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Insight into a Successful High School Bridge Club in the 21st Century

A little bit about me:

I am 28 years old, and live in Minnesota.

I am making this post because I have a bit of a unique perspective in that I learned how to play bridge in a high school bridge club (2002-2006).

I am a regional master. I played quite a bit of bridge in high school, but have only played face to face bridge on an occasional basis since I graduated from high school.

I do like to play on bridge base, especially the robot reward tournaments.

I attended the World Junior Individual Championships and Bridge Camp in New York 2004.

My parents do not play, and I do not have any immediate family members who play, although my grandmother played who passed away when I was five years old played.

I could not find any posts going into detail about how a modern high school bridge club worked, so I thought I would talk about it.

My hope is to provide insight into how a successful high school bridge club is run, and a bit about my mindset.

If people have any questions about my specific bridge experiences, feel free to ask. I can go into more detail.

How did you get started in bridge?

When I was in 8th grade our math teacher allowed our advisor to spend some time during an advisory class period teaching students the very basics of bridge.

A bunch of students in our grade picked up on it, and would play bridge during study hall, or other down time.

I was slow to grasp the basics, so I mostly watched and wished I was good enough so I could play in these games more often.

It was during 8th grade that I decided I would continue in high school. Regardless, I do feel there is a pretty good chance I would have joined the bridge club in high school.

What type of school did you go to?

Private independent K-12 school. 250-260 students in the high school, about 700 overall.

How did your advisor learn bridge and get a club started?

I am not sure when or why he decided to learn bridge. The club started in 1993, presumably because he wanted to start one, and was able to get student interest. The advisor was friends with the school's director at the time, so bureaucracy was likely not an issue.

Tell me more about the advisor.

He was a math teacher. He is an accredited bridge teacher, as well as a club director. He also does some teaching at the local club.

Tell me more about some basics.

We never played mini bridge, this was not for credit, and the advisor was not paid.

We had bridge boards and scoresheets. We did not have convention cards or bidding boxes.

I did not play on Bridge Base in high school. I did have a copy of Bridge Baron.

What was the first thing the advisor taught?

I don't remember all of the details. It was something to the extent of deal the cards out and have all players play the tricks in a no trump contract to get used to trick taking and card play. I think he might have then introduced suit contracts to help students understand how trump works.

What were the structure of the club meetings?

Mondays and Fridays were reserved for practice/casual play while Thursdays were team games.

An example of a question during a Monday or Friday game, would be: I have 26 high card points, what do I open?

What time of day did you meet?

We met at lunch. We only had one high school lunch period.

We met Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

2nd period ended at 11:05, and 3rd period began at 11:45. We had 40 minutes, minus however long it took to get lunch, and to get to and from class.

We did not meet after school. That would not have worked as well with other activities, rides, etc. We did not have an activity period.

What time of day would you recommend a bridge club meet?

During the school day, either lunch or an activity period. I realize some schools have multiple lunch times, making this more difficult.

Was there a minimum commitment as a bridge club member?

Not really. You could be a member just by showing up and playing on an occasional basis.

What is the biggest challenge as a bridge club advisor?

Not sure. My guess is that it would be the learning curve for the students.

How much of the club meeting times were devoted to playing, versus teaching?

It was mostly devoted to playing. There advisor was willing to do more teaching and lessons, but we generally preferred playing.

How large was the bridge club?

We normally had 2 or 3 tables, so 7-12 students.

How did the team games work?

We had 2 or 3 tables, and anywhere from 7 to 12 students (the advisor could fill in as needed).

We played 2 rounds of 2 boards.

The advisor would compare the scores and used a 20 point victory scale. The maximum amount of points a team could earn in a match was 40, (20 for the first half, 20 for the second half).

The advisor would print out a list of the results every week. We would start a new list every quarter.

What were some of the basic fundaments the advisor taught?

This is a non-exhaustive list.

Hand evaluation and what is needed to open at the one level.

What was needed to open 1 or 2 No Trump.

How scoring worked.


Don't (generally) let the opponents play a 1 level suit contract.

Number one goal in bidding is to identify a major fit.

Lead from longest and strongest suit in No trump.

Lead through strength into weakness.

Second hand low, third hand high.

Lead partner's suit if they bid.

How did you transition from being a casual club player, to one who played in club games and tournaments?

