By Bridge Instructor John Ebden

If you play in a bridge club or cruise ship game you would most likely be pleasantly surprised to see a really young player come to the game. Well, you should get ready for more pleasant surprises.

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A few years ago two of the richest men in the world, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, spent time visiting high schools, to promote bridge. During an interview with CBS News, Mr. Buffett proclaimed “I wouldn’t mind going to jail as long as I had three cell mates who were decent bridge players.”

The two men gave a million dollars to establish a fund for teaching bridge in schools. The program did not do as well as expected and a substantial portion was returned to them. One reason was that many schools did not like cards being played as part of their extra curricula. However, the increasing popularity of poker and video games began to change educators’ attitudes towards bridge. Parents and educators realized that, unlike poker or the academic favorite, chess, bridge is a partnership game and encourages team work.  Furthermore instead of cash prizes, young players can win trophies and be awarded masterpoints. Small college and university scholarships are often available for winners in larger tournaments.

Studies have also shown that playing bridge increases the academic scores for young people.  Further gains are development of social skills and less dependency on video games. Today, many bridge teachers volunteer their time to teach bridge in high schools. In Toronto, Flo Belford has been running a school bridge program for over 20 years, which culminates in holding a school bridge day as part of the Easter Toronto Regional. This year there was a record 127 tables with nearly 500 players.  Click on the years 2014 and 2017 to see the interviews with CTV News at these events.

Additionally, many clubs have instituted programs for juniors, and some clubs like the Toronto Youth Club and the Silicon Valley Youth Club  are dedicated to junior players. At the 2016 YouthNABC in Washington, D.C., pairs from both clubs won events, and traveled to Italy to compete in the World Youth Championships.

For the teachers and others who help at these events it can be a very rewarding experience. One volunteer at a tournament was amused when a 7 year old issued a director call.  The youngster said “there’s something wrong with my hand”. Seeing 13 cards the director asked “what’s the problem?”  The reply came back “there are no spades in my hand.”

Here are three tips to get your grandchildren or other young ones involved in bridge:

  • Small hands often have trouble holding the cards, so get them a cardholder.
  • Keep it simple. Start with Minibridge which is bridge without the bidding. They can learn many aspects of play and defence without being encumbered with bidding rules. Once they are comfortable, then introduce them to bidding. This on-line free booklet on teaching Minibridge also contains sample hands. The hands also have links so that they can be played on a computer (for free) using Vubridge.
  • Make it fun – after all, bridge is a game!

John Ebden

About John Ebden

John, a retired professional engineer and college professor, has been directing and teaching bridge in Canada and on cruise ships for more than ten years.  Assisted by his wife Lynda, he has enjoyed teaching bridge on two Oceania Cruises Around the World voyages. He looks forward to sharing his bridge expertise with you on board soon.