Interview by Jessica Mifsud
How did you get into playing and teaching bridge?
I was introduced to the game by my late brother in the 70’s and while that partnership did not last I was intrigued by the game. While I did not play again for many more years I continued to study the game by independent reading, and following the newspaper columns. I began playing in earnest in 1988 when I introduced myself to the local bridge club. I was fortunate to have won both the Mini McKenney and Ace of Clubs that year in the category of new player. I have the distinction of being the first player to accomplish this in the same year! This feat has since been repeated by others, but I will always have the distinction of having been the first.
I began teaching in my third year of play after purchasing our local club with my partner. We both became Certified Teachers, and we now offer numerous lessons at the club and in the players homes.
What is your teaching philosophy?
My teaching philosophy is to make sure that my students have fun and learn the basics of the game thoroughly before moving into the more advanced subjects. I try my best to use the KISS approach.
What exactly IS the KISS approach?
I refer to the Keep It Simple System when teaching aspiring bridge players. I find that keeping it simple while building a solid foundation of fundamentals does not overwhelm the student, and does a good job of preparing them for more advanced concepts. I do not try to impress them with my knowledge of the game which either turns them off because they feel overwhelmed by to much info, or they walk away because they feel the game is too difficult to learn. Thus the Keep It Simple System.
What advice do you have for other teachers?
I have had very good success following the philosophy above with hundreds of satisfied students. Also, don’t feel it necessary to impress the students with your knowledge by introducing subject material they are not ready for.
What are your favorite bridge books?
I am a fan of Marty Bergen and have enjoyed Points Schmoints aand Marty Sez due to the subject material and ease of reading. Easley Blackwood’s Play of the Hand is a constant reference along with Max Hardy’s original Two Over One book.
How do you go about preparing your lesson plans?
I have lesson plans prepared for the degree of experience the class is anticipated to possess. Again, I try to use the KISS approach, and I tweak the plan as appropriate according to my assessment of a particular class. Trying to stick to a prepared lesson plan without regard to the students ability to digest the subject matter is frustrating, and does neither the student or myself much benefit.
Which convention do you enjoy teaching most, and why?
That depends on who I am teaching. I love to introduce Stayman and Transfer bids to my newer students due to their wide application and simplicity. I enjoy teaching the Two Over One approach to my advancing students, and to my more advanced students I enjoy teaching the various applications of the Lebensohl Convention, and the art of passed hand bidding. I find bridge to be a very logical game and I am always trying to show and explain the logic of these and other conventions.
Having said that, I also try to remember the KISS philosophy agrees with the statement that the run to ruination is paved with good convention. Too many players know about 50% of a convention, and are lost when the more intricate aspects of the convention present themselves. I tell my students not to play a convention unless they understand it completely.
We hear you like to use technology in your lessons. Can you give us some examples?
I use an overhead projector and screen to present concepts from my favorite Bridge CDs from Marty Bergen, Mike Lawrence and others. This gives an interactive feeling to the students and a sense of participation that cannot come from a simple lecture and blackboard presentation, although I use the latter as well.
Do you still play tournament bridge in adition to teaching?
I run several sessions a week in our club along with my teaching activities which leaves me with limited time to attend tournaments. I attempt to play three Regionals a year and a couple of close by sectionals.
What was your reaction to being nominated for the ABTA Teacher of the Year award?
Appreciative and humbled.
Your students have told us a lot about you. What would you like to tell us about them?
I enjoy sharing my knowledge of the game with students because I know that those who continue through the experience will gain a life-long outlet for their mental, social, and competitive well being. Almost without exception all of my students have become my friends and each of them have added to the quality of my life through what I have learned from them.
What do you like best about the game?
The game itself serves as a good way to exercise the mind and feed the competitive spirit, but I belive what I like best about the game is that I have met many, many life long friends while enjoying the challenges of the game.