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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.

Joining students to your club: how to do it, why it matters, and a special offer!

Running a membership campaign and having some new students turn up at your bridge club is exciting, but it is only the start. Our goal is not just to teach people bridge (good though that is), but to strengthen the membership of EBU clubs so that bridge continues to thrive.

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We do quite often hear about clubs who run classes with apparent success but end up a couple of years later with hardly any new members from those classes. Needless to say, this can be dispiriting. What is going wrong?

Some dropouts are inevitable. One person may start with enthusiasm but discover bridge is not really for them. Another may enjoy it but prefer to play without the formality of a normal club session. This is all to be expected.

Other things though are avoidable. The most obvious is that clubs must have a strategy for taking students all the way from the first class through supervised play, gentle play and then to join in a standard club session. We encourage clubs to develop a culture of mixed ability sessions, so that it is not too intimidating for a less experienced pair to join in.

There is another thing too, which is to make sure that students feel part of your club from the beginning. They are not just attending a class on your premises, they are joining a club and need to be made welcome. What this means in terms of membership fees and so on is something for a club committee to consider, but the EBU’s position is clear: any member of an EBU affiliated club is also a member of the EBU with a number of benefits including the English Bridge magazine, eligibility for EBU events, My EBU section on the EBU site and so on.

For this reason, we recommend that clubs themselves run classes, working with local bridge teachers, rather than simply letting teachers use their premises and equipment. 

There are a few subtleties to EBU membership. One is that we do not offer printed magazines and diaries to everyone, but only to our more active members. This is measured by what we call magazine points. The details of how this works are explained here (PDF), but the quick summary is that you need 12 magazine points to get a printed magazine and diary, and you get a point for every regular session, so playing once a month is sufficient. Bridge classes and novice sessions do not count for this though.

Another facet of membership is that each member normally has a primary club. Many belong to multiple clubs, but only one is primary. The primary club is the first club the member joins, or can be changed by the member (not by the club) if they belong to several clubs.

The process of joining a new student to your club (and therefore to the EBU) is normally straightforward. First, you should get the student to complete a membership form. This is important as it indicates the person’s agreement to have their personal data recorded. See here for more details.

A club secretary or other administrator logs on to the My EBU section of the web site, selects Members, and hits Add Member.

When you do this, you get a dialog asking if the person has an EBU record:

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If you click No you add a new member with full name and address details and so on. If you click Yes you search existing records in our membership database to find the one you are adding.

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If you are not sure, you can always start by searching, then go back and add from scratch if you cannot find the person.

It is possible to register a student with the EBU without joining them to your club. To do this, you must uncheck the option “This player is a member of your club”. If you do this, the person is joined as a potential member. If they later become a full member, you must not forget to confirm their membership! This is suitable for trial members or people just trying out the club.

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What if the student leaves the club after just a few classes? If their membership of the club ends, you must remove them from the membership list on My Ebu. To do this, click the “Revoke membership” option in the member list. They remain on the EBU’s system as a contact, unless they are also a member via another club or via direct membership, in which case their status is not affected.

Try to avoid adding new members and then immediately revoking membership as this can cause complications for our office staff.

Teachers can add members too

There is another approach, which currently has advantages. A teacher can also add a new member to the EBU, using the Teaching – Students menu in their My Ebu site. This generates a magic web link which the teacher sends to the student. The student clicks the link and adds themselves to the EBU member database.

If you use this approach, there are two important things to note:

First, the student will benefit from a special offer. They get one year’s membership of the EBU complete with printed magazine and diary, even without any magazine points. And they get the Ruffian magazine, which is designed for newcomers to bridge.

Second, the student will NOT automatically be joined to your club. Once the student has joined, the club will need to go to the Add Member screen described above and add them to the club.

Currently then, the best way to add a student to your club is via the teacher route, and then to add them separately as a club member.

Is this a little more complicated than it should be? Possibly, but we are working on it!

The important thing though is that new students DO join your club and are made to feel part of it at the earliest opportunity. Then they will enjoy the learning experience more, and will be more likely to go on to join full sessions.

