States of Mind and Bridge Play

Feel like your bridge game hasn’t been going as well as you feel it should? It might have something to do with your mental state when you’re sitting down at the table (or logging in to join one). There are a thousand different things that can have an effect on your game, including a lack of sleep, anger and what’s called decision fatigue.

Decision Fatigue

Decision fatigue is a psychological term that describes a decline in the ability to make decisions, and happens as a side-effect of having to make too many choices in a short time-period.

It happens when consumers go grocery shopping at the end of a hard day and end up buying more snacks than food, and it happens when judges and lawyers are more likely to make harsh and quick decisions later in the day.

Presumably, it can happen during bridge games, too.

Decision fatigue is equivalent to burn-out, where the brain simply refuses to think. It’s obvious that this isn’t good for the game’s outcome – and sometimes you have to take some time off, step back and allow your mind to recover from the burden of choice.


Professionals like doctors and pilots aren’t allowed to operate planes or people when they’re deprived of sleep, and perhaps the same applies in bridge: When you haven’t gotten enough sleep, your reflexes are slowed down, your decisions are far less focused – and the worst case scenario ends up looking like a scene from any of the Nightmare on Elm Street films.

Even poker player Daniel Negreanu’s blog notes, “Don’t play tired.”

But on the other hand, insomnia is an often chronic condition (separate from being deprived of sleep, but often still part of it) for which distraction can be useful. It’s the perfect time for a casual game of bridge against an AI – but might not be the best time for high-stakes serious bridge.

Power-napping can be useful for countering this, but more long-term solutions are needed where insomnia affects life.

Dreaming of Bridge

Bridge – any repetitive activity, really – can sneak its way into your regular thought process. It’s called the Tetris effect, named after the video game that commonly causes it.

In short, it’s what happens when you devote a lot of time to any repetitive activity. Eventually your brain starts running on autopilot, and you might start to dream about overlays of – commonly – Tetris.

While the Tetris effect can be wildly weird and sometimes distracting, it can also be useful: Have you ever found the answer to an odd deal or puzzle while sleeping? It might just be an extension of the Tetris effect that the brain learns to use.

The Pain Threshold

Pain isn’t fun for anyone – unless of course, you’re a masochist by nature. According to studies and common sense, pain can have a negative impact on what’s called cognitive flexibility – how new information is learned. It’s obvious that this is going to have an effect on your bridge game: How much of an effect appears to be individual.

To gauge pain in their patients, doctors use methods like the Global Pain Scale, ranging from 1 to 10.

Sometimes it can be successfully ignored, sometimes it can affect your choices – other times, it’s better to call off the game.


Sure, there have been instances where anger has been displayed at the table (and the antagonist promptly issued a ban, usually) – and it’s obvious that anger can lead one to make irrational decisions – but at the same time, some studies point to the fact that anger channelled in the right ways might not be a bad thing.

One such study, “An Exploratory Study of the Positive Effect of Anger on Decision-Making in Business Contexts” says that “angry decision makers tend to obtain positive decision outcomes by positive motivation or beliefs derived from anger.”

Turns out that feeling anger isn’t always bad: It depends on how you use it.