Having confidence in your skill and ability is a key contributor to success at the bridge table. Hence using a methodology to help identify the areas we want to work on improving is a great way of targeting our bridge practice. It will also gain the most benefit. In my book ‘Gaining the Mental Edge at Bridge’ I discuss analysing your results to identify the areas you need to focus on to improve your game. However, that analysis tool takes a fair amount of time, and at the moment, with a limited number of competitions happening, it might be hard to complete.
An alternative and perhaps easier method is a ‘Performance Self-Assessment’ tool. I used this successfully with the shooters I coached. This tool lets you assess your own performance on a variety of factors in three core areas – Technical, Physical and Mental. For each factor, rate yourself using the following scale:
5–Excellent; 4–Very Good; 3–Good; 2–Fair; 1–Poor; 0 – Don’t know
While any self-assessment is subjective, it nevertheless can help you identify the areas that require attention. With the shooters I coached, it also helped getting them to ‘buy in’ to the coaching plan. After all, you are more likely to get the athlete to do the work if you can say “Doing this exercise is going to improve this area you have identified that needs improvement”. Utilising this approach for bridge, a list to evaluate one’s skills across the three target areas might look something like this (not exhaustive):
- Bidding judgement
- Agreements with partner
- Opening leads
- Counting the hand
- Counting the pips
- Declarer play
- Squeeze play
- Drawing inferences from bidding
- Drawing inferences from play
- Ability to complete competitions without tiring
- General fitness
- Eyesight (can I see the cards?)
- Recovery time after heavy / long training or competition session
- Heat management during competition/training on hot days
- General health
- Attention to what I eat, especially before a competition
- Coping with match pressure
- Maintaining concentration
- Ability to recover performance after a poor result
- Ability to maintain performance on lead
- Ability to think about the process for each hand instead of the outcome (result)
- Paying diligent attention to each trick
- Ability to cope with distractions during the competition
Rating your performance against each of these factors is a quick and easy way to identify the areas you want to work on to improve your game. You can target areas you identify as your weakest for extra practise.
One of my current improvement areas is counting the hand and paying closer attention to the pips on every board (yes that is two areas I guess, but they are complementary). This training paid dividends recently in a deal from an online tournament where I sat South:
West kicked off the defence with a heart, and when North’s excellent dummy came down, it looked as if the contract would have chances even against a bad trump break. I won with the King and continued with ♦K, won by East’s ace (ducking for one round would have been better for the defence). East exited with ♥Q around to dummy’s Ace. Leaving the club suit for the opponents to open, I decided to find out how bad the news was about the spade break by running ♠7 around to West’s ♠10 confirming the 6-0 break. West’s club continuation helped define the suit for me, and after East won with the Ace, he continued with another heart, ruffed in hand while West discarded a diamond.
With a complete count on West’s spade holding now, I cashed the two club winners and exited with a diamond, which West was forced to ruff. When West put ♠J on the table, I could win with my ♠Q and play another diamond, endplaying West to make both my Ace and ♠6.
With three natural spade tricks opposite partner’s opening and rebid, one can hardly blame West for the penalty double. Had I chosen a different line of play or the defence taken a different action during the play of the hand (holding up ♦A for one round), the contract might have been defeated.
Knowing your study on an aspect of the game has helped you to think clearly and deduce the most successful road to bring home a doubled contract makes the extra work worth the effort.
First published: Australian Bridge, October 2020