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I've introduced bridge to a small group of coworkers at a few jobs now, and I still don't really know the right way to do it. I'm hoping to get some feedback/suggestions on my approach, so I'll just describe it here; feel free to suggest improvements in whatever part(s) you like.

I usually just do minibridge for at least the first lesson, because the initial investment to figure out bidding is too high and un-fun, and I'm pretty set on that plan. But what hands do we play, what do I try to teach? In the past I've used shuffled hands, and that seems to go okay, but it's easy to get bogged down in higher-level stuff they're not really ready to get yet.

I'm considering pre-making a couple hands from the Bridge Master level 1 series, like "You're in 6NT, and you need to knock out an ace before you cash your other eleven tricks" or "In 3NT, you need to overtake KQ with AJT9 to untangle your nine winners" to introduce some basic concepts, and then random hands after that. But that makes things pretty boring for the defenders, and I don't know if those deals are too high-level or too low-level anyway: maybe I just start with "Cash your nine tricks in a 4333 mirror". I'm also considering a defense-oriented hand, where it's like "Remember how we talked about knocking out aces? Declarer is trying to do that, and you can see from dummy that he will succeed unless your partner has HA, so try leading a heart."

Another thing I'm not sure of: if I do go with prepared lesson deals, do I explain the key point before the deal, or do I just let them play the hand, and then do a post-mortem where we talk about what happened, what could have happened instead, etc?

After the first lesson, I usually describe the skills relevant to bidding/defending/declaring, and ask the students which branch they're interested in investigating more deeply for the next lesson. I'm fairly happy with that approach, but if you dislike it feel free to pipe up.

My goal is to give a feel within the first couple hours for vaguely what playing bridge is about, so that interested folks can come back and others can get on with their lives; I definitely don't plan for students to survive at a duplicate club anytime soon, so I don't mind glossing over things like bidding, leads, or basic carding until students show interest in something related.

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

My friends and I have taught a bunch of different people how to play bridge, and we've developed a system over the years. It basically boils down to: go slowly. Don't overwhelm them with information.

The first time that I play with them, I tell them nothing more than the rules. No conventions, no HCPs, no nothing. Just the literal rules as required.

We play a few hands, perhaps even a full evening of cards like this, as you see fit, and based on how well they take it. Basically, just ask them to pay attention. Did they do well? What worked? What didn't?

Next time, or perhaps later that session, we introduce HCPs. Nothing more than that, and noting that there are 40 HCPs in a deck, so if they think that they and their partner have more than half, then they probably have the stronger hand and should be bidding a bit more.

I can't remember what we would add next (I think 5 car majors? open with 12--14pts? 8 cards is a fit? Conventions like that. Basic ones.)

As I said, start basic. Let them get a feel for the game before even thinking of overwhelming them.

To respond to one of your ideas, I think staged hands would be weird, personally. However, we never tried it, so I don't know how it would work. Still, it seems like staging a hand forces them to be aware of too many things all at once. Let them figure out finesses after they have been playing a while, not the first time you sit down with them.

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I should note that we are not experts, we generally were playing a pretty low-level friendly game. – Simon Rose Aug 8 '14 at 13:10
Great answer. I have long believed that this is the right way to teach bridge, basically following the historical tradition of the game's development that made it so popular in the early and middle decades of the 20t century. – Forget I was ever here Aug 10 '14 at 14:10
I think you and I basically agree on the approach. I decided to go with two prepared lesson hands with no trumps and no bidding, and then two random hands afterward, with a minibridge "auction" (which is simple and deterministic) and the option of a trump suit. It went pretty well; I'd suggest you try a prepared hand next time. The idea is to avoid introducing too much, by making the lesson hand very simple, much simpler than a random deal would have been. – amalloy Aug 13 '14 at 23:52
Fair enough. As I said, we had never tried the prepared hand approach. Glad it went well! – Simon Rose Aug 14 '14 at 5:45

I made some "adjustments" to minibridge to make the contract based on the number of trumps and points preventing underbidding.

It does mean you will get some unmakeable contracts but that means the defending side has a change. Play of the cards isn't only about declarer play it is also about defending and the fact that on some hands the defence will win out not just due to poor declarer play but their own good defence might encourage them.

You can use the following system:

  • If you have 25 points or more you have to play in game.
  • You also have to play in 4 of a major if the number of trumps multiplied by the number of points is more than 200.
  • 5 of a minor when the number of trumps multiplied by the number of cards in the suit is more than 220 and you don't want to play in 3NT.

In part-scores you can enforce a kind of "total tricks" contract or 1NT or 2NT.

Duplicate mini-bridge would work well if you are teaching a group. In particular you want to "keep" the hands to talk through them afterwards. Show them double dummy and see if the players agree with the plays they made and if not, why they disagree other than knowing what partner has.

For example 3rd-hand and 2nd-hand play, finesses, etc.

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In terms of mechanics, I would deal out all four hands, and then have the teacher (you) walk around to the players and tell them how to bid their hands. Maybe all four players will show their hands, so you're operating double dummy.

I would teach them about the point count, and the fact that there are 40 points in the deck, to get them thinking about whether they have an average, above average, or below average hands. I would also teach them to evaluate their distribution, that hands with a maximum of four cards in one suit (except 4-4-4-1) are "balanced" to a fault, that the best balanced hand is 5-3-3-2, and that anything else is "unbalanced."

Then I would ask them whether they would open or pass, based on their high card points and shape of their hands. Basically, I'd tell them to open with 12 hcps and a good five card suit, or 13 hcps and a three or four card minor, and 1NT with a balanced hand with 15-17 hcps.

I would tell them that there are ways to "compete," but we're not going into that in the first session. After someone opens, I would teach that person's partner what s/he needs to have to raise. The other two players will be left out of the bidding for now, but they'll get other chances to bid for the evening. Basically, I want to get one partnership up to the highest reasonable level.

After that, the learners can all play, with the appropriate person sitting as dummy,

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I don't plan to make them slog through a bunch of incomprehensible "bidding" - what's the fun in me saying "bid one club; now bid one spade" if they don't even know what it means? As I said in my question, I plan to play minibridge, which has a greatly simplified auction phase, so that they can get to the immediately-fun part right away. I'm primarily interested in suggestions regarding teaching cardplay. – amalloy Aug 10 '14 at 20:20
Yeah, I think that people who play bridge with other bridge players a lot think that this is a good idea, but I can speak from experience that this is one of the fastest ways to turn new people off from the game. It basically just gives them an incomprehensible collection of actions. There can be no logic or reason if you start with high-end bidding. Seriously, skip the conventions when teaching new players. These things developed over years of play by experts; I think that you can probably wait at least a few weeks to show them to new players. – Simon Rose Aug 12 '14 at 8:01
@SimonRose: I think my answer was misunderstood. I do NOT a allow "competitive" bidding on the first lesson; no overcalls, balancing, takeout doubles, or pre-empts, and no conventions. Basically, the first team to bid gets to bid to their maximum, then we play; hopefully the next time, someone else gets to bid. But I want people to get a "taste" of bidding the first session. – Tom Au Oct 10 '14 at 21:57

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