How long does it take to learn to play bridge?

January 8, 2009 at 1:58 am 6 comments

How long did it take you to learn to play bridge?

When I look at sites like the ACBL and their many teaching programs, I can’t help wondering if they are making a mountain out of a molehill. It looks to me like kids take about 28 weeks to learn to play. They start of with bits of bridge, other bits are added slowly and the whole thing takes forever.

I learnt bridge when I was at primary school. I didn’t know what Stayman was. I could do no more than navigate myself through a game legally. I learnt it just like I learnt Snap, Switch, Scrabble, all the games one learns as a kid. Or did. Still, I had no recollection at all of the process of learning, which made me think it must have been a simple painless process. None of my siblings could recall learning either, only playing. So I asked my mother how long it took to teach us. She replied ‘If it had taken longer than about half an hour we wouldn’t have bothered teaching you’. There you go.

Why not teach kids in that way? Why not have them playing a proper game of bridge (and by proper I mean legal, rather than good) in 30 minutes and let the relationship between the game and the kids develop from there. Some of them will want to learn what Jacoby transfers are and some of them won’t. But if our society was full of people who knew the legal basis of a game of bridge this would be the best promotion the game could possibly have.

If you make bridge a thing that takes half a year to learn, you will automatically lose a huge number of people who might learn to play if it took a few minutes. I fail to see the logic of discouraging those other people from playing.

I wonder, though, if it isn’t all about the teacher? The more lessons the better for the employment rate of teachers. Is that the point of making a mountain out of a molehill???

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Entry filed under: teaching. Tags: , , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. SBG  |  March 30, 2011 at 10:09 am

    If one wanted to, they could take the simple game of Scrabble and add 35 conventions, rules requiring 10 minutes of esoteric “Scrabble language in 3 letter words) to communicate who gets to lay down the first word on the board, and an additional point count system requiring calculators, spread sheets and a computer. Do you think anyone would play anymore? The game of bridge is on it’s way to being completely strangled of it’s appeal to all but the math geeks. Too bad. It’s getting so that it should be regulated by the government.

    Reply
  • 2. David  |  January 22, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    The first experience must be a good one, or most people won’t continue. My good friend Samir Riad has taught me and many friends. The system he develeoped has us playing a simplified game immediately, so that we have fun as he introduces the rest of the rules. He created a bunch of easy to use tables for bidding, responding, and scoring so we don’t have to memorize everything up-front. Free opening bid table is available on the website for his book, Learn Bridge In One Hour.

    Reply
  • 3. Hanoi  |  October 6, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    We take some three months 2 times a week to have students ready to play in tournaments. They are not ‘ready’ to win but I think they can play just fine. The ‘mechanics’ of the play and bidding are taught in only 2 hours and following classes just show some strategy and of course bidding.

    Yes, I agree people should be taught and just let to have fun by playing whatever they know.

    Reply
  • 4. Richard  |  October 6, 2009 at 3:20 am

    Sorry for resurrecting an old post, but I wanted to make a comment about teaching bridge in the US.

    We do tend to take an extended period to get people actually playing duplicate, but the reason isn’t over-regulation. It’s just that beginners can’t play a halfway sensible duplicate game at first. They play much too slowly, and the results are way too random for any duplicate comparison to mean anything at all.

    The problem is that the ACBL has pretty much abandoned rubber bridge. The _only_ game taught in most places is duplicate. This damages the pool of recruits and the recruiting mechanism in various ways, that I don’t think I have to elaborate if you just think about a few minutes.

    Reply
  • 5. Ben Thompson  |  January 9, 2009 at 6:43 am

    I learnt twice.

    The first time was when I was 10. My grandmother, my mother and my uncle needed a 4th for a game around the kitchen table. They taught me the mechanics in about 10 minutes and off we went.

    They threw me out about half an hour later when my uncle opened 1D and I overcalled 2D with AKxxx and an opening hand. As I recall, the bidding minute of the lesson was how to count points, and to bid if I had 13 points (I figured out the “or more” part all by myself 🙂

    The second time I learned I was laying around the house after my first degree with the excellent plan of watching a lot of cricket that summer. My mother wasn’t having any of that and sent my brother and I to a 1-week crash course at Andrew Mill’s club.