Tip: a pro-am session where experienced club members pair up with a novice for a special event is a great way to introduce existing members to the students, as well as giving the students vital experience of the mechanics of a normal duplicate session. Use UMS code 11 to upload this to the EBU and it will not count for NGS or Master Points.

Bridge clubs and technology: a key aspect of your service to members

In membership development it is not only the journey but the destination that is important. Put another way, if we seek new members for our club, we need to make the club as attractive as possible to them.

Among the biggest areas of change in bridge clubs is in use of technology. Many of us recall when shuffling, dealing and scoring was all manual, and to learn the results at the end of a session you had to stay late, or be patient until they were posted on the noticeboard at the next session.

The advent of the web enabled clubs to post results for all to see, complete with extra information like the percentage score for each pair.

More technology followed, though not every club could take advantage. Wireless scoring devices at every table. Dealing machines for hands that are better randomised than human shuffling can easily achieve, along with the ability to publish the hands with the results. Sophisticated web results with colour coding, double-dummy analysis, and the ability to replay hands card by card to discover the optimum play or reveal why you had a disaster.

There is also club management software that can help with assembling teams, finding partners, managing subscriptions and other matters.

The EBU’s National Grading Scheme (NGS) is also worth a mention, providing players with an indication of their current performance and rank. After every session, you can see whether you achieved a better or worse score than would be predicted by your grade, after taking into account the abilities of the other players.

All this is great, but it comes at a price. Dealing machines are expensive, and operating them is a considerable commitment of time and effort. Because they are expensive they have to be kept secure. The same is true of wireless scoring devices. Further, you need some sort of computer and internet connection to run dealing and scoring software and upload results.

Some clubs struggle with these requirements, maybe with nowhere obvious to keep equipment between sessions, or lack of funds or human resources to manage them.

There may also be dissenting voices in the club. Dealing machines are more random, so hands are less balanced than with manually dealing. This does affect the odds and the play, and there will be members who are used to what they had before and prefer it.

Despite these issues, it is worth investing in dealing machines and scoring devices if you possibly can. Expectations have changed, and once players get used to features like instant results and the ability to inspect and play back hands on the web afterwards, they do not want to go back. Further, these facilities are great for learners (and experts for that matter) who want to improve their play.

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Using Bridge Solver Online, accessible through Bridgewebs, to replay a board. The colour coding shows the best card to play and the small numbers how many tricks can be won if that card is played.

It is also worth noting that technology is not standing still. There are now options to use a mobile phone for scoring instead of a dedicated wireless device, reducing costs. There are even ways to have a robot pair to eliminate sit-outs. It is worth paying attention to see if you can use technology to make club sessions more enjoyable  – which is what bridge is all about.

Another excellent use of technology is to enable novices to practice their bidding and play in their own time. There are online bridge systems where you can play in your own time, taking hours to decide what to bid or what to play if you really want to, or completing a game at breakneck speed if that is what appeals. The standard of computer play is now high enough that it beats most humans. And if you score badly, you can try again and find out what would have worked. There is no substitute for a real game at a club, but online bridge is great for learning and more fun than solitaire!

Technology is not just about games and results. Many EBU clubs use Bridgewebs which is excellent for displaying results; but what about other aspects of club management like the ability to email your members, help them find a partner, and have a web site that looks good on every size of screen? If that appeals, Pianola may be worth a look. It is always worth paying attention to see if your club can improve its service to members via intelligent use of what is available.

Every bridge club is constrained by resources and full-scale adoption of the latest technology may not be possible. You can still run fantastic sessions without it. But it is at least something to aspire to, and will make it easier to attract and keep new members.

What is it like to learn to teach bridge? Report from Bristol

The key to increasing membership for most bridge clubs is to teach the game. Our experience is that wherever a club puts together a package including teaching, gentle supervised play and carefully planned marketing, there is a ready supply of people wanting to learn. “We are now on our 3rd course and have enough people in the wings for a further course in September,” says an email from a Nottinghamshire club received earlier this week.

You cannot teach bridge without teachers though, and that is why we are encouraging clubs to train more teachers. There is even funding available for EBU clubs.

