Tips for Teaching the ACBL Bridge Series
Do you have a tip for teaching? Submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Use a variety of hats during the course. For “Opening Leads against NT” wear a captain’s
hat. For “Competitive Auctions” use a pirate’s hat. At graduation, the mortar board, of
–Judy Lowe, Danville CA
Use the E-Z Deal cards for all courses. They are the best form of time management for a
–Anna Digerness, Claremont CA
When using the E-Z Deal Cards, spell out NEWS as the cards are dealt. It’s easier for a
student to think NEWS rather than North, South, East, West. Have each student sort and
deal the 13 cards in his hand for the next deal and then pass the piles to each of the other
three players at the table.
–Arlette Morris, Atlanta GA
Use a poster with velcro dots so you can add bridge maxims as they occur, then refer to
them anytime they are pertinent.
–Virginia Melidosian, Verona NJ
Teach the order in which the suits are ranked by using your body. “You have clubs for
feet, diamonds on your fingers, then your heart and your head is pointed a bit like a
spade!” The students will laugh and remember.
–Joann McDonald, Boone IA
Use four attractive pots. Make long-stemmed Club, Diamond, Heart and Spade symbols
for each suit and put them in the four pots of varying size: Clubs in the smallest, of
course. The pots and symbols make colorful displays and help the students learn the
ranks of the suits in a unique way.
–Kathleen Grover, Saudi Arabia
A bidding ladder can be made in many ways. Use 3x5 index cards and hook them
together with small, colorful, plastic rings. Add levels to the ladder as you go.
–Virginia Melidosian, Verona NJ
When introducing the idea of the Golden Fit and Golden Games, don’t forget the
–Steve Presnell. 1946–1991
Hang a banner at the start of Lesson 2 with large, colorful letters TAKYRTRXNRN and
ask the students to decipher the message. Then they learn to “Take Your Tricks and
–Virginia Melidosian, Verona NJ
Pass out M&M candies to your students when you teach minimum, medium
And maximum hand strengths. The students love the idea and it helps them remember the
–Mabel Edmondson, Goldsboro NC
Use the visual of a stoplight. Add on the left the points that opener will have for a
minimum, medium or maximum hand. Add on the right the points responder needs to
make a bid at each level. Add at the bottom the combined points and the level at which
each hand should be played. The students can color these cards and use them as
bookmarks to remind them of this information during the course.
–Arlette Schutte, Daytona FL
Have each table set up a hand face down in as “perfect” a distribution as possible for an opening 1NT. Call the 4-3-3-3 hand “perfection.” Then have one student move one card from a “3” column to another “3” column to create the 4-4-3-2 hand, noting that only one card has been moved. Ask the student to move the card back to reform the original hand and proceed to have the student create the final pattern of 5-3-3-2 by again moving only one card. Point out that the two variations of the perfect hand must be considered balanced because they are only one card away from perfection. Remind the students that they can test any pattern when considering opening 1NT by seeing if he can return to 4-3-3-3 by moving only one card.
–Kay Henry, Houston TX
Use a colored cardboard sign with CAPTAIN printed on it to emphasize the role of responder as captain. Knotted at the corner of each end of the sign is yarn long enough to pull over the head. When partner opens the bidding with 1NT, the responder (captain) puts on the sign. Should he forget his “role,” the other students remind him. (This is easier on the hair than a captain’s hat.)
–Betty Thomas, Springfield MO
Use this visual aid when teaching overcalls. Pass out candy kisses with a colored dot on the bottom where the proper bid has been written.
–C. Snider, K. Smith, the Bradfords, V. Maddox
Search in your newspaper for advertisements. Dress shops sometimes have “Three-for-One” sales. Use the ad to make a colorful poster to display when you begin discussing take-out doubles. It really helps the students understand the concept of one bid that asks for three suits.
–Mabel Edmonson, Goldsboro NC
Often students sign up for the course to encourage a spouse to learn more about the game, not because they “need” it. Others may enroll because they haven’t played much bridge recently and don’t want to start with the most basic course. These people need a review in order to not cause long delays during the lessons. Run a one-hour review of the Bidding and insist that they take it. Welcome other former Bidding students to sit in if they like. After the review, start the Play of the Hand course.
–George Emerson, Ft. Myers FL
Use this visual aid to remind students not to play too quickly and to make a plan. Cut a large key out of heavy paper and print KEY” on one side and ANALYZE on the other. Explain that it is the key to good bridge. When a student plays too quickly, produce the key to remind him that he must make a plan to analyze the alternatives before trying to make the contract.
–Edna Berti, Aptos CA
“PLAN” with all four hands exposed. To teach the students not to tell partner how to play the hand, create a “kitty.” Anyone who gives advice to partner must contribute $.25 to $1.00. Proceeds go to charity.
–Dee Berry, Seattle WA
The students are better able to keep track of their losers if, while planning the play, they turn the losers face up sideways as they do when they lose a trick.
