Last weekend was the first annual Bay Area High School Championships with teams representing various high schools battling out for top prize. There was also a pairs event that was open to cross school players, which gave those who didn't make the championship finals and those who couldn't get a team of four from their school the chance to play. In total 22 high school students directly participated, with 12 winning prizes. In addition, there were more high school students who learned bridge or practiced with bridge clubs but were then unable to make the championship event.
You can read more about the event and all the results at http://siliconvalleyyouthbridge.org/programs/2015HSchampionship/results.html
The winning team Monta Vista and its captain Dan Zhukov navigated a potentially awkward hand well in the round robin. I was observing a table where I got to see this hand played 4 times, and this was the best declarer line. (hand rotated)
A word first on the auction, all of the players are in their first year of playing bridge, and one of the points that their coach Kevin has stressed is the difference between forcing and non-forcing bids and that if you hold an opening strength hand opposite a partner who opens you must always either make a forcing bid or else jump to game - don't get passed in a non-forcing non-game bid.
On this hand, with the potential misfit, Cameron Wheeler knew that 1♥ and 2♠ were forcing, but over 3♣ he wasn't sure what would be forcing so made the practical decision to jump to a likely reasonable game.
On the play, the defense cashed the two top diamonds, and then shifted to the stiff ♥T. Dan had to decide to finesse or not. At two of the other tables the finesse was taken (one of them when the stiff ♥T was the opening lead, one after the opening lead was the ♦A and ♦K followed by the switch), which lead to down one in second case but in the opening lead case the defender won the ♥K and then switched to a ♠, which let the declarer off the hook. Dan didn't give his opponents the chance to get this right though. After a reasonable amount of thought to evaluate the different line Dan rose with the ♥A, cashed the ♠A and ♠K pitching his remaining hearts, ruffed a spade to his hand, ruffed a diamond with dummy's stiff club, ruffed a spade high and ran trumps from the top to make +400.
There were a few observations I can make about what we at Silicon Valley Youth Bridge learned from this championship. One is that it is really difficult to schedule time where young people can make. There were formals, AP classes, chess championships, recitals, sports competitions, etc. Getting a time that works for most high school age students is hard. We were able to choose a date that was reasonably good well in advance, but still had several schools have issues when later there were school events moved to this weekend.
Another thing that worked even better than expected was having it be a competition, particularly one with both school bragging rights but also non-trivial prizes that the high school students won definitely motivated the students. This led to a number of extremely desirable side effects from a Silicon Valley Youth Bridge perspective. One was that due to the championship needing 4 students from the same school, this means that if there were one or two students that were already involved and active bridge players they needed to recruit their peers. And by far the most effective way to get young people to take up an activity is to get their peers to encourage them to do so (positive peer pressure). Since the prizes were also a motivation, a number of school bridge clubs took up practice where they could, including to coming to Silicon Valley events, but also coming to events like monthly unit games or sectional swiss events. So the high school students weren't just playing this one day, but were playing and practicing numerous times leading up to this one focal event. And at the event already some of the students were talking about what to do to practice for next year's events.
While high school students have a number of activities, this being a championship event with school competition and prizes also meant that the students and parents treated it like a serious event worthy of the same respect they gave to other competitions. Bridge will not always be each students top priority most important activity, but because it was structured like a championship, it meant that it was treated more seriously and was at least in that priority discussion in a way that is different from a normal club game or a casual weekly play event.
The outlook for this high school championship in future years should be bright. The vast majority of those who participated this year will still be in high school next year. In addition, Silicon Valley Youth Bridge's largest demographic to date has been middle school students, and as these students graduate to high schools we are optimistic that they will look to join or start bridge clubs at their high school in order to be able to participate in this championship event.
Plus... it's free!