It has been a while since I last posted here. No bridge over the past months? No, rather too much bridge. Since a couple of months, I have my own business offering services in the bridge world and elsewhere. Setting that up took a lot of time and that prevented me from updating the blog. More on that below, but first you find yourself on lead against 3NT. Your card please?

As a bridge-pro, I teach beginners courses. Last fall, I started with 2 groups in Doesburg.Doesburg is a small (population around 11,500) but old town some 15 kilometers from where I live. If you are ever in the area, it is nice place to visit and, when you are there, include a visit to “de Waag”. “De Waag” is a pub established in 1478 and it has been in continous operation ever since then. That is an (at least according to the Guiness book of records) a record.

Like all Dutch towns, it also has a bridge club. Membership had been declining for a few years, so last year they decided to organize beginners courses and approached me to teach the classes. Which I was happy to do, of course. The courses are part of the “Denken en Doen” program of theDutch Bridge League.

"Denken en Doen” (“Think and Do”) is a great idea. It is aimed at growing group of (roughly) 60+ year olds, retired, without a real hobby and without a big social network, The folks in this demographic group tend to quickly become isolated with all related problems, and “Denken en Doen” tries to stop that by providing a mix of an intellectual challenge and social interaction. Bridge, as we all know, is exactly that, making it the ideal component for the “Think” part of “Think and Do”.

Nice aside: the government not only realizes that the 60+ age group has potential problems, they also have a pot of money and subsidize programs aimed at this group with money and other resources. For the participants, it drops the cost to €30 for about 12 sessions, instead of the typically €100 to 125 teachers have to charge for courses run without support.

A bridge course for this group has to be tuned towards the group. The audience is older and often hasn’t studied anything for quite a few years, Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it does mean that one has to slow down and provide more practice that usual. Classes shouldn’t be more than about 2.5 hours, with a coffee break or two, after that, attention tends to drop. The league helps here by providing powerpoints and a version of the beginners course aimed at this group. A second issue is that one has to monitor the group more than usual, in order to avoid people dropping out.

Students playing bridge …

Anyway, I started with 2 groups and about 40 students. 8 months later, and two times 12 lessons plus a few practice games, a little over 30 were still actively participating. In those 8 months, the students learned the basics of the game: declarer play and simple natural bidding. Stayman and Jacoby as the only conventions. We have now stopped for the summer, though the club offers practice sessions over the summer (see below).

Even with this limited knowledge, this allows students to pick up 13 cards, try to bid a game or not, then decide on a basic line of play. Or as one of them put it:

Is there anything we do not know about bridge then?

Hmm, I wasn’t sure about the right answer to that one. My best shot was that bridge is such an interesting game because no matter how much one has played, one will always encounter situations one hasn’t seen before that one has to solve on the spot, so even top professionals will spend time training and improving their game.

The hand at the start came up in the game we played during the final session. Student C led the3, afterwards explaining that he expected declarer to hold theK and lots of diamond tricks. Leading a heart would give declarer a certain trick, and that might well be his 9th trick. Thus, he tried a spade, hoping partner could win and set up hearts from her side.

Partner did win the opening lead and switched to a heart. Unfortunately, declarer’s heart holding was too strong and the contract cannot be defeated after trick 1.

In order to defeat it, one has to lead a totally counter intuitive diamond. Now declarer has to win with theA dropping theK and play a spade from dummy and guess to play the right honnor fromKJ at trick 2. TheQ at trick seems more safe, but then the defence will win, play another diamond and declarer will squeeze himself on the run of the diamonds.

This isn’t too complicated but, be honest, would you have found it after you had played for about 6 months?

Like I said, we’ve now stopped for a summer break, though the club will offer supervised play on Thursday mornings. I’d doubt that anybody reading this qualifies, buf if you are a beginner and find yourself in the Doesburg area on Thursday morning, feel free to join. If you are a more experience player, the club has an open game on Tuesday evenings start at 19:30.

Henk Uijterwaal 2019