The “Tricky” Part of Counting


One of my favorite bridge students, Daisy (name changed to protect the guilty), habitually makes the bridge mistakes that are common to many neophytes. Forgetting conventions, trumping partner’s winners and leading out-of-turn are only a small sample of Daisy’s bridge gaffes. Through it all, she typically remains upbeat, yet lately she seems to be suffering a bit from the “Bridge Playing Blues.” In particular, she has been bemoaning the difficulty of upgrading her declarer play.

I gently remind her, “There are a lot of challenges regarding the matter, especially since the topic of skillfully playing a bridge hand is so incredibly vast.” After a nervous pause I continue. “Now step off the ledge and we’ll talk about it over a double latte.”

“You’re just trying to make me feel better than I deserve,” she pouts. After a resigned shrug, she continues, “Declaring is really getting me down.”

After I remind her that we’re only on the first floor, she reluctantly offers me her hand and we move toward the Starbucks across the street. Trying to sound positive, I offer, “You know as well as anyone that top notch declarer play requires the mastery of various techniques, coupled with the knowledge of when to use them.”

Still sounding glum, she adds, “Don’t forget all that advice about making a plan. Plus, all that focusing stuff you keep harping upon.”

Harping? Hmmm? I suddenly find myself brooding upon the thought of me being such a fuddy-duddy, when Daisy’s dejected speech interrupts my train of thought. “There’s just so much to deal with. Even you concede that great technique can only take one so far.”

Pleased at having etched an impression upon my most impressionable student, I cheerfully chime in. “You are so very correct. Technique is only half the battle, the real challenge…”

Daisy’s heard it all before and cannot stop herself from lamenting, “Yeah, yeah, I know the drill. Count, count, count. If you want to count in the world of bridge, you’ve got to count.”

My proud smile couldn’t be bigger. “That’s right, count, count, count, then count some more.”

The barista’s suggestion of whipped cream upon her drink seems to elevate Daisy’s mood. One sip and a dreamy smile comes across her face and she cheerfully chimes in, “You’re right, as usual.” After another taste of latte, she suddenly speaks with an unexpected burst of conviction. “Count, count, count… especially those winners and losers!”

I’m nearly floored with Daisy’s speedy recovery from her bout of bridge melancholia. After making a silent note to myself about buying some stock in Starbucks, I decide to put her new-found zeal to the test with the following bridge hand.
North
♠ 9 8 6 5 2
J 10
K 5 4
♣ K 8 7

South
♠ 3
A K Q 9 8 5 4
A 7
♣ A 4 3

“Imagine you are declaring a contract of 6, with the Q as the opening lead.”

Daisy begins to call for a card from dummy. I interrupt her with a scornful “ahem!”

“Oh yeah, time to think,” she murmurs.

“Forget about thinking,” I interject. “Thinking is for philosophers and newlyweds. You’re a bridge player, which means…?”

“Which means, make a plan,” she dutifully replies. Then, after a short silence she adds, “And count, count, count!”

With a nod of approval, I add, “And what are you counting?”

She sardonically quips, “Everything in the universe!” After a beat she continues, “Particularly winners and losers… potential… real… and or otherwise.”

Daisy’s eyelids then narrow to ever-so-slight slits as she enters a prolonged, seemingly Buddhist-like trance. After about a minute of silence, I begin to wonder if I may have overemphasized the concept of making a plan. When another minute goes by without a trace of movement from our newly-dedicated counter, I begin to ruminate to myself, “Bridge, like life, is after all, a timed event.” Daisy abruptly sits up straight in her chair. Her eyes widen back to their normal state and she mutters under her breath, “Got to have twelve winners.” After a brief pause she continues, “Can afford only one loser.”

She finally calls for a small diamond from the dummy and wins with her ace. She then plays her singleton spade and wins the opponent’s diamond continuation in the dummy. After trumping a spade in hand, she uses the J, then 10 as a necessary pair of entries to trump two more spades in hand. In the process, Daisy establishes a spade winner in the dummy. After pulling any outstanding trump, she reenters the dummy with the ♣K and discards a small club on that winning spade. Slam contract made!

Daisy looks up and muses, “Seems like 12 winners?”

With my mouth agape and my decaffeinated mocha slipping from my now unsteady grip, I search for the words that might adequately convey my new-found respect for the lady who has definitely strengthened her position as my favorite student partner. Eventually I manage to weakly mutter a reiteration of Daisy’s own aphorism. “In order to count in the world of bridge, you simply must count.”

Yeah, and Daisy really does count.

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