This great game is so difficult and complex that it’s impossible to play flawlessly. Although the expert may explain it as “taking a wrong view”, it still comes down to the same thing: we all make mistakes. In this session I will identify six of the most common errors made by new and intermediate players. These are errors of both omission and commission.


It’s possible that failing to balance loses more matchpoints than any other reason. You should rarely allow the opponents play at the two-level when they have a fit. So many players do not understand this. It’s true you will sometimes be punished for entering the auction but it’s also true that a score of -90 or -110 is usually below average at best so in the long run you will lose very few matchpoints. Here are some situations where you should balance:

  1. The opponents have stopped in a low-level suit partscore — especially if it’s possible that you can find a 2-level contract of your own (they’ve stopped in 2, 2 or 2 or below).
  2. The opponents have found a trump fit (they have bid and raised a suit).
  3. The opponents have limited their high-card strength (they have willingly stopped in a part score).
  4. You have length and high-card strength in the unbid suit(s).
  5. You’re not vulnerable. The opponents will be less tempted to double because a set might only score +100 instead of +110 or +140.

Here is an example:

Opp You Opp Pard
1 Pass 2 Pass
Pass ?
  1. A1093 63 K987 Q103 = Double
  2. A93 63 K97 QJ1093 = Bid 3
  3. A9 6 K10987 QJ1093 = Bid 2NT (minors)

Your partner must understand that you are also bidding his hand. Your goal is to push the opponents to the three-level, nothing more.


The average bridge player loves to bid. Unfortunately, this tendency is often not tempered when confronted with adverse vulnerability or poor suit quality. The more experienced players who have been burned by opponents eager to double are more cautious. Take a look at this hand with you in the South position:

IMPs – none vulnerable QJ10 K5 AJ1092 987

West North East South
Pass Pass 1 ?

Some would not hesitate to overcall with this hand but in a bidding quiz all but one of seventeen experts chose to pass. In fact, they were adamant. Here of some of their comments:

“It would not occur to me to bid.”

“Bidding 2 is dangerous.”

“I try not to overcall at the two-level with a five-card suit.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me!”

“Pass and more pass.”

“There is no compelling reason to bid immediately.”

Here’s a classic hand from Terence Reese:

85 KQ875 3 AQJ84

Opp Pard Opp You
1 Pass 2 ?

He recommended passing. By bidding you put yourself at risk, give away valuable information, and probably have no hope of buying the contract.

I think you get the picture. While an overcall at the one level may be made with a light hand, when you start bidding at the two-level and higher, you must have the goods. Remember, your partner might actually believe you.


This is the other half of the previous fault. If you aren’t going to double the opponents, of course they are going to make pathetic overcalls. They get away with them! Here are two examples of doubles that are often missed:

Dlr South, Vul: E-W

K 2
K Q J 10 2
Q 6 5 3
10 8
J 4
A 9 8 6 5 3
A Q 7 6
A 7 5 3
7 4
K J 6 2
4 3 2
Q 10 9 8 6

A 10 8 7
K J 9 7
West North East South
2 Pass Pass Dbl
All Pass

North led the king and even when a good dummy hit, declarer was only able to come to six tricks. North-South received a top score for +500.

Two important points: First a vulnerable, two-level overcall with such a weak suit was ill advised. The second point is that since North cannot make a penalty double, South must not pass simply because he holds a weak hand. His holding in the overcaller’s suit is the deciding factor. For example, if South held enough hearts to be sure his partner was not waiting for a re-opening double, he should pass with a minimum hand. This is an important part of the negative double convention. As he left the table West was heard to say «But I had a six-card suit».

Here’s the other one:

Dlr N, Vul: E-W

Q J 4
K 10 9 3
10 9
A J 7 6
8 3 2
A Q J 7 6
Q J 2
K 8
10 7 6 5
4 2
8 5 4 3
4 3 2
A K 9
8 5
A K 7 6
Q 10 9 5
West North East South
Pass Pass 1NT
2 Dbl All Pass

This was bloody but West managed three tricks for –1400. Of course this is an extreme example but overcalling vulnerable is dangerous. Many players in the North seat forgot to check the vulnerability and just bid 3NT letting their opponents off the hook. Those who use “Stolen Bids” allow the opponents to bid without fear of being doubled. I don’t recommend that agreement.


This is another of the big ones. The auction can tell us so much about how to conduct the defense or play the hand. Here is an example:

Dlr West, Vul: E-W

8 7 6
A Q J 5
4 3
8 7 6 5
Q 2
K 10 7
Q J 9 8 7
A Q 2
5 4 3
9 8 4 3
A 5 2
J 10 9
A K J 10 9
6 2
K 10 6
K 4 3
West North East South
1 Pass Pass 1
Pass 2 All Pass

East wins West’s lead of the queen of diamonds with the ace. East now switches to the jack of clubs which you duck. He continues with a club won by West with the queen. West cashes the ace of clubs and exits with a heart. Overtricks are important so how do you bring in the rest?

