DrDahner@gmail.com

Dr. Donna Lombardini, CEO GABT    

TournamentBridge@aol.com

 

G S Jade Barrett, Founding President TBS

 PO Box 1040,  Elk Point, SD 57025

 

It's All In Your Head - G S Jade Barrett

Prepared to Play?      Disabled        Loss       In the Zone       New Methods        Stamina          Teammates         Zero 
Prepared to Play?  Have you ever noticed that our early boards are often not as good as they could be? Usually this happens because our body has arrived at the game 10 minutes or so before our mind has. It is particularly true at our local games, since we know that we are only a few minutes away from the club. This allows us the opportunity to attempt to complete one more 8-minute task in the 6 minutes we have before we must leave for the game. So we rush through our chore in order to rush to the game where we arrive 4 or 5 minutes late (if we manage to avoid the speeding ticket). As we grab a cup of coffee (another 30 seconds or so), and a convention card (10 more seconds), greet a couple of friends (5 seconds each as we fly past their table), we sit down just in time to make the boards because our opponents are unconscionably late. Wait! Here they are now. On the very first hand as we anxiously notice that there are only 9 minutes left in the 14-minute round and we have not started the auction yet. After a quick glance at our cards, we fling the 1H card on the table and now start sorting and counting. Just about the time our partner bids 2N as a forcing heart raise we realize that we actually have 4 hearts and 5 diamonds and a fairly ugly 12 count. As we breathe a sigh of relief when our 4H bid gets passed out we take comfort in the fact that partner has at least 4 hearts since he never has fewer than that when he bids 2N.

Except when he is late.
 
In his haste to get into the game, he glanced at his hand and with 8 red cards and 13 HCP he knew that there had to be enough hearts in his hand to force to game so he bid 2N while he organized the details of the hand. Upon discovering that he had only 3 hearts, he was relieved that we did not make a slam try and figured that everything would work out alright since you never have fewer than 5 hearts when you open. He was right. Everything worked out fine - for the opponents.
 
The game begins for me about a half hour or so before the session starts (often earlier when I am on the road). This is the time when I start thinking about the methods I am playing, what auctions mean what and what carding I will be using. Sometimes I just consider whether I want to sit NS or EW (I prefer to play NS in the afternoon since the stationary pairs I will face in the second session often become sedentary towards the end of the evening). I wonder who I am going to see at the game today or what partnerships I might face. I endeavor to arrive early to the game (something I accomplish about half the time) since late starts that I am responsible for invariably raise my stress level. I seek out my partner so we might clarify our agreements or discuss new thoughts or even the weather. I want to be in our partnership's space before the game commences.
 
All of these things help focus me on my playing environment, and that is the first step towards my good games. By emotionally preparing to play, you will be ready to take advantage of those competitors who do not. 

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Disabled  From the 25th of June to July 9th of 2004, a partner and close friend of mine won 6 straight pair games, and came in second in the one that broke his streak (and only because I had failed to play well).

To look at him he seemed unlikely to be a bridge power. At the age of 76 he was past his physical prime, a fact made readily apparent by the constant tremors that were a part of his daily life. The symptoms of Parkinson's disease made it very difficult for him to use bidding boxes and occasionally awkward to handle cards, which often resulted in his opponents taking this player's game too lightly - to the extreme detriment of their score. For while he was not as physically fit as he once was, Jim Dunlap had lost little mental acuity.
 
A Lifemaster from the mid 1950s, he was a member of the Northwest team that brought a National Championship home to Portland in the 1960s and 35 years later his game was still with him. Jim loved to play, and he demonstrated his flair at the clubs in Vancouver, WA and Portland, OR, as well as in Yuma, AZ where he wintered with his wife of 51 years, Flicka. He believed that bridge contributed to his overall health, while he enjoyed the benefits of the competition and companionship of his peers.
 
