ABTA: Home of the American Bridge Teachers' Association

“To help those who teach bridge to do it better, more effectively, more knowledgeably, more professionally.”

Applebasket Entry, 2013

Submitted by: Brenda Geden (North Bay, Ontario) – second place

Planning the Play in Suit Contracts… Dummy, Show Us Your Stuff!

Today we all teach with cards on the table. Students hear the teacher speaking through a microphone but they are looking down. When teaching declarer play, I have the students place the dummy’s hand and the declarer’s hand face up in neat rows, dummy style. The other hands are turned face down so as not to be a distraction.

My brand-new students find counting losers much more difficult than counting winners. They prefer planning notrump contracts where they can look back and forth between the dummy and the declarer’s hands. In suit contracts, they struggle with identifying losers.

Problem—Drifting eyeballs. Eyes flitting back and forth from dummy’s hand to declarer’s hand. Losers everywhere. Which ones do you count? Confusion.

Solution—Add some drama and add some animation and keep them focused on just one hand. At the mike I call out instructions similar to the following:

“The contract is four spades. Declarer can afford only three losers. Dummy, please lean forward over your cards and cover them with your forearms. Everybody focus JUST on the master hand—the declarer’s hand, the hand with long trumps.

“We will look at each suit one at a time. First, look at the heart suit in the master hand. How many losers does the master hand have? The master hand has xx in hearts, so it looks like two losers. Let’s see if dummy can help with these losers. We are looking for High Quality Help. Something that will take care of these losers Right Now.

DUMMY, SHOW US YOUR STUFF!” (Said in a loud, enthusiastic voice—the dummy now lifts her forearms off the table and exposes her cards.) “TAH DAH! Any high quality help? YES! Dummy has the AKxxx of hearts, great quality help. So, even though our master hand looks like she has two losers, we now see she has NO heart losers because dummy will take care of them with her AK.”

Inevitably, someone in the group will raise the question, “But...what about those three small hearts in dummy?” I realize that they are still not getting it, so I answer excitedly, “You know what is great? We don’t give a hoot about the losers that remain in dummy. We only have to make ONE hand loser free, the master hand. After the losers are gone, all we’ll have left are winners! We don’t need both hands to be loser free, just the master hand.”

“On to the next suit; dummy, please cover up your cards again—lean over them with your forearms. Let’s look at the diamonds in the master hand. The master hand has the KJx of diamonds. We hope that those honors might survive, but for now we don’t know. We will count three losers in diamonds. Let’s see if dummy can help.

DUMMY, SHOW US YOUR STUFF! Get your elbows off the table! (Spoken like a bossy mother.) Dummy throws up her arms to expose the cards on the table. BONG!! Too bad, dummy has only x in diamonds. No high quality help.”

It is important NOT to discuss that the singleton diamond has potential to help. That would only serve to distract from the job at hand. Right now we are just identifying and counting the losers. Later, after our counting is done, we will discuss what to do with the losers. Just ONE step at a time or your lesson also becomes a loser.

The more I teach beginners, the more I realize the importance of taking baby steps. Some students have never played cards before, let alone bridge. I like being on a microphone with sound effects like “Ta Dah” and “Bong.”

We teachers can all lighten up. Our students will laugh and have fun and learn without any fear of feeling embarrassed.

As teachers, we can set the right tone if we don’t take ourselves so seriously.