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Being A Good Partner

From my experience, here are some tips
on how to be a good partner.

General Advice

1. Always be calm at the table. Emotional steadiness is appreciated and pays big dividends.

2. Try to praise your partner a couple of times per session -- we all need these psychological ego-boosts.

3. Never criticize your partner at the table or during the breaks between rounds.

4. Remember that criticism is in the eye of the beholder. Be careful that you do not make any comments that from your point of view may be a neutral statement of fact, but might be interpreted by partner as implied criticism that he or she goofed.

5. When you are playing with someone who is far less advanced than you, it may be helpful to make a few suggestions to partner after the session is over. However, hold fast to rule #3 and never criticize your partner at the table, even if they ask for your opinion.

6. It is your responsibility to pull partner out of a slump in the middle of the session. You must say or do something to get them back to an even keel -- sympathize, rack your brain to find a reason to support their (wrong) decision, get them a bit of food. Whatever it takes, do it! And don't forget, the next hand might be a nice time to offer them a compliment for a bid or play they make, to "drown out" the previous board's disaster.

7. Your goal is to create the conditions by which your partner can play at their maximum level of ability.

Filling Out The Convention Card

8. Make your partner comfortable.

9. When you are playing with someone who is better than you, play what bidding conventions and defensive signalling they want to play. If you are sufficiently deficient in knowledge of a particular convention and you don't want to try it, just say, "I've never played that before." Upon hearing that line, the better player will invariably let you off the hook.

10. When you are playing with someone who is better than you, they may say that they are very flexible and are willing to play whatever you wish to play. My experience is that they are lying through their teeth, and that by the time you get about a quarter of the convention card done, this business about playing "whatever you want to play" has been long forgotten. You may as well politely insist from the beginning that you'd rather play what they want to play, to smooth out the process and create a more consistent convention card.

11. When you are playing with someone who is less advanced than you, ask them what they would like to play. However, see #12 below.

12. When you are playing with someone who is less advanced than you, and at any point in filling out the convention card you sense that they are confused as to the exact meaning of a convention (or as importantly, the reason for its use), do not agree to play it, even if you personally think it's a good convention. Your partner will probably inwardly breathe a sigh of relief when you say, "let's not play ..."

13. Poor agreements are better than no agreements. Now may not be the time to try to convince partner that their pet method stinks. Just pray that the hand where you have to "pay off" for their inferior treatment doesn't come up ... and for all you know, they may even be on to something -- think how happy pard will be if you get a top board with their convention!

14. Do not leave a point of discussion without some agreement. Again, any agreement is better than the confusion that can result when things are "left hanging." When an issue is unsettled, just say something like, "well, what should we play for tonight?" Do not plunge onward in filling out the convention card until you mutually decide upon some resolution.

15. Do not spend a lot of time discussing something that will probably not come up; it diffuses your energy.


16. Do not make an undiscussed conventional bid. It is better to pass, miss a slam, or whatever the safe bid may be than to risk a misunderstanding -- and, more importantly -- destroy the nice partnership atmosphere you've created.

17. Make the practical bid; take pressure off partner. This goes double if you are the more advanced player of the partnership. Remember you have the whole rest of the session still to go. Guard partner's stamina.

18. The more energy your partner has to spend deciphering your strange bids, the less they have for the card-play. So try not to give partner a bidding puzzle if there's a reasonable, understandable alternative, and you will find partner's card-play will be much sharper.

19. Do not make up extensions of conventions. "I thought this might be a Lebensohl situation," etc. is a dangerous way to play bridge. Much better to say that you cannot use a convention except in the specific situations you discussed when the partnership filled out the convention card; in any undiscussed situation, all bids are assumed to be natural.

20. When you have a choice of an underbid or an overbid, choose the underbid. It is easier to catch up later in the auction than to back-pedal, and it is good for partnership confidence if you always have your bid.

21. If you find yourself in a difficult bidding situation, try not to think forever, as your hesitation puts ethical constraints on partner, and you want to avoid partner having to waste energy figuring out what they are now no longer allowed to bid. Follow instead my friend Fred Donald's advice: when you find yourself taking too long to bid, realize that you really only have two choices of possible calls, PICK ONE AND DO IT. Regard it all as a learning experience, and after the hand is over, make a definite point to note for future reference if the other option would have worked better.

22. Be understanding if partner makes a bidding gamble and it fails.

23. It is very bad, as some people do, to ask to look at your partner's hand at the conclusion of the deal when the cards have been returned to the board, or to interrogate partner with "how many points did you have, anyway?" For one thing, by examining their hand you are implying they did something wrong, and secondly, you presumably just saw their 13 cards be exposed through the play of the hand, so it also implies you weren't paying much attention yourself.

