Cartoons by Bill Buttle

For Better

“I don’t give them two years! She’s 2/1, and he’s Standard American!”

Forming partnerships is a bit like dating in the good old days. (I don’t know how these things are done with social media.) You decide you would like to get together with someone, and you ask them for a game. If you are going to be on the receiving end of such requests, you need to have some stock answers ready in case you want to decline. Don’t say, “I haven’t got my calendar with
me.” That just gives the questioner some hope. Far better is the bland, “I’m pretty busy with my regular partners.” No offense has been given, nor hope, either.
I was impressed when I heard this one being used: “I wouldn’t want to spoil our friendship by actually playing together.” Try it. By the time your suitor has come to grips with the mixed messages, you are at the other end of the room. Or you can go whole hog and say, “I’d love a game. I’ll get my agent to send you my rate card, and I’ll ask her to give you a discount for the first session.” By the time they have processed all that, you will be out of the room and halfway home. (By the way, if you are ever taken up on the last one, I would like 10% commission for suggesting it to you.)
So you’ve agreed to play and you’ve set the date. The next item on the agenda is discussing and agreeing on a system. One tactic is for the more assertive half of the prospective partnership to email a convention card to his victim, saying, “This is what I play.” Slightly better is, “This is what I like to play. You can make up to two changes.” Still not really a
discussion, is it?
The problem with many conventions is that they can’t be agreed with a single word or phrase. They nearly all need further clarification:

    • “Fourth suit forcing? Great!” (But how far is it forcing?)
    • “Yes, I can do cuebids.” (But is that aces only, or first- and second-round controls?)
    • “Jacoby 2NT? My favorite!” (But is a 3♣ rebid a club suit or a singleton or a minimum?)
    • “Roman key card Blackwood? Of course.” (But does a 5♣ bid show 0/3 or 1/4?) Did you hear about the new pair who hadn’t agreed on their responses to 4NT? They bid a slam and came within an ace of making it.

If you are discussing your system just before playing, don’t spend too much time on esoteric things, the bidding bling beloved by so many. Go to the end of the card fairly quickly and talk about leads and signals. You are likely to be defending about half the boards, and the chance of an opening 4NT bid cropping up is significantly less than that.
Now you’re at the table. The bidding is over and, like it or not, partner is declarer and your fate is out of your hands. Laying out the dummy is your last chance to help partner. Here is some advice for you to consider:

  • Put down the suit led last; you want to ensure that partner looks at the whole hand.
  • If you are in notrump, don’t put a suit bid by partner down on your right. You don’t want to confuse him. I am sure you remember Burn’s Second Law: “You can’t make 3NT on a crossruff.”
  • Partners like to have the good news first, so lay out your better suits before the less-than-welcome three-small or four-small. There is a temptation to put down the bad suits and then end with a flourish and a “Ta-dah!” as you display your king-queen-fifth holding in trumps. Resist it. The sight of your weaker suits can cause a deep depression from which she may not recover in time.
  • The rules say that dummy should be laid out sorted into suits, with the suits sorted by rank. The rules don’t mention it, but it is a good idea to arrange the cards neatly, in alternating colors. Having partner fiddle around tidying up the dummy will not help him make a plan.
  • The worst crime of all (perhaps only the second worst; the worst is showing the world that you don’t have your bids) is holding back honor cards. Putting down a suit of 7–5, then the three other suits, and then adding the ace–king to the 7-5 is not a good idea, as well as being very tiresome.

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