Monday, 5 October 2009

BRIDGE PLAYERS AND MAGICAL THINKING....( Article by Professor Hu Chi Ku Chi ) Magical thinking is a topic worthy of research, especially when one chooses to explore its presence in the world of bridge. A simple definition of magical thinking involves the ability to turn "nothing" into "something" ( or vice versa ), as well as the ability to turn "something" into "something else ". Bridge players it seems are adept at all three. However, it is important to see bridge in the same light as poker.... having a basic requirement for players to gamble, and take calculated risks. Therefore, if we view bridge players as "gamblers", then they inevitably fall victim to magical thinking, in the shape and form of irrational beliefs, erroneous perceptions and illusion of control.
  • Irrational beliefs result from a lack of understanding of probability theory. A typical illustration is when a player elects to take another finesse ( destined to fail ) believing that the law of averages must be on his/her side this time round......especially, after seeing every earlier finesse fail.
  • Erroneous perceptions are almost similar to irrational beliefs, except for one crucial difference. All too often players become victims of the "near miss" phenomenon. This means that they become convinced that the same tactics and strategies, and in both bidding and play, must come good the next time round because they almost worked last time.
  • The illusion of control is a concept that in some instances refers to a player's belief that his/her ability is good enough to influence the outcome of a particular hand....... when in reality the opposite is true. However,it usually refers to a player's belief that control is in the hands of external and invisible forces, where all outcomes are pre-destined. But then, of course, they are others who feel this control can be wrestled back...and that future outcomes can be changed. This requires them to believe in superstition, taking all the necessary precautions and preventative actions recommended.

So here we have it then.....magical thinking is all about believing in the absurd: theories, outside forces, things, objects or actions none of which conform to scientific knowledge, common sense or reason. In other words, unjustified and misdirected beliefs. How often have we seen bridge players attributing their downfall to "dark forces", "bad luck", "jammy opponents", external "distractions", and internal " stress or illness" ? Players are utterly convinced they are never to blame. Magical thinking as always will provide them with an answer or an excuse: " The reason I fouled up was that partner's previous cock-up was still preying on my mind ! " In some instances, as a the last resort players will lay blame on their failure to observe a superstitious rule.....or their failure to bring along his/her lucky charm/ item of clothing. These shocking oversights clearly warranted punishment from those they offended. Many will complain about being made to sit in the "wrong seat", which was always likely to be a bad omen, where bad luck and misfortune must surely follow. Therefore, when magical thinking enters their minds, the altered state of reality sets in. Victims of this phenomenon become easy to recognise, for they all possess the one same characteristic.......the erroneous perception that they are all experts. Indeed, I once played in a match where the opposing team was made up of 8 so-called experts. We won 20-0, but their universal response ( and thinking ) endorsed the notion that " because none of hands suited their particular bidding systems, the fickle hand of fate was clearly against them".....and that "voices in their head told them to do all the wrong things ". Without doubt, in their tapestry of their minds, the threads of magical thinking and insanity are closely entwined .

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