The Importance of Knowing Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Nevena Senior

No one's perfect. Even at the very top, bridge players don't get every board right or avoid all mistakes.

People who play with confidence usually get better results without being card/bid perfect. One way to boost your confidence is to get to know your strengths and weaknesses. Analysing yours and your partnership's game will help you identify what you can or can't improve. Once you’ve worked this bit out, you can then concentrate on minimising the avoidable errors rather than dwelling on the boards you lost because you didn't know better.

Take conventions for example. Some very fruitful debates took place on the BBO forum about the use of bidding gadgets. Excellent teachers and theorists expressed strong opinions for and against. You should work out for yourself how many artificial bids you can cope with. Every competent partnership must have the basic conventions in their toolkit; Stayman, Transfers, take out and negative doubles, and some sort of Blackwood.

If you want to go beyond these though, it’s important to recognise, understand the use of, and remember the meaning of artificial bids. As an example, at the top level, Ace or control showing cuebids are regularly used in slam auctions, but these are often not fully understood. Skillful use of cuebids incorporates Aces (keycards) asking at the right moment, usually when one player knows controls in all suits outside trumps are present. However, there is more to it, like trump substance or comfort with the Aces (keycards) asking response. If your partnership struggles with such evaluations, you'll be better off dropping the cuebids from your system and instead target natural slam tries in combination with Blackwood or Roman Key Card Blackwood. If you’ve had some bad experiences using cuebidding, and decide on this strategy instead, don't worry about the occasional board when you have 12 tricks available, but opponents cash AK in a side suit and defeat your slam. Put it into the category of your partnership’s weaknesses; don’t stress about it, move on.

If yours or partner’s declarer play isn’t the best part of your game, every time you're unsure whether to accept or decline a game or slam invite, think about which one of you will be declaring the contract. If it’s the weaker player at card reading or squeeze and elimination techniques, stay low and hope that game/slam is not trivial to make. On quite a lot of borderline hands, good skills are needed if the contract is to make, and any positive score will bring you a decent amount of matchpoints.

If your defense isn’t so strong, be bold and bid more in competitive auctions, especially against skillful declarers. Allow your opponents to stay at a comfortable level and you'll be doomed. Bidding more might result in a poor score if no one makes anything, but the opposing pair, being confident in their own declaring ability will often misjudge and stretch themselves to a contract that even the most miserable defense can beat. On the rare occasions that you're left to deal with a hopeless contract, remember that it could have been worse if you’d relied on your defense.

The boards that you should be concerned with, are the ones where you make silly mistakes. Try to work out where you went wrong and think about how to avoid doing the same thing next time. Almost all of these, made at all levels are due to a momentary blip in concentration. It will help your performance if you manage to identify the triggers. They are different for different people - some concentrate better when they have had just the right amount of food, some are distracted by noise, others are affected by the speed of play. Knowing what leads to mental lapses will help you counteract these triggers.

The aim of my column isn’t to say you need to be resigned to your weaknesses forever. It’s more to compartmentalize your game to improve, and this is a process that will evolve. Of course you can work to improve and you find some excellent tools on BBO to practice:

  • Bridge Master is a magnificent tool for training one's declarer play
  • the bidding table in the Practice section is extremely useful for partnership bidding and experimenting with new conventions
  • starting your own table in Casual-Competitive Game gives you the possibility to play old Vugraph boards (click on the three lines on the top left hand corner and select Deal Source, as either random or specific Vugraph deals).

The last option might require you to hire robots, but it provides an excellent opportunity to practice with your partner in a competitive environment without the stress of playing a tournament. I'd recommend you to use BBO video chat at the same time and discuss tricky bidding situations or signalling methods in defense. Click here on how to use video chat.

Once you feel you've improved one or more areas of your game, you can adapt your game accordingly. Let's say you started out not understanding how squeezes operate and after a few months of practice on Bridge Master, attending lectures on the topic, reading books or even hiring a professional teacher, you manage to see and execute them, you can then stop thinking of as "the boards I'll mess up, but I don't care about". Be proud when you get them right and classify them as avoidable mistakes when you don't, trying to work out why you missed an extra trick.

If you’re not sure what your partnership’s strengths and weaknesses are then take a look at a few BBO tournaments that you've recently played in. Check all the boards that you scored less than 40% an investigate what happened at the other tables. There'll be some deals where you were completely fixed by opponents doing something that no one else did, but you’ll definitely find a pattern of your own wrongdoings; underbidding or overbidding, consistently making fewer tricks than other declarers, defending badly or making the wrong opening lead. Analyse the reasons for bad results that were self-inflicted, fight the battles you can win, and let go of the ones you can't. Play with confidence, remember that everyone makes mistakes, concentrate on reducing the number of unforced errors and you’ll finish up with much better results.

About the author

Nevena is a multiple World and European champion, having played for Bulgaria, Great Britain and England. She teaches bridge to all levels, both face to face and online.

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16 comments on “The Importance of Knowing Your Strengths and Weaknesses”

  1. Excellent manageable advice. Concentration grids were mentioned in Croatia lady’s article last year and very useful for focusing practice. Maybe BBO could repost it. Bridge can keep your mind active if you continue learning new things about the game. Have fun and good luck. 😊🍀

  2. Nevena knows exactly how I play. I'm trying hard, but it\s not easy. I'll practise more and hope to do better.

  3. I meant to give it 5 stars.
    Confidence is a key component at the table. Humility after a good result is always important. Thx.

  4. This was some wonderful advice!! I constantly lose concentration and it bites me every time. I must try and figure out triggers and come up with solutions. Also, losing the gadgets that I do not completely understand is really good advice.

  5. I am a big fan of Navena . I have played against her several times at Nottingham Bridge Club. She is an inspiration! Her article is so very helpful. Please let’s have more. Thank you Navena
    Fay Staton

    1. Excellent Advise everyone should read this SUPERB article to evaluate oneself and our partners
      Rashida Loya-Bova

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