Just REMEMBER THE BIDDING and the solution is easy. East passed his partner’s bid and has shown up with the diamond ace and the jack of clubs. That means the heart king and the spade queen are both in the West hand. You must play for the spade queen to drop under your ace or king. At the table, several declarers just took the spade finesse without another thought.

Here’s another example:

Dlr West, Vul: E-W

8 4
A 4 3
Q 4 3
8 7 6 4 2
A Q 10 7 6 2
Q 2
A 8
J 10 9
K 9 3
10 9 5
9 7 5 2
Q 5 3
J 5
K J 8 7 6
K J 10 6
West North East South
1 Pass Pass Dbl
Pass 2 2 3
Pass 4 All Pass

West led the jack of clubs and declarer saw he must lose two spades and the ace of diamonds. That meant he must pick up the heart suit without a loss. The normal play with this suit combination is low to dummy’s ace of hearts and then to finesse on the way back. However, the auction along with the opening lead allowed declarer to place some of the defenders’ honor cards. For his opening bid, West would hold the diamond ace and some spade honors but why didn’t he lead a spade? The answer was clear: he was missing the king. With the AK or KQ a spade lead would have been preferred to the club lead. So, if East held the king of spades along with the queen of clubs and passed his partner’s bid, the heart queen must be with West. Accordingly, South won the club lead and played the ace and king of hearts and was rewarded when the queen dropped. All declarer did was REMEMBER THE AUCTION and make logical ASSUMPTIONS from the opening lead.


Dlr West, Vul: E-W

K Q 9 7 3
A K 3
A Q 8 2
J 10 5 4
9 8 7
10 5
Q 10 9 4

6 5 4
J 7 6 3
J 7 6 5 3 2
A 8 6 2
Q J 10 2
K 9 4
West North East South
Pass 1NT
Pass 2* Pass 3
Pass 4NT Pass 5
Pass 5NT Pass 6
Pass 7 All Pass

*Jacoby Transfer

After his partner opened 1NT, North bid carefully to a great grand slam. The problem was…his partner was going to play it.

West led a heart won by the ace. Without much thought, declarer next played the king of spades and the slam could no longer be made. It should be clear that only a 4-0 trump break could cause a problem and since you cannot pick up the suit if East has four spades, your first play must be the ace of spades. Now you can pick up West’s trumps.

Hint: Look for the problem before you play to trick one.


The simple task of counting to thirteen seems to be beyond some players. Here is an example:

Dlr West, Vul: E-W

K 6 5
4 3 2
Q 10 5 4
K 6 4
Q 10 8 7
K 10 7
A K J 8 3
J 9 4 3
Q J 9 5
Q 7 3 2
A 2
A 8 6
7 6 2
A J 10 9 8
West North East South
1 Pass 1 2
Dbl* 3 All Pass

*Support Double showing 3 hearts

West played three rounds of diamonds with East ruffing the third. East now switched to the queen of hearts and you stop to analyze your position. You can pitch one heart loser on the queen of diamonds but will have to lose the other. That means you cannot afford to lose a club. All of the clues are present for you to know the exact distribution of the opponents’ hands.

Let’s count: First you know West started with five diamonds. West’s double showed three-card heart support and East must have four of them. The spades must be divided 4-4 or they would have been bid. This leaves West with only one club so you lead to the club king in dummy and then the nine for a finesse. By simply COUNTING each suit, you discovered West started with 4-3-5-1 distribution. At the table since one trump had been played, several declarers played the top two clubs trying to drop the queen.

Here’s another example where counting can solve your problem:

Scoring: Matchpoints (Pairs)

Dlr West, Vul: E-W

Q 3
A K J 10 5 4 3
Q 7
A 6 4
9 8 7 6 5 3
A 8 3
9 8
Q 9 8 7
J 10 6 5 4 2
K J 10 7 5 2
Q J 4 2
K 9
West North East South
Pass 2 Pass 2
Pass 3 Pass 3
Pass 4NT Pass 5
Pass 5 All Pass

I was in the West chair and led the ace of clubs. It was clear to me (from the auction) if declarer held four hearts, my partner had only one. At trick two I led the nine of hearts to dummy’s king. A spade was led and I won the ace and gave partner a heart ruff to defeat the contract. All it took was some simple math.

I hope this look at common mistakes will help. I can’t guarantee you will stop making errors but if you follow the suggestions shown above, your game should improve considerably. As for me, I’ll just try to not “take a wrong view”.