Squeezing The Dummy

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

How To: Improve Your Game

The most frequent question I am asked is, "What can I do to improve my game?" The truth is it's a lot of hard work. As in most areas of life, there are many more people who desire to become better than people willing to put in the work to achieve it. For those still interested, here is a guide to improving your bridge game no matter what level you are currently at.

Step 1: Play many, many, many hands. This cannot be underestimated. The more hands you see and experience you get, the better you will become without even doing anything else. While you are playing these hands, count. Count points, count shape, count winners, count losers, count everything. Form a picture of the hand, and change it with each trick that goes by until you know every card. The more you do this the more natural it will feel. Honestly, it is impossible to play good bridge without counting. Online bridge is great for this purpose.

Step 2: Evaluate. After each session you will need to objectively evaluate how you played. What boards did you lose imps on? Why did you lose imps on those boards? Could you have done anything or were you unlucky? This will be a very hard process, because you will realize that you suck. In reality, we all suck, and we just strive to suck less. After you go over the hands with yourself enough, you are going to find certain weaknesses in your game. Right now I feel like I give up the most on opening leads. I am getting into computer simulation, and forcing myself to take more time with leads. Leads are obviously not an exact science, but I'm sure I could do better. Whatever your weaknesses are that are causing you to drop imps, figure them out and don't feel embarrassed.

Step 3: Plug your leaks. You know what your weaknesses are, so fix them. This will not happen overnight. The main thing to do here is read. If your cardplay in suit contracts is a big weakness, read any declarer play problem you can find in a book or message forum that has a trump suit. Try to work it out. Really try, don't just think for a minute and then look at the answer. The other thing to do is to think. Really think about certain problems that you get wrong, like 5 level decisions. If you don't bid 5 over 5 enough, what is wrong with your evaluation? Perhaps you don't realize the power of a void in the opponents suit. Sometimes the problem is mental, and you have to fix it mentally. If you are unable to do this on your own, discuss hands with better players. Sometimes hearing their thinking process will make it clear to you what the error in your thinking was.

Step 4: So, you're now capable of analyzing every hand and not doing anything stupid. Sometimes you still do though, why? Once your game is at this level and you are technically proficient, you need to work on your head. Bridge is a mental game, and you need to be at your best all the time. Many capable players play poorly because they have problems focusing and concentrating. Sometimes they don't get enough sleep, or play distracted. Sometimes they can't get over a bad result and do something stupid after that. Don't fall into these traps. Figure out how to get your mind right, and what the best conditions are for you to be able to focus and give it everything you have. Again, this requires introspection to figure out what's going on. Only you can know, and only you can fix it.

Repeat. I guarantee if you go through these cycles many times and swallow your pride and ego and really work hard at doing these things, you will find tremendous improvements. I still go through this cycle routinely, and hopefully I always will. Nobody is too good to improve.

Sound like hard work? I'm exhausted just writing about it.

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