24. Never lecture your partner on the latest changes in the alert procedure. This violates rule #3 (never criticize your partner at the table). It may not seem like criticism to you, but it will be taken that way by partner. Naturally, you do however have an obligation to inform opponents if partner misalerted or failed to alert a bid.

When You Are Dummy

25. Lay down your cards neatly. Why give your partner eyestrain, or have them miscount whether you had six or seven diamonds on the side.

26. Always put trump down on their left, and if playing with a less advanced partner who is declaring in no-trump, you may wish to avoid putting down on the left your long suit or any suit that they might mistakenly think is trump (perhaps a suit they bid strongly in the auction).

27. Many dummies start to talk about the bidding (or whatever) after they put down their hand. If you notice that partner is trying to think intently about how to declare the hand, it is important for you to be a good partner and shut up.

28. Don't constantly say "on the table, partner," "in your hand," "no hearts, partner," when obviously nothing is amiss. You are disrupting your partner's concentration every time you do this. It is really better only to butt in if you suspect something is wrong.

29. Just a reminder that dummy is not allowed to point out a revoke until the end of the hand. You will not get the revoke penalty if as dummy you speak up in the middle of the hand to point out a revoke. (You are allowed to try to prevent an irregularity from happening, but you can't say, "hey, three tricks ago you showed out of trump and now you just played a trump," etc.)


30. Signal as strongly as you can afford, and then some (if you're not sure, take the chance and get the big spot on the table). Every now and then you may make a technical error this way, but it is compensated by allowing partner to understand your signal more quickly with less effort. In the great majority of cases you can most certainly afford a very high spot-card; by signalling clearly you have saved partner time and emotional energy which they can then devote to avoiding other errors, or planning the future of the defense.

31. When you are playing with a more experienced partner and the hand is "obscure," that is, you're not sure what to do in the middle of the hand, my advice would be to continue whichever plan your more expert partner started earlier in the defense (e.g., leading trump, passive defense, etc.) That's part of what "experience" is all about -- developing an intuition for tricky situations. Continue your partner's line of defense when in doubt yourself.

32. Try to make your first discard clear and informative. Don't dilly-dally; prioritize the information you want to give partner and give the most important piece of information first.

33. If you are playing with a partner who watches the spots very carefully and has a preference for a particular type of defensive signalling, do not get lazy and forget to signal. The point here is that it is important to build up partnership trust, that he or she knows they can depend on your signals. Sure, in many cases they will get it right anyway, but why put this extra burden on partner? Their mind is used to working in a particular way, so help them to play their best. And the trust will be important for those hands where your signal is important and you remember to do it. You don't want partner to have any doubt in their mind as to your reliability.

34. A follow-up to #33 -- along the same lines, do not falsecard with this sort of partner, as they may well draw a string of incorrect inferences from a gratuitous falsecard that really had nothing to gain. Especially with a good partner, you must be careful not to falsecard without a reason.

35. The advice of #19 not to make up extensions of conventions on the spot applies to defense as well. If you agreed to play mostly attitude signals to partner's lead, you can't say, "well, I intended my 6 to be suit-preference." Remember, as partner cannot see all your cards, what is obvious to you may not be so to them. So again, it is better to restrict unusual signals only to situations previously discussed.

After A Disaster

36. Do not light into partner; it is critical that you maintain discipline here and stay calm, even understanding. You must support partner with a "I would have done the same thing" if their line of play was plausible -- you might even come up with a reason to justify partner's action.

37. If partner just made a silly mistake, silence is usually the best policy. Partner knows they made a mistake, it's insulting to point it out to them (e.g., "I was void in diamonds, you could have given me a ruff and we would have set them!" is a counterproductive comment -- partner saw you show out in the suit later in the hand, no?)

38. To repeat -- in general, my advice is just to say nothing after a disaster; on the next hand, make sure partner is moving back to a good frame of mind. This next hand might be a good time to offer a compliment ("well played, Joe") even if it wasn't the most brilliant play of the century.


The most important points to distill from the above:

Always be calm at the table.
Never criticize partner at the table.
Every word you say helps create the partnership atmosphere. So don't pollute.
Don't ever say anything that might disturb partner's concentration.
Be practical -- don't go for the perfect result on every board, it's too stressful on partner.
Simplify your bidding and defense. Choose the bid or signal that is clearest.
Your goal is to create the conditions by which your partner will do their best.

If you can develop the discipline to not criticize partner, you should regard it as an accomplishment on a par with improving your bidding judgment or card-play. It's that important and that difficult.

There is also a selfish reason you should not criticize partner: if you pollute the atmosphere of your table, it will rebound on you. Partner may even start replying in kind, and your ego will be knocked down a bit. Then try playing a 23-point 4 Spades on a 4-4 fit later in the session. Will you be playing at your best then? On the other hand, if you create a pleasant, clear-thinking space to play bridge, your partner will play much better, and quite possibly you may even, basking in partner's new light, play better yourself.

Good luck!

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