I am a reasonable bridge player and a qualified tournament director, but I have never myself taught bridge. Recognising its importance, I booked a place on a course at Bristol Bridge Club which took place a couple of weeks ago. The course was run by Lorna Watson, who is also the manager of EBTA – the English Bridge Teachers Association.

Bristol Bridge Club was founded in the fifties and has its own premises, formerly a printing works but the home of the club since 1981. The facilities are excellent, and I turned up with 8 other students early on a Saturday morning to be greeted with coffee and biscuits. Yes, it meant giving up a weekend: the course is quite intense and runs for two full days 9.30am to 4.30pm or thereabouts.

Lorna started us off with an icebreaker (“Name songs with a suit of cards in their title”) to get us chatting and then got us to think about different styles of learning. Do you learn best by seeing, hearing, or trying for yourself? The important point is that everyone learns in different ways, essential to keep in mind when taking on a group of students.

We looked at designing a course. You are not going to get far without a clear plan for each lesson. Fortunately EBED has devised some fantastic materials to help us to teach this wonderful but challenging game. Yes you can go and devise your own materials if you have the time and the skills, but for most of us being able to base our courses on material tried and tested by others is a huge advantage.

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On the course we were given an armful of Bridge for All (see below for what this is) books, of which we spent most of our time with three:

  • Beginning Bridge Book One: a course for complete beginners. It has 8 chapters but you are not expected to cover a chapter in just one lesson. Three or four lessons per chapter (on average) is more typical, which gets you through the course in around 30 weeks, perfect for a one year course with some holiday breaks.
  • Beginning Bridge Teachers Notes: an essential guide to how to teach the course, including notes, tips, exercises and practice hands.
  • Teaching and Methods Guide for Bridge Teachers: general advice and guidance on how to teach bridge. Covers techniques and activities, how to plan a class, how to make classes enjoyable, what visual aids you need, and how to assess progress.

Today we cannot assume that people have experience of card games or how to handle a pack of cards. Most of us will also be teaching adults, and no matter how enthusiastic, we all tend to learn more slowly when we are older. It is important therefore to take it gently, explain everything that needs explaining, and to go at the right pace for those learning.

Next we played some Minibridge, which is a simplified version of bridge that has no bidding. You can learn it very quickly and it is fun to play.

Bridge for All

The rest of the day we looked more closely at the Bridge for All materials. Bridge for All is a method for learning duplicate bridge, based on a simple version of Acol, the most commonly used bidding system in England. There are two distinct Bridge for All paths, one formed by the book Beginning Bridge and its successor Continuing Bridge, and the other consisting of Fast Track Bridge, where you can learn the game in 12 two-hour lessons.

Which to choose? On this course we essentially learned to teach with Beginning Bridge. Fast Track is more intense. It is nice to make faster progress, but only if the students really are keeping up and taking it all in. Opinions vary and this is something that merits careful discussion if you are planning a course.

Bridge for All is quite prescriptive. It is based on a single bidding system and while there is some slight flexibility, for example if you decide to teach weak two opening bids, there is not much. The general thought is that novices have enough to do learning the basics, and it will not help to burden them with more decisions than necessary. The philosophy is to teach them one good way to play.

Show them the cards

One thing I will never forget is Lorna insisting to the group, “Show them the cards”. What she means is that whatever you are talking about, from balanced hands, to five card suits, to leading out trumps or taking a finesse, almost always makes more sense when accompanied with a hand of cards that everyone can see. Lorna had some giant cards with magnetic backs that you can stick on the right kind of board. You can also use hand records and have people look at hands in small groups (we were shown an easily taught technique for recreating hands from hand records).

This means that for teaching bridge some way of displaying hands is a big advantage. Of course you may be able to use a laptop and a projector instead of giant cards.

Day two and simulations

Day two kicked of gently with some open Q&A and a session on how to recruit students for your classes and how to get them playing, eventually, in normal club sessions. A key topic. We also looked at the EBTA online Teacher Zone and some handy tools like the Hand Generator which makes it easy to create annotated hand records in Microsoft Word.

