Teaching beginners using Play Bridge 1

Since the first edition of my book (2002), styles in teaching and presenting bridge to beginners have improved, to appeal to people’s modern lives. So I have updated the book to reflect both these trends and what I have noticed in teaching many students over many years.

Here’s a summary of these updates:

1. More emphasis on playing hands

These days students have many competing interests from which to choose when deciding on a new pursuit. We must present modern bridge lessons in a hands-on manner. In any area of learning, a student’s attention level rises for the first ten minutes of a class, and after that, plateaux and declines if the activitiy is not varied or stimulating.

Talking (“lecturing”) for long periods, standing with one’s back to students while writing on a white board, or keeping students from experimenting with the cards themselves, is all sure to decrease their attention and interest in bridge. Instead, let the students experience the cards for themselves. The first lesson should allow them to do this after the first ten minutes of explanation of a deck of cards and how to collect tricks.

It doesn’t matter how accurately the students play the hands, it’s just important that they do play them, right from the beginning. Teachers might think they need to give more information about bridge and bidding, but no. Don’t rush them into theory. That will come later. Your job in lesson 1 is to “sell” the concept of bridge and playing cards to students so they will WANT to continue.

So, I have included in Chapter 1 more on the plan for playing a hand. Spend more time with your students on this. Lesson 1 uses Mini bridge with no bidding at all. Teachers could happily offer this for two lessons if desired.

2. Emphasise No Trumps and Majors

When they are introduced to bidding, most time should be spent on the hands which occur most in real life, and they are minimum balanced hands. Learning to play 1NT is essential, and next, the majors.

3. 1NT Response

The new book offers the range of 6 – 10 as minimum rather than 6 – 9. Point ranges will mean little to new students and it’s not vital to stress the now, but in setting the scene for playing 2/1 (which is becoming the accepted way to bid), expanding the range a little now means fewer changes later.

Other reasons are that playing 1NT often requires a few more points, because it is a difficult contract and declarer is often dealing with two misfitting hands. Having new students struggle to make these contracts because they don’t have enough points is not a good idea.

Bidding two over one on poor 10 point hands, thus making the bidding forcing (eg 1♥️pass 2♣️/♦️) has always been a problem. It is far more effective to respond 1NT on flat 10 point hands.

4. Single Raise Range

The new book suggest 6 – 10 as a single raise, and 11-12 as a limit raise. This has always been the case in US text books, and makes sense to me. Plus it seems that people are opening lighter these days, so responder could do with a point or two more.

Jumping on poor 10 point hands is not recommended. Emphasise that when opener hears a single raise, they need a very good hand to consider bidding further, but when they hear a limit raise, they need very little to go to game. This point distinction is not a big deal for new players though.

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5. More emphasis on length, shortage points, shape

As always, length points are added from the outset. Only when a fit has been found are shortage points considered. Length and shortage points are not counted together.

I have spent more time explaining this in the new book. In line with modern thinking, I have emphasised that high card points are not all important and that other factors come into play when valuing the quality of a hand. This is to help them slowly develop judgement.

6. What’s Forcing, what’s not

The concept of when a player has to continue bidding and when they can call it a day is important, because new students want to stop bidding and pass often. Use the concept of “new” and “old” suits, and also mention that nothing is forcing by a passed hand.

7. Two over One is game-forcing, not just 10+

It is easier to tell students that bidding their own suit at the two –level (because their suit is ranked below opener’s), requires a “good hand”. Teaching specifically 10+ points is more confusing than simply saying “you need an opening hand to go to the two level yourself when there is no fit”. There is no need to add more than this.

8. More emphasis on opener’s rebid after a 1NT response.

I have found this to be a poorly understood area. Although I do not expect beginners to immediately “get it”, explaining that opener shows shape after a 1NT response in the hope of either finding a secondary fit, or allowing the responder to show their own hand and therefore play in their long trump suit instead of no trumps, is a basic tenet of bidding, and needs to be introduced early.

9. Spiral Approach to Learning

In general, concepts should just be touched on at beginner level, and then practised and revisited later when they have the fundamental concepts under control. Building up a depth of knowledge in the basic areas of no trumps and suits, as well as learning the techniques of play, is more important than learning too many things without understanding why.

10. The Way to Think – the logic of the game

How a beginner is taught from the outset to look at a bridge hand, both from a bidding and playing viewpoint, will be significant in how quickly they progress.

There’s no point in teaching a list of things to be learned without telling them why they need them. Showing them the logic behind the action, and letting them experience the hand themselves before having it explained will allow them to progress faster.

11. Not much on Defence

Working with partner to defend a bridge hand is not possible in the beginning. Therefore the leads and defensive principles are kept to a minimum and are all straightforward.

12. Using the Online School of Bridge

Modern students need to reinforce classroom learning by being able to watch videos, play hands and have hand reviews at home later. This is all possible for the beginner on my Online School of Bridge.