Monday, August 29, 2005 3:34 PM

The Level of Competition




          In hockey and other sports you have often heard coaches and sports writers say that a team played down to the “level of competition” . What does this mean exactly ? In hockey , if a good team plays badly against a poor team it usually means that the caliber of opposition “lulled them to sleep” and they did not bring their normal game to the ice.  It can mean that the good team was over confident and did not try hard enough or it could mean that the good team was adopting bad habits or showing a lack of discipline against the poor team. Sometimes just by osmosis the bad team drags you down to their level.


          In Bridge , of course the same scenario exists. Playing against a steady diet of weak opponents or with a weak partner will destroy your Bridge game. The single handed aspect of the game which is declarer play will be the only aspect not to suffer. You defense will deteriorate as partners signals and defensive plan of attack are meaningless. Your bidding is what suffers the most. You end up playing down to the level of your partner and the opponents. Forcing passes do not exist. Delicate Q bidding auctions do not exist . Bridge bidding is just straight Casino style “taking shots” as the partnership element of Bridge is missing.


          Playing in weak fields has an adverse effect on your Bridge discipline. You tend to take risks because the caliber of the opponents let you get away with it. You openers get lighter and lighter trying to con the opponents out of their rightful contracts and of course it works more often than not. You do not need quick tricks for openers as if partner’s decisions are thrown off – who cares ?  You make vulnerable pre-empts on x Kxx KJ10xxx xx because all the years against weak competition you have not been punished by making such bids. You make undisciplined overcalls because again you can get away with it and it confuses the folks. You do not wait until partner is a passed hand to make tactical bids because partner is just the 3rd opponent anyway. Bridge is not a partnership game as I control the table.


          Match points vrs IMPS is another factor to consider. You take many more risks at matchpoints because a zero is just a zero. In IMPS 14 IMPS may take half a match to recover against a good team. A lack of discipline in Matchpoints and in weak competition of course may work but what will it do to your partnership in the long run ? Like the hockey teams , do these bad habits get ingrained and the lack of discipline carries over to good competition ? I think it does. I have seen many good players show the same lack of discipline with pre-empts , opening bids and overcalls at the CNTC level. These “errors in judgment” now costs the team big time. The partnership does not trust each other and numerous slams are missed. Opponents make many games because of bad leads due to undisciplined overcalls .  Confusion arises because these bids have always worked at club games , sectionals and regionals. These players need a reality check , as a lack of discipline in Bridge is a killer not an asset.


          Have you ever watched Alex Fowlie , Gary Karst , Vince Nowlan , Lucuile Barton try to determine who has their bid at the table ? Who do we trust ? Does partner have his bid this time ? I do not play Bridge that way. When Maurice opens a hand with one or no quick tricks , 11 or 12 HCP’s with queens or jacks or pre-empts vul against not with x Kxx KJ10xxxx xx, overcalls vul between two nv opponents with KJxxx Kxx xx xxx I call it undisciplined and very bad Bridge. It just means the caliber of opposition allowed him to get away with it in the past and nothing more . Others who follow the same style are the same undisplined players whose partnerships must and will suffer in the long run. Bank on it.