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Winning as its own Reward

I managed to scrape up a decent partner for one day of play during our recent biennial Regional, so the game was on. We played in a bracketed swiss team and managed three wins out of six rounds. So afterwards, I felt flat. I knew why, too. That result hardly constitutes a “win” for the day.

The very idea of winning brings to my mind one of the main reasons I love this game. No, not winning per se. It’s better than that. It’s the idea that winning is its own reward. This is such a delicious mystery in our wonderful game. It deserves to be discovered and enjoyed repeatedly by more of our players. I think we should all be talking about this to one another. It’s such a strong and powerful motivator for competitive players.

By this, I don’t just mean that winning is fun. Of course it is. Very few things will stoke the old ego like winning. But here, I’m talking about the very sweet irony of winning being the actual reward for a win.Now, I know there are players who are trying hard to advance through the masterpoint lists. To me, they just don’t get it. Points aren’t much of a reward, or maybe I should just opine that points make for an empty reward. They’re like dessert to a meal. Maybe points taste good or more correctly they might feel good. But dessert can’t satisfy true hunger in the same way that a good steak can, and does. That’s what I’m talking about here. Man, winning is not just steak. It’s filet mignon. The satisfaction of it is deep and long-lasting, and I don’t just mean in a surfacy ego-satisfying way. I mean that once you win, you realize it can’t be taken away or dismissed like often happens with point rewards.

Winning isn’t just a result. It’s the real and true reward to play for.Now the opposite idea, that losing is the worst possible punishment, doesn’t stand the tests of either logic or experience. Everybody gets to lose. If you play, you’re going to sometimes lose. Is it painful to lose? Well, that depends on your mindset. But at the worst, it isn’t clear that losing is punishment, and it is hardly the worst punishment, no. The worst punishment is knowing that you played your little heart out and you came in average, or right at 50%. Being average feels worse than losing by far, and is the greater punishment. I’d say it is better to lose by plenty than to be average. It’s easier to write off, and easier to forget. Average stinks badly.

An early mentor, in speaking to me about these ideas with considerable brilliance, gave me his opinion about the prizes which used to be attached to victory in regional-rated and higher events (I don’t think they give these out anymore, but back then you got a silver bowl or something for winning). I had wanted so very badly to be successful and to win the prize, but instead we had come second. Instead of the silver trophy, we had gotten a deck of cards or something. My disappointment was just plainly palpable. That’s when this mentor explained to me that second place finishers really ought to get the bigger, better, and most highly valued prizes. That’s because the winners don’t need a prize. Winning, itself, is reward enough.

At that event, on that day long ego, we didn’t win or get the prize we really deserved, and Losing Hurts. Everyone knows this, and most players know that the closer you get to winning - but then failing at the end – that is when losing hurts the most and the worst. That’s why second place finishers should be rewarded more than the winners. Second place finishers need that reward. Winner’s don’t. Winners already have the biggest reward possible. They not only won as the result. They also got that longer-lasting reward which winning is. As a consequence, they are left fully satisfied.

That’s why I think - and not to unduly bash the ACBL – that this is one more area where ACBL has it all wrong. Event winners don’t need inflated point awards, external recognition, or other, sillier, forms of “glory.” To pretend that they do is a genuine insult to all of us as players. We need to be told, to be encouraged, and to be taught that winning is not only a good result. It is absolutely the best possible reward, and the thing which players at all levels should strive for.Make no mistake. Here, I am not talking about the high of an occasional club-game success, or the somewhat backhanded insult or “prestige” of beating someone you are not supposed to beat. I’m talking about something more internal. I’m talking about that time when you say to yourself something like: “Yesssss. All that practice, all the learning, the effort, the time and money spent to achieve this success, is all very much worth it.” And then of course, it’s not just worth it because of the ego-feed of winning. It’s worth it once you realize that winning, itself, is the very best possible reward you could choose. It’s a really great reason to play!

It saddens me to see ACBL pander to those who play for colored “points” or to “advance through lists” or to glorify those who play for pay. Some may say those practices don’t really hurt anyone. But in my view, ACBL dis-serves all players when it hides from them and denies them a deeper understanding of the greatest reward our game offers.

After I had recently returned from my regional tournament, I went to get a haircut. The stylist asked what I had been doing so I told her “playing bridge in a tournament.” She asked if I won, and I had to confess that I had not. So she asked me what you win if you win. I told her you just win recognition. Because, how could I possibly tell her that winning is its own reward? There’s no way she would understand.

Only the savvy players know this truth. That’s why I say, on behalf of myself and like-minded students: Please consider the possibility of giving up the old external motivation and the old understanding. Gather and focus your external and internal resources toward grasping, claiming, and understanding the idea of winning being its own reward. I guarantee there is no better prize.


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