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Keeping your bridge club alive in difficult times

As I write, most bridge clubs in England are not meeting. Our official advice is here. It may seem as if there is nothing we can do until we can return to playing at the table, but this is not the case. It is important that we look after our members and find ways to keep the club going even if it is not possible to meet.

The first thing is to keep in touch. There are several ways:

– Email.

– web site notices.

– phone.

– social media, for clubs that are active on Facebook, Twitter or similar.

Visiting is obviously possible but against government advice, since we are being asked to maintain social distancing and that is not possible with face-to-face bridge.

But what is there to say? Here are some suggestions.

Online bridge

First, what about playing online? There are a number of options and I will list some of the main ones below.

Bridge Club Live. This is an EBU online club. You can play for free in guest rooms, or sign up as a member to get full access. You play with real people and it is UK based so plenty of Acol/weak No Trump (though all are welcome). Bridge Club Live has an interesting offer for us right now. Your club can register, in which case club members who play in the drop-in-drop-out (DIDO) tournament (which runs almost all the time) can compare their results with those of other club members.

What is the DIDO tournament? Described here, it is an all-day tournament scored with pairs scoring (MPs). You commit to playing at least 4 boards at a time, and if you play 16 boards during the day (which can be at different times, in rounds of 4 boards), then you appear in the daily leader board and receive EBU master points.

Thanks to the special offer, you can currently join Bridge Club Live for just £1.00 for 30 days. The full price is £72.00 per year. There is a little wrinkle you should be aware of. If you have a discounted subscription like the special offer, you will also pay an EBU UMS (Universal Membership) charge. If you pay the full price it is included. How much? £0.67 per month (a bargain!).

Note that there is, or will be, a cost for clubs to register. It is free until 1st July 2020 but will be £24.00 per year for the club, and club members also need to join as individuals.

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Bridge Base Online is the largest online bridge platform for real-time bridge – by which I mean, you play with real people and wait while they are thinking and so on, just like in a club. There is an option for robots, but mainly for practising. It began in the USA and is truly international, which means the majority of players use a strong No Trump, but there are plenty of Acol players too.

The EBU has made arrangements with Bridge Base to run EBU sessions every day. Joining in one of these sessions costs one “BB$” which you purchase at the rate of one BB$ per US $. It is just a way of keeping some credit with Bridge Base to avoid paying a small sum each time you play. Master points are awarded. They are 12-board games and there are currently four every day, at 2pm, 3.30pm, 7.30pm and 9.00pm.

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We have a guide to registering for Bridge Base Online here.

Funbridge is the largest online platform for computer bridge – but with a difference. Every game you play on Funbridge had its results compared with other people, so it is a kind of computer duplicate. The standard is high; the computer opponent is better than most human players even if sometimes it does strange things (just like us). In 2019, an average of over 1 million deals were played on Funbridge every day.

Funbridge has a nice user interface and some great features, like the ability to replay hands as many times as you like (only your first score counts unfortunately!). Because you play against the computer, there is no waiting around, and you can play as slowly as you like without annoying anyone. You can’t let down your partner therefore, but equally you won’t be congratulated for your great play, except by the reward of a nice score.

You get 100 free boards when you sign up, and can play 10 boards for free every week. Beyond that buy packs of boards or pay a subscription for unlimited games.

The EBU runs a Funbridge session every day, and master points are awarded. There is a small extra charge for playing in the EBU sessions, currently €2 (though like Bridge Base, Funbridge has a virtual currency called Diamonds). Full details of the EBU sessions are here.

There are several ways you can do things as a club on Funbridge. You could have a team in the Funbridge Team Championship (6 members in each team), and you can create Funbridge tournaments for your club. It is not ideal though, since players always play solo, and you have to accept that non-club members might play in your tournament. These other games do not cost any Funbridge Diamonds though, and you do not get master points.

We have said a bit more about these and other online bridge options here.

Encouraging and supporting online bridge

Do you have members who would like to play online but may struggle to get started? You can offer to help them either by talking them through it on the phone. We can also help with advice. A great idea though is for one or two members of your club who are comfortable with playing online to make themselves available to encourage others.

