La Jolla Unit teaches bridge at La Jolla High

Matthew Kidd
June 3, 2009
Smiling student holding a bridge hand

The La Jolla Unit has just completed teaching a three week bridge course at La Jolla High. The course was taught by board members Bill Grant, David Oakley, and Matthew Kidd as well as Bob Walters, a regular player both in our unit games and on Thursday evenings at the Soledad club. Maritha Pottenger, Alex Prairie, and Ron Ignelzi made guest appearances. Maritha is a well known bridge teacher and director who has won many national tournaments. For Alex Prairie, returning to La Jolla High was a homecoming of sorts. A graduate of La Jolla High, about to start his final year in college, he had taken a class from Mr. Kinsel and knew the siblings of many current students.

The Board had discussed approaching La Jolla High for several months. Bill Grant, who had taught AP calculus at Chula Vista High, explained that the downtime between AP exams and graduation was ideal for teaching bridge. Why not do something both fun and educational instead of babysitting? Since retiring, Bill has gone back to Chula Vista High several years to teach bridge in other teacher's AP classes and thought we could do the same in our unit. After contacting the principal, Bill was put in touch with Mr. Gregory Kinsel and given the go ahead to teach bridge to his first and second period AP statistics students.

The curriculum was loosely modeled on the first of Audrey Grant's ACBL Bridge Series books, but choosing to emphasize the enjoyment of bridge over exercises and homework, we simply let the students play in a supervised setting after a minimal introduction to the mechanics of bidding and play, the importance of an 8+ card fit (“golden fit”) in a trump suit, and the ~26 hcp requirement for game contracts. As more bidding concepts were explained, some days were dedicated to the lesson hands for the series.

It is difficult to imagine the modern game without preempts and penalty doubles. Interest in the game perked up quite a bit after word got around about the penalty double. Soon we were fielding questions like, “What is the score for down seven?” Or for 3N doubled making six?

From the beginning the teaching was oriented towards tournament play. Skipping the rubber bridge background, we launched straight into NV matchpoint scoring and handed out duplicate score slips so students could practice matchpoint scoring mechanics. A week and a half into the course, Bill Grant matchpointed results from individual lesson hands and announced N-S and E-W winners. During the third week duplicate boards were introduced.

For the most part, card play was sink or swim. However, seeking to connect bridge to their coursework and knowing that these students understood “N choose K”, the number of ways to choose K objects (e.g. cards) from a set of N objects, Matthew Kidd presented a half period lecture, The Art of Being Lucky (PDF, PowerPoint) covering topics such as the mathematical basis of the "eight ever; nine never" maxim in choosing whether or not to finesse. The title references the subtitle of the famous Card Play Technique book written by Nico Gardener and Victor Mollo in 1955.

Over the last two days of the course an 18 board matchpoint tournament was held. Full results for both the La Jolla High (1st period: Day 1, Day 2 and 2nd period: Day 1 Day 2) and Chula Vista High classes (4th period, 5th period, 6th period) are posted on the Eastlake Bridge Club website. La Jolla High students changed partners on the second day to produce individual winners. The first period winner was Kyle Usserman (79%). The second period winner was Maggie Walsh (72%). In second place were Maddy Sharp (77%) and Kaitlin Sharpe (70%) respectively. Winners received a trophy and a copy of You Need Never Lose at Bridge: Winning Tactics from Victor Mollo's Bridge Club (book notes). Second place winners also received a copy of the book.

All students received bridge T-shirts and Unit pencils. Students interested in taking the game further were given a free copy of the first Audrey Grant book (Bidding) and a student ACBL membership application. Twelve La Jolla High and nine Chula Vista High students joined the ACBL. The board voted to reimburse students for the $5 cost of the membership.