“I may not be good, but I’m fast.” I’ve said those words dozens, if not hundreds of times, by way of acknowledging that my partner and I are once again sitting around waiting for the next table. Some days at the club it feels like I spend more time waiting to play than actually playing.
Not that playing quickly isn’t without consequences, I’ve made more than my fair share of ridiculous errors like calling for a card from dummy that I meant to play on the next trick or not really seeing the opponent’s card before I play, which is as inexcusable as they come as far mistakes go. As fast as I play, sometimes I just end up ahead of myself.
As much as one hears complaints about slow play, to my surprise some of my opponents have actually complained about my playing too fast. When one person at a table is playing at an excruciating slow rate they are, whether they mean to or not, foisting their pace on everyone at the table; but my pulling cards from my own hand without a moment’s hesitation (or, some might say, thought) does not wrench the cards from the opponent’s hands any quicker — much as I might like it to in some cases.
The expert types that I’ve come to admire do pause to ponder the unseen far more frequently than I do. I know their ability to play the cards better than I do is related to whatever it is they’re thinking about at these crucial junctures, but while I may know enough to realize a hand has reached a key play, I can only very rarely tell just what it is they’re working out.
Just the other day at the club, one of these quieter expert types was waiting at my table for the next round and our respective partners had wandered off. Out of the blue he said, “You play fast. I mean, REALLY fast.” “Yeah, it’s kind of a problem,” I said. He shrugged, “But if that’s just how your brain works.” My brain, when it works at all, works fast. When I slow down I get lost, start to second guess myself, often losing the thread of my thoughts altogether.
I have this nagging fear that to get to where I want to be I am going to have to tear down the way I declare a hand and start from scratch because there’s a lot I’m doing by feel and that’s only going to get me so far. “Card sense” doesn’t take as long as analysis, it isn’t as hard either, maybe I’m this fast because I’m lazy. Maybe I should worry about eliminating the stupid mistakes before I start worrying about improving declaring technique, but maybe they’re the same thing and, of course, there’s much more to bridge than just card play. This game so often feels like a sinking ship, every time I fix one leak another one appears somewhere else.