Please also advise them that if you are playing online with other people you need to apply the same high standard of behaviour as you would at a real table. For example, imagine you over-bid and see the contract is hopeless as soon as dummy goes down. Do not think about abandoning the board, as that is inconsiderate. Grit your teeth and play; the next board may be a triumph.

Continuing bridge learning

Another idea is to encourage club members to use the opportunity of more time at home to improve their game. There are plenty of sites out there, from no fear bridge aimed at novices, to the highly educational Bridge Master which you can find (completely free) on Bridge Base Online. Bridge Master has several levels; you have to find a line of play that succeeds for a variety of hands. At the high levels it is very challenging, and you can learn different types of squeezes.

If you are running bridge classes, you might consider running some classes via web conferencing. Many systems let you share your screen so you can show hands and other presentations.

Let’s not forget books as well. There are many superb books on bridge at every level, so this is a good time to remind members of them and make some recommendations.

Have you got ideas about keeping your club together during a time of not meeting? Please let us know in the comments or contact me by email as we would love to share them.

Supporting youth bridge: what can clubs do, and a new initiative in London

In talking to bridge clubs about the demographic issues facing our game, I am often asked what we are doing to help more young people benefit from the fun and challenge of bridge.

Our message to clubs in general is to focus on an older age group, for two reasons. One is that the older group is more responsive to bridge in general, so marketing campaigns aimed at them are more rewarding. Second, in some cases there is a bit of a cultural (and timing) mismatch between a typical bridge club and someone of school age or a student. We think it may be better to form new clubs for young people – though this is not always the case, and if you are a bridge club which is successfully attracting players both young and old, that is fantastic and keep going!

It may not be easy though, and we also know that you cannot just march into a school, college or university and set up bridge classes. It is a cooperative effort and you need to get everything right, from safeguarding policies to the right way of teaching the game (or perhaps MiniBridge).

Where people have the enthusiasm and have put in the necessary hard work, there are great results. Young people who learn to play love the game, and there are also plenty of opportunities to compete at every level form local to international.

If this is something you want to support, but you do not know much about it, check out the EBED Youth page. This includes a Youth Handbook which distils a lot of information, wisdom and experience into a 10 page booklet that sets out what you can do, with links for more information.

The Young Chelsea Bridge Club in London has come up with another idea, which is to offer to teach bridge to every student who cares to sign up. There is a pilot project to teach bridge to chess players and you can find more information here. We wish them every success.

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Hello, I want to learn to play bridge. Can you help?

Someone contacts your bridge club and says, “I want to learn to play bridge”. What answer do they get?

The EBU’s membership development efforts are largely focused on supporting clubs in getting new members by teaching bridge to newcomers. This is the only method that works to keep the game thriving. Therefore when someone contacts a club and says that they want to learn the game, this is something that is most welcome.

Having the right response ready though is not trivial. What you would like to say is, “Thanks for calling, that is fantastic news and I am sure you will enjoy learning. We have a class starting in two weeks time, can you make Tuesday evenings?”

Unfortunately not all clubs are in a position to give that kind of answer. Running bridge classes takes considerable investment of time and energy, and you have to have one or more teachers, premises to teach in, and an ongoing plan to take students into supervised bridge and then into full club sessions. Some will drop out along the way.

I am sure all enquirers to any of our clubs get a friendly response. But in some cases it might be less than ideal. For example:

  • “No we don’t teach bridge. I think there might be some classes in [another town]”
  • “Thanks for calling. Wait a moment … I’ve looked online and there are 10 bridge teachers in your area, can I send you the link?”
  • “Great that you want to learn bridge. I know [some name] does teaching, I’ll give you the number.”
  • “Let me take your number. We’re not teaching at the moment but if we do in future I’ll be sure to call you.”

The lack of a good response may have several outcomes:

  • The person may give up and not learn bridge after all
  • The person may end up finding a teacher who is not of a high standard
  • The person may find a teacher who is not linked to an EBU club – not so bad in that they do learn bridge, but no immediate benefit to clubs which need new members

I must add that we know of many clubs which do a wonderful job of teaching and welcoming new members so the above is not in any way meant as a criticism. Rather, it is a reflection of the fact that not all clubs are equipped to teach and that the resources we have for putting enquirers in touch with the right bridge teacher are perhaps not as good as they should be.

