Interview by Betty Young
How did you first get into bridge?
My mom was a passionate player, and had me and my three sisters playing what can only be called “mini-bridge.” We were so young, we couldn’t hold our cards, so we used wax paper boxes as card holders. I played “kitchen table bridge” through college … almost flunked out because of bridge if the truth be known! … and then, like many of us, became so busy that I didn’t play for 30 years. When I came back to the game, my (then) new husband and I took lessons together and joined the duplicate world.
Do you have any memorable learning experiences?
My most memorable learning experience was so negative that it has shaped my entire bridge life. Gary (my husband) and I were taking lessons at a local bridge club. At one point, the husband of our opponent didn’t like what his wife had done. “Well,” he said, “you really blew that one out your a**h***, didn’t you?” She sat there with fat tears rolling down her face. I was speechless (for the first time in my life, I might add). That someone would talk to the person they have sworn to love and cherish like that, in public yet, over a stupid hand of cards was beyond my ken.
If I hadn’t worked in mid-town Manhattan for ten years, dealing with rude cab drivers and waiters, and if Gary weren’t a multi-level black belt, we would have quit club bridge then and there.
How did you first get into teaching bridge?
Gary and I evaluated our lives and decided that we wanted to spend the rest of our work years doing what we love. We opened what is surely the world’s only full-time Karate School and Bridge Studio. There was another full-time club in town, and even though our games were at different times, we weren’t getting any customers. We realized that if we wanted players, we were going to have to grow our own from scratch.
Fortunately, our paths crossed Edith McMullin’s and she got us into Easybridge!. It turned out to be the perfect thing to grow games quickly. We still follow the Easybridge! model, which has players loving duplicate immediately.
Do you have any “lessons learned” from teaching bridge?
Oh my. If there’s a way to do something wrong, I’ve done it. I can’t begin to list them. Let’s focus on the few things I’ve done right. Firstly, the realization that it truly doesn’t matter if the students learn the lesson or not. Sooner or later, they will get it. Or not. Meantime, the focus has to be on their enjoyment and fun. I’ve learned to give up ownership of the knowledge and focus on their pleasure.
Another important lesson I’ve learned is that people don’t necessarily REALLY want to learn bridge. If they had any idea how hard this game is, they would run screaming from the room. What they REALLY want is what Easybridge! calls SHOCK… Socialization, Health, Occupation of the empty hours, Challenge and Kitchen. If we are to win them over to our game, it needs to be in baby steps… By creating a warm, friendly, fun atmosphere, they will keep coming back.
Do you have any classroom teaching moments that stand out? Interesting student foibles?
One night I was teaching the first lesson on responding to notrump openers by partner. As part of the lesson, I told them about how we would eventually learn to use Stayman, which uses 2♣ as “code” for “Partner, do you have a 4-card major?”
While they were playing, I heard excitement from one table: “That’s that 2♣ thing she was talking about!!” At the end of the game, one player came up to me, just bursting with joy. “I used that 2♣ bid TWICE tonight! I opened 2♣ asking my partner if she had a 4-card major!!”
I took a breath to straighten him out, but thank goodness my better self spoke instead. “Good for you for trying something new!! How did it work?” “It was perfect!”
A few weeks later, we learned the strong 2♣ opener, and he came to me, laughing. We agreed that there’s always time to learn how to do things “right”, but never enough time to have the fun he did with his experiment.
What is your teaching philosophy?
I borrowed my teaching philosophy from watching my husband teach martial arts. He believes that every student should leave the lesson feeling taller, happier and more competent than when they arrived.
I also believe that if they aren’t laughing, they aren’t learning.
What materials do you use?
I use Easybridge! materials for new players, and then for our intermediate and up lessons and workshops, I use the Diamond, Heart and Spade materials. I also use lots from my dependables: Pat Harrington, Barbara Seagram, Marty Bergan and Eddie Kantar.
Do you have any advice for teachers?
Boy, do I ever!! If you aren’t having more fun than anyone in the room, find something else to do. And most importantly, if you for one second think that your primary job is to teach bridge, you lose. You are their entertainment, their inspiration, their spirit guide, their guru. Your job is not to TEACH them bridge, but to create an environment in which they can succeed at learning bridge. If you approach your classes as if you were holding a party in your home, you’ll have the right attitude.
Advice for students?
If you don’t feel better and smarter at the end of every class, find another teacher quick!!
What are your other hobbies?
Hobbies? People have hobbies? That’s probably like “vacations,” no? I’ve heard of them too!! Actually, I am a very bad watercolorist, and I read a lot.
My husband and I have no children, but we share our home with the three most badly behaved dogs on earth, whom we adore and indulge.