Two weeks ago I started a class of bridge at Ascoli Piceno’s Circolo Cittadino (City Club); my three pupils, Cinzia, Giampaolo and Valentina didn’t know anything of the game, it was their very first time at the table. I dealt a deck, turning up the last card, and I started to explain the Whist. I pointed out that it needed to carefully watch and remember any card. Later, at home, I received an email from Giampaolo; he wrote about card memorizing and asked me:
…Are there techniques to develop some specific memory?… Could be possible to make a choice of what might be more useful to memorize?
In my opinion, Giampaolo’s asking dealt with a main key of bridge thinking, and it deserved many responses, not one only; therefore I forwarded it to others. Today the responses from Boye Brogeland and John Carruthers.
Boye Brogeland – There are probably techniques that might help (the same way there are techniques to remembering texts you read better), but I haven’t used any specific technique myself. My main tip is focus. Focus on the cards in the suits and find out which cards are missing. As a beginner I would limit this to the trump suit. That’s your focus. Then you count the trump suit and try to figure out which cards remain in the suit. If it’s just small cards I would think of this as small cards and focus on the ten, jack, queen, king or ace that might be missing. If you do this every time you play a hand it will become automatic so you don’t have to spend much energy on the trump suit anymore. Then you can start the same drill on critical suits where you have to know which cards have gone and which cards are left. Little by little you will be able to remember more suits and hopefully can count all the suits after a few years (yes, it takes time to memorize the cards as I think it is as much an experience thing as a memory test).
John Carruthers – There are indeed techniques serious players can use to help memorize the cards in a bridge deal. Here are some points:
1. Firstly, the word memorize is a bit misleading. I prefer it that I am cognizant of the cards played rather than having memorized them. The key factor is counting the cards, not memorizing them. Having said that, you do need to memorize (or remember) the significant ones.
2. Focus, hard work, practice and repetition are the main ways bridge experts deal with the issue of remembering cards. Counting the cards is imperative.
3. However, little shortcuts are available.
Let’s take one suit at a time. Say your trump suit is as follows: AK43 opposite QJ52. Focus on the cards you are missing: 10 9 8 7 6. These cards are most often divided in the opponents’ hands 3 in one and 2 in the other. Since they are all equals, it matters not, after 2 rounds of trumps, with 2 from each defender, which trump is still outstanding. In this case you need to look to see that each defender follows twice, then realize that one trump is outstanding. That is a simple example, but the idea is to use your own and the opponents’ distribution to help with remembering and counting. Similarly, suppose you have a side suit of A2 opposite K1065 and plenty of trumps in both hands. You play the ace and king and trump one. You need to watch to see if both the queen and jack fall to make your ten good. If they do not, then one of those cards is still outstanding and you must ruff the ten as well.Similar techniques apply to the other suits and, depending upon the bidding and play, can be used on a case-by-case basis.
4. Shortcuts like those are necessary because bridge competitions are exhausting affairs and if one tried to actually memorize all 52 cards in each deal, by the end of a session, you’d barely be able to remember your own 13.
5. Practice makes perfect – it can do no harm and can help, to sit with a deck of 52 cards and turn over a few for a few seconds, then try to recall them. You’ll find that, with a complete effort, you will get better with practice.
6. Visualize the opponents’ hands, then play them out mentally with the opponents as you declare. Do the same for your partner and declarer when you defend. Review and revision is always necessary.
Memorizing at Bridge – by Paolo Enrico Garrisi
Part 3: “Shortcuts”