What can we do? First, we want to encourage all EBU clubs to be teaching clubs, either on their own, or in combination with other local clubs. It is not necessary always to have a course about to start. People are usually happy to wait. Even if you run courses just once a year, that is not a bad answer. “We have a course staring next September” is a great deal better than having nothing to offer.

There are many excellent bridge teachers but we think clubs have a key role alongside teachers, the simple reason being that we think an EBU duplicate bridge club is the best place to play bridge. If the club is at the centre of the teaching process, the newcomer is much more likely to end up playing at the club, than if they are directed to an external teacher.

Can the EBU do more to support clubs in this important matter? I think we can, along with our colleagues at English Bridge Education and Development (EBED). We are certainly open to suggestions about this so please do get in touch.

Finally, if you are reading this and want to learn bridge, feel free to contact me tim@ebu.co.uk or give us a call! We will do our very best to help you get started.

Ten reasons to play bridge: presenting the game we love to the community

We have plenty of material on this site on how to attract new members to your club, but perhaps not enough on the heart of the matter: why play bridge? Please feel free to use or adapt this in your own bridge promotion.

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Ten reasons to play bridge

1. Bridge is an endlessly fascinating game, easy to learn but also mentally challenging to play at the highest level. It is played with 52 cards dealt into 4 hands, and every hand is different; you will almost certainly never see the exact same deal in your lifetime (there are 53,644,737,765,488,792,839,237,440,000 possible deals, if you are mathematically curious).

2. Bridge is a lot of fun. At a typical club, participants play around 24 hands in a session (though fewer if you are just starting out), and each one can be triumph or tragedy as you try to out-play and out-wit your opponents.

3. Bridge is good for you. Dr Caroline Small at Imperial College London researched the topic and found:

  • Recent research has demonstrated that individuals taking up membership of a club at retirement live longer.
  • The results of the model suggest that individuals who play bridge have higher levels of overall wellbeing

There are also benefits for young people in learning bridge. It helps to teach mathematical concepts like probability as well as learning to work in partnership with someone else – because bridge is played in pairs.

4. Bridge is a great way to meet people. Young people make friends easily, but it can be harder when we are older, for example when moving to a new location. Joining a bridge club is an excellent way to meet people in the context of a shared activity, so you can socialise as little or as much as you want.

5. Once you learn bridge, you will never be bored again. You can play bridge whenever you want. The best place to play bridge is in a bridge club, but you can also play online, without a partner, and at your own pace, for example with Funbridge.

6. Bridge is inexpensive. Most EBU clubs ask between £2.00 and £3.00 “table money”, that is, the cost of playing in a session that lasts for two to three hours. That’s not much more than the price of a cup of coffee, and less than what you would pay for a pint of beer in a pub.

7. Bridge is so absorbing that you leave your worries behind you. Since you have to concentrate on the game, all the other things on your mind will be forgotten.

8. Bridge is a game for all ages and levels of physical fitness. As long as you can see the cards and handle a bidding card, you can continue to enjoy bridge. Clubs can arrange for you to be seated at the same place at one table throughout the session if you would rather not move about.

9. Bridge is not just for experts. Even if you score badly, you will still probably do well on some of the hands in a session; it is not like chess where there is one winner and one loser. Less experienced players can enjoy seeing how they improve over time.

10. Bridge presents lovely opportunities. Once you can play the game, you can travel to compete in tournaments, some of which are tailored to suit less expert players. You can also enjoy bridge holidays and cruises. Learning bridge is the passport to many enjoyable experiences.

What bridge players think

We asked thousands of bridge players what they like about the game. Here are some of their responses:

  • Bridge is very stimulating. Every hand is new, so you never get bored. It’s absorbing, frustrating, challenging, addictive, satisfying – I love it.
  • I enjoy the mental gymnastics, the infinite variety, and the succession of unique challenges.
  • My wife and I wanted something to do together – as we both were logically-minded and played other card games, we took up bridge.
  • My husband, sometimes uses a wheelchair so it is an activity we can do together.
  • I love the achievement in winning without being aggressive towards others – it’s friendly competition.
  • “Walking into the club, greeting friends, chatting, then being totally absorbed by the bidding and playing of each hand is a wonderful way to spend a happy and sociable evening with the huge bonus of enhancing brain power”
  • I play to socialise and catch-up with friends doing an activity we enjoy. I enjoy being part of a team or partnership – it’s more sociable than games such as chess.
  • I learned as a way to get to know people when I moved city – there’s a real bridge community.
  • I play to meet new friends and enlarge my social group. I recently returned from abroad after many years and it got me back into the community.
  • It gets me out of the house and with people. It gives me focus. When things go well I feel good.