The advisor said he was planning to play at the local bridge club on a specific Saturday evening (May of my freshman year), and asked if any of the students were interested. I decided to take him up on an offer, and was hooked right away.

What is the biggest challenge transiting from only playing in high school bridge, to playing ACBL games?

The learning curve and not getting discouraged. It took me a while to get a good grasp on bidding, declarer play, and defense, or in other words everything.

I estimate I played about 50 sessions of bridge (all club games except for two sectional tournaments) before I finally got to 5 master points.

It can be frustrating and intimidating to play against players with hundreds or thousands of master points, while you are struggling to make it to junior master.

My persistence paid off. Once I got to 5, the percentage of times that I scratched and finished above 50% increased significantly.

How much did it cost to play at the local bridge club?

Club games were $2.50 for juniors. Our advisor would sometimes give us free plays. It was very affordable. The bridge club was 2 miles from school.

Were students able to letters in bridge?

Yes. The requirements were:

1. The student must ALWAYS be polite and and display excellent manners at the bridge table.

2. The student needs to be in the top half of the Thursday team games for three quarters (They do not need to be consecutive).

3. The student needs to earn 5 master points from ACBL sanctioned events (no online points).

One could get multiple letters if they met the requirements several times. I lettered four times.

Could players receive any other school recognition?

Yes. There was a bridge award with a nice plaque at the annual high school awards ceremony. I don't remember the exact criteria, although I believe it went to the player with the most masterpoints.

I won it 3 times. I remember the advisor once noted that I was the first (and also the only) player in school history to earn gold masterpoints.

Did the club have any books as resources, and if so which ones?

Audrey Grant's Club, Diamond and Heart Series were available. After playing a few club games, I read them, took notes, studied them, etc. I found them very helpful.

I also borrowed a read copy of Larry Cohen's To Bid or Not to Bid: The LAW of Total Tricks.

Our advisor also recommended reading Watson's Classic Book on the Play of the Hand in Bridge.

Would you have learned to play bridge without the high school bridge club?

As of age 28, probably not. I might have looked into it if I went to a college with a bridge club (neither of the colleges I attended had one). It is obviously possible I would have learned at a later age.

Is a bridge club a better fit for high school or middle school?

I don't think there is a right or wrong answer. I feel high school is better in the sense kids tend to be more mature and better able to grasp the material. Middle school is better because they can start earlier.

Why did your school not have a middle school club?

No real reason. Middle school and upper school lunches were at different times. We did have a middle schooler who learned a bit in 8th grade that I played in club games with the summer between 8th and 9th grade.

How did you learn about bridge ethics?

As a club director, our advisor knew the rule book pretty well.

A few of the things he taught us.

Make sure to inform the other opponents before calling the director.

Dummy should remain silent except for confirming that declarer is not revoking (no spades partner?)

Alerts should be explained by high card points and or strength, not just named (i.e. 10-12 hcp and spade support, instead of Drury).

Partnerships are not allowed to have secret agreements.

How strong of a player was your club advisor?

He was a sectional master and an intermediate player. He made it clear that he was not a great player.

How important is it that an advisor is an especially strong player (i.e. life master or better)?

Not that important. I would say that enthusiasm and knowing how to teach are far more important than level of skill, especially for the novice players.

Did you travel to any tournaments outside of the metro area?

We went to a sectional tournament in Duluth 2 times.

What would be the main difference between a high school bridge club now and ten years ago?

Technology, and specifically the growth of Bridge Base.

What aspects of your school made it conducive to having a successful bridge club?

There were several. The school was founded in 1982, and the director had worked at a previous, local independent school, and invited our advisor to be a founding faculty member.

Some of the main principles of the school were strong academics, strong relationships, and making sure students were well rounded. It was founded as a "nerd school."

What was the record for masterpoints obtained prior to graduation?

I had the most at about 65. Second place was in the 30s, third was in the 20s.

Did any of the other players continue bridge after high school?

Some of them did, but as far as I know, none on a regular basis. As far as I know, none of them are still playing.

Did you ever play against other schools?

Yes. The last year of the club we played a casual match against another high school.

Why was the bridge club discontinued?

Our advisor left the school in 2007, and the bridge club ended.

Are there or have there been any other high bridge clubs in Minnesota in the past 10-15 years?

I know of at least couple of high schools that had clubs at one point, but unfortunately they did not last long (as far as I know).


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