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Spade Article - The beauty and potential of a mistake

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Oops! I called the ace from dummy, but now I have to play my queen.

Bridge is often overwhelming for the beginning student. There is so much to learn, it seems impossible to ever understand it all. Add to that the competitive desire to do well and a fear of looking bad in front of others and you have a recipe for disaster that results in many new bridge players quitting.

This is compounded by the fact that mistakes make people uncomfortable and may even make them feel threatened. Serious students often strive for perfection - an unattainable goal in bridge.

No one sits down for a session of bridge and has a perfect game. Bridge is a game of mistakes. Experts make mistakes.

If you are striving for perfection, this is the wrong game for you. So much of bridge is judgment. Our bidding and play judgment is improved and refined by experience and knowledge, but it will never be perfect. For all of the conventions and techniques that we can learn and use, some times it comes down to your gut and no matter how much experience and expertise you have, you can get it wrong.

But more important than recognizing that you will always make mistakes when playing bridge (and accepting that!) is recognizing that mistakes are an invaluable part of the learning process.

Experience is the single most important factor in improving your bridge skill. Not card sense. Not mathematical ability. Not innate logic sense. Experience.

Experience is what separates me from my students. It’s what separates world champion bridge players from me. It’s Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours.

And if experience makes you a better bridge player, the most useful experiences are our mistakes. We learn more from mistakes than we do from successes. Why? Mostly because we dissect our mistakes, figure out what went wrong and how to recognize a similar problem in the future. Our successes we wrap under our belts and don’t examine too carefully so we don’t risk lessening them.

If you want to really learn bridge, you have to embrace the joy of making a mistake. You have to be willing to leap and make a bid or play that you can’t logically explain and see how it goes. You have to approach your mistakes with an attitude of open eagerness.

I believe that the single most important part of learning is embracing the mistake. Being willing to make it and having made it, being willing to learn from it without including all the negative emotions we typically feel when we’ve made a mistake.

Mistakes will either be your most powerful learning tool or the most destructive part of your game.

When you make a mistake, you need to let it go and move on with the intent to examine how you could have known – later. Why? If you are playing a hand and thinking about the mistake you made on the bidding, you will now make several more mistakes on the play.

Make a note of the hand for the hand record. Plan to take a picture of it at the end of the hand (which is why I recommend even social bridge players play duplicate style!). But leave the mistake in the past, until you have a free moment (not one where you should be thinking about a new hand) to examine it.

Embrace that mistake as an opportunity to learn. Mistakes are good things, and framing them as such within your mind will do more to improve your bridge game than just about any other single thing you can do. You will always make mistakes while playing bridge. Will you benefit from them and grow? Or will you resist them and allow them to poison your bridge experience?


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