Interviewed by Sally Sparrow
Interview with Master Point Press author, and owner of Manhattan’s Honors Bridge Club, Jeff Bayone.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background with the game. When did you first start playing bridge?
I started playing fresh out of college. My roommate was a bridge player and thought it would be fun to play together. I was a games player (chess, backgammon, poker) and took to bridge quite easily. Looking back, starting out at age 21/22 didn’t hurt either.
Q: What made you decided to buy a bridge club?
A few years later the club I was going to, my neighborhood club, fell on hard times (competition) and closed its doors. I didn’t want to see bridge die on the West side of Manhattan so, at age 28, I went to the landlord and asked if he would reopen the club if I paid the back rent. That was forty years ago. I eventually quit my day job and devoted myself to the club full time.
Q: You are the owner of North America’s largest bridge club, what’s your secret? How do you attract new players?
I’ve been asked what the secret is to running such a successful club. There is no secret. Attention to detail would be high on my list. My directors know that if a player comes to them with a problem, the few minutes spent trying to work that problem out will probably be the most important part of the day at the club for each of them. If someone is out of line, we speak with them immediately. We have always had a zero tolerance policy, way before it was even called that. If someone misses a class, I need to know why. If we can get them a free make-up lesson we do. Attention to detail.
Our teaching program is the engine that drives the club. We currently have hundreds of students a week taking classes and going to our supervised plays. Last year Honors had 20,000 duplicate bridge tables, almost 6,000 more than the next largest club. But that doesn’t begin to tell the story. It’s the 5,000 tables a year that are not duplicate tables that, if anything, we are most proud of. We never rest on our laurels. We are constantly tweaking the process of trying to create new bridge enthusiasts. New lessons, new programs.
Q: Tell us about how your new book, A Taste of Bridge, first came about. What made you want to publish a book for beginners?
A Taste of Bridge is the result of several of the revisions we’ve made to our teaching system over the past few years. I think it is better than ever. It was good to begin with. A Taste of Bridge is actually my second beginner book. We’ve managed to simplify the learning process and make it even more logical than it already was. We think the biggest improvement is the book’s focus on shape. Shape of the hands, shape of the suits. That’s because we try to approach the game more visually than we did before.
Q: I noticed that you don’t even discuss bidding in your book until a hundred pages in! What is the philosophy behind this? How do you think your way of teaching may differ from others?
Teaching how cards work and how to think about playing a hand should come before the bidding. We do not believe in putting the cart before the horse simply because it is easier to teach bidding than it is try to teach play and defense. Page 101, about halfway through the book, begins our discussion of bridge auctions. Our entire beginner course only covers opening one notrump and one-of-a-major suit bids and their responses. No takeout doubles, no changing suits, not even an overcall. Total emphasis on building a solid, logical foundation with, if you can believe it, little to no memorization.
Q: How many lessons is your beginner’s course? Does your book have a separate teacher’s manual or does the student receive the book to read at home? Do you assign your students reading or preparation ahead of the lesson each week?
The course is six lessons. A separate, quite extensive, teacher’s manual comes with the book and we’re offering it free on ebooksbridge.com. The download includes a lesson plan and teacher’s manual for each lesson, and PDF and PBN files for each of the hands. The students are encouraged to read the corresponding chapters between classes and to work with an online teaching site that has partnered with our club and comes free with our six two-hour session beginner’s course. The six lessons divide the book as follows:
Lesson 1: Chapters 1 – 5
Lesson 2: Chapters 6 – 9
Lesson 3: Chapters 14 – 18
Lesson 4: Chapters 10 – 13
Lesson 5: Chapters 22 -25
Lesson 6: Chapters 19 -21 and 26-27
Q: What would your number one recommendation be to someone who decides they want to learn bridge?
Our advice to anyone thinking about taking up the game is to take a lesson or two with the teacher before committing to an entire series. It’s not just the teacher but the group they are with that often determines what kind of experience they are going to have.
Q: Any advice to a new teacher? Or to someone considering becoming a teacher?
If you are thinking about teaching, chances are, if you can empathize with your students, you’ll make a good teacher. It is the number one quality I look for when hiring a new teacher. Honors has more than two dozen of the best there is and many are no more than slightly above average tournament players themselves. Thinking about teaching? Connecting with your students is so much more important when working with new students than being a National or International star. So if you do choose to go this route, know that it can be the most fulfilling of experiences for you and for the person you’ll be introducing this wonderful hobby to for the rest of their lives.
You can visit ebooksbridge.com to see Jeff Bayone’s ebooks and more.