Over the years I have had the pleasure of playing with several players who experienced some fairly severe physical travails. Doctor Jay Slotkin was the most physically challenged, as he suffered from ALS (aka Lou Gerhig's disease) to the point where he could only move his eyelids and occasionally a very small smile. We placed highly in one regional event where his nurse held his cards and he communicated by blinking. While he was totally paralyzed, Jay was still the same brilliant researcher and surgeon he had been before he was stricken, and bridge allowed that superb mind an outlet to socialize and compete in an environment where he was a peer. Dr Larry Heavey came to the game late in life after his battle with Cystic Fibrosis prevented him from playing golf in a competitive environment (I believe that temperament had something to do with that as well; I have been told he had an amazing ability to break clubs). He was a fierce competitor and despite his failing health won 11 regional events AFTER a double lung transplant.
 
The duplicate bridge community seems so different from the mundane world sometimes, since people with severe physical limitations can continue to successfully compete against healthier participants. There have been a number of physically challenged players who have competed successfully (most notably Waldemar Von Zedgewitz, who won a medal at the world championships when he was nearly blind and virtually deaf). Players of great age continue to win daily. There have been nonagenarians and a few centenarians who have won regional events, and while these players occasionally require some assistance with their cards or have a stationary table, they are very much equals in our game. They are perfectly capable of providing all of us bridge lessons. With a contest that is played completely in the mind, the table is a level playing surface and they are tigers to contend with.

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Loss My personal journey through tournament bridge life has its many peaks and valleys, and the trips I have made all over North America and Europe have provided me with more of them than I can possibly relate. Yet all of these experiences, both good and bad have made me the player I am today. At last count I have acquired over 600 Blue Ribbon qualifications and over 400 Regional wins.
 
That means that I have lost somewhere around 60,000 times.
 
It is these 60,000+ losses that have contributed the most to my life experience as a player. The opportunities to learn from my mistakes are ever present, no matter where I play, no matter the level of the game. Some of my most important improvements have come at club games, others while I was playing at home. The key has been for me to be prepared to learn something: to keep an open mind (Lily Tomlin had a routine in the '70s where she played a telephone operator who suggested: "Information cannot argue with a closed mind". I remember that thought after some arguments).
 
I had a wonderful soccer coach, Henry Dickie, who taught me that all of life's victories are based on the mistakes and losses we have made before. Keeping that lesson close to my heart, I realized that all of the hands I play and all of the events I compete in are dedicated to my preparation to perform at my best in the greatest forum of all, the World Championships. We were leading going into the last day of the World Mixed only to falter, mostly through my decisions.

We have tried to make the most of this lesson, talking about the loss, discussing our methods, working on our partnership. While we try not to dwell on the negative, we need to evaluate the poor results we have had. Some of the bad boards were the result of good actions by the opponents, so we congratulate them and move on. It is the mistakes that we make that are valuable. By determining the nature of our errors, we have a much better chance of not repeating them. This is how we win.
 
All of us do this on some level, from the novice to the expert. We are constantly testing the boundaries of our partnerships and our personal game. Everyone tries to improve; everyone wants better results. Everyone loses; everyone wins. All of us suffer a crisis of confidence from time to time. In fact, I have lost count of the number of players who have said to me "I am not getting any better. I am making more and more mistakes every time I play" or "I have been playing for 6 months (or a year or 6 years or 10 years) and I am ready to give up the game".
 
You are not alone. We all feel that way sometime. It is all part of our learning process. And once we manage our loss, we are better prepared to win.  Please wish us luck. We need all the help we can get.

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In the Zone  After a few boards you may find that your partnership is in rhythm. Every bid seems to work, every play feels correct. You are playing in the zone. This is the time when you are at your strongest - it does not matter who the opponents are; for the moment your pair is the best in the world.

In the duplicate bridge arena, anyone can be the very best at any time. To my mind that is the single greatest attribute of the game. Every time we sit down we have the chance to beat everyone. At one of the stronger club games that I play in we recently had a Flight C Pair beat all comers to win first overall. Barb Miller and Ilo Kronberger won by playing their game. No more, no less. They played consistently and confidently and they were rewarded for their efforts.

Every opportunity is taken advantage of when you are in the zone. You double effectively, you compete accurately, and you know what you are supposed to do innately. You just have to let it happen. Now is the time to let your instincts drive your decisions. Games like this are often lost when we start thinking. Second-guessing ourselves will typically lead us into making choices that fail.

