Claire Sheldon

How did you first get into playing bridge? What helped you make the decision to change your career and become a full time bridge teacher?

My parents were rubber bridge players and at the age of 19 years insisted I learn the game, as it was a great way to socialize. After I represented South Africa in Zimbabwe in 1977 and the World Bridge Olympics in Valkenburg in 1980, I gave up my career as a Medical Technologist in Clinical Pathology where I was in charge of a children’s hospital laboratory. Bridge took over my life and I started teaching 3 classes a day. When we left South Africa (after 5 generations) for America in 1998, I was determined to start all over again as bridge is my life.

What is your teaching philosophy?

I try to teach logic, and not to do something because I said it, but to do it with a reason behind it. I want to teach students to understand WHY?

What are some of the differences between teaching bridge in Africa and in North America?

Four-card majors and weak NT is the difference. They are not exposed to too much competition; therefore they need to become more aggressive in their bidding techniques. There are different bidding conventions as well that are played more in Europe than in North America, e.g. multi two-diamond and Copenhagen (a two-suiter hand), to name a few.

Do you have any funny or rewarding classroom teaching moments that stand out?

When students come to my beginner lessons and I am their third teacher and they tell me, only now do they understand what bridge is all about: it is a very rewarding experience.

Do you have any advice for other teachers, especially new ones?

Do not ask students any questions, answer them instead! It is more relaxing for the student as they will not encounter any humiliation should they give an incorrect answer. Have fun and teach with a sense of humor. Give them little “ditty songs” to help them remember sayings etc.

What do you tell every new bridge student?

Bridge is the greatest game in the world! You do not need the weather, a tennis racquet, a golf club, or being physically fit – just your brain. Persevere, and eventually the “puzzle will fit”.

What changes have you seen in bridge teaching in recent years and how do you stay up to date?

Bridge has become very much more aggressive and obstructive in the bidding in recent years. I teach a lot on preempting, cue-bid raises and how to survive against the opponents.

Your bio says you play all sorts of systems, but which one is your favorite to play or teach?

My favorite system to teach and play is Precision Club. It is so exciting as it has many gadgets to describe different hands at the first opportunity. My favorite class to teach is “Partnership Understanding and Defense”.

What are your favorite bridge books? Which ones do you teach from?

My favorite bridge books are from Eddie Kantar, Ron Klinger, Audrey Grant and Pat Harrington. I teach from all of them as they have great hands for the relevant lessons.

If you were to write another bridge book, what would it be about?

I would love to write a book for the advanced beginner, to reinforce their lessons and get them to understand how easy bridge can be if we learn our parameters.

What are the advantages of teaching in an intensive environment versus giving weekly or otherwise spread-out lessons?

As far as I am concerned there is no advantage to teach in an intense environment as there is too little time for the average person to absorb everything. I prefer weekly lessons to give them time to practice and play before the next lesson. One has to play in order to reinforce, learn and absorb the lesson.

Tell us a little more about your life. How do you balance your working life with your personal life?

Luckily for me, bridge is my passion, so it is not just a job, I love it! It is very difficult to balance one's life, as I literally work eighteen hours a day during the snowbird season. Off season, I am almost as busy, but try to get away for a vacation, to work on cruises. My husband is also an avid player so we never go away with out bridge being part of our vacation. I still find time every weekend to see our children and grandchildren. There is a saying that sums up my life: “If you want something done, give it to someone who is busy”.