Here are three pieces of my famous advice on how to be a good partner.
Some humourous stories are included within.

Brad's Golden Rules on Partnership Management

  1. Don't talk at the table.

    I cannot stress this enough.

    Every time I go to a bridge club, I never see a good player say anything at the table- at least never anything about bridge. Good players are not merely capable of doing post­mortems on their own, but they also see the need to avoid discussions at the table. Not only are they a waste of mental energy, but they usually cause hard feelings of two different types.

    1. They will embarrass partner.

      • I'd like to always keep partner on my side, if possible. By talking at the table, partner may feel he's facing three opponents instead of two.
      • All discussions should occur away from the table, preferably after the match is over. If you must say something, do it away from the table and never be critical or destructive. There is nothing wrong with excusing yourselves for a moment in the middle of a long match to quickly make partnership agreements.
      • When a disaster occurs, both members of a good partnership will probably already be aware of the disaster. Making comments can only aggravate the damage.
      • Saying something at the table is bad; making faces at the table is worse.
      • Good partnerships that truly respect each other at the table shouldn't even need to apologize to each other at the table.
      • 'nuff said.

    2. They will embarrass the opponents.

      I have known many opponents who have gloated over their good result- a result based on a mistake I had just made. I know equally many opponents who have sulked over their bad result and inadvertently blamed their result on something stupid I did which misled them. Both situations have made me feel horrible.

      Here is a hand which I'm sure everyone has played at least once before.

      I open the hand ONE HEART, lefty DOUBLES and partner PASSES. Righty bids ONE SPADE which is PASSED back to partner who balances with TWO HEARTS, ending the auction.

      The opening spade lead goes to righty's SA. I win the spade continuation and ruff my losing spade in dummy. Now comes the HA and another heart to lefty's HQ. She exits the CK which is allowed to hold, but I win the CQ with the CA.

      I get back to my hand with the DA, cross my fingers and lead a heart, hoping that trumps break 3-3. They don't, but righty returns a spade, ruffed by me. Now I play the DK and lead a diamond off dummy to score my trump en passant. +110 is a top because they can make 2S.

      Vul: Us
      Dlr: Me
      Contract: 2H
      N/S Score: +110
      Result: Top
      PARD (dummy)
      S J 4
      H 5 3
      D K 8 6 4 2
      C A 9 4 2
      S Q 8 5
      H Q 2
      D Q 10 5 3
      C K Q J 10
      S A 10 9 6 2
      H K J 10 4
      D J 7
      C 7 5
      S K 7 3
      H A 9 8 7 6
      D A 9
      C 8 6 3

      Now my partner, fast asleep during the dummy play, begins to enquire about the hand, and I try to be as evasive as possible.

      [Pard] Could you have made 9 tricks on the hand?
      [Me] I don't think so. I was lucky to make 8 tricks.
      [Pard] Well, if you assumed trumps 4-2, which is the normal division, then could you have tried to play for 3-3 diamonds to pitch a club?
      [Me] Diamonds were 4-2. No extra chance there. Besides I don't think I would have enough timing to score a diamond discard unless trumps were 3-3, which they weren't.
      [Pard] So +110 is par, then?
      [Me] No.
      [Pard] Well, what was par, then?
      [Me] -100.
      [Pard] -100! How?

      At this point I have been cornered into publicly confessing that righty's defence was not optimal. She didn't have to let me score 3 trump tricks. She could have cashed her remaining high trump and led a diamond (a spade exit squeezes lefty in the minors).

      Does this sort of scenario sound familiar? Discussions can start embarrassment in all camps.

      One more piece of advice: never give lessons or advice at the table, unless the advice was 100% sincerely desired. You'll often find many of your opponents are having a little post­mortem to themselves and they kind of turn to you and ask, "How should I have played that?" or "If I had bid 3NT, what would you have led?" I guarantee you that they don't really want to hear your answer, no matter how nicely you might phrase it. Don't bother wasting your mental energy on their post­mortem.

  2. Blame yourself first.

    If partner just screwed up, don't just blame him and be done with the matter. Chances are he went wrong for a reason. Ask yourself if you could have done something better to help partner work things out and take some responsibility. And even if you truly haven't erred, make sure you are couth and understanding.

    I'm sure we've all come across this hand.

    Against an agressively bid 6S contract, you open the HK which holds. You decide to go passive and shift to a diamond, but you are wrong. Declarer claims 12 tricks. Pard held:
    S 10 9 6 3  H A 9 7 6  D J 9  C J 6 3

    Partner displays his hand on the table and says, "Why didn't you continue hearts? A heart continuation is clearly the only continuation to beat the contract." Sure.. clear. Maybe only from his side of the table.

