I once wrote an article about my experiences with bridge novices. They often dwell in, what I then called, the 'magical universe'. The article has lost none of its topicality.
For about twenty years I teach bridge to beginners. They amaze me again and again in frequently assuming a suit holds anything between thirteen and twenty cards or a board an almost infinite amount of high card points.
It's not easy for bridge beginners to limit their 'bridge universe' to forty high card points and four times thirteen cards. Sometimes, after having arrived in trick thirteen, they discover to have held twelve cards only (because they haven't any left), while the other players feel like playing another trick.
The player in question feels embarrassed, stupid. The other players laugh because they are relieved it wasn't them.
Of course, the player in question is not stupid. He (still) lacks oversight of the bridge game. He looks at his hand differently than an expert would do. A 4-3-3-2 distribution does not strike a beginner as odd, the expert immediately notices there is a card missing.
That expert 'looks' in distribution as it were. 4-3-3-.. lacks three, not two. 5-3-3-.. needs two. 4-4-4-.. is completed with one, so is 6-3-3-.., and so on.
I have tested this in a number of my tutorial groups. I asked students to finish a sequence.
Student: (pausing) ... (mumbling) 'twelve', (aloud) 'one'.
This illustrates the way of thinking and thus the difference with an expert. Virtually all students added the three numbers and arrived at the answer by subtracting the sum from thirteen. Written down like this, it looks a bit laborious but this is a reasonably accurate description of the actual thinking process.
The novices are unfamiliar with the numbers that make up thirteen (the number of cards in a suit and the number of cards in a hand). One would not expect this unfamiliarity to last long. After all, in every board players are confronted with these numbers in two ways:
- the thirteen cards one is dealt are divided over four suits (sometimes three, very rarely two; the chance of one suit only is negligible)
- the thirteen cards per suit are divided over the four hands/players.
In practice this expectation is not met. Quite often I see relatively experienced students miss this fundamental knowledge (or not apply it). I suspect because they have not been urged to 'think in the right direction'.
To give an example: when finding out about a 4-4 fit few players automatically think: '3-2', '4-1' or '5-0'. With this I refer to the possible distribution of the suit in the opponents' hands. Yet this basic thought is the beginning of all dummy play theory.
to be continued