Teaching Bridge to Beginners

Beginner bridge students can get discouraged very easily, especially if too much information is given to them at once. After trying different teaching strategies, this is the method I use now that seems to work the best:

  1. I use the first 8 lessons from my website as the basics for a beginner course. I find this covers enough information to give my students a good start. When I tried to follow a textbook, I felt I had to cover all the information in each chapter and it was too much for them! They felt overwhelmed, as if they could never learn it all. Even with my lessons as simplified as they are, they still need time to absorb it. (When I did use a textbook, I would use the ACBL Club Series and I still recommend it as a resource, but there are other good books available, too.)
  2. My lessons are on-line and free to access. However, sometimes it’s easier to refer to a printed copy. I print the lessons, assemble them into a duotang booklet and my students can purchase the booklet for an amount that basically covers the cost of printing. They can also print the lessons themselves, if they prefer. The booklet becomes their textbook.
  3. Each lesson is planned for 2 1/2 hours with a 15-minute break. I have created PowerPoint presentations for each lesson and give them many examples of hands to encourage them to think and analyse. I believe that repetition is a good thing! They hear it; they see it; they apply it. My lessons are teacher-directed with me guiding them, but with the students actively engaged and constantly interacting and involved in the lesson. For homework, I encourage them to try the quizzes on my website after the lesson.
  4. I usually don’t have enough time to allow them to play any hands when we are having the lesson. However, I encourage them to meet sometime in between lessons to practice bidding and playing. I prepare 12-16 boards for them using the Practice Games. I print the sheets for the Practice Games and assemble them into a booklet as a reference for them. Sometimes I stay for awhile and coach them, but I usually leave before too long. That way they can learn on their own, at their own speed without someone watching them. I think it makes them feel more comfortable and at ease. They seem to really enjoy learning together and from each other in a relaxed environment.
  5. I recommend that they bid and then check the printout to see if they made the same bids that I recommended. If not, they could play the game using their own bidding or they could change their bidding to match my suggested bidding and then play the game. Some groups will play the game twice using their bidding and my suggested bidding (if they have different results) to see what difference it actually makes. The Practice Games give a suggestion for the opening lead and this can be helpful, also.
  6. Before introducing Stayman, Jacoby, Blackwood and Gerber, I give them some time to play and practice socially so they get a sense of how the bidding relates to the final contract and how many tricks they can take. I hope they sometimes become frustrated, or at least, curious, when they made game or a slam but didn’t bid it — that will give them the motivation to learn more. Also, I think it takes time for some of the concepts in Lessons 1-8 to “sink in.”
  7. A few weeks after I finish the lessons, I offer three workshops, about a week or two apart. The first workshop is on Stayman and Jacoby. For the practice games, I use the same boards from Lesson 2 for this, but now they must use those two conventions. The second workshop is on bidding to game using forcing/non-forcing bids, how to evaluate and re-evaluate your hand based on the bidding, and how to communicate your hand strength to your partner. Some of this is repetition, but they need to have a good grounding on what level of strength you need to bid to game first before trying to bid to slam. The third workshop is on Blackwood (Lesson 9), with a brief mention of Gerber (Lesson 10). Blackwood is used much more often than Gerber and, if they always consider 4NT as Blackwood, they can get away without ever learning Gerber. But they should know what Gerber is so they can add it to their bidding when they are ready. I often get social bridge players attending these workshops as well, as a refresher.
  8. Just as before, they do not bid or play any hands when I give those three workshops. I maximize my teaching time to give them lots of examples and problems to solve. Just like when I teach the first 8 lessons, I prepare 12-16 duplicate boards for them based on the workshop topic which they can play on their own later that same week. If I’m not giving a workshop again too soon, they use my boards as long as they wish, sometimes bidding and playing the hands a few times.

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