Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bridge Camp

Last week, my freshly retired friend/teacher spent several days at our cottage. She’s a sport: she got into the spirit of the place almost immediately. Took off her watch. Closeted the makeup. Jumped into the lake with abandon. Let the hair go natural. Acclimated to real weather. Grabbed an afternoon nap. She was just about the perfect guest.

AND, the intended purpose for dragging her north was for personal instruction in the highly complicated card game of Bridge.

My mom, an avid player, tried to teach me. This is the same left-handed woman who switched paws to teach me how to knit and crochet. But Mom started in way past my beginner status and I quickly got confused. And in areas of learning that are voluntary, confused usually leads to ‘quit.’ (Her first lesson was something about ‘No Trump’ and strategy.)

Now, teachers tend to be good at teaching and pretty good at learning. It’s our stock and trade. We DO seem to sense more quickly when we are not getting it. And ‘not getting it’ is fairly common in Bridge instruction.

So wise teacher that my friend is, she orchestrated and enforced little lessons with lots of breaks. A tidbit of information, several illustrations, a practice hand, and discussion, followed by a few questions from her, answers or confusion from me, and then lots of praise.

I bet they teach this model in how-to-be-a-teacher school.

Mom had left me a book for beginners. I found that even THAT needed context to make sense of it. So, once I had my first two lessons, I could open that booklet and read it with some understanding. I am, however, a learner who needs tangibles. My teacher understood that and complied.

She taught/I wrote: deal all cards; everybody gets 13. Arrange your cards and count the points in your hand.

ACE = 4
KING = 3
JACK = 1
And some additional points for singletons/doubletons/and a few other arrangements.

Write write write.

Then, the suits are ranked for bidding:
NO TRUMP (we got to it, Mom)

Watch me show off: If someone bids, oh, say 1 Spade and you want something else, you have to up it to 2 of something else.

This was much of the first lesson. However, EVERY lesson included Bridge Etiquette. My sense is that rabid Bridge players will get a bit testy if you violate the rules of polite Bridge society.

Bridge is SO unlike other partner games like Euchre and Pinochle, where partners make eyes, thank each other sincerely or sarcastically. Also, in Bridge, you seek help from your partner….there are ways, politely, to indicate whether or not you can help. Also, less cigar chomping. Bridge players’ drug of choice is chocolate-covered nuts, yet another motivation to learn this game.

Break time: shopping, coffee, etc. etc. and then back at it. My gifted teacher came armed with 8 decks of cards so we could place out many hands and talk about them. She brought a variety of learning aides, as students use different things to help them.

My notes, scribbled on two small notebook pages were found on neat, laminated booklets. But it was good for me to write them long-hand first. She knew that.

There was another book by some dude named Goren, “DON’T call him a dude. He’s a grand master!” and a wheel reminiscent of that talking animal toy you buy babies: “The GOREN (again) Point Count Bidding Wheel.”

Break time and into the lake. Dinner on the porch prepared by the hub: a nice salad with fruit and wine.

Back to the table and more hands. And more positive reinforcement. “Good move.” “I like that.” “Oh, well, that might work.”

Two days later, she had to get home for HER Bridge group. And here’s the thing. Two days of very good mini lessons only take a nick at what needs to be learned. Yes, as she reminds me, you need to play. A lot. Often. But you also need to find willing players who won’t lose it (bad etiquette) if you bid something bizarre or throw the wrong card.

Her parting instruction involves those Bridge Columns that appear in daily newspapers. “You can now look at those. They usually come up with interesting hands. Just don’t read what they do. YOU think what you’d do and THEN read.”

I’m on it, teacher!

So, I’m thinking we have a plan here for a summer (what the heck, she’s retired) or autumn camp where campers can be paired with great teachers, study the game, take lots of breaks, and then play some games together under the watchful eyes of their instructors.

I don’t know that she’s looking for a second career but this sounds promising.She told me that the secret for her is that she loves Bridge. Maybe, but she also leaves my formal profession with gifts and skills that I hope she’ll continue to use her gifts.


  1. My only venture into bridge was in 1969. My girlfriend lived across the street in a sorority and in between marching against the Vietnam War, sorority girls thought it was very chic to play bridge. They played a lot of bridge.

    After full disclosure that I had never played, there was a quick tutorial, much like what you described, then I was thrust into live competition.

    All I can recall of that competition was that each and every time, AFTER I would bid ("3 spades" e.g.) my girlfriend, who was always my partner, would drop her cards facedown on the table, stare at me across the table and say, "How could you bid that?" as though I was trying to torpedo our chances at victory.

    This went on everytime I bid. No bid escaped blistering and caustic remarks.

    That was the one and only time I ever played bridge. Instead, I took up drinking whiskey and cock fighting, both excellent forms of entertainment, seperate or in conjunction with each other.

    42 years later, my bridge partner is my wife of 38 years, but she has only been my partner for life, not bridge.

  2. So funny, Lynne! Maybe once you figure out the Bridge cliff notes you can teach me! XXOO Your Little Sis