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Too many funny bones?











Beware of the dark side

Thought become actions;

Actions become habits;

Habits become character;

Character becomes our destiny!


I find bridge very enjoyable but I get discouraged that I keep making silly mistakes. What have you to advise someone to  improve their basic skills?

You ask a great question that's challenging to answer.  First, it's wise to make a candid assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, considering the phases of the game:

Hand evaluation
Bidding, non-competitive and competitive
Play, declarer and defender

Of course, tactics, strategy, analysis, memory, and other factors are important facets of the game.  Some players seem to have a great "table feel" while others require more work at their game to get it right.  Emerging players read books, get help from better players, teachers, and even helpful opponents.  Drills can also be useful, which are available in many formats (printed pages, flash cards, video tapes, etc).

Many newer players struggle with anxiety, primarily based on a lack of confidence. Self confidence is an important attribute to playing at one's peak, especially in a competitive environment. Too many novices seem to "throw the cards" (without careful thought, preplanning, and concentration) -- these become bad habits also leading to careless play.

Discipline is important, too. After a hand is over, put it out of your mind and focus on the new hand.  Don't become distracted by sidebar discussions.   Top Bridge pros seldom discuss a hand after play; they are entirely focused on the next hand.   A prankster once employed a female stripper to make a surprising side show while the Bridge pro Terrence Reese was at the table, who completely ignored the “external environment” – now that’s concentration!

Here's a secret bonus tip that may help you. Before bidding or playing a card, do a double check this way - choose the bid or play and then imagine that you are a teacher or kibitzer looking over your shoulder. Is the player (actually you) making the best move?   Why did "they" (you) choose one option versus another?   Are “they” getting the big picture or only seeing things from their own perspective.

I've seen top bridge teachers and world-class playing professions literally follow this to an extreme. Before playing a card, they will sometimes detach it from the rest of their suit holdings (let's say 4 Hearts) and move the card to the other side of their hand - sitting by itself next to a black suit. The top player will then reassess their play, ensuring that it is correct.

Below is an extract from the “r.g.b.” online Bridge discussion group:

The excellent advice provided by others has tended to focus on mental issues.  Don't forget the physiological side of things. If you don't maintain your blood-sugar level during the course of the game, you'll be tired and out-of-focus by the end. Having a small snack about one-third of the way through the game is a good way to avoid this problem.

Teach yourself to breathe deeply as you play. It allows you to relax and better manage the high metabolism state required to sustain concentration and reduce the nervous side effects of adrenaline.  In addition to relaxing your body, it will slow you down a fraction of a second while making critical decisions, giving your entire pattern matching apparatus room to join in the decision. Finally, your tempo will become more relaxed and less jerky, which is a common attribute of tough players.  After you have worked on this for a while, you can ask yourself "am I ready to act or do I need to think some more?" and trust the answer.

I can't tell you how to eliminate these lapses, but Bob Hamman is the player best known for having very few of them.

And he thinks that a major factor is just moving on. Don't talk about the last hand -- don't even think about it. It's over.

Meckstroth and Rodwell have the same idea. It's spooky to kibitz them because they don't do any of the things that are a part of virtually every player's habits.  No "Sorry, I'm light a few points". No "good luck". No "Sorry, I mis-played it".  When they have one of their rare misunderstandings, they discuss it after the session.

They're firmly in the here and now. All top players can summon up that kind of concentration, but most don't do so all of the time.

Good habits to cultivate, if very tough to follow through on.

1) Mental stamina is important, and requires just as much build-up as physical stamina. The latter aids the former. The MTV generation has short attention spans.

2) Don't spend too much time analyzing hands during the session. You may only have so much gas in the tank and you may come up empty short of the finish line. Do you really have to "know the truth" NOW, or can it wait?  I suspect many do it so that they can look like an expert to others (and to themselves as well).

3) Don't become too upset about any poor result. Much anguish is an attempt to distance oneself from blame for the outcome. The next board is the first hand of the rest of your life. Don't fall on your sword over the reversals that we ALL have. It's just a violent form of denial.

4) You said you had envisioned the end position, but failed to execute it when you got there. Learn to develop stations within the hand where you stop and reevaluate earlier plans, based on new info. For instance, after the no-trumper shows up with 16 HCP, maybe you should stop taking hooks through him. Sounds silly, but you must reappraise earlier assumptions.

5) Whenever you find yourself unsure, make sure you have an answer for why you make the next play. If you don't have a plan, don't play the next card!  Many get stressed by the situation and just play a card to stop the pain.  One of the best lessons I ever got was going through books of single dummy problems, learning that I could not play the next card until I had allowed for all the possible eventualities.

6) Perspective check - from time to time it is useful to stop and ask if there is another construct which may fit all the facts. Just because events fall into your anticipation, it doesn't mean that another layout doesn't deserve consideration. If there is a marked difference, ask yourself what has happened or can happen that would point to one over the other.

7) Realize that whenever "something" happens at the table, or in the room that breaks your concentration, you must get that mantle back before you proceed. If you are commenting about the distraction, you are obviously still distracted. Banter with your opponents can make for a most enjoyable session, but if you can't focus properly, your poor result will offset your pleasant exchange. No good player would ever take offense if you politely asked for the talk to stop so you could concentrate.



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