The following is a Bridge Tip from our friend HG in Austria. He and Chuck frequently e-mail bridge hands back and forth. In an effort to improve my game, Chuck insisted I read this e-mail. I did find it beneficial and insightful and thought I would share it with you. Thanks HG.

January 17, 2009

Most bidding problems happen because of:

  1. Greed, i.e. overbidding,
  2. Card drunkenness, i.e. bidder carried away by his cards,
  3. Misunderstanding.

To 1 and 2 I think whatever your style is - you have to live with it. People pay money to play bridge, so they have paid to be allowed to bid. So it is nice to have a bidding system which allows you to bid on week hands.

To 1: If you are an over bidder, your partner should know. If you or he or she overbids all the time you will have several 60% + games but also some 40% days. Whether you have a run or not ... Just be persistent with whatever you do.

To 3: Partner should always know whether a bid is:

  1. a sign off,
  2. invitational,
  3. a barrage bid,
  4. a sacrifice,
  5. artificial,
  6. forcing,
  7. penalty.

That is why a new partnership should take time to talk about these subjects - before the game.

Are systems on over ops bids?

What do we do over preempts?

What do we do over opponents DONT?

Now - still misunderstandings can happen. And of course your partnership may still benefit on doing stupid stuff or by misunderstanding each other.

Protection of innocent opponents is pretty strong though. If they get wrong information, you are in trouble. On Regional's in NYC I was penalized for hesitating on my bid at the 4 level. I lost a game and my temper on a hand where an old Lady tapped on the table which I took for bid, which it was not ...

It is a game. Directors have to make decisions, even bad ones ...


When you are playing this wonderful game, consider, would your partner prefer you be right slow or wrong fast. This was the result of a hand where Lee opened 1 heart, LHO bid 3 spades, his partner bids 6 clubs, holding, S=void, H=void, D=QJ9x, C=AQJT98xxx. Preferring to be right slow, Lee very slowly passes. The hand made 7 clubs, when the K-C drops as a singleton. (This tip came from Lee Hastings, Sept. 14, 2008)

Thanks, Lee.

The wonderful world of bridge has given us friends all over the world. A friend from Hull, England shared his English Bridge Magazine with us. I was impressed with one article written by Andrew Kambites in the English Bridge, page 28, April 2008, titled Concentration, Concentration, Concentration. A brief summary follows.

Experience and errors All of us make some unavoidable errors. I believe strongly that most things we get right particularly at card play, come from pattern recognition. When a beginner first sees dummy he can be overwhelmed. It is probably pointless expecting him to count winners and losers, preserve entries and a million and one other things. If he even tried to do this, he would slow the game down to the point of serious disruption, and totally exhaust himself.

Learning bridge is like learning a foreign language: having to think about everything you do it is hard work and you do it badly. With experience you start to do the right things naturally and effortlessly. Even very experienced players still encounter new situations and are likely to get them wrong. Unavoidable errors should be accepted as part of the learning process. The problem isn't that you get it wrong; the problem is that it preys on your mind and leads to avoidable errors on the next hand.

Avoidable errors So if we cannot prevent unavoidable errors, we must clearly focus our attention on avoidable errors, caused by lack of concentration, poor temperament etc. Any loss of concentration during play is off-putting. For example, I lead the two of clubs against 3NT. Dummy wins with the ace of clubs. Partner and declarer play, the cards are turned over quickly and declarer quickly calls for a card to trick two, but I become aware that I didn't notice partner's card. I feel uneasy for the rest of the defense. Even if partner's signal turns out to be inconsequential, I feel disoriented. So how can we avoid this type of error?

How to avoid avoidable errors You need to analyze when your concentration is liable to waver, e.g.

  1. External factors, noise or temperature. Opponents, e.g. you don't like them.
  2. Internal Factors, (many of these involve emotions)
    1. Fatigue sometimes is unavoidable, but you do need to play at a pace and level that is sustainable for the whole session. Players who try to work out every last detail at a snail's pace at the beginning of an evening but are totally exhausted at the end are not helping themselves.
    2. Anxiety. How will partner or team-mates react to your -1100? Good team spirit and partnership morale will help this. Anxiety brings on fatigue later in the day. Something we all need to avoid.
    3. Frustration with partner's error, team-mates' poor performance, a perceived poor TD ruling, bad luck (opponents making a grand slam on three fineness). Note that the factors are external, but the problem is internal. It is not the event that is the problem; it is your reaction to it.
    4. Elation, Don't get so excited it reduces your concentration.
    5. Complacency. You have had seven good boards. That is not an excuse to relax and chuck 13 IMPS on the eighth.
    6. Thinking about a previous hand: "could I have made that 4 spade contract if I did this or that.
    7. In a long match or session, by far the most common times for a concentration lapse are the first board, (when you haven't yet settled in) and the last board (when you are mentally winding down).

Key Principle: It is the bridge player's reaction to the problem that determines whether concentration will be lost, not the problem itself.

The chances of a consistent performance are maximized by using a consistent pre-performance set of behaviors, called Performance Routines.

There are two types of performance routines:

  1. Pre-session routines. I like to arrive early and spend at least five minutes sitting quietly thinking about nothing. There is nothing more damaging that cutting it fine, fuming that every set of traffic lights are red, and then frantically looking for an elusive parking space.
  2. Pre-hand routines, involving attention cues. This would include physical, e.g. taking a deep breath, or verbal, e.g. say a word silently, such as "concentrate" or "focus" or visual, e.g. focus intensely on something specific in your environment.

Fact: Total continuous concentration is impossible, for most people twenty minutes is probably the limit.

At the bridge table, you should never start a hand until the previous hand (whether a good or bad result) is consigned to the recycling bin of your mind. Ideally, emotions (elation, depression, frustration) should play no part in bridge. Your attitude to board 2 should be the same, independent of whether board 1 was +700 or -700.

Useful Rituals Partnerships should have rituals to signify that a hand is finished. One possibility is that when one player takes out the hand for the next board, it is a sign that all discussion or thought of the previous board is finished,

My partner and I feel that sometimes a brief 'clearing of the air' helps us settle after a particularly unsuccessful result. Suppose one player takes an action that goes horribly wrong. He can say:

  1. "Sorry. That was stupid/my fault' or
  2. "My reason for this action was..." or
  3. "I did have a reason for this. There is not time to explain now but I will explain later." Very often there is not time to explain at the table and a player needs to be confident that his partner is not being judgmental without knowing the facts.

If you doubt the effectiveness of this psychological approach, bear in mind that many top sports players pay a lot of money to sports psychologists to help maximize their performances. Some of the seemingly slightly eccentric actions we see from top sportsmen are performance routines to ensure that every time they pay a shot, take a free kick, etc, they have exactly the same mindset, free of distractions. For example:

  1. Rugby Union star Jonny Wilkinson's routine of hand-clasping before taking a penalty kick.
  2. Snooker players who are disturbed by a noise in the crowd, walk away from the table and start their pre-shot ritual over again.
  3. Cricketers who reach a century and take a new guard as a cue to regain concentration and start again. (Remember this is from a British magazine)
  4. Sometimes we have seen just how seriously this can be taken. In the 2003 World Athletics Championships two athletes were disqualified in the men's 100 meters sprint under new rules which judge false starts by a computer measure of their reaction times on the starting blocks rather than whether they have crossed the starting line. Every time the officials tried to restart the race, the crowd jeered and hissed. The most experienced remaining athlete would not start under those conditions, and repeatedly walked away from the starting blocks, delaying the start by over thirty minutes.

    If you found the above article interesting, please let me know. I welcome feedback.

    May 25, 2008

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