best from SAQ opposite Sxx. (No, I'm not joking: how do you play AKxxx AQ AJ10 xx facing QJxxx xx Kxx AK in six spades?) Whole shelves full of secrets have been revealed by the perpetrators of Acol, Precision and Marmic. You can even learn, in some publications, about the Pope and David Carlisle's shirt. Ever more desperate for something new, authors delve even deeper into the mysteries of Vinje and HUMs. Mysteries to me, anyway.

Did you ever feel that there is a gap in the available literature? Did you ever look up from your minutely completed convention card, which partner forgets anyway, or your eighth flat one-count of the session, and gaze fondly or in exasperation across the table? Whom did you see? Partner or your centre-hand opponent? Why is it, when you can look up to defend against Tartans or milk the most out of your three-spots, why will nobody help you with the most important part of your playing equipment.

Everyone else at the table.

Where did partner come from, anyway? How is it that, in this particular session, he comes to be in the hot seat? Well:

Whatever his origins, clearly you would like him to play well or at least as well as he can. The approach depends on several factors:

Regardless of the answers, stroking partner in the right way will make him play better. Or less badly, depending on your point of view.

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Don't call partner names

This may sound easy, but think how many times you have heard your opponents in full cry insulting each other. After the debate about parentage has subsided there is still half a session to go. As Terence Reese probably said, 'I would have made some comment, but I had to finish the rubber with the same partner.'

Some years ago I played for the first time with a fairly well known player in a minor event. On the very first board the FWKP propelled himself into a grand slam with a trump suit of AKQ109 facing xxx. In dummy at trick one, he triumphantly led a trump to the ten. RHO, alas, not only had the vital jack but also wrists equal to the occasion and the laydown slam was defeated. When I said nothing, the FWKP explained that he thought he was in six and was taking a safety play against a five-nil break. 'Ahh,' I said, or something similar. When nothing more was forthcoming, he said: 'Don't just sit there, hit me or something.'

Try this at home whilst rolling about on the floor at the same time. It can't be done. We played together after that for about four years until he got married and retired from the game. It was Gail Moss whose Bols tip was 'Never say anything at the table.' It works.

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Don't teach unless he wants you to

It should be fairly clear at the start whether you are expected to give a free lesson. If partner is a regular one, presumably you respect his ability. If therefore he makes a mistake, he will know and not need it pointing out. Should he make no comment, after the next hand say something like 'Remind me to ask you something later.' This way the opponents have no idea to what you are referring and may think you have both missed the error.

Partner, for instance, is playing in 3NT and a simple squeeze will bring home the bacon. However, in forgetting to cash a critical ace he transforms an automatic squeeze into a positional one which now fails. You will be aware of a 'tcha!', or something which is all that needs saying. Opponents, who may well not have noticed anything amiss anyway, will be happy enough to see that the rest of the field have apparently made it on a double finesse and a 3-3 break without your laying into him.

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Teach if he wants you to

Our opponents, a bright young hopeful and a lady international, had had a less than optimum result from an unusual sequence. In his penetrating, resonant voice, the BYH asked: 'Did you approve of my bidding on that hand?' Eight other tables waited breathlessly for the answer.

'No.'

To be fair, this was a succinct, honest and entirely justifiable response, but the laughter around the room must have made the BYH feel about a foot tall. BYH's are the county players and internationals of tomorrow. If they feel that they are loved and will get sensible answers to well-meant questions they will arrive that much earlier.

Your partner, who you now love and cherish, may well be looking to you for encouragement, especially if you have picked up a random beginner in earnest search of wisdom. To answer 'Could I have made that?' with the Unlucky Expert 'No, you couldn't' may well be true but hardly what your interlocutor is after. Nor, on the other hand, should you offer comments about the obvious line of unblocking the ten of clubs on the opening lead after which the clash squeeze will fall into his lap.

He may not understand.

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Be willing to be taught

Only casual partners do this.

Even though, as is likely, your ox has no idea what he is talking about just thank him politely for pointing out the obvious.

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Try not to put him under pressure

There are three ways of imposing time pressure on partner:

So when partner leads an out-of-the-blue eight against a suit contract and you have Axxx, make your mind up quickly.

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Always greet the dummy the same way

This way partner does not have to worry about what caustic comments you may have to offer after the play is complete. Even during it, knowing some players. This does not carry the same weight with regular partners who will know you too well.

Some years ago the story was reported of two Italian players who were referred to as B and G. They had the arrangement whereby if dummy was what was expected and the contract assured (if you play dummies like an Italian, that is) then they would say 'Thank you.' However if a wheel had come off the reaction was 'Grazie.' After a convoluted sequence B proudly displayed his hand, convinced that his bidding, right down to the Omega asking bids, was perfect. G, deep in thought as to how to play the hand, absent-mindedly muttered 'Grazie.' B leapt to his feet. 'Grazie! What do you mean, grazie!'