What some celebrities think

Martina Navratilova (tennis champion) “No matter where I go, I can always make new friends at the bridge table”

Bill Gates (co-founder of Microsoft) “Bridge is the king of all card games”

Alex James (pop star, bassist in Blur) “Bridge is utterly compulsive … it isn’t too hard to learn and you actually start enjoying it before you get very good.”

Using Nextdoor to get your bridge club and classes better known

How do you get your bridge club and classes better known in the community? Although on occasion people will travel some distance to play bridge (and why not?) we believe that the more local, the better. This is particularly the case when you are introducing people to the enjoyment of bridge later on in life.

For this reason we have long recommended Facebook for promotion and advertising of upcoming bridge teaching. Facebook lets you specify a target audience within a few miles of where your lessons will take place, and to a specified age group.

Facebook is good in this respect; but there is another hyper-local option which, we are hearing, is very effective. This is the Nextdoor network. One club in Kent found 12 new students for their bridge classes very quickly through Nextdoor – and it was more effective for them than leaflets or other methods. Another club in Yorkshire also reports a good result.

What is Nextdoor? The concept is quite simple: it is a network of groups each of which covers a small area such as a housing estate. Only people in that local area are allowed to join the group; this is not very rigorously enforced but seems to work well.

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Nextdoor is therefore the perfect place to announce your bridge classes, which you can either mention in community posts or advertise in a sponsored post. You must of course be respectful of the online community. You should read the community guidelines and the information on promoting local business. If your bridge club is run as a for-profit business, you must follow the guidelines. On the other hand, most bridge clubs are not run for profit and benefit the community in all sorts of ways, providing social interaction, mental challenge, and of course a great deal of enjoyment.

The important thing is to be a good citizen and communicate the opportunity bridge represents in an appropriate way.

Properly used, Nextdoor is a valuable way of contacting your local community alongside other approaches. You can sign up here. Note that you do not have to share your full address with your neighbours; this is the default but you can change it in privacy settings to show only the street.

Take-up will vary from one area to another, but in my own area the site says that 26% of 1000 households are represented, quite a good proportion.

Tips for marketing your bridge club


The idea of marketing a bridge club is relatively new for many of us. We have been accustomed to people just turning up, and then typically playing regularly since it is so enjoyable.

Bridge players still tend to play regularly once they get to know the game, but sadly we can no longer count on people just turning up. Introducing bridge to new people has become critically important to the long-term future of our clubs, and a combination of bridge teaching and marketing is the best way we know to accomplish that.

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Every clubs is different and every region is different so of course we acknowledge that “whatever works for you” is a valid principle. That said, we have learned more about what tends to work and what tends not to work. Here are a few tips from that learning.

Human contact works best. We respond well to recommendations from friends and to human stories. We respond badly to random advertisements, in a world where we are bombarded with advertising from dawn until dusk. What this means is that a leaflet passed on by a friend or neighbour is many times more effective than one pushed through the door. The further thought arising from this is that every member of a club can, in a quite way, help to promote it. So:

  • More effective: leaflets or word of mouth recommendation from friends
  • Less effective: pushing leaflets through the letterbox of 1000 local homes

Following on from this, try to emphasise the human stories in club publicity material. A quote from a member of the club who has recently learned bridge and enjoys it is worth more than any amount of quotes from celebrities or information about the game.

Similarly, press advertising in general we have found not very effective. The problem seems to be that despite large distribution numbers, press ads do not get much attention and of course are completely untargeted. Hyper-local publications are actually better as well as cheaper: a parish magazine or community newsletter rather than a city-wide or regional local newspaper. Editorial in the local press is much more effective, and free, if you can get it. Again, stories are the key. New premises? A good news story about growing popularity? Research about health benefits of bridge could be a hook for a story. Bridge on Coronation Street? Appoint a publicity officer for the club and keep a look out for stories.

