Ross Taylor

Bridge with a raw beginner

I used to teach bridge many years ago, but have not had a new student till the past couple of months, when my better half Svetlana decided finally she wanted to learn how to play bridge. She enrolled in a set of lessons at Hazel’s bridge club, and after each class she would come home and pepper me with questions.

I really believe beginners should simply play as much as possible – and ideally with someone better than they are, so there can be useful instruction following the game. We have gone out to the local club a few times recently, and have been moving up the rankings to the point where last night she finally won her first masterpoints. I think I was more pleased than Svetlana !

We have no conventions. Our agreements are strong NT, doubles are takeout below 2NT and penalty above that. We do not play Stayman, Blackwood, nothing. Two bids are strong and natural. New suits force us to continue the bidding. Cue bids are not discussed, so when she makes one, I know she has that suit.

We have no carding agreements other than a low card can mean we like a suit. It is interesting – since I am forced to rely on logic and deductive reasoning to defend hands – without the benefit of count signals or suit preference signals.

Things will be added in time, but there is so much to learn for a beginner, I think she should just stick to the fundamentals of card play and finding the right strain and level in the bidding. God help us when we have a slam hand – no machinery yet.

After a session of bridge, I can find two or three recurring themes I need to teach and reinforce – this sort of learning seems much easier to absorb, since it is not in the abstract, but rather it can be related to specific things we experienced at the table. Hand records are a blessing of course.

Here are some hands from last night’s session.


Dealer: E

Vul: none






















A 2NT opener has not come up for us before, so Svetlana began the bidding with one club in the south chair. West passed, and I responded 1 heart. Svetlana had enough values for a reverse of two diamonds, and I upped the ante to four diamonds. Everyone passed !

The opening lead was the spade queen. There seemed no point to Svetlana in covering that with the king, so she ducked in dummy. East won the second spade, and was powerless to defeat the contract. Had the spade king been played at trick one, the defense can play three rounds of spades and score the trump ten.

Plus 130 was a cold top ! Even down one would be most of the matchpoints as the field mangled these hands pretty badly. 3NT down 3 by south was a common result.

Later, Sveta had another monster hand – AQ10  AQ1083 AK A104. She opened a conservative one heart, and I raised to two hearts. Forgetting for a minute that 3 of  a major does not pay the game bonus, Svetlana bid the third and final heart.

However, I reasoned that if she could go up to three hearts all on her own, then my hand of K8  J742  432  K972 was enough to bid game – so I bid 4H, and all passed.













The heart king was offside, and nothing good happened in clubs, and making five was an above average board – as slam was bid by some people.

Then I picked up KQ63  2   AJ7   A10953. I opened one club in fourth chair, white versus red. LHO bid 1 heart, and Sveta bid two diamonds. My RHO bid 2 hearts, and I liked my hand. I figured it was now or never for the spade suit, so I chirped two spades. My LHO bid 3 hearts, and Sveta bid 3 spades. RHO passed, and I had to bid.

The vulnerable opponents had bid up to three hearts, but my partner had bid me up to three spades. Realizing she is a cautious bidder, I decided to place my faith in partner, and bid the fourth spade. No one doubled, and the lead was the heart ace. I immediately saw I had backed the right horse, as Svetlana was full value for her bidding.












Spades split, but both opponents had minor suit singletons to explain their aggression. No ruffs were found though, and I picked up the Qxxx of clubs in the west hand to make five for a good score. I guess we managed fine without negative doubles.

Finally, I picked up 108532  AKQ2  1073  K. My RHO opened a weak NT, both vul. A bid to show both majors would have been swell, but we don’t have any conventions on our card. Two spades seemed risky, as I could well run into a penalty double. I decided to mastermind and bid 2 hearts, saving the spades for emergency measures, if needed.

(Notwithstanding this hand, I rarely make unilateral moves playing with Svetlana – we are trying to help her learn – that’s it. However, if I see a chance to swing the tide in our favour now and then, I may go for it. )

My LHO bid 3NT, Sveta passed, and RHO bid 4 diamonds. I was content to have muddied their waters, so I passed. LHO now bid 4 hearts (my suit) and RHO bid 4 spades – which sounded like a cue bid. However everyone passed, and four spades became the final contract.

























 A trump lead seemed indicated, rather than the “obvious heart”.

I don’t see how declarer was ever going to make this, but for good measure he went down a sporting three for +300 and a great score for us. Once they avoided 3NT we were slated to do well on the hand.

We have all played the game so long, we often forget the mysteries of bridge through the eyes of a beginner. The idea is to encourage and develop, and I do feel the less memory work you foist on a player the better off they will be.

I am lucky my student has excellent card sense (she is already a proficient poker and blackjack player) so I have no doubt if we keep at it, there will be many more nights of good results to come.


John Howard GibsonApril 21st, 2011 at 1:02 am

Good to see you back writing great stuff HBJ

Dave memphis mojo SmithApril 21st, 2011 at 8:37 am

Cute hands. It’s always an adventure with a newbie.

Mac KennedyApril 21st, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Just browsing around and found your blog. Do you remember a car trip back to Ottawa from a Regional in Lake Placid in Oct 1979 a few months before the 1980 Olympics with Terry, Frank, George and myself?

ross taylorApril 21st, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Hey Mac – I remember it very well – great to hear from you. Terry (T-Shaw) waxed eloquent much of the way, and I think Janet Currie also was there keeping is all in check. Hope all is well 🙂

Peter KlineApril 21st, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Isn’t it great how bridge “logic” is such a huge part of this game! And it is fun to play like this.

MichaelApril 21st, 2011 at 5:35 pm

You two should go have fun at the Helen Shields Rookie-Master Game on Tuesday 26 th of April.

Judy Kay-WolffApril 23rd, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Hi Ross:

Welcome back. We have all missed you.

What a lucky girl Svetlana is to have you as her guru. Normally it is not recommended that husbands and wives partner each other at the bridge table because of the rivalry as to whom is better when close in ability. Svetlana will share my sweet fate. She will always be second best — but it is an honor I have always cherished over the years.

Best regards from Bobby. Maybe one of these days she will drag you down to Vegas for a tournament and we will get to meet her.



Ross TaylorApril 24th, 2011 at 12:00 am

Thanks all for the feedback and encouragement. I have not played in almost a year, hence no writing.

Michael suggested the Rookie Master game for April 26th – I checked it out, but locally it has been cancelled due to lack of participation alas.

I played bridge today with Steve Cooper at the Toronto regional and was really heartened to hear he is teaching a fair amount of bridge – including a group of 125 (!!) middle school kids. That’s exactly what our game needs to stay healthy in the long run.

Steve GoldinMay 5th, 2011 at 8:52 am

Thanks for sharing.

Your partner is one of the few students who comes to the game with all of the

pre-requisite tools to be truly one of Bridge’s shining stars in the very near future.

Keep us posted on her progress.

Ross TaylorMay 14th, 2011 at 10:03 am

Full credit to Steve Goldin – Svetlana’s teacher at Hazel’s bridge club – he was able to stimulate an interest in the game which I had failed to do over the previous eight years!

Janet HazelgroveJanuary 26th, 2012 at 2:20 am

Hi Ross and Mac and yes I was on that car trip back from Lake Placid. I am very glad we got across the border that night!

Janet Hazelgrove

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