# Bridge - Counting and Visualising

Been playing Bridge for a couple of years now. Have improved in bidding, strategy and other stuff. But one place where there is no improvement is counting and visualising.

At best, I can keep track and visualise trumps in opp hands. Becomes very difficult to do any more than that. If I try anything else - i.e. tracking/counting a 2nd suit, visualising opponents hands etc, I lose even the trump count. Basically, my mind just can't visualise and juggle these things. I have tried all standard ways to improve. But of no avail. Anyone have any radical methods to help with this?

I am looking for people for who this didn't come easy.

• Can you describe what you tried? ("Standard" ways, might be different for different people) Aug 21 '12 at 15:38
• Tried 1) memorising different distribution patterns eh 4-4-4-1, 4-3-3-3 etc - all possible combinations 2) Tried visualising a distribution of each suit or of each opponent at the beginning based on distribution and keep adjusting - but the brain is just not able to juggle so many things. The moment I think about strategy everything else goes out of my mind. 3) Counting up, Counting down - anything else given in books/websites. Aug 22 '12 at 2:09

## 4 Answers

There are many books written on this subject; Ron Klinger's 'Improve Your Bridge Memory' was the one I used, but I imagine your public library or bridge club will have a selection. The problem is that nobody but yourself knows what methods work for you.

Two examples from Klinger, one easy and one harder; you don't need to count how many of your own trumps (or other important suit) have gone, so long as you pause at the beginning of the hand, say to yourself 'I have four trumps and dummy has three; that means they have six between them', and then count each time one of the six is played. And secondly, always try to make up a mnemonic for a principle: playing Roman Blackwood, 5H shows two aces the same colour, 5S either two major-suit or two minor-suit aces, and 5NT two either hearts and clubs or spades and diamonds. That's hard to remember, but if you think of clubs and hearts as both a rounded shape, and remember C for colour, RA for rank and SH for shape, C-RA-SH should be enough to remind you what your response should be. (You make up your own mnemonics based on what helps you to remember, of course).

Personally, I found the second tip useful and the first counter-productive; but only you can tell what will work for you, and only after hard work both in finding methods and in practising. (Don't believe anyone who says 'it just comes naturally'; usually they have been playing for thirty years, and have forgotten how long it took before it all came together.)

Edit: I gather the real problem is remembering everything at once. In that case, try to build up your memory gradually, and try to separate the problems. So don't try to remember the exact probability of every possible distribution, start with '3-1 is 50%, while 3-2 is 60%'; you can add more, and refine the numbers, as you get better. And having made your plan based on the assumption that trumps will split 2-2, you don't need to remember why you came to that conclusion, just to count how many have shown up.

• I don't have problems remembering bidding conventions. Aug 22 '12 at 2:15

The Chase-Simon experiment with expert and novice chess players suggests that you don't need a superhuman memory to play bridge, and, moreover, that what you perceive as a memory-skills deficit between yourself and better bridge players is more likely to be caused by their being good bridge players rather than the cause.

(If you haven't read about this experiment, it's explained nicely in the first couple paragraphs of this webpage. The short summary is that chess experts are way better than chess novices at remembering realistic chess boards and absolutely no better than them at memory tasks not directly related to the play of chess:

The point is that the human mind is not so good at remembering lists of numbers, but is great at remembering narratives. When you start playing bridge, "I started with AKJT3 of spades and dummy had 84" sounds like a list of numbers. After a while, it seems like a narrative.

So, my first advice would be: forget about your memory trouble, and get better at bridge. The most fun and productive way to do this is to play at your local duplicate club. This is much better than the slow play you will get by taking bridge lessons or playing casually with your family/friends (I don't recommend jumping into the deep end of the pool for total novices, but it sounds like you know what you're doing). Slow play is particularly taxing for the memory.

My second advice would be: turn what you see as soon as the dummy comes down into a narrative. You can start this simply. If you are declaring: "I am missing 5 trumps and we have a lot of clubs, so I hope I can set them up after a few tricks." Much later in the hand, when you are thinking "I can't remember if my 8 of clubs is good or not," hopefully you will remember, "wait, I started out with a bunch of them, and I don't remember anything really crazy happening, like righty being void in clubs, so, probably my 8 is good." If you find yourself wondering about the 6 of diamonds, well, you and your partner had bunches of spades and clubs, so it seems unlikely that the 6 is good late in the hand. Of course this is not perfect or even very good, but it's a lot better than giving up.