    I can barely think of a single young player in Victoria who didn’t learn from Andrew Mill. I think the reason he’s been so successful in getting young people into the game (and to stay in the game) is that he teaches people how to think about bridge, rather than how to follow rules about bridge.

    Thinking is fun, following rules … less so.

    I’m absolutely convinced that actually playing as quickly as you can is critical to learning, and enjoying it.

    My wife and I have just started playing 3-handed Minibridge with our daughter (whoever has the most points gets to use the 4th hand as dummy). She’s a bit unsure about card play, but she was happily playing within 10 minutes.

    Reply
  • 6. Peter Gill  |  January 8, 2009 at 6:16 am

    Very long comment follows….

    Similarly I learnt bridge as a kid from my mother without rules, without fanfare, with no formal training or teaching – in such a simple manner that I cannot remember the process. For many years I ddin’t know that bridge clubs or duplicate bridge existed.

    When Cathy and I learnt bridge, rubber bridge (bridge at home, the form of bridge we learnt) was still commonplace. For several decades since then, most bridge teaching has become more and more heavily focused on teaching the skills necessary to survive in the social world of the duplicate bridge club that has sponsored the bridge lessons. Thus many of the learners are taught all sorts of conventions and bidding.

    In America I think this process is more difficult than in Australia, because in USA there are extra complications such as Stop Cards and complex Alerting Procedures for the players to learn.

    I think this over-regulation is one of the main reasons why the number of duplicate bridge players in America (ACBL) has decreased by about 25% in the last two decades (about 1% p.a.) but has increased by about 60% in Australia in the same period, although I think this Aussie (ABF) growth rate of 3 to 4 percent p.a. has slowed to 1 or 2 percent p.a. growth in recent years.

    However, I think two new factors might create a resurgence in the worldwide popularity of bridge.

    The first is the free site BBO, http://www.bridgebase.com. Many people go there and start playing bridge with minimal training, barely looking at BBO’s two free Learn To Play Bridge modules.

    Bridge’s popularity has suffered from marketing its product mainly within its own community, new bridge players usually being family or friends of existing bridge players. The popularity of BBO – increasing constantly, currently 200,000 hits a day by an estimated 100,000 bridge players – suggests that BBO is tapping into a new market.

    The second is the School Bridge League (SBL) in America. With million dollar support from Bill Gates, this fledgling concept has unlimited potential, but in its first year has not been well advertised in my opinion.

    The League is a group of prominent Americans whose aim is to make “doing good” as much a school activity as “school sport” currently is The League needs to provide activities to schoolkids in order to achieve this aim, hence they have a subsidiary the School Bridge League http://www.schoolbridgeleague.org or
    http://www.schoolbridgeleague.org/about-us.aspx.

    The SBL has created a syllabus, recognised by school authorities in USA, Canada, NZ and Australia I am told, that does exactly what Cathy suggests – gets kids to sit down and play bridge without knowing detail. I have seen this syllabus.

    The world gains since kids are taught concepts like respect, partnership, trust and “following a set of rules” by using bridge as a microcosm of society. Bridge gains because the keen ones can then go to Bridge Camps or other lessons to learn bridge “properly”, so those lessons become full of just the keen kids who want to learn bridge instead of being in part baby-sitting exercises.

    The SBL hopes that if whole States (instead of individual schools) adopts SBL, every kid in that State will know what bridge is, so bridge can then sensibly be included in movies and TV shows. The future leaders of America would in decades to come have been trained in “doing good”, and have less excuse for any moral vacuum. The SBL has available the best and
    most independent data ever on the fact that learning bridge improves the academic performance for schoolkids.

    I think the SBL concept is good but, with all of you out there having never heard of the SBL before, their execution and publicity has not yet been adequate for this good idea. If anyone wants to try to help me try to introduce SBL to Australia, please email me.

    Peter Gill
    Sydney

    Reply

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