Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sitting on the dock of the bay....

Ben Thompson posted a detailed comment here.
Telling ourselves that we are capable of being world class is just classic amateur mental gymnastics to help ourselves be satisfied with our (lower) performance level.

The original quote was
" of Australia’s top players are pretty close to the best in the world but their worst is a lot worse...."

which I interpretted as
"best (performances) of Australia’s top players are pretty close to the best in the world but their worst (performances)(are) a lot worse"

With our liberal definition of world class (quarter finalists at a World Championship), I find myself in easy agreement. Not on the basis of any delusions but simply looking at the results over the last 10 years. Made the cut in the olympiad once, the bowl twice, 19th in the world pairs, 2nd in the PABF, 7th in the Cavendish.

No one claimed "We have a bunch of players who are world class"

And instead of running away from the possibility of making the ranks of the elite, my intention is to try and understand the reasons we fail to make the mark consistently. There are plenty of excuses floating around: not enough time to devote to the game; other priorities in life; if only I had the ozone million ...

I see enough who are capable, and have proven so on some occassion, in the big league.

The secret, to me, is in understanding the difference between those best days and the others. And to do something about it.

I do not intend to build some convenient little excuse and then sit on it for the rest of my life.


  1. Sartaj says "The secret, to me, is in understanding the difference between those best days and the others. And to do something about it."

    This to me is the fundamental difference between a professional and an amateur. The determination to reduce the days that aren't best - and through a logical process.

    Bill has data to back his argument that system is where many top Australian pairs are behind. Is he doing something about it? You bet, he talked me into playing Fantunes. I said in my earlier post I'm only willing to suffer a certain amount, but I'll fess up in this one that I am willing to suffer a lot more than a very large number of people. How's the suffering going on Fantunes you ask? Not bad, but talk to me in a year, maybe two.

    I think the big bidding issue is in tight competitive auctions. Partly judgement, which you solve by failing more often - and remembering to learn from it. Partly having tight agreements - and I think top Australian pairs fall away here in that they have relatively few but broadly applied agreements, and so not being nuanced enough in particular situations. I'm as guilty as anyone.

    I think cardplay is the bear in the room, but admitting you could be a better card player is like admitting you could be a better driver. Very hard to do psychologically.

    And working on your card play is like working on your golf swing. If you're an expert, it's very hard to identify the crux of the problem because there are so many moving parts and you are by definition very successful with what you do right now. It's notoriously difficult to fix the problem without breaking something else.

    I have more to say on cardplay, but I suspect I'm in danger of turning into Peter Gill :-)

  2. Agree that competitive auctions is where the money is. The swinger is "judgement" and that is where any aspiring team needs to be sharper.

    I dont think the bidding system of any practiced partnership is a significant factor in holding them down (from making quarters of WC). Intend to detail that in a blog post one day. However, there might be a case that our efforts dont always meet the standards even of a "practiced partnership".

    Having said all of that, these details relate primary to concept whereas my contention is that it is in the delivery that Oz teams really struggle.

  3. There's an interesting debate about whether an execution failure is really a problem with delivery or concept.

    Going to golf again, think of a golfer who seems to have magnificent skills yet consistently fails to claim the win in the final round. Kind of the opposite of Tiger Woods, who consistently delivers in the final round.

    Is the failure a problem with executing core skills (delivery) or a problem with core skills per se (concept)?

    Maybe the key issue is that the execution of some skill breaks down under pressure. One solution is to revise the way you execute the skill so that it is more reliable under pressure, when you are most susceptible to tightening up.

    Elena Dementieva, as a tennis example, had serious problems with her serve, which arguably cost her several grand slam titles. She remodelled her serve and has come back a more consistent and more dangerous player. She may not ever actually win a grand slam title, but she's taken the key step of revising her concept to eliminate a delivery problem.

    So, do Australia's top bridge players have a concept or a delivery problem with their card play? It looks like delivery. How often have I heard "that guy [pick your favourite world champion] doesn't do anything I can't do, but he does it more consistently"?

    I contend that there's a concept problem. One thing that impresses me about the Italians is how rapidly they play their cards. Rapid delivery depends on strong concept.

    And I'm also going to contend that it's easier psychologically to admit, even just to yourself, to a delivery problem than a concept problem.

  4. I felt the most telling comments from the blog that triggered Kokhan’s comments were from Cathy Chua...

    "Providing them with as much bridge as possible which is of integrity would be one step in this direction. Providing them with expert guidance is another."

    And Jason Hackett...

    “... that team needs to be playing strong events for some time before a major championships, look at the teams who do well and look at what they play in"

    These both speak to playing under pressure.

    I’m interested to hear what you think is possible in these areas.

    Michael Phillips

    P.S. I’m still following up Polish friends, have you spoken with George.

  5. Ben, I believe that any professional should take responsibility for his actions. From a strict competitive point of view, it does not matter whether an error was a concept failure or one of delivery.

    Agree with you that psychologically it is easier to accept flaws as deliver issues. " I know better than that"..."I would not normally do that" "What was I thinking" etc. are standard responsibility avoidance mechanisms.

    For improvement, however, the student needs to
    appreciate the difference between delivery and concept. If pressure/nerves cause delivery issues, then just the awareness of it being the case is the first step of improvement.

    You could be right that the way to strengthen delivery in some domains might be to tighten up the concept.

    I believe that the distinction between the two however is a crucial bit of self-awareness in the quest for improvement.

    Thanks for your thought-provoking comments on this so far.