Or, if you don't have a long suit, maybe there's a suit that you'd like to finesse in. Remembering that this was the suit you were trying to grab an extra winner in will help you remember that you started with AQ in your hand (or maybe a naked king on the board, or...) Or maybe RHO bid hearts a billion times before you finally shut her up with 4 spades and partner comes down with a long heart suit. Part of your story is "there aren't a lot of hearts to my left." Maybe you only remember that.

As you get better you will get really used to situations like the ones above. So hopefully, after a month or so of playing at the club once a week, you will have been declarer with a long side suit sufficiently many times that it's no problem remembering exactly how extreme your extra length is (8? 9? 10 cards in the suit?). And then remembering strength within the suit, etc., will follow.

• Also, since you ask for experience from people who also had trouble. I played bridge (badly) for many years on BBO before going to the club and never got any better. I found club play improved my memory substantially. I remember that when I first started going, partner would ask after a hand "how many spades did you have?" and I'd have no clue. After a year, it was easy, not because I got better at remembering numbers, but because I could remember "I was hoping you would open 1NT because then I could transfer you to my horrible 6 card spade suit and pass." Having a regular partner helps. Mar 2 '14 at 17:42
• I fully agree it's not a memory skill. But it's a skill alright. It's not something everybody can learn, though everyone can improve. The skill I am missing is to arrange stuff in my mind & solve problems in my mind. With any kind of problems which aren't trivial, in general, I am very good if I have a paper & pen in hand & pretty average without a paper and pen in hand. I have compared it with others who are better than me in solving stuff in their mind, but I kick their ass if I have a pen and paper with me. It's this same skill which gives me problems in bridge also. Mar 3 '14 at 2:32

Here's the way I've approached it. I am still learning but seem to be getting better. First, my partner and I practice counting and visualizing online against a pair of robots. There are downsides to the robots (they don't always card the way humans do), but they're good about letting you chat as much as you like. After bidding, whether we're declarers or defenders, we'll discuss what we've learned from the bidding, what honors are out there and where they might be, and how we think the cards might be distributed. We then begin thinking about strategy and potential obstacles. I've found that if you have a strategy (or several) mapped out, it becomes a little easier to count, b/c u know what you care about and what you don't. Maybe you can see that a 4-1 break in a suit will hurt your strategy, so you look for that break and change your strategy if the suit breaks that way. Maybe you know from the bidding that the K of hearts and the A of diamonds can't be in the same hand so you look for the play of one of them to figure out the location of the other. By thinking about the hand that way, counting becomes part of your overall play and not something separate. Of course, this takes a lot of thinking when the hand is first laid down, but I'm hoping it will become faster as we practice more. A good teacher is also crucial, b/c they help to give you ideas about what to look for.

Counting trumps is a good start. If at least one of the opponents has bid a suit, you can count him/her for at least five of them (except for a short minor). By looking and your holdings and dummy in this suit, you can get and idea of what the fourth person has.

The other thing is that if one opponent has bid/overcalled and you are in game (less so in a part score), you can expect the bidding opponent to have most of the outstanding honors. This is particularly true if non-bidding opponent has played an honor or two early on.

Likewise, if neither opponent has bid, you can expect outstanding honors to be SPLIT, meaning that if one opponent plays a bunch of honors early, the other probably has the remainder. And probably neither opponent has a six card suit, and possibly not a five card suit.

• I can count one suit. But if I start thinking about a 2nd suit, I forget my strategy and the first suit count. I know all the theory about splitting etc, but it doesn't help. Aug 22 '12 at 2:11
• @user93353: One world class expert, Terence Reese, advised people to focus on TWO suits (not four). Most people look at two many. But if you can look at only one, that's probably "too few." As a practical matter, if you "know" three suits, the fourth is pre-determined. Knowing two gets you a long way there; knowing one does not. Aug 22 '12 at 15:14
• I am not sure how it is for an expert - but for me, even if I manage to remember three suits, the mental jugglery of calculating the 4th suit from the three will make me forget something else - i.e some count, or my strategy for the hand etc. This isn't because I am weak with calculations - I think I am pretty good at it. But because I am unable to multitask between so many things. Sep 25 '12 at 12:36