  • More effective: press editorial, hyper-local newsletters and magazines
  • Less effective: press advertising in newspapers and wide circulation publications

Keep it local! Most of us do not like long journeys. If advertising on Facebook, stick to no more than a 5 mile radius from your club. Yes, there might be someone 15 miles away who will make the effort, but not many.

  • More effective: your own town, suburb, housing estate or village
  • Less effective: trying to broaden reach to everyone who might possibly be able to attend

Have a clear and reassuring call to action. Several human characteristics can work against it. We are all busy and fail to get round to things even that we feel are a good idea. And we are naturally a bit suspicious or worried about scams, unfriendliness, strangers and so on. So in our marketing it is essential to have a clear “what to do next” such as sending a message, or an email or calling a number, preferably with a deadline that must not be missed. “Bridge taster session on 1 December, free refreshments and your first lesson free” makes a nice offer complete with a date, for example.

  • More effective: a clear call to action with a dated event and a special offer
  • Less effective: “Come and visit us sometime” or a link to a club web site that has information on it somewhere about learning bridge 

It is also important to think about the destination as well as the journey. We consistently see that bridge clubs which achieve a welcoming atmosphere and who set out to provide an enjoyable session as well as high standard of bridge find it easier to attract new members. Even details like the lighting in the car park makes a difference. We want our clubs to be places that people love to attend.

  • More effective: A friendly atmosphere with thought given to every aspect of the session
  • Less effective: Bridge but not much else to attract people

What strategies have you found effective? We would love to hear from you so let us know!

Two stories show why a welcoming atmosphere is the key to a growing bridge club

I travel a fair bit (not only for the EBU) and of course people I meet ask me what I do.

When I mention that I work for the English Bridge Union it often sparks a conversation about bridge. Twice in one week I chatted with people who would like to play more bridge but do not.

In the first case, the person used to be a keen bridge player but had drifted away from the game, being busy with work. He thought he might try to pick it up again and ventured to his local EBU club.

I do not know which club it was but he was thoroughly put off. He said it was made clear to him that bridge was played strictly by the rules and that any breaches would be properly adjudicated. I am not sure how the evening went after that, but he has no intention of returning.

In the second case, the person was a casual bridge player and would like to play more. She was thinking of joining a club but was worried that it would be too intimidating. I encouraged her to make an approach and see how it went.

My anecdotal evidence does not tell us how common these stories are, but I doubt they are all that unusual. What does this mean for bridge clubs that want to grow?

The first contact is hugely important. You may never get another chance. And the priority in that first contact is to make it apparent that newcomers are welcome, whether on their own or in a pair. Tell them how friendly the club is, how you (or someone) will make sure they can find their way around, that there are refreshments, that everyone enjoys their bridge and they will love it.

The welcoming culture has to pervade the club. This is hard to do. Some people are unintentionally gruff or come across that way at first. We don’t all have fantastic people skills. There is a lot you can do though, especially if you are the director or on the club committee. Keep your eyes open; if someone is new, make a point of meeting them, chatting, and ensuring there is nothing they are worried about. If you are directing, name the newcomers and say how welcome they are before play begins. If there is an infraction involving the new person (and yes, EBU clubs do play by the rules), direct with a friendly manner and explain that adjudication is about making the game fair for everyone and not (in the vast majority of cases) punishment for wrongdoing.

Whether one person or one pair does or does not join your club may not seem all that important. Think of it another way though. What is the significance of being known in your community as a friendly and welcoming place to play bridge? That is huge.

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A cheerful bridge club: is that so hard? Illustration by Audrey Quinton of Thorpe Bay Bridge Club, Essex

How to increase membership at a bridge club–and the membership campaign one year on

It is a year since I started working on membership development at the EBU. This is a long term effort, but I would like to share a little about how it is going, and what we have learned about how to increase membership at bridge clubs.

One of the thing we have worked on is improving our knowledge of what is happening by studying the data we have. In fact our data on membership as such is not very accurate, partly because it depends on how quick clubs are to update their records, and partly because we care more about bridge activity than we do about the number of members as such.

First, some good news. If we look at the month of July (the latest month for which we have reliable figures), more bridge was played at EBU clubs in July 2019 than in July 2018 or July 2017. Over 15% of our clubs played more bridge in July 2019 than in July 2018, and more bridge in July 2018 than in July 2017. In some cases there will be arbitrary reasons, to do with perhaps the number of Tuesdays in the month, or the fact that a nearby club closed. In many cases though there is real growth which is most encouraging.

