One of the keys to becoming a good bridge player is to develop "card sense", which is generally defined as an aptitude for card games. Many people will tell you that you have to be born with it, or that it must be acquired at an early age. But is it an inborn talent, or an ability that can be developed?
It's true that some people seem to have a natural gift for cards, and if you played lots of card games as a child, you probably have a head start. Bridge card sense, however, is something that almost any intelligent, motivated learner can develop. It involves knowing the relationships between cards, visualizing how the deck is divided among the four hands, and in general, just having a good understanding of how tricks are won.
Even if you're an adult who's never seen a deck of cards, you can develop these mental facilities. With practice, you can actually "teach" your brain to process information about cards. In doing so, you'll develop memory skills that are useful not just for playing bridge, but for many other mental activities. Here are some activities you can use to speed up the process:
One of the best ways to learn how to take tricks with various card combinations is to practice them in isolation. Take 13 cards of one suit out of the deck. For declarers' and dummy's hands, take 7, 8 or 9 of the cards out, deal them into two piles (any number in each pile) and turn them face up. Decide how many tricks you think you should be able to take with the two face-up hands and in what order you would play the cards to achieve that result.
Next, "test" your play by adding the defenders' hands. Deal the remaining cards into two piles (any number in each pile) so you have a full layout of the suit as it might be at the table. Decide which card you would play to each trick if you were a defender.
Repeat the exercise by making small variations in your original layout. Move a jack from declarer's hand to dummy's, change the number of cards in each defender's hand, etc. and see how it would change your play and the number of tricks you can take.
Keep a deck of cards handy -- on your desk at work, or on your coffeetable or nightstand at home -- and when you have a few minutes (or the boss isn't looking), deal out a practice hand.
Read the bridge column in the newspaper. Keep in mind that most columnists write for intermediate-level players, so don't be discouraged if some of the bidding and explanations don't make sense. Just use what you know and do your own analysis. Look at the hand diagram and decide what you would bid with each hand, what opening lead you would make, how you would declare or defend the contract, etc.
Keep your class notes and bridge book accessible. Read a chapter, or even a few pages, during your coffee break, between TV shows, before you go to sleep.
Bookmark some bridge web sites and visit your favorites to see what's new.
Play a hand or two on your computer. Download the free Learn to Play Bridge programs from ACBL and review the lessons and practice hands.
If your local TV stations are running one of the new bridge programs, tape the weekly show and watch all or part of it whenever it's convenient.
Experience itself is the best teacher of card sense, so the more time you spend actually playing bridge, the faster you'll develop your abilities. Don't feel like you have to know everything to begin playing. As soon as you've finished a few lessons, organize a weekly game with some friends or the people from your class, or recruit co-workers for a lunch-time game at work. You'll pick up more skills every time you play, especially if you can get some more experienced players to join your game.
Try to keep playing regularly after you've finished your lessons. One option you should consider is duplicate bridge. You don't have to be an expert, or even a very experienced beginner, to join the games at your local bridge club. Almost every community has at least one weekly duplicate game, and many are for novices only. If you don't have a partner, the director or club manager will usually find one for you, or you can just kibitz the other players if you like. Feel free to ask questions after you play or watch a hand; the more experienced players at your club will be flattered if you ask for their advice. Although you probably won't win (or even avoid coming in last) the first few times you play, it's a great learning experience.
Try these suggestions to see which work best for you, and use your imagination to identify other learning and practice opportunities. Developing your card sense will take time, but if you're committed enough to put some effort into it, it will come. And with every small step you make, you'll probably find that you enjoy playing bridge even more than before.
Copyright © Karen Walker