I recently tried playing the card game hearts again - and failed miserably. Counting cards and ADHD, it turns out, do not mesh.
by Bill Mehlman
From time to time I find myself in a situation where my ADHD is so apparent, so blatant, that I'm driven to wonder how I ever got anything accomplished. Strangely enough, these situations aren't necessarily in the type of environment you might expect.
I've always loved to play cards. But this doesn't mean that I'm good at it. For years, I wondered why I wasn't more successful. It's not a lack of intelligence, or an inability to understand the rules or the strategic aspects of card games. Now I have the answer.
Months ago, sitting around, bored (yes, I know I could have been learning Latin. Sue me.) I started playing hearts online.
Hearts, for those of you who don't know, is a grossly simplified kind of bridge. Actually, the only resemblance lies in having four players and taking tricks. There's no bidding, no trump, no complicated scoring. What strategic possibilities the game offers lie largely in not getting caught with the queen of spades, or not letting one of the shnooks you're playing with drop it on you.
Not exactly like learning end-game strategies at contract bridge. Every facet of that game has had scores of books written about it. I can't imagine anyone so bored that he'd write an article, let alone a book, about hearts.
Anyway, the key to winning at hearts is to count cards, a skill which is crucial to virtually all card games, from gin to canasta to Texas hold'em. At the minimum, it involves keeping track of how many spades or hearts have been played. Optimally, a player should be able to remember not only how many cards have fallen in each suit, but which cards they were. My late grandfather, an utterly benign old fellow, was nonetheless a ninja at gin, and would sit there pondering his next move, disheartening you by muttering under his breath, "Nu, he took the six of clubs, the king of spades…" He could visualize every trick. You were a dead duck.
So I'd sit there, at the beginning of every hand, telling myself that this would be the breakthrough deal when I'd turn myself into a good card player by remembering cards. Any cards. Some cards. I'd get my hand and the play would start. I might note at this point that hearts, not being rocket science or bridge, doesn't require enormous thought. Four reasonably competent players can go through a hand as fast as they can work their mouses.
So I'd start. "Four clubs; three spade, one diamond; three diamonds, and one club makes five; three spades, including the king, makes six and one club now makes six…" You get the idea. Three tricks in, I find that I've got zero-nil-nada-rien-GORNISHT!!!!! in the way of data rattling around my head. So I play a high diamond, the player to my left gleefully lets the queen of spades fall, and I'm back to square one.
This isn't a sometimes thing. It's an every time thing. I can't hang on and keep track of the damn cards. I hate myself for losing games that I should win, just because I can't retrieve some simple information. But it never fails. Two tricks in, I find that my rebellious brain is working out variations on the coming season's Yankee rotation.
So what's the answer? Simple. Stop beating my head against a brick wall, stop wasting time doing something that my flawed mental operations will never permit me to be good at.
Amo, amas, amat…