–Pat Harrington, Fort Myers FL
This is an excellent story to use when teaching preempts: “A famous bridge teacher was
staying in Charles Goren’s New York apartment. He saw a book on the shelf titled,
‘Rebids by the Preemptive Bidder.’ Curious, he took the book off the shelf. When he
opened it, the book was full of blank pages.”
–Ruth and Ben Taber, El Paso TX
Use this analogy when teaching preempts: “A preempt is driving your Volkswagon bug
into a parking place in front of a Lincoln; you may get the parking place but you could
also get smashed. Use the rule of down 2 vulnerable or down 3 non-vulnerable so the
insurance will cover the accident.”
–Colleen Palmer, Colorado City TX
Many teachers feel that the defense course is the most interesting to teach. Remember, it’s the first time your students, as declarers, won’t be making all of their contracts against proper defense. It will be a challenge to hold their interest.
Count, attitude, suit preference.
Dee Berry suggests that teachers divide Lesson 5 of Defense (The Heart Series) into three lessons. To expect beginners – or even intermediates – to grasp attitude, count and suit preference all at once is overwhelming.
The teacher manual can still be used for the introductory material as well as the lessons on attitude, count and suit preference. All you need to do is supplement this material with more example deals. Here are some deals from the Heart APlay@ course you can use as a starting point. There are enough example deals for the attitude lesson but you need to find more on count and suit preference or create them (use Dealmaster Pro or the online hand creation system found on Bridge Base).
It will make the lesson clearer if you say at some point to your students, AWe show 'continue' or 'discontinue' in suits partner leads; we show count in suits declarer leads."
Attitude Sample Deals (Heart “Play” booklet):
Session 1, hand 6
Session 2, hand 1
Session 2, hand 3
Session 2, hand 5
Session 3, hand 3
Session 3, hand 4
Session 3, hand 6
Session 3, hand 8
Session 4, hand 7
Count Sample Deals (Heart “Play booklet)
Session 4, hand 1
Session 4, hand 6
Session 4, hand 8
Suit Preference Sample Deals:
Session 3, hand 5
(Heart "Play" booklet) Session 4, hand 4
Bridge can be fun with "bad" cards.
When promoting the Defense (The Heart Series) course lessons, Ingrid Nargi says it's a good selling point to tell your students that it will teach them to enjoy bridge even when they don't hold good cards.
It’s all in how you look at it.
Audrey Grant uses this exercise to introduce the concept of defensive signals. “We are going to tell our partner something about our hand, using a specific language." Have one student (a volunteer who doesn't mind being in the spotlight) leave the room. Show the class a simple drawing of a cat. Explain that it is the task of the group to get the student who left the room to draw this diagram on the board – but there's a catch. They can use only words to describe shapes (circle, triangle, dot, line) and position (to the left, in the middle, etc.). Students and teacher alike will have fun with this. Any new way of communicating is a challenge, and the unfamiliar may bring a feeling of new accomplishment. In bridge, we communicate with our partner in a new way, through the cards we play rather than by what we say. (See page 28 on using this idea to introduce the idea of communicating with partner in a new way in the Play of the Hand (Diamond Series) course.
When teaching her students to finesse, Eliza Hofmeister says, "A finesse is something you do when you have to." (A quote from her first duplicate teacher.) She emphasizes that leading a queen to try to bring out the king will always lose the queen. Don’t do it unless you have the jack! (Yes, says Eliza, they do need to hear it.)
Each hand presents a challenge.
Although the Defense (The Heart Series) deals are designed for declarer to go down with the proper defense, they don’t allow for the degree of personal creativity some teachers will witness. Remember, says Val Covalciuc, that your students are amassing a lot of information in a very short time and only practice and repetition will allow them to master new concepts. As Val marvels at some of their plays, she tells her students that what keeps people playing bridge, aside from the chance to socialize, is that every hand presents a different challenge.
Ease your students into good defense.
By the time your students are ready for the Defense class, they have experienced the "play" portion of the other courses. Betty Starzec doesn’t like going through play hands with her students that they will bid and play correctly but will not make due to good defense. So, she lets them bid and play the hand first and then takes them through proper defense. Most often the students can then "see" the magic of good defense even better.
Tips for Teaching Conventions
ACBL’s two courses on conventions, Commonly Used Conventions (CUC) and More Commonly Used Conventions (MCUC), offer lessons for advancing students. Here are some tips from teachers who have been using the material in both traditional and unique ways.
Ease students into conventions.
Students can't go from Stayman to transfers to weak two's to strong two clubs in four weeks. After each of the first four lessons in CUC, Joann Humphrey inserts a practice session. She prepares10 deals that review what was taught the week before for the students to play. She reviews for about 10 minutes before they start to play. Joann teaches CUC in 12 weeks, instead of eight. She has five tables and puts two boards on each table and they play a Mitchell movement. The students are more willing to read/study the lesson the week before the practice and they are learning the material this way. The students are encouraged to talk at the table and to ask questions. They keep score but Joann doesn’t declare a winner.
