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Fred Gitelman Advice - 3 - On becoming an expert
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Preamble: Another of my articlesof Fred Gitelman's expert advice, as collated by Eugene Hung. The title says it all -- from 2003 BBO archive question, but relevant to a hopefully increasing portion of the BW audience.


"on Feb 16th, 2003, 9:27am, Lestat wrote:

1. How does one get to be an expert? I would enjoy hearing from experts how they came to be expert – how hard did they work at it, personal examples, focus of their efforts, development of their skills, etc.

2. What qualifies a person to that title?In amateur golf, it's nice to be labeled a "scratch" player. What criteria are universally acceptable or a good reference?

3. How much of a factor (in being or becoming) an expert is bidding, declarer play, defense, or "other?"

Thx. "

Read on for Fred's advice.

To some extent the answer depends on what you mean by "expert". In my view this term is used far too much on BBO and throughout the world of live bridge. I consider no more than 1% of all bridge players to be experts. To me, the only reliable standard of expertise is regular success in major tournaments.

Here are some tips:

1. Be prepared to spend several years working at it!

2. Play as much as you can.

3. Go over all of the deals that you play in an attempt to evaluate your weaknesses and learn from your mistakes. Do not believe people who say "I played perfectly today". Every bridge player makes several errors every time he plays. Having the right attitude about your mistakes is very important.

4. Play with and against the best possible opposition.

5. Ask more experienced players questions about bridge and LISTEN to their answers! Do not ask questions for the sake of proving yourself right. Ask questions so that you can learn the truth! Do not ask a question and then tell a more experienced player he/she is wrong (even if you believe this). Thank them for their advice and think about what they had to say. You can later choose to ignore their advice if you want.

6. Read as much as you can.

7. Use various software tools to help improve your skills and understanding. Our company has developed several excellent educational products that can help.

8. Don't spend a lot of time learning conventions or fancy bidding systems. Concentrate on card play and judgment.

9. Consider hiring a teacher or professional player to help you learn.

To really be an expert, you must be proficient at all aspects of the game. Being proficient at bidding does not mean knowing a million conventions. It means being able to make consistently winning decisions in judgment situations.

Hope that helps and good luck in your quest!

Fred Gitelman
Bridge Base Inc.

Don't give a great deal of conscious thought to this subject in your first few years of serious play. Learn a simple bidding system and only the few conventions that are so popular that they have essentially become part of "standard bidding" (unfortunately there are now quite a few conventions that fall into this category).

Keep your mind uncluttered with conventions that you don't really understand and play as many hands as possible, ideally with either a keen regular partner who is at roughly the same level as you or with a much better player who understands that it will help you more to spend your time discussing conceptslike "a jump shift is forcing to game but a reverse is not" rather than the latest flavor of modified DONT.

Your brain is a remarkable machine. You will learn a lot of what is important by osmosis, especially if you manage to avoid distractions (like trying to come up with the best possible scheme of rescues when the 10-12 1NT opening that you shouldn't be using get doubled).

If you can afford to hire a professional player to be your partner or to give you online lessons (or whatever) you should do so, but do not hire anyone unless they are highly recommended by a person you trust and respect. If the pro or teacher starts by telling you that you must learn to play "4 of ourminor is always 1430 Keycard Blackwood with specialized followups to the trump Queen ask" then find someone else - this person is trying to sell you snake oil.

After each session you play you should think about the hands and talk them over with your partner. If your partner is at the same level as you, try to make friends with an experienced player who is willing to discuss the hands you are not sure about (and who is the type of player whose idea of good advice does not involve teaching you that you would not have had a problem if you used his preferred variety of Extended 2-way Reverse Drury).

If you are fortunate enough to have access to an experienced player who is willing to help you, do not waste this opportunity by asking him questions that are designed to boost your ego (by trying to convince him/her to agree that your disaster on a particular hand was your partner's fault for example).LISTEN to your expert friend/teacher even if you disagree with him or her. Then THINK about it later. Do not get defensive when you are told that one of your bids was horrible. Instead try to understand what went wrong with your thinking process so that you can learn from your mistakes.

Once you get to the point that you consider yourself to be solid intermediate player (this should take 2 or 3 years of hard work) you should buy a subscription to The Bridge World magazine (and if you have friend who has a collection of back issues try to borrow them). Each month this magazine has a feature called The Master Solvers' Club. Read it and think about what you read. Re-read it and think about what you read.

You may find the other features of this magazine to be interesting as well, but it is fine if you read only The Master Solvers' Club in each issue.

This will help you to learn things like:

  1. That bidding is not just an exercise in language, it is also an exercise in logic.
  2. How strong players apply logic to solve unfamiliar problems.
  3. The axioms that form the basis of this logic (which are "the basic principles of bidding theory" that I referred to in an earlier post).
  4. You will also learn plenty about the language aspects of bidding, but most of these lessons will not involve learning the names and mechanics of new conventions.
  5. That bidding situations in which the "right" answer is not at all clear are far from rare, regardless of how well you play.

This will also help you to improve your bidding judgment. Good bidding judgment is largely a function of experience. Reading what a bunch of good players have to say about a bunch of interesting bidding problems allows you to benefit from their vast experience without having to experience the same hands yourself.

Keep in mind that in many ways "learning the basics of bidding theory" is similar to things like "learning the basics of probability theory" or "learning the mechanics of compound squeezes" - these are all just parts of the game. On any given hand any given part of the game is unlikely to matter. You can survive (and you can certainly enjoy bridge) without learning such things.

All players are better at some parts of the game than others. For most parts of the game it is not necessary to be highly proficient in order to achieve reasonable results at the table.

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