Paul Thurston, Author of 25 Ways to Win 2 Over 1Paul Thurston

Interviewed by Linda Lee

Paul Thurston is an old hand at the bridge writing game – an avid player since high school, he’s been writing about and teaching bridge for over 40 years. As an author, he’s recently become known for his book 25 Ways to Win 2 Over 1. Some of his lessons on the 2 Over 1 bidding system will be appearing on Mastering Bridge over the next month; in the meantime, we thought you might like to know more about the author.

Though a longtime resident of St. Catharines, Ontario, Paul is currently enjoying his new home in Wellington, Ontario with his wife, Jo-Anne. and “many nearby relatives.” His personal hobbies include golf and reading – “Even some non-bridge books!” he says. “Mostly mystery, with my favourite authors including David Baldacci, Robert Crais, John Lescroart, Lawrence Block, Elmore Leonard, Robert Parker and William Deverell.”

Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you find yourself writing bridge books?

I’ve always been involved in writing – essay writing (mine and others’) at Brock University; I was a twice-weekly film reviewer for a local daily, the St. Catharines Standard; after graduating I was a reporter for a weekly chain in Niagara for a while. And I played lots of bridge at Brock and after. I started writing a weekly, then daily, bridge column for Standard in late 1990s, and with the National Post soon after its birth. It was a natural progression from there to bridge books, plus I’ve continued to write articles in various publications (the ACBL Bulletin, the Kibitzer, CBF Digest).

Could you briefly explain 2 Over 1 for our readers (especially me)?

Briefly, 2 Over 1 (usually written as 2/1) is a modernized version of Standard American that seeks – through refinements and some conventional add-ons – to do away with many of the uncertainties of its ancestor. As the name suggests, the focus is on the 2-level response in a new suit to a 1-level opening. In classical SA, that bid shows 10+ HCP (or, sometimes, the distributional equivalent) and is forcing on the opener for only 1 round, whereas in 2/1 the bid is forcing to game and therefore requires extra values, usually in the opening bid-plus range.

The game force in 2/1 is 100% for my approach, although some allow exceptions. But then you’re right back into the morass of gray areas and uncertainties which, I believe, it is the mission of 2/1 to do away with. Naturally, this 100% game force requires some other adjustments and additions – like a 1NT forcing response to 1H or S being a 1-round force – but all in all, the total system seems to be very practical for all levels of partnerships, many of whom greatly appreciate knowing after 2 bids that the partnership is committed to game.

How did you become an expert in 2/1?

I have played and taught the 2/1 system for more than 20 years in partnership with Rick Delogu and, for awhile, the late Duncan Phillips. My version of 2/1 is sort of an eclectic combination gleaned from Mike Lawrence, Max Hardy and Marty Bergen, with some personal and student modifications. For example, I tried to do away with exceptions. Students don’t like too many exceptions. By making it more black and white, life is made easier for all.

What inspired you to write 25 Ways to Win 2 Over 1?

It was intended as a teacher-friendly outgrowth of how I taught the material in large and small classes. ABTA seemed to agree that my objective has been met.

What are your favourite bridge books (besides your own)?

Cards on the Table, by Eric Jannerstein; Right Through The Pack, by Robert Darvas; the book I first learned from, 5 Weeks to Winning Bridge, by Alfred Sheinwold; Eddie Kantar’s Complete Defensive Play (one of the “must reads” for newer players and a book I consult frequently as a refresher and for lesson ideas); and Killing Defense, by Hugh Kelsey – a must-read for all who truly want to get better. Of recent books, I really enjoyed Canada’s Bridge Warriors, by Roy Hughes, and Bridge Behind Bars by Julian Pottage and Nick Smith.

You’re also an experienced bridge teacher. Could you tell us about that?

I did most of my teaching in St. Catharines, where my wife and I lived for 40+ years after graduating from Brock. I helped found the Bridge Centre in St Catharines in 2000 and taught many courses there, plus some at the Buffalo Bridge Centre – always a prime source of satisfaction, especially when I see improvement and achievement by students, but most especially their increased enjoyment. I’m currently doing some 2 Over 1 work with a group from the Picton Duplicate Club – great folks eager to add to their bridge knowledge.

What do you like best about teaching?

Always looking ahead to the next lesson, or to new people, or to past and current people with new (for them) questions. I really enjoy the give and take and thinking on my feet required by teaching.

Any advice for new players?

There is no substitute for reading and good at-the-table experience. Don’t be afraid to play “up” at clubs and tournaments – you’ll learn more losing to experts than you will competing with peers. Just like an aspiring golfer, don’t be afraid to hire a pro – as a partner or simply as a teacher.

Any advice for teachers?

Encourage, encourage, encourage! But also challenge your students. Use a probing questioning style to guide students to the right answers, rather than spoon-feeding them. They won’t always understand unless they “own” those answers. And by all means, have a sense of humour – we are, after all, “playing a game” – an activity that should be fun. Treat all questions as worthwhile and don’t be afraid to digress if that’s where the student and/or group seems to want to go.

What do you do in addition to writing and teaching?

I play professionally sometimes, usually with a student wanting to improve their “at-the-Table” performance. I also do frequent lectures, seminars, etc. at clubs and tournaments – I was at the Baldwins Resort in Muskoka in September, the Trenton sectional on October 3, the Ottawa Regional on October 10 and 11, and I will be at a fundraiser for Kingston hospitals, to be held at the Kingston Bridge Centre, on November 8.

What have you accomplished in your professional bridge-playing career?

As a player, I am currently a Diamond Life Master, have won one Canadian Team National Championship (1996), and come in as a runner-up and competed in playoffs too many times. I played in the Bermuda Bowl in Tunisia in 1997, after winning tri-country trials versus Mexico and Bermuda. I finished 12th in the round-robin that year and fourth in the Transnational Swiss trials. I also played for Canada in the 1978 Rosenblum (Miami), Montreal Worlds (2002) and Verona (2006). I rarely play in North American Bridge Championships unless they’re close to home or an attractive vacation spot.