Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The dirty C word

A bridge player aiming to improve needs to grow on three planes : understanding, application and psychology.

Improving understanding relates to concept while improving application and psychology relate to delivery (terms originally defined here).

Today, lets look at one aspect of improving application : Count.

Once our bridge growth takes us to the stage of being advanced, we realise that counting shapes and counting points is not that hard. However, we tend to use this process only when we feel it is worthwhile. Some days, we diligently count away every hand while on others we get into the auto-pilot mode. Most days, our approach is a mix of the two ; stopping to fully count only when we feel either unsure or lost or sense that the critical point in the hand has been reached.

Let me quote Bobby Wolff from his book The Lone Wolff
"Much is gleaned about the other hands once dummy is tabled. I am not always exactly correct but I can approximate the distribution of the other hands at that stage and have a better idea than most players about where the high cards lie.Then, after the next few tricks, the distribution becomes a virtual certainty and the high card information falls into place.Is this unusual? No ! Not only is it not unusual, but there would be no way you could be among the top one hundred players in the country if you didn't do this on every deal. You must count each deal, which requires concentration, work and more work, and then you must possess the discipline to work some more after that. Envisioning the unseen hands is second nature to an expert."

And quote Bob Hamman from his Bols Bridge Tip
"If you are ever to amount to anything at this game, you must build up a picture of the unseen hands. The idea is to know what the problem is before you try to solve it."

True value from counting comes only we apply ourselves fully on each hand. Whether defending a slam or those overtricks in 1NT. We need to accept that a justification like saving energy is an excuse. If counting each hand tires us, we need to improve on our energy reserves.

Next post, I intend to share some thoughts and techniques on conditioning us to consistently count.
Meanwhile, am very interested in the thoughts of what works or worked for you guys.


  1. What works for me in conditioning myself to consistently count is kind of auto-Pavlovian.

    It goes like this:
    * I play well, counting everything
    * I get lazy
    * I don't count everything
    * It costs me
    * I get cranky and don't sleep much that night
    * I get cranky about losing sleep
    * I start counting everything again and I miraculously start playing well
    * I get some sleep and all is well with the world

    A little pat on the head and a scratch behind the ears would be nice too.

  2. I guess that it's as standard for a defender to take stock and plan ahead as it is for a declarer. To do this effectively i have to try and get a picture of the hand, and it requires concentration and thought..and decisions.

    I'm beter at counting shape than pips, but find it helps me to put 'em into hi low mid first (kind of like a sorting process that may reinforce quality and lifespan of short/mid term memorisation...) - also helps to interpret the opps' carding. maybe. sometimes.

    I also like the anticipation involved, it's kind of thrilling...though I must admit that sometimes I am completely wrong, utterly baffled and look up from the cards with people staring at me in bewilderment(?) which on my partners' parts can incude a hint of pain (sorry guys)
    Love this blog Sartaj,

  3. It seems so obvious that the key to counting is counting all the hands all the time, that I'm always shocked to discover there are good players who think it is important to save their energy. It is because you do it all the time that it becomes second nature and therefore easy.

    When I'm teaching people I make them play pure count signals. It might not get them counting every hand every time, but it does mean they do have to count. It means all our post-mortems start with counting.

  4. Where is the next post !!! ???