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:
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
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
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
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.