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May 12, 2002
A Bit of Confidence

A Bit of Confidence

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 34, No 3 - May/June 2002

Years ago I attended a big tournament in downtown Chicago. I was fresh out of college and had considerably less than 50 masterpoints. Not deterred by such things, I signed up at the partnership desk and proceeded to find a partner and play. At the break between sessions I was wandering around the host hotel and looking through the various recap sheets. I was standing there reviewing the results when two men came up and were standing next to me as they continued their ongoing conversation. I could not help but overhear what they were saying to one another (but nonetheless I freely admit I was interested Ö so I did eavesdrop). That chance meeting taught me one of the most profound things I have ever learned about this game.

The two men were clearly a partnership and one was clearly the more experienced. Without asking you could tell that the older one was the mentor and the younger the prodigy. The mentor was congratulating the younger on the afternoon performance and they were assessing their chances for an overall ranking if the evening went as smooth as the afternoon. The older was confident and the younger perhaps less so.

That is when I learned something of great value. The mentor turned and pointed to the entry desk. People were lined up buying entries for the evening session. He said, "See all those players lined up, waiting to buy entries? My guess is that 80 percent of them do not honestly believe that they can win the event." Then came the kicker, "You know what? They are right!"

My first reaction was that he was just arrogant. But I missed his point. It did not occur to me until later. He did not mean that 80 percent of the players did not have the capability of winning the event. He meant that once they had decided that it was not possible, then in fact it was not possible.

The human brain is a funny thing. It has conscious and subconscious levels. Many of the aspects of the game involve the conscious level (looking at partnerís card, not being lazy, counting, analyzing the bidding, etc.), but the subconscious is in there working as well. The subconscious most definitely has an effect.

The point of the mystery man in Chicago was, once you make up your mind that you cannot win, you cannot. If you truly believe that you can win, you can. Seems incredibly simple, but today I know it to be true.

I spent a number of years directing duplicate games here in Houston. I saw the same scenario play out many times. Tuesday evening was the novice game and one Tuesday two young guys came in and purchased an entry. Neither had played anything but social bridge before but they were determined to tackle duplicate. That evening they came in last. I do not mean below average. I mean last place. No one had a lower score. They came back the next Tuesday and played again. They again were dead last. This continued for nine more weeks! For eleven weeks in a row they were in absolute last place in the novice game. It became intriguing for me to see each week if they would improve their standing. In the twelfth game they beat two pairs and would have thought they had just won the Vanderbilt. It was a breakout day for them even if they did not know it at the time.

The next week they racked up an average game and the fourteenth week they scratched by squeaking out a fourth place finish. From that point on their game continued to improve. Did they win every week? No, but from that point forward they believed that they could. Subconsciously they now realized it was possible. They now had gained enough self confidence to allow themselves to win.

The mind is a funny thing. It tends to enable what you believe. If, for example, you constantly say to your self, "I am terrible at judging when to make a penalty double. Every time that I do, they end up making the contract." What are you doing? You are reinforcing the exact behavior that you do not want to happen. Stop the negative affirmations. An even better routine is to try to make positive affirmations.

The next time you sit down against the local hot shots, instead of saying to your self, "Gee these guys always beat me", try instead saying "I am going to bid and play my hand to the best of my ability. These guys only take one trick with their ace just like every one else." Will you beat them every time? No, but you wonít set yourself up for failure either.

Another area where the subconscious comes into play is board results during a matchpoint pairs game. You and partner are cruising along having a pretty good game when suddenly it happens. You get a zero. You did something ill advised and you knew better.

Everyone wants to win and a zero does not help that cause. During my tenure as a club director I recognize one very common outcome from the zero. Subconsciously you start, "Thatís it. We canít win now. This game is shot. We have no hope unless I can get that zero back by getting a top board." Nothing could be further from the truth, but on the next hand you subconsciously set out to get a top. You know what you usually get instead? Thatís right, another zero. So the game just deteriorates until the outcome really is shot and you do not have any chance of winning. I have seen it time and time again.

Instead I recommend you consciously set out on the next hand to get exactly average. Almost every partnership in the room will have at least one very poor board result. Take yours in stride and set out to make sure that you do not give in to the "dark side".

Think about the mental aspect of the game and learn to use it wisely. Believe in yourself and your results will improve.

Let me hear from you.

-Gary King

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