Dealing with Losses at the Bridge Table
by Katie Coopersmith (c) Great Bridge Links
For some of us, losing at bridge is no big deal – you’re a beginner, or you’re not so competitive, and a loss here and there is to be expected. You dust your ego off and move on.
However, for others among us in the card-playing crowd, losing is a big deal – and it hurts. Particularly for those who play at a high level, or who feel like they have a lot to lose, not coming out on top can kind of feel a bit like the end of the world. You might experience symptoms like rage, grumpiness, snappiness towards your partner and/or opponents, and perhaps even an intense desire to give up the game. What’s more, bridge may be particularly fraught with loss anxiety because of its inherent partner element: letting down partner is upsetting, and so is being let down.
Losing may be especially difficult when you’re not used to it. Studies have shown that ‘high-status’ players who lose to ‘low-status’ players tend to behave less generously after the game. This can be seen at most bridge tournaments: we’re all familiar with the person who sulks following an unexpected loss, or who refuses to join the rest of the group at the bar because they’re too emotionally sore.
There’s also a biological reason why we tend to feel crappy or low after a loss. Our bodies respond differently on a hormonal level after winning and losing, respectively: both men and women have higher levels of circulating testosterone after attaining ‘high status’ through winning, and testosterone tends to drop along with social status after a loss. Of course, we’re speaking on caveperson terms here: odds are, your fellow bridge players aren’t actually going to see you as ‘lower status’ after you lose a game, but you might consciously or unconsciously feel less-than, and that’s enough to set off this physiological response.
Thus, feeling upset or even angry after a loss is perfectly normal, especially when you lose at something you’ve devoted a lot of time to learning. But the truth is that not one of us can win 100% of the time, so losing is something that we likely can and should all learn to deal with. Luckily, researchers have also uncovered a few potential coping tips and tricks:
In poker, there’s a term called “tilting”. It’s used to refer to “detrimental decision-making as a result of losing control due to negative emotions,” and anyone who’s ever played bridge at a competitive level knows that this phenomenon isn’t just limited to poker. However, studies have shown that having more experience playing the game can improve our emotion regulation capabilities and reduce tilting. This makes sense, if you think about it: the more games you play, the more you might be able to understand that losing – while painful – isn’t the end of the world.
Distract Yourself At First
Do you spend the hours (or days, or even weeks) after a big loss replaying what went wrong over and over in your head? Well, cut it out! It’s easier said than done, of course, but try to spend the night after your loss doing something totally unrelated to bridge – hanging out with your family or non-bridge-playing friends, for example.
Then, Study Up!
Once you’ve given the burn some time to cool off and heal, meet up with partner (or take some time on your own) to think logically and clear-headedly about what, in your view, went wrong during the game. Next, create a plan of study and/or attack designed to address those specific weaknesses. You’ll be back better than ever before you know it!