Blair Seidler, my longtime partner, and I were in the midst of a tremendous session when I suddenly broke our tempo by taking 4 minutes to make a losing decision. After the hand he calmly stated: "Don't just sit there, do nothing".

He was right. I had spent 3 minutes and 55 seconds talking myself into taking a bad save when my 5-second action was to pass. I committed the cardinal sin of failing to believe in our bidding methods and myself. This sin, as well as those of starting to doubt my partner or having a public disagreement about methods become a personality dispute are sure zone killers. His gentle handling of our only 0 of the session kept us in the zone together and we were rewarded with a 78.86% game.

Finding the zone generally comes more easily when you are comfortable in your surroundings. The playing room feels right, the light is good, and you are rested and happy. You are prepared to play well. And your partner is right there with you. Even the bad boards feel good, because you did what you were supposed to do (remember that playing well is its own reward, too). No matter what happens, this game is yours.

Your opponents will feel your confidence, too. They will not be as comfortable as they normally are, for while you are gracious and welcoming, you are in charge of your game today. And your strength will build. The good scores will pile up and just like that, the game you will remember for a long time is suddenly over.

Great days are like that.

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New Methods  Many players are sure bad things are happening when the opponents are playing methods that they are unfamiliar with. This discomfort is often revealed through the aggressive behavior that they exhibit towards the pair playing the unusual method. An unusual method is just that. Bridge is a game that has enormous room for creativity; there is no pure method. That the bulk of people play a particular method does not make the common method the right one, just popular.

Milton Work invented a high card point system that was designed purely for determining whether or not a notrump game was available. A few decades later Charles Goren dusted it off and it became the Goren High Card Point and it was provided to a vast multitude of unsuspecting players who made it the popular tool that it remains today. There are many devices that have been tweaked over the years eventually evolving into systems or conventions that barely resemble the original. Through all of this there were other mad scientists experimenting with new bidding, new carding and new ways of evaluating hands.
 
One of these mad men was Easley Blackwood who was once disciplined for having a device that allowed his partner to know the number of aces he had. Out of this we have Blackwood and its natural extension Roman Key Card (not to mention its sibling 1430). He was often asked why he just didn't show his hand to his partner.

George Rapee grew tired of Sam Stayman's propensity of missing their 8-card major fits, so he created an uproar by inventing the 2C asking bid (when asked by his opponents what 2C promised Sam was known to respond "a hand that doesn't want to play 1N". That certainly caused an argument or two).

Al Roth was so convinced that his partners were so likely to misbid and/or misplay their hands that he invented Sputnik so that he would have a much better chance of placing and/or declaring the hand. After loud and public denigration this device quickly became the popular Negative Double despite the experts' refusal to readily accept it as superior theory.

Transfers, Forcing Notrump, Jordan, Flannery, Support Doubles, Astro, DONT, Hamilton and countless other devices, both artificial and natural in nature disturbed the status quo somewhere in their development, and along the way they were generally put down as crazy or poor theory having very little merit. Now look at them.

Next time you are playing against something you do not recognize, keep a positive thought; even inquire about its use. The device you are seeing for the first time might be changing the face of the game in the future.

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Stamina  Over the last 10 years I have had the pleasure of playing with and against the best under-25-year-old players that the world has to offer. Their skill levels and desire to succeed are not unmatched by my friends and acquaintances who are in their sixties, seventies or eighties, however. Given teams of equal skill, a team of more experienced players will typically outlast their less time tested opponents regardless of their age difference (competitors who have played for 10 years have more automatic plays than those who have only played for 5, for example). Players of any age can compete effectively if they conserve their mental and physical energies, using only as much of their reserves as required by the circumstances of the competition. Charles Goren had a well deserved reputation for drowsiness whenever his partner was declaring (apparently taking naps even during the most exciting contracts), asserting that he needed all of his strength and awareness for the next hand or perhaps the hand after that. After all, what could he do while his partner had control of the dummy?

