Most top bridge players define a "mistake" as any bid or play they wouldn't make. I don't share this lofty attitude, but I do have strong personal feelings on the subject of table tactics and table manners. It just seems to me that there are certain things one doesn't do at the bridge table, whether they are violations of the laws of contract bridge or not. Some of these errors will merely cost you points; others will cost you friends.
Perhaps my most extreme personal prejudice is against excessive drinking at the bridge table. It is difficult to take any sort of position against alcohol without appearing to be a prig, so let me emphasize that some of my best friends are two-fisted drinkers, and I don't mind an occasional nip myself. Drinking can be good fun and bridge can be good fun, but together they produce neither good fun nor good bridge. How could it be otherwise? Whatever one can say in behalf of alcohol, it is not known for its salutary effect on one's judgment. And bridge is, first and foremost, a game of judgment. To say that alcohol enlivens a bridge game is to say that tying Gordie Howe's skates together enlivens his hockey game.
I also have a prejudice against excessive conversation during the play of a hand, although it is usually money in the bank for me. Constant chitter-chatter distracts most players, while I slip off into a silent world of my own, consisting of 52 cards and certain probabilities, and all the talk in the world can't reach me. But for the average player, talk is deadly; it disrupts his concentration and it changes the nature of the game. Opponents who talk through the playing of a slam, for example, will make you rich if you can find enough of them. If possible, they will talk themselves out of making the hand. Why? You, as defender, usually have a lot less to remember than the declarer; you have only one or two cards with any potential for trick-taking. But declarer has to make all his cards good—or all but one. He is the one who needs silence, and he is the one who all too often doesn't provide it for himself.
After a hand has been played, it is often rewarding to talk about it, but the habit of the galloping postmortem is insidious. My personal opinion is that a prolonged postmortem is rude unless it is clearly of interest to all four players. These two-man shouting matches between partners, with the opponents sitting embarrassedly by, are de trop.
Most such discourtesies could be avoided if players would remember that bridge is not only a partnership game, as everybody keeps saying, but a game of four. The opponents are not on the premises solely for the sake of providing you and your partner with an enchanted evening; they are also there to play, to have some good times of their own, and so you should get on with it. In a duplicate game, for example, it may be quite proper to spend several minutes in an effort to win an overtrick. In rubber bridge it is rarely worthwhile to spend your mental energy and everybody's time in a protracted effort to exhibit your skill by bringing home an extra 20 or 30 points above the line. The really superior player can make the most out of his edge by saving enough time to get in a few extra deals.
I frown on such dillydallying antics as automatically exchanging hands with partner as soon as you have won the auction, so that each of you can sit there and nod knowingly while the poor opponents are expected to wait patiently until the mutual inspection is over. The thing to remember is that the defenders can't slide their cards across the table and ruminate on each other's bidding, so there's no reason why you should do it. I used to belong to a bridge club where this habit was ended thoroughly and completely, courtesy of one angry player to whom it was anathema. Whenever an opponent slid his cards across the table, this fellow would intercept the hand and fan it.
"Oh, I'm sorry," he would say. "I just saw that hand out there, and I automatically reached for it."
When an opponent would become angry and demand penalties, this man would fix him with a frigid stare and intone with majestic dignity: "And under what section of the rules of contract bridge do you claim your penalties?" There was no answer to that one, of course. Nothing in the rules of the game prevents you from grabbing a slapped-down hand, flinging it into the fire or exchanging it for your own. Players should keep their hands in hand; they ignore this at their own risk. The mildest penalty they court is that dummy loses his rights; he can no longer warn partner against revoking or leading from the wrong hand. The most drastic can come when a pair plays hands across the table before the last opponent has actually passed. The late Edward Hymes Jr. cured one pair of pass offenders by invoking the full power of the laws. Instead of passing, he overcalled the opponents' six-heart bid with a call of six spades. Having seen each other's cards, both partners were barred from the bidding; they couldn't bid six no trump, which they could have made. Nor could they even double—which turned out to be just as well, for they had not yet paid the full penalty. In fact, Hymes was able to make his contract even though, among other goodies, the opponents held the ace and king of trumps, because every card in each opponent's hand was exposed and subject to call.
Both sides were vulnerable and Hymes was South: