Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Anxiety - the third worse cause of poor perfomance.

OK the first cause of lackluster performance is an easy one. Lack of preparation, lack of hardwork
The second one is the lack of concentration, or the lack of focus - or an misdirect focus.

Will I survive ?
But in bridge, like any performance sport, when you compete in high level competition, state anxiety is our own first enemy. For a competitor who is unprepared, the anxiety may simply because the stakes are higher, be the competition is tougher etc

For example, it is seen frequently in athletes who participate in team sports. It is common to hear athletes talk about the fear of mistakes and the fear of not disappointing a coach or a teammate. In the same way as no one wants to miss the last shot to lose a game by one point or miss a winning field goal attempt on the last play of the game, noone wants to give a game swing away.

So one of the most obvious source of anxiety for us would be in bridge the fear of coming to team mates with a big minus. Try going back to score up with a minus 800 against nothing. You know noone will ask (Well in a reasonable team anyway:) ) but you also know that they wondering.

Anoter fact in long matches is the "leading by a number" syndrome. And one or more player on the team develop the fear of losing that lead, because it has been known to happen in a big way.
So marginal games are bid - because what if the other pair bids it! - , the fear of the -800++ is at an all time high.

And there is the knockout format. The one mistake and you are out anxiety.

In fact, I would say this is a big factor in long matches, where one of the team is leading by a reasonable number. The leading team will avoid "big number" and will bid marginal games because what if the other pairs bids it.

In my previous post, my question was why did the north player not convert 4D to 4S. Well I did ask.
His answer was that 4S could have gone for a big number. And in that, full credit must be given to the opponent who read the situation acurately and created the situation. Try not to feel worried about
after this auction.
1D    X     1H   3C
3S   3NT   P     P
4D   P        !

Since anxiety is  difference between a successful player and the guy next door....  the way a player deals with anxiety  is an essential step toward best performance. 
So how to go about doing that? The firts step is understanding.
In the mean time, if you become aware that anxiety is at work in your game, you could try this kit:

To be continued.....


Monday, April 9, 2012

Was it fear?

Nothing to fear but fear itself
(Rosevelt said at his inaugural speech)

 It is well understood that anxiety is a big undermining factor in performance. A few of my posts touch on the topic. But anxiety itself must be better understood to have a chance to counter its negative effects.
Anxiety could be a personality trait but it is not that which I am addressing it. Best to leave that topic to the life counselor. This post deals with the short term state anxiety caused by a specific event.
One of the things that can lead us out of The Zone.
  • Stress - A state that results from demands being placed on someone such that he or she must find coping mechanism.
  • Arousal - The recognizable physiological signs that tell a person that they have entered a stressful state.
  • Anxiety - A result of someone who doubts his or her ability to cope with the situation that is causing stress.

Anxiety comes in different variety that may not even be recognized by the person who experiences it. You cannot fight what you cannot see. At the same time, it is a  very useful mechanism without which you can easily become fool hardy.
Clearly a lot more to be said on this topic but to illustrate the point, I saw a few hands during the last Australian Playoffs that could well have been a direct result of anxiety. If you play bridge in Australia, you do not get many opportunity to be challenged, excluding maybe professional players who must at least face a different kind of challenge. So it is easy to get lulled into a sense of  greatness and find youself anxious in a more difficult situation.
But enough talking and back to a bridge hand. I have been called an overbidder so maybe my perception is shaded by my own view of the game.

Dealer, you open 1D
Double on your left and partner responds 1H.
Your bid?

Well one south player elected to show his spades and the pair ended up in 4S which is a lucky making game.
At the other table however, the dealer bid of 4D which passed by partner for 1 off.
Now, it is lucky indeed to be in 4 spade making in a 5/2 fit. However, I believe that you have to be there to be lucky.

So why would any player bypass bidding a 5 card suit which such a shapely hand?

At the time, the score was about 20 imps ahead in favor in south. But there is little doubt that the double by the left hand opponent triggered the chain of mental state anxiety that led to the suppression of that nice spade suit. After all, the opening bid was not the strongest in terms of HCP. The player may well have been thinking (and still thinking) that he was dealing with a situation with logic when in fact cognitifve anxiety was hard at work but unrecognized. (Well I will not be asking! Maybe 4 diamond was a bid to show 5 spades on the side)

To be continued ...........

Well the hand is worth showing since the bidding was recorded incorrectly. Give due where due is du and sack the vugraph operator!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Lucky works for me

I was musing some time back on the topic of luck, the fickle mistress of the bridge player: She comes when she pleases. Along of the side of luck.
My club game was going along, not very well at all. I had been sitting iddle for a while, and I was waiting for the cards that gave me an opportunity to raise our score.
Then came this hand. Not worth to give as a problem.  It is not partificularly difficut, though I guess our opponents did not think so at the time.
The play was
S5 S2 S9 ST
S4 S8 SK C2  (upside down attitude signal as it turned out)
For lack of a better plan
D7 4 6 9
C3 5 K A
And that was the end of the hand. I played DA and a D and W returned JC but  had to give me a major suit trick in the end.
Well I could not wait to see where the C9 was to tell you the truth.