Indeed. Over the years I have watched countless dummies hanging on declarer's every card as if they were jointly making every offensive decision. This is a tremendous waste of energy. There is no evidence of a dummy influencing a declarer's decision through strength of will alone, much less ESP. Better that our dummy time be used to relax our mind and reduce our stress. The mind needs a break from crisis, just as our muscles need short breaks during physical workouts. Silently recalling a beautiful piece of music helps me to unwind, sometimes thinking of my garden does the trick.
 
Whatever the pleasant distraction is for you, the time to utilize it is when you are dummy. This exercise will leave you more power for the next hand.
 
Frivolous discussions of the previous hand will rob your partnership of the precious energy required for the subsequent hands you will play. Prepare for success by concentrating on the future of your partnership. Discuss only the immediate, the theoretical debate will wait. Your partnership's energy conservation is critical to its success and longevity.

A judicious practice of short-term memory loss will go a long way.

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Teammates  We all know the frustration we experience when our team is having a bad day. They come back +170 instead of 620, or they forgot which keycard they were playing and bid a slam off 2 aces; perhaps they misdefended a doubled part score and failed to set it. Everybody has days like that.
 
Practicing our good teammate skills, we commiserate as best we can: "Unlucky" or "Things will go better next match" or best yet, saying nothing at all when things are truly terrible. One of my regular teammates back east, Satellite Stew Mackiegan (I will save the story of his nickname for another day) starts talking about our dinner plans whenever our partners have just been buried in an afternoon match, and that helps all of us get past the distracting thoughts of the painful loss. Evening losses beget sports talk or if the match was truly silly, which bar to visit becomes the immediate topic. All in all, a fine team member.
 
While consoling our teammates is a fine action to take, it is not our greatest responsibility to them. After the most horrendous loss, we need to be the strong players they expect us to be. We are not responsible for carrying them, in fact just the opposite. We need to play as if they are the best players in the room. We need to play our game.
 
Many teams have lost national or world championships by coming apart after a bad set. It is a particularly bad situation if the best pair has generated the poor result. They often feel the need to get it all back on the next set, taking risks they would not generally take. By taking this approach they stop playing in the manner that makes them strong to begin with; they are less than they could be.

Your teammates picked you for your game. You owe it to them to be the partnership they chose to play with, nothing more, nothing less. A truly good team is one that weathers the occasional losses and celebrates its successes. As long as the party does not prevent them from a similar performance the next day.

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Zero  How many bad boards can you have in one game and still score well?
 
In a matchpoint game where you play 26 deals, each hand is worth 1/26 or 3.846 %. That means that if you have a 0 on the first board you still have 96.154% of your game left. If you average 55% over the remaining 25 boards you will have a 165 on a 156 average, or a 51.56% game. You need only 1 top board to raise your score to 170.4 (54.62) and 2 tops will lift your score to 175.8 (56.35). 58% games score 3rd or higher a vast majority of the time. Since you are almost certainly going to suffer a bad result during any game, giving more weight to an early poor result can cause you to affect a different style of play for the rest of your game. Playing from behind will raise your stress level as well as that of your partner, primarily due to the departure from your normal style of play. Any time you remove your partnership from its comfort area you are testing its strength.
 
Every player manages his or her loss differently. Each terrible result I generate I sign off on my scorecard. This allows me to be accountable and to obtain closure. Before I started doing this I would carry the poor result into the next deal. This would distract me from the current hand and often cause my partnership to suffer yet another awful board. Most players have bad boards in pairs for this very reason. Grief management will improve your scores immediately. Both partners need to use grief management in order to obtain the full value of the practice. That does not mean that you cannot discuss the hand, but that you discuss only as much as is required to improve or confirm your bidding or carding agreements (since declarer play is so personal, conversations regarding your partner’s play of the hand are rarely constructive and often actively destructive).
 
Bridge is rewarding -- do not let an unfortunate hand detract from the overall enjoyment of your game (I have had 11 80% plus games and 4 of them had a bottom board).  You can still score very well and at the very least, enjoy the company of your partner and your opponents.
 
“All of my partners enjoy my declarer play, it provides all of them an excuse to visit the bar”. Robert Cox ACBL Lifemaster # 304

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