    If it was so clear to him, then why didn't he take the HA at trick one and return a heart to defeat the contract? Because he didn't do this, you could only assume that he did not want a heart continuation, but that he was unsure about which suit to switch to. Unfortunately, so were you.

    Vul: Both
    Dlr: You
    Contract: 6H
    LEFTY (dummy)
    S A Q J
    H 5
    D 7 6 4 2
    C A K 5 4 2
    S 2
    H K Q J 10 2
    D 8 5 3
    C 10 9 8 7

  3. Always trust partner.

    Our partnership has agreements that we stick to, regardless of whether one of us fouls up. If someone in the partnership broached our agreements, and it is clear to both partners what went wrong, there is no need to discuss anything or adjust for the reason that "partner might hang me again." When a disaster occurs on an undiscussed auction, it is vital that you make an agreement to be prepared for the next time.

    I remember playing bridge against two little old ladies (LOLs) at a duplicate bridge club in Hamilton. They had difficulty deciding whether or not to bid game. This story describes four hands played by this pair from the perspective of one LOL- the heroine of the story.

    1. S K Q 9 6 5  H A Q 6 4  D K Q 7  C 6

      On the first hand, our heroine opened ONE SPADE and her partner meekly raised to TWO SPADES. She bid THREE HEARTS to invite game and partner declined by bidding THREE SPADES. All PASSED and dummy hit with:

      S J 10 2  H 10 3 2  D A 5  C Q J 8 3 2

      Her partner should really have bid game with this average 9 count. This is just a typical hand where game has a lot of play, but wasn't bid.

      Declarer wrapped up 11 tricks when the defence cashed clubs too fast and the HK was onside. An unlucky +200 was written on the score sheet and no words were spoken at the table by either LOL.

      On to the next hand they went.

    2. S 5  H K J 7 6  D K 10 8  C A Q 5 4 2

      Our heroine opened ONE CLUB and partner responded ONE HEART. The normal rebid is THREE HEARTS, inviting game opposite a hand with 8 or more points. However, she was still stinging from the last hand and she decided to compensate for her partner's conservatism. She called FOUR HEARTS. A diamond was led and she put down the dummy.

      Declarer's hand was:

      S Q 8 6 3  H A 9 8 2  D 6 3  C 9 6 3

      The diamond lead and spade switch finished declarer in a hurry.

      Surprisingly, our heroine was still mad at her partner.

      "How could you respond on such junk?"

      was her quickly offered comment. After a pause for thought, she realized she had grossly overbid the hand and she quietly resolved to let partner take part in future decisions.

      On the next hand, she picked up:

    3. S A K 4 2  H K Q J 6  D 8  C A 8 7 5

      "Wow, what a hand!" she thought. After she opened ONE CLUB, everyone PASSED and her partner produced a strangely familiar

      S Q 8 6 3  H A 9 8 2  D 6 3  C 9 6 3.

      On a 3-2 spade division, 4H is cold. Unlucky.

      Not much was said, either.

      With more face, she picked up her next hand which held:

    4. S K Q J 9 2  H 8 5 3 2  D A Q 6  C Q

      She opened ONE SPADE and partner bid TWO SPADES. Even she knew to PASS this collection, but then dummy hit:

      S 10 6 5 4  H A K J 7  D K 7  C 10 8 4

      What do you think happened this time? This time partner was compensating and said,

      "You sure are bidding a lot over there..."

    You can probably imagine how our heroine compensated on the next board.

    These two LOLs still play together today, and they still compensate for each other's aggressiveness or conservatism. Our heroine was aggressive and her partner was conservative. By compensating for each other's personality, things got worse. The situation has got to the point that whenever the conservative partner shows a fit, then the aggressive one ends up bidding game no matter what.

    If they had been able to communicate with each other then they would have probably come to some agreement about who was at fault on board 1. This discussion would have avoided the countless disasters which followed.

    The question of who should be aggressive in the auction and who should be conservative should not be based on personality. Generally, it is the inviter or the accepter who is aggressive. The other member of the partnership is sound.

    At IMPs, it often pays to bid close games, especially when vulnerable. In this case, the inviter should be aggressive and the accepter should be sound. At matchpoints, there is no hurry to bid close games, so the inviter should be sound and the accepter should be aggressive.

Being a good bridge player doesn't just require good technical skills. It requires a good demeanor and good people skills to keep partner on the same page that you are. Bridge is a partnership game, and you will lose more points from having a bad partnership than any other part of your game.

Originally written by Brad Bart on August 25, 1998.