By Barbara Seagram
I believe that without a successful bridge teaching program, it would be almost impossible to have a thriving bridge club. The source of new players is right in that classroom. We frequently have 24-35 signed up for each class in each session. At least eight courses every session and six lessons per each intermediate class and eight lessons for basic.
Some of the typical courses that we run are:
- Beginners’ class
- Advanced beginners
- Intermediate I
- Intermediate II
- Intermediate III
- Defense seminar (4 weeks)
- 2 over 1 course (4 weeks)
- Advanced mini-seminars on Squeezes and counting
Of course, you can use the Audrey Grant ACBL materials as well. These are excellent materials, I am just more comfortable teaching and writing and using my own materials.
During the classes, students are encouraged to go out and play duplicate at their level. I tell them that if they are not going to practice, they are wasting their time, it is just like taking French lessons: you have to speak the language. We have real beginner introductory games for them once a week, where they can ask questions and have help on any hand. They play 10-12 hands and then the game is scored up and they are given results and MASTER POINTS!! These magnificent items are magic for a novice. We issue the PCON command on ACBL Score and it prints master point coupons for them. We cut them up and tell them that they must keep these in the safety deposit box at the bank until they are ready to join the ACBL. Many join after collecting two or three slips. If you are running a program that is not sanctioned by ACBL, I think you are missing a HUGE opportunity to “turn on” your students.
We have a saint who runs this game. Everyone loves him. Never a shred of impatience. The games run around 7-10 tables and can get up to 20 (rare!). These games are the key to getting these players into duplicate. They go and play after only two beginner lessons. They have no idea what they are doing but they wing it. It is NOT “Easy Bridge.” They do get help. They can change their lead or change their bid or change their mind. They are comfortable, they get better and gain self confidence. Others would call this Bridge Plus or Supervised Play. We call it Introduction to Duplicate. (We think they really want Bridge Minus) You have to allow sometimes 15 minutes a hand. Nothing matters but that they have fun.
At the end of their lessons, all students in all classes are given five complimentary entries to go out and play duplicate in any game. This seems to bring out many also.
Another “secret” for getting students out playing is to give them a crutch. I sell them cheat sheets for $10.00. I cannot begin to tell you how they cling to these. It becomes their security blanket but without it they are lost. We gradually ween them from using these but they are allowed to use it for the first year of playing in any game. No-one is allowed to say “that’s not fair” in any game at our club, because students are using crib sheets. If they do, it is time for that upset person to move on to a tougher game.
Managing the Games
We have Novice games (0-20 points) then Advanced Novice (0-50), Intermediate (0-100) and Advanced Intermediate (0-200). Open games are stratified Open/0-300. These provide stepping stones for all players to keep moving up. Then they can move to open games.
Sometimes I think club owners kill a good thing. A group of 0-20 people start getting too experienced for that same game on, let’s say, Tuesday evenings. They want to keep playing on that night but we tell them it is time to move to the Thursday evening game. They have grown to love Tuesday evenings and it fits with their schedule (schedules are so overtaxed in today’s society!) We tell these folk to move and we never see them again as Thursday evening is no good for them. I suggest if there are quite a few of such folk that you keep them on Tuesday night and make that game a 0-50 game and make another night your novice night. That has worked well for me in many games.
We give bridge tips (15 minutes) prior to most novice and intermediate games. This is a big hit.
After each game, they are encouraged to lay out problem hands on a table and go over them with the Director who stays with them and explains patiently what should have happened or how they could have made it etc.