We have also discovered that there is no strong correlation between growth and the size of the club, or between growth and the standard of the bridge – judged by average National Grading Scheme (NGS) ranking. Clubs of every size and standard are among those growing.

One thing that does seem to be a factor is the number of sessions in the week: clubs with more than one session seem to be more likely to be growing. Perhaps this helps with providing a pathway for less experienced players, since where there is more than one session, one is often a bit less expert than others.

I am also aware that growing bridge clubs are the outcome of a lot of hard work. The demographics of bridge mean that many elderly members leave us each year, and that is not going to change. So to grow means to more than compensate for that natural process.

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How to grow your bridge club – attracting people in

What then is the secret of a growing bridge club? There are really two aspects to this. The first is attracting people in. Since there is a limited number of experienced bridge players out there, most of whom already play in bridge clubs because the game is so fantastically absorbing, the best way to attract new people is to offer bridge teaching. Not every club can do this on their own, and there are often issues about finding a suitable location for clubs who do not have their own premises, but it is worth the effort.

In this it is essential to plan the progress of novices from learning the game to joining a regular club session. We have several posts on this site devoted to this topic.

Running transition classes

How to bring new members into club sessions

How to migrate new players to the main club session

The key is to plan from the beginning and make sure that the club or clubs manage the lessons and follow up, rather than delegating this entirely to, for example, a bridge teacher. Another key is to avoid creating a club within a club: supervised sessions are for helping members to progress, not a final destination.

Once you have a plan in place it is time to do some marketing, and again there is plenty of information on this site on the topic, such as How to run a bridge taster session.

How to grow your bridge club – making it a place people want to stay

It is common sense yet something that is easy to miss: a club is much more likely to grow if it runs sessions that everyone enjoys. The best marketing is word of mouth, and if a club’s members say to their friends what a lovely bridge club it is, half the work of gaining new members is done already.

The opposite is also true. If a club develops a reputation for “unfriendliness” or the word goes round that “you have to take your bridge really seriously,” then gaining new members is an uphill battle.

At the EBU we are determined to change any idea of EBU clubs being unfriendly into the opposite, that at an EBU club players of any standard are assured of a friendly welcome.

What can a club do in order to provide an enjoyable evening? Quite a lot. The directing is key, so is the hosting, or making single players welcome. We also want to encourage more multi-standard sessions, which means making sure that your top players (as well as all the others) practice best behaviour with opponents of a lesser standard: a smile, patience with inadvertent errors, and never ever trying to take advantage other than via bidding and playing to the best of your ability. There is a post on creating a novice-friendly culture in your bridge club.

It works!

In my year at the EBU I have seen plenty of evidence that where bridge is carefully promoted by novice-friendly clubs, growth does take place. There is effort involved, but the rewards are also great, not only in terms of ensuring a bright future for your club and for the game, but also in the social and community benefits of bridge, a partnership game that is endlessly varied and rewarding.

Running transition classes to help novices move up to club level

It is one thing to get people learning bridge and playing in gentle bridge sessions – but the next move, migrating players to full club sessions, can be particularly challenging.

Camberley bridge club had a bright idea. Why not run classes specifically aimed at this transition?

“Like all clubs we want to get new members to come and play at the club,” said club member Penny Moody. “We had people who said they’d like to come to the club but were worried about doing things wrong.”

The club decided to run classes specifically aimed at people who wanted to make this move, calling it a Transition Group. “I decided to put into the course the things that people were most bothered about. I didn’t intend to teach any bridge, but we did a tiny bit. But it was mainly on etiquette, pace of play, alerting, stop cards, announcing, calling the director, using the director, those sorts of things,” Penny explains.

The course was a sell-out. Penny felt 5 tables was the maximum and after 20 people signed up she started a waiting list. It shows that there are plenty of bridge players out there who want to make the move to club bridge but need some support.

Each session had a theme, and Penny used the sample hands and Hand Generator from the EBED (English Bridge and Education) teacher site. “That was brilliant because I could say, I want a hand that needs things that are going to have to be alerted, likely to have a stop card, and things like that,” she says.

