Top class players often attribute their success to their " card sense ". Indeed, these players may well possess an innate organic ability to understand the game of bridge and all its facets. But what does card sense really mean ?
Some commentators define it as " an acute awareness of the totality of what is going on ". Others include within the definition the notion that a player must have " a fantastic sense of seeing how the play of a hand will develop, immediately after the opening lead " .
It has also been suggested that to be blessed with card sense is to be blessed with a " mysterious gift ", which enables the recipient to possess " an intuitive knowledge of the cards, who holds what, and how to play the hand to his/her best advantage" . Cynics, however, take the jaundiced view that card sense is nothing more than intelligent guesswork, and good old fashioned common sense. But what is for certain, it is something far far more than intelligence, good memory, and an ability to do the technically right thing.
Many will argue that card sense enables a player " to see through the backs of cards " . It is without doubt an ability to read the game, and your opponents. For instance, a declarer with card sense will not ask the question why the opponents made opening lead say in diamonds , but what the reasons might be for not leading a card from one of the other three suits ? Another aspect of this gift involves the player's ability to " see through the smoke " , as well as being able to throw up deceptive play smoke screens of their own.
Some observers have argued, quite strongly, that card sense involves seeing things that other players can't ......having the ability to problem solve in both logical and abstract way. Indeed, psychologists have gone as far as attributing card sense " to spatial intelligence, where you can put abstract things in your mind, and solve problems mentally ". For instance, what number can you see hidden in the 3 cards shown face up on the table: 5H, 5S and 6D from left to right. The answer of course of 10 ! Those that see the coded message, which is not directly obvious, suggests this gift must include insight and lateral thinking skills.
However, if one attempts to explore the other components of card sense , the suggestion that it involves " a sixth sense " may well have some validity. This particular concept seems to encompass the elements known as " table presence " and " a real feel for the game ". This may be likened to a natural instinct to do the right thing at the right time : an ability to exercise superb judgement, knowing what to do in every situation to maximise one's chances of gaining the optimum result. Perhaps, it is also the ability to " avoid getting into trouble ", as well as " getting out of trouble ". In my humble view, it involves the ability to sense danger, and to predict and plan for the problems that could possibly lie ahead. Having card sense is in effect the gift of having your own crystal ball.
One school of thought claims that card sense embodies a form of judgement, which involves knowing when to follow the basic teachings and/or rules, as well as knowing when it is necessary to go against established practice. The great Barry Crane offered a very interesting and profound observation, when he said the essence of this gift involves a little man who sits on your shoulder. And when he says " Don't do that ", you say to yourself " Well, wait a minute, that's the right way to play " . And he says, " Yeah, but you don't wanna play that way ". That instinct is card sense.......something you're born with. The ability to do the right thing at the wrong time, or doing the wrong thing at the right time.
So is this gift inherited, or is it an acquired wisdom based on years of experience of playing in top class fields ? Probably, the answer is neither, but a combination of both. How much faith you attach to any of the definitions covered above may be the same as you would attach to W. C. Fields' definition of " horse sense "..............this being of course that " quality that keeps horses from betting on people ". But what I can say for certain is that........... only the very best bridge players in the world have the credentials to claim possession of this truly mystical talent.