A few years ago my partner and I were playing in the District Finals of the Grand National Teams in Greenville, and, in a late night after game discussion with my partner, we got to talking about just what it takes to make a good bridge partnership. I have been fortunate since I moved to Columbia to pair up with some great partners and it occurs to me that there are some recurring themes of good partnerships.
You are both willing to work on your system. You and your partner should be willing to discuss your conventions, talk out what you think each bid means, and come to an agreement when you are thinking different things. You must be willing to incorporate new conventions into your system occasionally or at least try them to see if they work for you.
You are both willing to give and receive constructive criticism. By this I absolutely do not mean that you have to point out a mistake that your partner already knows he made (and, if he’s like me, berating himself for doing it). There is a huge difference between constructive criticism and complaining. When you ask after the hand is over, “Why didn’t you return my opening lead and give me a ruff?” you are making a destructive complaint. Partner knows he should have given you a ruff but he didn’t. Let it go. Asking him why he didn’t just rubs it in and plants a seed of discontent.
Sometimes you may be reluctant to give partner some constructive criticism because you think he make take offense. But, if you are going to continue to grow as a partnership, you must do this when the time is right. This point was driven home to me that weekend in Greenville, when, defending a four spade contract, I got in late in the hand, and, looking at 4 small hearts in dummy, I cashed three rounds of hearts (finding them split 3 – 3 between my partner and declarer). I then shifted to a club and established the setting trick in clubs, but, unfortunately, declarer now used that 13th heart to discard her losing club, making four. It never dawned on me, even after the hand was over, that I should have led a club before cashing my last heart until my partner pointed it out to me. And I am glad he did. Maybe next time, I will be more alert to not cash my winners so quickly. (Please note, by the way, that my partner told me about it in a friendly, informative, courteous way. He did not lean over the table, as some do, and say in an exasperated tone, “You need to lead the club before cashing your heart.”)
You both have a sense of humor. I cannot understate this essential ingredient in a good partnership. If you misbid your hand and wind up in a 7NT contract off two aces and a king and go down three, you better be able to laugh about it when it is over. If your partner, in a contested no trump auction, thinks he is making a transfer to clubs with six clubs to the ten and 6 HCP, when he is actually showing game values and a stopper in the opponents suit and you wind up in 3NT down several, you better be able to laugh about it. Knowing that you can survive an occasional blunder makes it easier for you to forgive yourself and easier for partner to forgive himself. By the way, both of those scenarios have actually happened with my partner and me. We still tell those stories to others and still laugh about it.
You and your partner absolutely trust each other. If your partner tells you to lead a spade, you lead a spade. One of the worst reasons for not doing what partner asks you to do is that you trust the opponents more than you trust your partner. Once years ago, playing with one of the top players in our district, we were defending a 3NT contract. We had already taken 3 tricks and I was on lead sitting behind the dummy with 4 tricks to go. My partner had signaled for me to lead a spade but the AQ52 was in the dummy. Instead I led a heart because dummy was void in hearts. Declarer gratefully won her good King and Queen of hearts and then took a spade finesse to make three. If I had led a spade like my partner told me to do, she would have been trapped in dummy and been unable t get to her hand for the good hearts. Partner would have won the last two spade tricks for down 1.
Finding a good bridge partner is a valuable asset. Treat your partner like you would want to be treated. Laugh and learn from your mistakes. Help each other to become better bridge players. That sounds like a recipe for good bridge to me.