The group was supported by other club members, who acted as mentors.

What was the hardest thing? “System cards. Why I thought I could look at system cards in one week I don’t know!” says Penny.

The courses were publicised mainly through word of mouth. A number of attendees were learning bridge through U3A (University of the Third Age), and UCA agreed to put something in their worksheet for the course.

“The whole group was about trying to get some confidence about playing in clubs,” says Penny. “Of the 20, I think at least 6 or 7 are now playing at the club.”

There is another 8-week Transition Group starting in September.

The Transition Group concept is a great idea for several reasons. One is that it sets up the expectation that members who complete the course will in fact move on to regular club sessions. Of course they will need support in doing so; clubs need to be accepting of novice players and show some common sense in welcoming them into what can at first be an intimidating environment.

The Transition Group is also a great place to demystify club sessions and answer questions that may worry people, such as what happens when the director is called.

Finally, making transition easy is not just a matter for those coming in. It is also something for directors and experienced players to take to heart, by making every club session one where those less confident will soon feel at ease.

How to run a bridge taster session

First impressions count for a lot – and can often be hard to overturn. That is true for bridge clubs just as it is in other areas of life, which means that what happens the first time a visitor or prospective bridge student comes along is super important.

“Taster sessions,” where potential bridge students come to a special event to learn whether what you are offering is for them, are a great idea for lots of reasons. They are the initial focus point of a membership campaign. Every campaign needs a “call to action”; it is no good simply publicising bridge as a wonderful game to learn, true though that is. People need a date for their diary, an event to look forward to, and an introduction that feels safe: if they do not like it, there is no pressure and they can easily back out.

Putting these two thoughts together means that it it is worth putting lots of effort and planning into running a taster session. It will directly impact how many students sign up for your course.

What will make a good taster session? In some respects the detail does not matter. What matters is that those who turn up feel welcome and that they have made a great decision in exploring how to play bridge. We need to convey something about what a fantastic thing it is to play in a bridge club. They will never be bored again. They will make new friends, they will engage with something that is both fun and mentally challenging, they will find every game has its surprises – did you know there are 53,644,737,765,488,792,839,237,440,000 possible deals (I am not sure how that number is pronounced but you could try 5.36 x 1028). Get them laughing with you, then they will be on your side.

It is worth working hard on creating a lovely atmosphere. That means refreshments, some existing members of your club who can answer questions and/or some existing and enthusiastic students, and making sure the venue is warm and well-it (or in high summer, well ventilated!).

What is a good time for a taster session? It makes sense to have it at the same time and place as you will be teaching – then you know that the people who come can normally make that time. Start on time and do not go on too late; it is always better if people leave wanting more and with no worries about how late it is getting.

What will you actually do? Opinions vary. Some teachers make the taster session an actual lesson, aiming to teach a number of basic points about the game. Others treat it more as an initial exploration without any real teaching goals other than to give people the broadest possible flavour of what bridge is all about.

We have heard though that too much complexity is counter-productive. People may be put off before they get started. There is more risk in saying too much than in saying too little. The most important goal of the taster session is get people to sign up for your course.

When it is time for a presentation, get people sitting at bridge tables – they will likely be playing some cards later.

Icebreakers are good. When I went on a bridge teaching course with EBED’s Lorna Watson, she got us to think up songs with cards in their title, in the groups at each table. No purpose other than to get people talking and relaxing.

There is a video, The Game of Bridge, which is less than four minutes long. It gives an idea of how the game works. If you have the right equipment, showing this or another video is worth considering – bearing in mind what I noted above about avoiding complexity.

People will want to have a go for themselves though, and for this playing some actual Minibridge is a great idea. Minibridge is essentially bridge without the bidding, where the pair with the most points win the contract automatically, the declarer is the hand with the most points in that partnership, and decides the contract after seeing dummy. We have all the details here. It is a lot of fun even for bridge players. So you can play some minibridge for a bit, with lots of help and supervision.

Of course there is some admin to do. Take names and contact details. Have a handout with details of the course you are running, the aims of the course, all the dates, how long the lessons are, what it costs, and what happens when the course ends.

Leave plenty of time for informal questions at the end.

All the above are just suggestions. Every club, every area and every group varies and there is no substitute for local knowledge. And if you have some good tips let me know or post in the comments below.