La Jolla High bridge teaching FAQ

Answers to some frequently asked questions

By Matthew Kidd
Published: May 11, 2011
Updated: May 3, 2015

Q: Who are we teaching?

A: High school students, mostly seniors. So far all the students have come from AP Calculus or AP Statistics classes.

Q: What are we teaching?

A: How to play bridge. We are following the ACBL School Bridge Lesson Series program, modified slightly to accommodate our circumstances (see below). Most students know nothing about the game at the start of the teaching. Only a few have played a whist style game such as spades, hearts, or Pinochle.

Q: Who teaches?

A: We do. The student’s regular teacher will be present each day, take attendance, and occasionally make some bureaucratic announcements at the start of the period. Some of the teachers participate in the bridge teaching part of the time, for example, they may fill in as a fourth.

Q: How long does the teaching run?

A: Every school day for three consecutive weeks plus one or two days in the fourth week, the full 16 hours stipulated by the program.

Q: How big are the classes?

A: Usually 20-30 students. Sometimes more.

Q: What is a typical day like?

A: The lead bridge teacher, Sandra Gagnon, will spend 5-10 minutes introducing new material. Then the students push their desks into foursomes and play. The first four hands are usually canned lesson hands the students can deal from the special teaching cards which are marked on the back for this purpose. Afterwards the students switch to shuffle, deal, and play.

Q: How do you contribute as a volunteer?

A: During the first week, you will help the students learn the basic rules, e.g. making sure the cards are played in order, the lead is made from the correct hand, quitted tricks are kept duplicate style, and the appropriate hand is laid down as dummy. You will also help the students count points and with basic bidding. During the second week, you will help the students learn bidding, play (plus a little bit about defense), scoring, and duplicate mechanics. During the third week you’ll continue in a similar manner and help coordinate pair or team events consisting of a few boards.

In principle, one teacher can run an entire class. But the students learn much more when there are several volunteers around, saturating at around one teacher for every two tables.

Also, volunteers often fill in as fourths.

Q: Is anyone coordinating the volunteers?

A: Not in a formal manner. Show up when you can. Check with Sandra to see which periods need the most help.

Q: How does our teaching differ from the Bridge for Youth guidelines?

A: Our students didn’t choose to learn bridge. They are mostly seniors who finished their Advanced Placement (AP) exams the Friday before our teaching begins. Having already received college acceptances, they could get away skipping the last three weeks of classes. But for most, bridge turns out to be a more compelling alternative. And despite being a captive audience, as a group AP math students are sort of people likely to enjoy bridge.

Although each student will receive a copy of the Bidding in the 21st Century text book, few of them will read the full chapter per day. With four years of studying coming to an end, they’ll be more eager to just play cards and learn from playing. There is nothing wrong with that attitude—many great players have started that way—but they’ll learn a lot more if you are paying attention and helping them, even if you know it is material they could have learned from the book. In many cases they’ll be asking you questions even before you decide to say something.

Since few students will take the followup courses that emphasize play, defense, and duplicate play respectively, we introduce duplicate concepts by the second week, first boards, then score slips, and finally comparative scoring (pairs, or teams). The competition always spikes greater interest in the game. We also introduce the penalty double early, which also heightens the competition and stifles some of the ridiculous bidding that might otherwise occur. Be prepared to answer what 1♠** making four is!

Even the first week is duplicate oriented in the sense that we teach raw duplicate scoring rather than rubber bridge scoring and make sure each student keeps their own cards, tricks ordered and faced in the direction of the winning side for the trick as they would be played in duplicate play.

The final day (or two) are dedicated to a duplicate tournament. Since the ACBL only gives us one trophy per class, we make the students change partners half way though so there is an individual winner.

Finally, because these are AP Statistics students, I have given a lecture on probability in bridge and even a bit of homework.

Q: What is the goal of the teaching?

A: To promote the game. You are really doing this for the future of the game, not specifically for one of the San Diego units, or the district. Soon these students will be scattered to the four corners of the United States, or even abroad. The hope is that fourths find each other in college and later and decide to get serious about the game. Just like you did.