So the morale of the story is: luck come in all sorts of shape, defensive errors, lucky lie of the cards... But you have to be there to collect it. And then being there, make sure you give it the opportunity.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Adventures at the club

Bridge can be fun at the local club.
I was dummy on the hand, and partner tried her best to make the hand.  It was certainly highly entertaining.

The contract is 4 . Your go:
J 6 3 A
4 T 9 7
3 8 5 2    

 (This is what happened at the table so I am going along. But if you put up the T, that will hold)

As for me, I will be maybe doing some vugraph for the Australian playoffs in a couple of weeks.
I also did that last year for the women  playoff . You would never know that counting to 13 could be such a challenge. Australia seems to have lost its touch. (Well apologies to my australian audience, but think about it before getting offended).
I must say that playing in any final can be tiring and players are bound to make a higher number of mistakes then.
Which comes back to my earlier post:
Have plenty of sleep when you play in a tournament, because if you end up fighting for the top spot, you want to be the one who is still awake.
(There is a this fun post on bridgetopics. worth a read for sure What Bocci has to say)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The best advice I have received

My earlier post brought 2 things to mind: 2 things that were at play on that club game, on the hand I posted in the previous post.
In quest my quest to become a better player, I have always welcomed the advice of others, especially if the others have demonstrated serious performance skills.

The first one was given earlier in my bridge life. It made sense then, but nowhere like it does today.
So that most important advice was given by Tim Seres, at the matchpoint pairs event in Surfers where my partner, after making a great deceptive play, lost his focus and played the wrong card.
Tim said:
"Concentration is the most important thing to improve. It takes work, it takes practice. Learn to concentrate on the cards, to not let anyting distract you, practice at every game you play, until it become second nature. It took me years of work, day after day."

Those whose have witnessed Tim play can vouch for it ability to remain unruffled. His talent was immense but most noticeable was the fact that he never wavered. His deameanor remained the same regardless of outcome.

The second advice was not given directly to me. It was more a case of a player telling me about something he had done systematically in a bid to improve his performance. Nonetheless it  made its mark and the impact on me has been huge.
For every hand you play, whether you are defending or declaring, assign a hypothetical shape to the opponents. If you are defending, assign a shape to declarer. If you are defending, start by assigning a shape to tle player on lead". This is something that you have to keep doing until it becomes second nature

And of course, be sure to readjust your thinking as more information becomes available :)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Hello again. It has been a while

Well it had been a while that I had held a bunch of cards in my hand. Life got a bit complicated and bridge had to take a back seat.
But it is like driving a bike, you don't forget.
While my interest in what drives outstanding performance still remains, having spent an afternoon at a pleasant social game at the local club, I realised how much I like the game even if I don't get to play it. I will get back the topic of performace but in the name of fun, here is a hand.
 We are back at the club. Not a difficult hand, but not a hand I can talk to my partner about so I had to find a place to vent a little, What better place than here.
OK you are my partner , we are playing matchpoints (my favourtite part of the game) and we are defending 2 Spades
Here are the cards and the bidding:

The plays goes as follow:
DK D4 D2 D3
C5 C4 CQ C7
What is your play?

My last game before that was the fun I had in the playoff last year. Not the strongest event I have participated in but the most motivation for me. I was happy to be there (even though the team was expected to be a no-win team) Having looked at the results later, I realised that while I was far from card perfect, it was one of my best performance. Since I had not taken any magic potion to improve my bidding or card play, clearly some other factor was at play. In that order, I would say.

I had the confidence I could perform better than anyone else there (call me cocky)
I had the best of partners. Her capacity to stay solid and to stay on her side of the table was second to none.
I slept well, ate well, and did not do late night drinks (except on the last day)
Since the team was not that strong, my only focus was be to play well so that the captain would play us a lot :) :)  which was achieved :) :)
So I do hope that the opportunity to play comes again.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Practice is over - Win Ugly

Practice is over

We can certainly strive for perfection - or try to be perfect - during your training and practice sessions. However, one of the main goals is to accept that we can’t be perfect when we play sports. We are human and will make mistakes. Even the best in the world mess up or goof up from time to time.
You have worked hard, trained hard, and practiced up to this point. Hopefully in the process. learned things, practiced the things you learned and improved what you were not doing as well before.
It doesn’t help to continue to work on or master these skills just before a game or competition.
The most important goal is to perform with confidence, focus and trust. The zone can only be reached by confidence in you own skills and absolute focus on the game.

Win ugly

Practice is over. Now is not the time to think about perfect form.
Maybe you will not make the most elegant play or look like a star if went down a contract because there was a hole in your knowledge or because your thinking was not optimal.
You may trip over your own feet, make a mistake because your thinking was not optimal, mess up the timing of a play, get a good score out of a poor action.
Play to play great today, which means get the job done, even if your game looks and feels imperfect or ugly. This is what we call “winning ugly.”