“Mom, can I get a chainsaw?” She had some questions as you might imagine. I had seen a juggler on tv who juggled a variety of objects including a chainsaw and I wanted to try it out. My dad took me to a magic store where they sold juggling kits with balls and handkerchiefs. I was unimpressed.
“Once I do these, can I get a chainsaw?” I asked my father. Knowing me, he said, “sure.”
I started by trying to juggle all six balls at once. That didn’t work, so I tried all six handkerchiefs. I never got a chainsaw.
When learning something, you can’t start by trying to do everything at once. You can’t even try to do all of the easier things. To improve, you have to simplify. Get one thing down and then you add another.
What does this look like for bridge?
How many of you want to get better so you think “Ok, I have to count all of the suits, think about the high-card points, figure out the lead, don’t forget to look at my partner’s signal. What was the auction again? Oh did they already discard a diamond? Oh no, I’m lost.”
Let’s focus ourselves. Pick one thing to focus on as declarer. Pick one thing to focus on as a defender. I’m going to offer some suggestions.
Declarer concepts: Count your winners/losers. Analyze the opening lead. Think about things you know from the opponents' bidding/lack of bidding. Think about the signals from the opponents. Count a missing suit. Count the trump split. Count the points in the opponents' hands. ADVANCED: figure out the shape of each hand.
Defender concepts: How many points do partner and declarer have. What is declarer going to use the dummy for? What does partner’s lead mean (or what do you know from partner’s play to your lead?)? What is partner’s first signal. What are the missing shapes?
You can add your own item to work on to the above lists, but remember that it's not a buffet: pick one at a time. Once you have that concept down, you can move on to the next.
As you read that list, some of the items might seem familiar. “Oh, I always do that.” Great! We want to build towards eventually doing all of these things. But trying to juggle all of them at once might not make you quit bridge, but it might make you quit trying to improve.
One last thing to add to this. It’s easy to forget that you are supposed to be working on one of these things. Force yourself to be accountable. Either ask yourself or have your partner ask you about the key topic. You and partner can both be working on the same problem and hold each other accountable. At the end of the round (or session), have partner say "What was the lead?" or "What was your plan?".
Focusing on one individual area of improvement will allow you to add items to your list of “I always do that.”