The big deal (ha!) on day two though was the simulations. Each of had selected a topic and were give 5 to 10 minutes (in practice it seemed to take a bit longer) to teach it to the rest of the class. Topics ranged from basics like the concept of Trumps, to trickier subjects like Stayman. I picked Responding without a fit to a 1 level suit opening.

For an experienced bridge player, what could be easier than explaining Stayman? Many things, as we soon discovered. I think it is fair to say that most of us found the simulations more challenging than expected, however well prepared we were. Many things go through your mind. Am I speaking loud enough? Am I using jargon? Can everyone see the board or screen? Is this making sense? It is easy to get bogged down in over complexity, like Stayman edge cases where the responder holds 5-4 in the majors. Keep it simple, said Lorna, and show them the cards.

Observations

I was most grateful for my two days in Bristol, even though it was humbling. Simply knowing how to play bridge does not make you a good teacher. Teaching is a skill of its own.

That said, I feel vastly better equipped to take on the task having completed the course. I would encourage anyone who has in mind to take on a bridge class to do the course; it is likely to be well worthwhile.

The next stage of the course is to teach. There is no substitute for experience. What EBTA does provide is a network of teachers including the support you get by belonging to a community, including an online discussion forum and an upcoming teacher’s conference June 14th-16th in Milton Keynes – more details here.

By teaching bridge we do a real service not only to our club but also to the community, a thought which makes the endeavour richly worthwhile.

If you want to book a course you can see upcoming courses here.

How session tournament directors can help win new members for your club

I will be writing on this site about ways in which clubs can become more attractive to new members. This is another aspect of membership development, which is not just about getting someone to visit for the first time, but also about making a club a great place to enjoy a session of bridge.

Today the topic is directing. Although not directly related to membership, there is probably nobody more important than the director for making everyone feel at home and that the club is friendly and well run.

I am not going to pretend this is easy, but in the perfect bridge club it is no burden to call the director, because you know they will do all they can to be helpful and resolve issues with fairness and sensitivity, listening carefully to both sides if there is a disagreement, being well informed in terms of the rules of the game, and having abundant common sense, knowing when to apply the laws with rigour and when to make allowance for issues of health, circumstance or novice players.

Of course there is more to directing than being called to the table. In fact, summoning the director is relatively rare in my experience, and in many sessions does not happen at all. The director also does a lot to set the pace of play, ensure a quiet environment, and make sure that players of all standards feel welcome.

In an ideal club, there is a mutual respect between the director and the club members. The director knows they are there to help members have a lovely bridge session, not to bark at them or make them feel guilty for small infractions. Equally, the members do their best to follow the director’s guidance, to respect the decisions the director makes, and to remember that the director is a volunteer who may occasionally get things wrong.

The director’s opening remarks do a lot to set the tone. Visitors are welcomed by name. Successes are celebrated, but notices are brief and the focus is on getting play under way promptly.

Now there is a tricky issue here, which is what a director should do when a player has correctly pointed out an infraction that merits a ruling such as a score adjustment, but on the other hand the person committing the infraction is a novice or someone easily confused, while the person calling is a capable and experienced player who generally scores near the top.

The English Bridge Union regulates the game in England and part of that role is to ensure as far as possible that bridge is played by the rules, which are carefully set out in the laws of bridge and supplemented by EBU-specific regulations and guidance.

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The most important thing is that the director sets the right tone. Perhaps there was a hesitation, an incorrect explanation in the bidding, or a revoke. We all make mistakes and the director is there to put things right so that the there is no disadvantage to the pair that did not commit an infraction. In cases where there is an imbalance of skills as described above, the director must make the correct ruling, but in a manner that is highly sensitive or even apologetic to the person who made the error. “I am sorry because I know you did not intend to misplay, but the rules of the game require me to adjust the score.” There should not be anything in the director’s manner that suggests unfriendliness.

Equally, it is not wrong to encourage a culture within a club where members are encouraged to make allowance for one another and not to take advantage inappropriately. This is a difficult judgement and may go against our competitive spirit on occasion; but what is more important, your score on one board,or the reputation and atmosphere at the club being friendly and welcoming?