Interview by Eric Emin Wood
How did you get into playing bridge, and then teaching bridge?
My parents both played duplicate bridge and a local player was going to give lessons. I told my mother I wanted to learn. She was a little skeptical, but smart enough to know that I’d learn better from a teacher than a parent. I’ve been playing bridge ever since!
Once my son graduated from college I realized I could pursue an occupation for love versus income, so I started teaching locally, got recommended to their friends and now I teach adults full time.
What sort of feedback have you received on the Atlanta Junior Bridge program?
We have recieved several letters from parents thanking us for the program and the opportunities it has opened up for their kids. For example one parent noted that her teenage son, who had little in common to talk about with his grandmother, played with her, taking on his sister and mom in a bridge game and thoroughly trounced them. This opened up a common bond that they could enjoy.
What is your teaching philosophy?
I teach with two ideas:
- I want to share and spark my love for bridge – the puzzles, challenges, excitment – with my students;
- I want my students not to just learn ‘rules’ but to understand the basis for those rules and ideas.
For example, the “Rule” that with five hearts and five spades you open one spade instead of one heart. I show them examples of how if they open one heart and then try and bid spades twice that they get a level higher in the auction on many hands.
I try to explain that the rules are there for a reason; they are not just arbitrary.
Do you have any advice for other teachers?
Don’t underestimate your students’ ability to understand concepts and ideas. Students certainly have some things they have to memorize; however, in bridge we can’t account for every hand (even after playing for 43 years!). Some hands come up that don’t fit the rules, that don’t match the bids you have available. If you understand why the bidding follows certain patterns/rules you can figure out what partner must have when the bidding goes a certain way and figure out how to create the auctions you need to elicit certain information on those ‘strange hands’ that occur every so often.
For (a very basic) example:
If you know that partner could have bid 4♠ over 2♥ to show that they only wanted to play game in spades then you can infer that partner has a very good hand with spades and that he probably has something in clubs.
He hasn’t bid blackwood – why not? Maybe he has bad diamonds and is worried about a diamond control – probably doesn’t have two small hearts because he might have raised hearts (or taken a chance).
By knowing how partner could have bid a hand you can figure out what he might have by what he did (or didn’t) do in the auction. But you have to understand how the bidding works to make those leaps.
What are your favourite bridge books? Which ones do you use to teach?
Kantar’s defensive series is great. Ron Klinger’s many books on counting. Terence Reese’s book on play of the hand, and his newer book with Julian Pottage, Extra Edge in Play, as well as Clyde Love on squeezes, and anything by Larry Cohen.
For beginners I use my own notes which I’ve developed over the years. For advanced players I use my and Kevin (my husband)’s own versions of Splinters, 2/1, Jacoby 2NT, etc., which we play.
I’ve never found one book which I totally agreed with in style and content.
Does your son also play bridge? Does your husband?
My son plays bridge, but he is now a father so he mainly plays online when he can. My grandson is eight and wants to learn bridge, so I’m starting with him gradually.
My husband, Kevin Collins, has been my partner for 23 years (we’ve only been married for three). He was my partner when we won the 2000 NAP in Cincinnati.
You recently returned from the NABC (North American Bridge Championships). What were some highlights of that experience?
The Youth NABC was the highlight of the summer NABC for me. All of the kids, parents and teachers had such a good time at the event that the energy and excitement filled the air for three solid days. Astronaut Greg Johnson came and talked with the players and gave them a special presentation they loved, but when Bill Gates came by at lunch on Saturday and talked to the young players it just capped a perfect event.
Yeah. I didn’t get a chance to hear most of his speech as I was in the back and trying to get the kids still in the room out to the lunch area to meet him. I know he said something about how good it was that the parents were involved and that he hoped the kids would stick with it… but I’m waiting on the video to get the whole speech!
Did you enjoy your position as co-chair/youth coordinator?
I believe in youth bridge and all it can offer to our youth. Having the chance to offer to these young players all of the joy, comradarie and competition that bridge has given me all my life is the best job I could ask for.
Why do you think such relatively few young people take up the game?
Too many other demands on their time with school and extracurricular activities. They’re parents generally don’t play bridge. Too many other entertainment options i.e. video games, Internet, television, etc. etc.
How do you think young people can be persuaded to take it up?
All you have to do is get them to one youth bridge class. After that you have to create opportunities for them to learn and play with other children. Most love bridge once they give it a try.
Do you have experience playing bridge professionally?
Yes I do play professionally, predominately in a teaching role. While I enjoyed the experience, I’m not a very good professional bridge player. When I play equal weight falls on both sides of the table with partner as responsible for how well we do as myself. The good news is, if you play with me, and we win, you deserve as much credit for the win as I.
Do you still play professionally?
Very seldomly. Youth bridge and my own classes takes all of my time and energy.
How do today’s bridge lessons differ from the lessons you received when you were a student?
Bridge is bridge. Different conventions, different ideas and thoughts. Technology has made teaching much easier and more entertaining for students.
If I may ask, why did you and Kevin only get married three years ago?
Kevin and I were bridge partners and then became best friends. About five years ago we started dating but I think both of us were a little worried that if we got married we’d lose our bridge partner! So far, so good… we’re still playing.