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Teaching Youngsters about Bidding

The recent article "What can the ACBL do to better promote Bridge?" included a discussion about how to introduce bidding to youngsters. Reading this prompted me to think about how bidding might be taught without the need for much memorization.

The following assumes that the players are familiar with the mechanics of card play but not necessarily with the Laws about claims and concessions. I also assume that the necessary terminology is explained before it's used.

The Choice between a Suit and Notrump

Display a deal where North is 3=3=4=3 with 23 HCP, South is 3=3=4=3 with 17 HCP, West is void in the pointy suits, and East is void in the round suits. Ask how many tricks N/S can take in NT. Show how to count winners. Then ask whether N/S can take 13 tricks in their best suit, diamonds. "No? Right, because East can ruff any opening lead." Facilitate the players' grasping that when your tricks will come solely from high cards, you don't want the defenders to ruff them.

(Some of my suggestions for a given hand's shape or HCP are intended to foster reuse of that hand in later discussions.)

Display a deal where North is 6=0=3=4, South is 7=6=0=0, and each of their non-spades is equivalent to a deuce. Ask how many tricks N/S can take in their best suit, spades. Play through the first few tricks and then try to extrapolate. Ask whether N/S can take 13 tricks in NT. "No? Right, because any opening lead will set the contract." Faciliate the players' grasping that when you have a lot of cards in a particular suit and only low cards in one of the other suits, you want the suit with a lot of cards to be trump.

"These deals are so unusual that you could play for 100 years and probably never see them in a real game. Here's a kind of deal you're a lot more likely to see." Display a deal where North has 9 HCP, South has 13 HCP, they have a 4-4 fit, and they can make 7 tricks in notrump or 8 tricks in their best fit. Facilitate the players' grasping that when your side has a 4-4 fit, the ability to ruff usually enables you to score a trick more if your best suit is trump than if you play in notrump.

"So, how do we figure out whether we should be playing in NT, playing in a suit, or defending? That's what the auction is for."

Introduction to HCP

Explain the rules for the auction, or at least the rules needed to get started.

"So, let's learn about bidding. In order to know whether we should bid and how much to bid, we need to have a way to figure out how good our hand is."

"Here are two hands." Display a flat hand with 37 HCP and a flat hand with all deuces and deuce-equivalents. Ask which hand they'd rather have. It should be unanimous.

"Okay, so we agree that having aces, kings, queens, and jacks is better than having low cards. Let's say that a jack is worth 100. How much do you think a queen is worth?" If the first guess is a multiple of 100, say, "You can pick a number that ends in zeroes, but you don't have to. I did that for the jack because it's easier than if I had picked a number like 637." Write down all of the guesses for the queen.

"Okay, how much do you think a king is worth?" Write down all of the guesses for the king.

"Okay, how much do you think an ace is worth?" Write down all of the guesses for the ace.

"I like your answers, but adding all of these three-digit numbers is hard. So, most people use 1 for a jack, 2 for a queen, 3 for a king, and 4 for an ace. These numbers are called High Card Points."

"So, how many HCP are in a suit? Ten, right. And how many HCP are in the whole deck? Forty, right. So, if the HCP were divided evenly for the four players, how many HCP would each player have? Ten, right. This means that 10 HCP is average."

Whether to Open the Bidding

"Okay, in bridge, the lowest number of tricks you can bid is 7 out of 13. Since this is more than half the tricks, we want to bid only if our side is likely to have more than 20 HCP."

"So, how many HCP do you think a hand should have in order to bid if no one else has bid (i.e., 'open the bidding')?"

If someone says 21 HCP, "Okay, that makes sure that we have more than half of the HCP. But it means that if we have 13 HCP and our partner also has 13 HCP, neither of us will be bidding even though our side has a total of 26 HCP."

If someone says 13 HCP, "Let's see if that number works out. If we have 13 HCP, how many HCP do the other three players have? Twenty-seven, good. If those 27 HCP are divided evenly among those three players, how many will each player have? Nine, good. If partner has 9 HCP and we have 13 HCP, how many HCP does our side have? Twenty-two, good. So, 13 seems a good number because even if partner has only an average number of HCP, our side still has more than half of the HCP."

If someone says, what if partner has zero HCP, "That could happen, but if we make our contract more often than we fail to make our contract, we'll be ahead."

How to Open the Bidding

Display the 17 HCP hand from earlier. "Here's a hand we saw earlier. How many HCP does it have? Seventeen, right."

If someone had suggested more than 400 for the ace during the HCP exercise, "When we were talking about how many points an ace should be, some of you said it should be more than 400, more than four times the points for a jack. A lot of people agree with you, so when they figure out whether they can open the bidding, they will subtract one HCP if their hand doesn't have any aces. But this 17 HCP hand has two aces, so we wouldn't need to subtract anything."

"So, is 17 HCP enough for us to open the bidding? Yes? It sure is. So, we need to decide what bid to make. Which strain should we bid?" If someone suggests a suit, "Here's the deal we saw earlier, where it was better for N/S to be in notrump because neither player could ruff anything. Do you think it's likely that this (17 HCP) hand will be able to ruff? No? I agree. So, which strain seems right? Notrump, right."

"The other thing we have to decide is how many tricks to bid." If someone suggests more than 1, "Let's remember that even though partner probably has enough HCP to give our side more than 20 HCP, partner sometimes has zero HCP. So, what's the safest number of tricks we can bid? One, right. So, what does that make our bid? One notrump, right."

Display a 13 HCP hand that, except for lacking one of the aces, has the same shape and honors as the 17 HCP hand. "Here's another hand. Suppose we have to decide whether to open it. How many HCP does it have? Thirteen, right. Is that enough for us to open the bidding? Yes, it is. What should we bid?" If someone says 1N, display the 23 HCP hand from earlier. "Suppose partner has the 23 HCP hand we saw earlier. If we open this 13 HCP hand 1N, partner will think we have 17 HCP and will bid 7N, but it won't make because we're missing an ace."

"So, we can't really open this 13 HCP hand 1N. But we'd still like to bid at the one-level. If we can't bid notrump, we have to bid a suit. What is the best suit? Diamonds, right, because we have four diamonds and only three of any other suit. So, our bid is 1."

"Suppose that our LHO passes, partner bids 1S, and our RHO passes. What should we bid now? 1N, right. So, we get to show that we had the right shape to bid 1N, we just didn't have enough HCP for that bid."

If someone says, but if partner had passed instead of bidding 1, then we couldn't show our NT shape, "True, but even though all we've done is bid 1 and all partner has done is pass, this tells us that we have less than half of the HCP and shouldn't be declaring, which is what we wanted to find out from the auction."

Display hands with 14 HCP and 16 HCP and determine that each should be opened the same as its neighbor whose bid we've already defined. Then display a 15 HCP hand and determine that since it's smack in the middle, we'll open it 1N because that better describes its shape.

Then display several flat hands having up to 17 HCP, so that the players can practice deciding whether and how to open them.

Etc.

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