Ross Taylor

Learning the game – part one ( Learning by memorization is not fun )

Observing Svetlana’s progress as she learns our wonderful game has prompted some thinking on my part as to what needs to be done to help stimulate growth and development of new players. 

Everyone is different, and learns at their own pace. Some immediately begin to devour books, and play whenever and wherever they can. Some tap into resources like BBO, and use the software and relaxed bridge club and partnership bidding tools to assist their development. Others go more slowly. 

I realize the more we force memorization on new players, the more work it seems, and the less fun it becomes. And while this approach may work for youngsters, whose brains are exercised and conditioned for learning by rote at school, it is much harder for people later in life to learn this way – and many simply don’t want to. 

But how did we learn all the stuff we know? I guess practise and practise – and the more situations came up, the more we learned things “on the fly”, and it became an almost effortless way to learn and absorb. 

In my most experienced partnership, we have hundreds of pages of system notes – comprising agreements, sub agreements, and rules to guide us in the later rounds of bidding or in defending in complex situations. To be sure, if we are both on the same page, and equally well prepared, these agreements can be of tremendous benefit – but it is very taxing and simply not necessary for the vast majority of players. 

For myself, I find it far more relaxing to sit down and play with someone where we have a five minute discussion before game time, and simply go ahead and play. If it hasn’t been discussed – we ain’t playing it! And many times I feel I play better in these relaxed circumstances.

Typically, new players attend a package of lessons offered by a local bridge club. The club hopes that today’s students become tomorrow’s club regulars, and thus the beat goes on.

I wonder what the typical success rate is of each club in doing this. I’ll bet some clubs have got this down to a science, where their conversion rate is rather high, and others maybe pitifully low.

This means something has to change. Yes, it may be the teacher (as in life, first impressions are so important); it could be the teaching methods or curriculum; it could be the atmosphere in the learning environment; or it could even be their fellow students – who offended or irritated the student in some way.

Many clubs offer a special game once a week or so for their new players – the idea being to create a friendly, non intimidating environment where they can continue to learn with their peers at their own pace.

This approach spills over to tournaments where special effort is put into providing special attention and games for new players – all of which is very good.

But I am wondering if there is an additional step which we could adopt for all new players to help them learn the game faster, play better, and achieve some measure of progress and development in a way that stimulates their desire for more.

Svetlana may or may not be representative of new bridge players approaching the game at the mid stage of their life. She is a highly intelligent, over achieving individual, who does not like to be mediocre at anything she tackles.

I know that in her case, sitting her down to play with other novices each week and say “ok honey – have fun” is not the right approach for her.

By playing with someone far more experienced (and very patient) i.e. yours truly, she feels she is truly learning on every hand in every situation she encounters.

I try to avoid any teaching and instruction during an actual game – since it can upset the thinking and concentration process – and as we all know – ignorance can be bliss.

But you can be sure we come away from each session with lots of areas for discussion and improvement – based on actual hands we played, and with the benefit of hand records, a good cup of tea, and a relaxed atmosphere, the teaching process starts in earnest the next day, or even right after the session.

Anyway, my idea is very simple – if every new player to the game had the chance to develop with a far more experienced player, in addition to whatever other methods he or she chooses, the conversion rate of raw beginners to regular players could only increase.

Learning the game – part two


TraDecember 17th, 2015 at 4:18 am

It’s funny how often people ask this quitoesn. About 1/2 of the people I show WAYK to ask it in the first few minutes.No one walks in to a high school Spanish class and asks well, what if we couldn’t use English here? . Now, if they really did use just Spanish, they’d probably be much better off!

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