Ease into conventions.
Liz Randall is teaching conventions to a senior citizen bridge group in one-hour lessons. She does the same convention for about four weeks. Liz teaches the convention the first week and does one deal. She reviews for the next three weeks and does one deal a week. This works well in the time allotted and increases the comfort level of using the convention.
Alternate format for convention courses.
Ed Stoever has tried a new format for his courses on conventions that works well for him. He offers a four-session, 2 1/2 hour per session course in which each session covers just one subject (e.g., Stayman, Jacoby transfer bids, preempts, minor-suit bidding, etc.). The course emphasizes what the students are most interested in learning. Ed polls the students at the start of the class to find out their preferences.
Ed gives the students a single sheet summary of what will be covered in each session and eight practice deals on separate 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 sheets, all of which they get to keep. He spends 20 to 30 minutes discussing and answering questions on the summary sheet, and then the class plays all eight of the practice deals. (Eight deals allow Ed to give examples of nearly every variation of the topic of the day.) Some deals they bid and play and then the class discusses them; for other deals, they work out the suggested bidding individually on the handout sheet, and then the class discusses. At the end of the session the students get another sheet giving the suggested bidding and play of all eight deals. The students really like this approach!
Ed can easily give individual lessons on single topics using these materials, and he can also bundle the topics in a variety of ways. He gets his sample deals from randomly dealt boards at the weekly duplicate learning game or he makes them up.
Use the convention card.
At the beginning of a series of classes on conventions, Kris Motoyoshi gives each student a convention card and asks them to bring it with them for every class. An enlarged and laminated convention card sits in the front of the room. At the beginning of each lesson, Kris shows the students how to mark the new convention they are learning. At the end of the series, Kris gives them a computer-generated convention card with all the conventions they have studied already filled in. This exercise helps them to become familiar with the card and it lets them know where to look when they want to see if their opponents are playing a certain convention.
Take your pick of conventions.
Kris Motoyoshi makes a schedule of conventions and dates so students can attend all of the classes or pick and choose. If they take all of the lessons, she charges the going rate for eight lessons in her area. If they take the menu approach, she charges about $1 more per lesson. They must pre-register.
Two tips from Cliff Rhein for players who are learning to manage a dummy:
1. Suppose you open 1NT and your partner makes a transfer bid leaving you as declarer in a suit contract. Stop and inspect dummy for ANY suit that may be longer than a side suit in your hand. If a longer card in that dummy suit can be safely ruffed in your hand C with the shorter trump holding C maybe even before you draw trumps C you will almost always collect an extra trick.
2. If your opponents have opened 1NT on your right and then transferred to a suit, do not be afraid to lead trumps C even into declarer=s hand. You may effect the short trump holding in declarer's hand C and deprive declarer of a vital short-suit ruff in the closed hand.
Think before overcalling 1NT!
If your opponent (RHO) opens the bidding in your best suit, Ken Monzingo tells his students that it is almost always right to pass. Even if you're holding the point count to overcall 1NT. "Why should you get in trouble when they already are?"
Key to successful finesses.
In teaching how a finesse works, Mel Hazell stresses that the card you hope to make a winner (king, queen, etc.) must be the THIRD card played in that trick. This gets the students leading from the correct hand.
Lugina Dzenutis uses material from the More Commonly Used Conventions course for a workshop with all seasoned players, and her students love it. She stayed on the first chapter – "doubles" – for five weeks!! She covered all kinds of doubles: penalty, cooperative-optional, negative, takeout, balancing. Lugina says it was great fun for all.
Watch your shape with takeout doubles.
Ken Monzingo tells his students that making takeout doubles without the correct shape (support for all unbid suits) is like going to the prom in the wrong dress. It may work, but you'll be sorely embarrassed if it doesn't. He reminds them, ”Think of your partner who has to dance with what you brought to the party!”
“Repeat after me,” says Colleen Palmer. “A double is takeout when your opponents open and negative when partner opens."
Remembering the basics.
When teaching Rebids and Responses, Marlene Koerner found that her beginning students have a tendency to want to show other suits (such as rebidding a five-card minor) rather than raise partner's major. She uses this reminder, "Don't create a wardrobe when you have a suit."
Lesson 8 before 7.
When Delma Murray teaches the Commonly Used Conventions course, she teaches Lesson 8 before Lesson 7. This way the students have a way to deal with strong hands before you introduce weak twos.
Improve and expand your knowledge.
Judith Murray focuses on classes for people who want to improve their games and learn some new things. She stresses the value of good defense and why it is important to place the points around the table as she teaches a certain theme (Jacoby 2NT, new minor forcing, etc.) each week. The students duplicate the hands, bid them using bidding boxes, Judith reviews the bids by asking and explaining what each bid that was made means, the deals are played and then the class discusses why some declarers made their contract and others didn’t. Judith uses some deals that will go down if the declarer hasn’t planned the play.