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My Partner

Who is the best bridge player in the world? That question periodically crops up in discussion forums, bridge blogs, and magazine articles around the world. In a way it is a futile question. Bridge is a partnership game. Maybe you always find the killing opening lead, never slip on defense and perform magic virtually every time your partner puts down the dummy. That still wouldn’t guarantee consistently good results for your partnership, far from it! Somebody once said the best bridge player is the one that invariably makes his partner play his best. At least, I think someone did. If not, I just said it.


Some bridge partnerships seem to have been around forever. On the American scene Meckstroth–Rodwell, Martel–Stansby and on the female side Deas–Palmer spring to mind. On a more international scale I suspect Balicki–Zmudzinski and Lauria–Versace would easily make the top–10 list of longest successful partnerships. Please forgive me if I left anyone obvious out; it wasn’t intentional. All these partnerships have one thing in common, they consistently put up outstanding results. How is that possible?


It’s a bit like “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”  Do they have consistently good results because they have been playing together for such a long time or are they still playing together, because they keep winning?


In the country where I live, Denmark, most bridge partnerships don’t survive for very long. Some maintain that is the main reason why Danish national teams haven’t done better internationally. They may have a point. No doubt one could argue with that point, but one would probably have to admit that a long-term partnership is a promising foundation for good results.


What then is the most important ingredient of such a partnership? The answer in my mind is clear: respect. I do not believe it is necessary for two players of a partnership to be best friends, but I do believe it is necessary to have respect for each other. If at some point for whatever reason respect starts disappearing, a partnership is doomed sooner or later.


There are other important ingredients of course and one could easily start a long discussion about that. No doubt compatibility and complementing each other play an important role. Despite of that I personally also feel it can be beneficial for a partnership to maintain a certain degree of individuality and to have the courage to stand by one’s convictions. My partner Daniela displayed that ability in magnificent fashion 22 years ago.


6 South
NS: 0 EW: 0


The setting was the European Teams Championships in Turku, Finland, in 1989 towards the end of the tournament. For the first time ever a German team in the women’s competition was not only in contention for a medal, but also for a qualifying spot for the Venice Cup (the zonal World Championships for women teams). Back in those days Europe had only two berths in the Venice Cup, so it was a really tough challenge to make it through.  And for the first time ever we played on vugraph. Not the BBO-vugraph, it didn’t exist yet. But the big onsite vugraph, which was very popular then, especially as on this occasion the famous Zia Mahmood was the chief commentator.


Daniela and I were playing against the young Bulgarian pair Ivanova-Halatcheva. The Bulgarian women’s team had entered the limelight one year earlier at the Olympiad in Venice, Italy, when they beat a star-studded US team in the quarterfinals. They were expected to do well again. It was all very exciting. The air seemed charged with electricity.


Maybe that explains why Daniela and I reached 6 on the above deal. I do not remember a single bid of the auction. The only reason I remember all the cards is that the deal is also written up somewhere else. In any event something must have gone seriously wrong in the bidding that made Daniela declarer in a very ambitious slam. Not only were we off the first two spade tricks, there also was a little hole in the trump suit.


Ivanova found the sneaky lead of the spade three, away from her doubleton king. Halatcheva won the ace and took her time considering what to return, finally hitting upon the diamond nine. Ivanova, who had anxiously been awaiting her partner’s continuation, almost collapsed in her chair at the sight of that card. This did not go unnoticed by Daniela, who was sitting on the same side of the screen as Ivanova. What did this reaction mean?


Daniela reasoned as follows. Clearly West had led a spade away from the king and was hoping to beat the contract by taking two spade tricks after her partner had won the first trick with the ace. When East did not continue with a second round of spades, West’s hopes of another trick in that suit vanished, as did, apparently, her hopes of beating the contract. Thus, West could not possibly be looking at the trump queen, because otherwise she would still be tense, hoping to score a trump trick.


Daniela could easily have followed the rule eight ever, nine never and taken the – without additional information - percentage play of trying to drop the trump queen in two rounds. It would have been the safe play, nobody could possibly ever blame her for that. But she stood by her convictions. She cashed the heart ace and finessed West for the queen on the next round. And 12 tricks were hers for the taking. I still think and always will think that especially under the circumstances that was a truly heroic play. What a great player she is!


We won the match, we won the European Championships and we made it to the Venice Cup in Perth, Australia, later that same year. There Daniela and I produced one of the famous deals in bridge history. Not having discussed a funky bidding gadget thoroughly enough we had a misunderstanding in a competitive auction and ended in 4 doubled in a 2-1 fit. But that didn’t prevent us from continuing to play together. In a few weeks we will be in Veldhoven, Holland, to participate in our 12th consecutive Venice Cup. Hopefully this time we can avoid playing doubled in a 2-1 fit. But no matter what, it will again be a big thrill to play.  This game never stops being exciting!

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