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November 2, 2001
Plan for Practice and Play

Plan for Practice and Play

The Scorecard is the publication for ACBL District 16. I was asked and consented to write a regular column aimed at the 0-299 masterpoint player. I will post my columns here as they may be of benefit to the same readers that benefit from my newsletter.

Scorecard, Volume 33, No 6 - November/December 2001

Over the years I have spent time talking with quite literally hundreds, if not thousands, of students about bridge. I talk with prospective players that are considering beginning lessons and with rabid duplicate addicts that are consumed with the game. What strikes me as most interesting is how many things are reflected in this game that we play and love so much. In numerous ways this game is like other sports and even like life itself.

Several years ago I received a telephone call from a previous student. She and her partner had a dispute about a particular hand and called so that I could mediate. We discussed the auction and the hand (she was a GOOD student because she had the auction and complete hand written out including all passes, vulnerability, dealer, and every hand which remarkably had thirteen cards). After a few minutes of discussion she sighed and with a little frustration said, "Do you every think I will get this game?" How would answer that question? Have you ever felt that way?

My answer was very straightforward. I replied, "You are thinking about this game all wrong!" There is no Utopia. There is no plateau at which you arrive and realize that you know everything that you need to know. There is no heavenly-like existence where you never make mistakes and can play with little or no effort.

You must realize, and learn, that the enjoyment of this game is the trip. Learn to enjoy your travels along the path of becoming an accomplished player. Enjoy the scenery, the people, and the experience. It is the trip that is the fun. Do not be like the vacationer that is in such a hurry to get to the final destination that you view the Grand Canyon from the car while passing by. Stop and take in the enjoyment and pleasure that this game has to offer. Enjoy the game, enjoy the people, enjoy making good decisions, enjoy your wins, and enjoy the wins of others.

Bridge is also an escape for many players. During a three-hour duplicate game all the stresses of life and everyday living can be forgotten. I have seen players with serious health problems able to take a break from concerns and play for a few hours. What a stress reliever. I have seen people that are meek and mild-mannered in everyday life get to live somewhat vicariously at the bridge table playing aggressively, and taking risks that they are not allowed to take in day-to-day life.

I am also fascinated as how much this game of bridge is similar to other sporting or competitive activities. For example, in many ways this game is like golf. Good golfers spend time doing two main things. First, when they want to work on their skills they drive to the practice range and spend an hour or more working with one or two shots in an effort to hone their skills. Second, when they go to a course and play eighteen holes, they PLAY the game. The course is not the place to practice skills. The course is the place to try to use the skills you have to best of your ability. These are two different activities, which relate to two different purposes and two different mind-sets.

Bridge should be approached much the same way. There is a time and place for you (or you and partner) to WORK on your game and try to develop and perfect skills. This is often alone with a book or across the table from one another with a yellow pad and a No. 2 pencil. There is also a time to PLAY the game. This is usually t the bridge club or local tournament. This is where you should use the skills you have and focus on getting the best results possible. If you recognize areas that need work (in your own game or in your partnership) then make a brief note and discuss it later. During the play is generally not the time. At the very least wait until the round is over and you have stepped away from the table.

Try to locate a mentor. A mentor should be a player with greater experience and one to which you have at least regular access (in person, by phone, or email). Use the mentor not to teach you but help you and partner work out the root cause of problems in your bidding and play. With the root cause identified you can then work on those skills on your own. Most players are willing to act as a mentor if approached the right way. Also you must do your part. I have had players come to me to ask the question, "I had some spade and hearts, not sure how many of each and I really do not remember the auction but I think someone bid diamonds, what should I lead?" You have got to be kidding. Bring a hand with the auction clearly written out (which players were passed hands?), the vulnerability, and the complete hand (S-H-D-C in order). Check to make sure you have all thirteen cards. If you want good advice bring a good setup.

If you think about this game for a minute it is beautiful by its simplicity. The laws of the game do not dictate HOW you and partner communicate. At any given time the methods you choose to use are totally up to you.  You can use whatever tools you think are in your best interest. It is this flexibility of design that keeps a player continuously striving to improve. It is also this simplicity that keeps providing greater and greater enjoyment from the play.

In conclusion, my advice to the advancing player at any level is to spend time working on your game and working with partner. The rate at which you expend effort in this regard is up to you and the time you can devote. Also spend time playing the game and enjoying it. Do not mix the two activities and your results and attitude will improve. Let me hear from you.

-Gary King

2001 The Bridge Companion. All rights reserved.