“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom” —Aristotle
One can become a very fine bridge player through experience alone. This is what makes bridge and other card games so much fun to learn! We can improve dramatically by simply playing the game we love. Look around the card room and you’ll find that the better than average players in each game are usually the ones who have seen the most hands.
While experience alone can make you quite good, hard work will make you even better. The best players have not only played a ton of bridge, they’ve also worked hard on their games away from the table. They read about the game, refine and practice their bidding systems and are tirelessly analyzing hand after hand.
As a pro bridge grinder in New York City, I was able to sit down and play bridge every single afternoon against some of the finest competition in the country. This experience was a gift and helped me improve dramatically. I took my job as a pro bridge player seriously so I was always working on my game. Reading, practicing, analyzing hands and asking questions of some of the world’s finest bridge minds. This experience and hard work made me into a very fine bridge player but there was one more thing I needed to learn to become the player I am today.
I didn’t truly unlock my potential as a bridge player until I realized I STINK AT BRIDGE!
At the start of my pro bridge career, I had the good fortune to live with some of the best players in the world and they taught me so much. The best lesson, however, came on a random afternoon after one of our club sessions. I arrived home with a story of woe that started with “You won’t believe what my partner did on this hand…”. I proceeded with a story about my partner’s poor play on defense that cost us a game swing. I was perplexed to see the whole room (four world class bridge pros) shaking their heads at me. While they agreed that my partner’s play was awful, they all also agreed that this situation was entirely my fault and proceeded to show me why I should anticipate this issue and several ways I could have avoided it. It was tough love from my roommates, there was some laughter and some colorful metaphors thrown around about how hopeless I was (which was true for sure). It was completely mind-blowing for me at that moment. I simultaneously realized what had been missing from my game and what it really meant to be a “PRO” player. I was missing a crucial component for success in any worthwhile endeavor, honest self-reflection.
This felt odd to me because of my experience at the poker table. When I started learning poker I was fortunate to know I was terrible. This knowledge coupled with the individual nature of the game made honest self-reflection seem quite natural. I could be brutally honest with myself about my successes and failures because I knew I was bad and I had no one to blame but myself! As my skill improved at the poker table I started to recognize the major difference between the better players and the bad players. The bad players were constantly complaining about their bad luck (or others’ good luck) and never challenging themselves. The good players were almost never talking about luck and were constantly thinking about how they could have played a certain hand better or differently. It’s this mindset that can take anyone from good to great.
The reason I was slow to realize this leak, was that I had way too high an opinion of my own bridge game at this point! I started playing when I was a kid and after 20 years off I was still able to get hired to play professionally!? “I must be soooo talented and smart!” (yuk!). Thanks to my friends, and their not so generous opinions of my skills, I was finally able to approach bridge the same way I approached poker, from a position of humility. Once I realized that I was “bad” at bridge, I could truly become better. I was astonished by how much more quickly I started to improve by simply adding this knowledge to my daily life. I would walk into the bridge club and say to myself “Try not to stink too much worse than normal today Rob”. If a mistake was made by my partner I first looked within. I would think of any way I could have been better and many times I would find these ways. I started to recognize the “bad players” at the bridge table would always be blaming partner for their mistakes while not recognizing their own obvious mistakes on the same deal. The good players meanwhile were sympathetic to partner’s mistake and frequently would apologize for not finding a different path.
Self-reflection at bridge can be tough at first because you may make the same mistake I made in my story. You may see an obvious mistake that partner has made without noticing the less obvious mistakes that you made leading up to partner’s failure. The better you are, the more likely you are to come to these incorrect conclusions. If you are known to be a good player, you are more likely to be trusted in your analysis than an inexperienced player. As a result no one, including you, will dig any deeper into the deal. Don’t make this mistake! Be humble, don’t stop learning and allow yourself to go from good to great.
Rob Barrington is a professional bridge player and world renowned bridge instructor. He is the founder of bridgelesson.com and teaches large online courses on that site and through his popular YouTube channel. Rob resides in West Palm Beach, Florida.
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Lovely article😊thank you. I look forward to losing my humility, but I fear it’ll never happen 😂
It gives me hope that maybe I can improve. Will dig deep to try as I do love playing.
Keep grinding .
My partner and I will both try harder! And we will stop blaming our opponents, each other or the robots for not giving us more points!!
Well, I am only in my 80th year, but my advice is "Go for it".
I started on BBO about 18 months ago (during the Covid crisis), after quite a long lapse from playing bridge. Of course it has taken me some time to regain my former skills (not that they were ever that great), but it has been really enjoyable.
I think the advice, for what it is worth, is "make what you think is the right bid - don't procrastinate". You will make a few mistakes along the way, but soon pick it up again.
When I play 'live' where I now live, my main frustration is that my partners have no idea how to defend.
Wel I’m also in my 80th year, but Been playing for many years, but I find that getting people together for cards is a big time problem, because of that I’m not playing as much, too my singring, lost spelling on lot's of words these days, oh we’ll see you on the tables!
Thanks so much
I've seen Rob's youtube videos and they are so helpful especially since I am teaching a few of my fellow seniors to learn bridge at these ripe old ages. I've picked up new information myself in watching the videos. Rob is GREAT!
Awesome Janet! Thank you so much for bringing the game to more people.
Nice to know we all stink at this wonderful mind game
I listen to his weekly/daily game on YouTube
Very humbling and he is so right on!
A great reminder to be humble my favourite bridge teacher said when he had a bad hand on defence he tried harder to than ever to get a positive score
I recently confessed "I stink at Bridge"; a game I dearly love and crave to improve. This article is right on target
Well said 🃏
As a long time student of yours, Rob, I am in total agreement with the 'Aristote' (Aristotle) !!!!! quote as it brings home your point clearly pertaining to our great game. Thank you.
Thanks. Good reminder.
While playing with my mentor some 10 years ago, and after a bidding disaster, he said
“I could have made that easier for you”
Made me feel so much better. ❤️
I'm into my 90th year. A very smart 75 year old has invited me to be his partner on BBO. I fear being a total "too slow" flop and procrastinate.
Advice from any quarters ... please.
Play for sure. You might me surprised.
Go for it. If you have Grit, determination and the drive to learn it all, you will be successful
Like going to confession ...