09. Bridge: How the “other half” looks at playing bridge

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By other half I mean those who want to play bridge–but not the competitive duplicate bridge of the American Contract Bridge League. By other half  I mean sociable bridge players of all kinds from ladies bridge clubs, to men who get together to gamble and play to bridge on commuter trains. In fact the other half is more like other two-thirds of all bridge players.

Here’s Emily describing  in a blog what happened when she added “learn to play bridge” to her list of New Year’s resolutions.  She sees an ad about learning to play bridge in her local newspaper and thinks, “Why not? I would really like to have a Retro party with friends dressed 50s style and set up the card tables and have martinis and play bridge.”

She calls, is told about classes and a required instruction book. Her reaction– ” no way. I don’t want to read about bridge, I just want to learn to play by trial and error. . . . I’m not looking to be in the ‘World Series of Bridge’ I just want to have fun.”

Her attitude may be complete turn-off for many bridge teachers. But before giving up on the Emilys of the world, consider this: according to ACBL statistics, 87% of bridge players in the past learned to play from friends and relatives, hit and miss, by trial and error.

Emily decides to wait until summer so her husband can go with her–“he’s more likely to read the book and then he can tell me about it. . . . I hate instruction manuals. . . ”

And she moves bridge to a lower place on her list of New Year’s Resolutions for 2011.

A more nuanced response to callers who inquire about bridge lessons could have had a better result. How about asking–what kind of bridge game do you see yourself playing once you’ve learned how? If Emily then had described the retro 50s bridge parties she envisioned, it would be clear this is someone who is not duplicate material–not yet anyway. Why close off her potential to possibly move on up to duplicate in the future? Invite her in and settle for sociable bridge right now.

Emily (her profile says) is mother of two grown daughters, writes for a living, her husband teaches math. She had e-mailed a bunch of people she thought might also want to learn. Who knows how many of those e-mailed might want to join up and take lessons had the bridge club offered her, say, group lessons with simple handouts for those who enroll. Perhaps offer them at home when some minimum number of students are present.

Who knows how many of those Emily recruited turn out to have that DNA of the competitive bridge player that is the ACBL’s primary focus? Her math-teaching husband for instance. From what I’ve observed, math teachers and engineers are just natural candidates for serious bridge.

What’s wrong with idea of a bridge club hosting an afternoon or evening of group lessons and offering the kind of 50s ambiance Emily is yearning for? Create goodwill, give the timid who need this tentative way of joining what they may aspire to but are intimidated by.


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