If world champions can do this, so can you. Don't put partner under pressure.

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Agree to play his pet conventions

This applies only to pick-up partners, really. If he wants to play something atrocious like Stayman or Blackwood, humour him. At least you understand it and he will feel happy.

At Brighton a couple of years ago we were one short for the pivot teams, so the desk found someone for us. After a short discussion resulting in a simple version of weak-double-ace, she asked about discards. Mostly, we said, we throw cards we no longer need. Dodds discards, she said firmly. OK, we said.

To this day I have no idea what Dodds discards are and, before anyway writes, I have no wish to know. But our friend thought we were playing them, and that made her happy.

Sometimes you will have three other people claiming to be on your side, not just one. If this is the case, you are playing the little-known version of the game know as teams. There may even be four or five others. Certain extravagant types of this variant admit to as many as eleven.

Now, in addition to having to stroke partner at the table, you face the hazard of scoring up after each session. With seven or more team-mates, this can happen twice, so you had better have your technique polished as it has to pass muster twice. It will come as no surprise to learn that the rest of the team has to be stroked as well.

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Don't let them know you have had a disaster

Partner passed you in a splinter and you went six off vulnerable, not doubled. In passing you note that they have a miracle 18-point 3NT on. The scoring goes thus:

Creep. And you got away with it. Team-mates are now thoroughly outraged and will take appropriate action in the next set.

Opponents bid a shocking minor suit slam, you misdefend in a heads-or-tails situation and 1370 goes away. 6NT is laydown.

Joey Silver of Canada has a theory that you just call out the IMPs gained or lost, not your score on the board. The trick seems to be that you get them to give their score first, but this is not always easy. Maybe he has a point; look what you can get away with.

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But let them know opponents have had one

Recently partner opened a 12-14 no-trump, RHO doubled and I held xx AJxxx AJxxx x and redoubled. Yes, there are such people. Taking every finesse in sight he made eleven tricks and +2360, although accurate defence would have held him to three. This is worth rubbing in to team-mates:

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Don't complain if team-mates have a disaster

They probably know. We all hate reporting plus 230 when scoring up, so don't make an issue of it. A couple of weeks ago we were presented with plus 260 when our opposition had bid the dreadful small slam. Duplicating bad boards is an art as yet unexplored.

There is a third party to be stroked; either your opponents or your left-hand and right-hand partners, take your pick. Only this time we have to get the worst out of them.

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Let them think they are playing against idiots

Perhaps they are. But don't miss an easy game or foul up a defence. No, make out that you were lucky to find the only defence to beat their game. Inadvertently end-play one of them. If you make a doubled partial, score it out loud. 'Let's see, three times twenty, doubled is one-twenty, oh, and plus fifty for the insult and, were we vulnerable, yes, that's, do you make it six hundred and seventy?' One of the opponents has already scrawled something on his card which might charitably be taken for -670.

When you are thoroughly disgruntled at the luck of beginners, do it again. After you have doubled a contract 'on the bidding' which turns out to be laydown, don't you just hate the post mortem which starts 'Well done partner. And you were doubled, weren't you?'

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Don't say anything to partner

The first time I ever got to the second round of the Gold Cup, we drew a team who clearly thought they had the beating of us. They were right, but that's not the point.

We had bid an iffy game at game all. My RHO unilaterally took the phantom which cost 2000 and 18 IMPs. His partner had no comment to make.

If your side has a catastrophe, say nothing. Opponents will either take this as normal, in which case losing the match will take some doing, or be suitably impressed.

We were.

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Pay no attention to their Convention Card

This doesn't mean ignore their no-trump ranges and such trivia as what system they are using. No, I am referring to the minutely written, very neat and mostly illegible cards which are intended simply to intimidate you.

But, their authors will say, we have to. The EBU requires a full and comprehensive disclosure of our understandings. If we didn't produce this we would be in breach of the rules. Not our fault if the space is inadequate.

Sure. But this is for the director's benefit in the event of a misunderstanding, not for you to hack through and waste half the time allotted.

I have a fully-completed card when I play. Sometimes I play conventions that need a specific understanding about how to defend. But nothing cheers me more than to see an opponent peering aghast at the meaning of three hearts and finding some gibberish like '7-24 HCP, at least seven diamonds headed by the AQJ and singleton jack of clubs.'

Panic. What are we going to do about this when it comes up? (Note the use of _when_.) Who cares: it won't. And whatever they agree, if the weapon does appear, at least one of them will have forgotten.

So just have a philosophy on the likes on Tartans, Rainbows and Alders. Then when partner points out that they are using a Martian two spades non-vulnerable in third, just say 'Usual rubbish, then?' They won't know whether this refers to their system or your defence and they are not about to ask.

They'll hate you for it.

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Always be charming

Stroke your opponents too. Smile a lot. It won't half put them off.

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