The woodcutter who chops down the tree must allocate time to sharpen the saw; otherwise, felling the tree takes longer than it should. Often, we are so focused on producing results (“sawing”), that we neglect the task of “sharpening the saw.” In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey used this metaphor to describe the energy that we must exert to increase our personal capacity in four dimensions: mental, social, physical, and spiritual.
I have discovered that one way of staying sharp is by learning how to play bridge. Although I learned some of the bridge-playing basics from my parents, the game never took root, until recently. Specifically, I have learned to enjoy the game under the guidance of Bob Dolan, who conducts classes at the Oak Park (Illinois) Park District.
Bridge is quite unlike other card games such as Gin Rummy, because it requires a significant amount of mental energy on the part of those who play it. Furthermore, to improve, one must memorize certain conventions with odd sounding names such as Stayman and Jacoby Transfer. Memorization relates not simply to conventions, but also applies to keeping tract of the cards that are played. For example, in most hands, one of the four suits is designated as the trump suit. As cards in the trump suit are played, one must keep a running tally. Anyone over the age of 46 years old who has memory challenges—such as recalling the name of that acquaintance you haven’t seen for over a year—will discover that playing bridge strengthens your mental memory muscles.
Also, our mathematical abilities come into play. Players must compute the number of points in their hands as wells as estimate the points that are represented in other peoples’ hands. Likewise, bridge exercises our statistical and logical competencies. In terms of the former capability, sometimes one has to estimate the probability that the cards are distributed in a certain way; and in terms of the latter proficiency, one must often use deductive reasoning to determine what the appropriate bid should be.
According to our teacher, at the highest levels, bridge is more complicated than chess. For example, no one has been able to program a computer to successfully play bridge whereas in the case of chess, computers have beaten grandmasters.
In additional to exercising our mental faculties, bridge necessitates the use of certain social skills. The ability to communicate with ones partner–thereby building a relationship–can mean the difference between victory and defeat. Poor communication between partners can result in prickly moments. As reported in a front-page article in the New York Times, on the evening of September 29, 1929, two couples—the Bennetts and the Hofmans—played a game of bridge. Towards the end of the game, Mrs. Bennett excused herself, went to the bedroom, got a revolver and shot her husband dead with two bullets. Apparently, she shot her husband because of the way he bid. Furthermore, she didn’t like the way he played his bridge hand. Mrs. Bennett was acquitted. I am happy to report that my experiences with miscommunication have not been quite so harrowing.
In conclusion, bridge is a distinctly social game played with a partner. It is also a mentally demanding game that requires a commitment to master. Thus far, I have only taken baby steps in learning the basics. But at last nights’ lesson, I joined the American Contract Bridge League. My hope is that by joining this organization, I will solidify my commitment to the game. This in turn will further sharpen the well-honed tools that are required to succeed, not only in bridge, but in other facets of our increasingly complex world. Let me conclude this post by saying….wait…just one second…now where did I leave my glasses?????
How do you sharpen your saw?