Bridge is a lot of fun and getting people to learn the game in your club may not be too difficult. It is also well-known that new bridge players must be offered some form of gentle, supervised play before venturing into one of the club’s main sessions. The truth though is this: the club’s membership development is not complete until some of those players migrate to a main session. Otherwise, they are not fully integrated, nor are they helping to address problems of low numbers.
Why is it difficult for newcomers to play in a standard club session? There are multiple reasons:
- Speed of play. Playing a board in 7-8 minutes can be challenging and stressful if you are not used to it. Many little decisions that are automatic for an experienced player take much longer for novices.
- Competitive pressure. All of us play bridge for fun, but some club sessions can be perceived as “too serious”, especially if there is firm discipline about chatter and post-mortems.
- Intimidating players. It may not be intended, but a player who questions a novice too closely about what partner’s bid means, or calls the director for infractions like possibly being influenced by partner’s hesitation, or rifling through the bidding box and then passing, or saying “oh dear” when partner misunderstands a bid, these things can be perceived as unfriendly and threatening.
- Fear of failure. Nobody likes to feel like a fool. Getting a score in the 30-45% range every time is tough, even if you are assured that it will eventually improve.
Making this transition will never be trivial, but here are some suggestions.
- Give it time. Learners will vary of course, but we should be relaxed about a couple of years supervised play before venturing into the main room.
- Change may be needed on both sides. Intimidating a beginner is far from best bridge behaviour, and club members may need to be educated or even on occasion warned if this is happening.
- Consider special arrangements. Maybe a beginner pair should only play two boards out of three, without penalty, for example.
- Have a teacher or experienced player partner a novice for their first few times in the club.
- One club has a successful system where a newcomer to full duplicate carries a bidding box size card with a large green “P” on it. Like someone who has just passed their driving test.
- Think about a “simple system” session perhaps once a month and encourage even your members to attend, rather than treating it like a novice session to be avoided.
- Develop a beginner-friendly culture. A smile and a welcome at the table goes a long way to make people feel at ease and enjoy themselves. And not forgetting a warm “well done” when a good score is achieved.
I also want to mention a great way for beginners (or any of us) to improve their game, which is computer bridge. No, this is not a substitute for the fun of an evening’s bridge! But look what a game like Funbridge (available on PC, Mac and mobile devices) can do for a beginner. With Funbridge, you play against a computer but compare your score with other human players. The standard of the computer player is high, but you can take as long as you like before a bid or play. Nobody is around to see your mistakes! Once a game is complete, you can replay it with different bidding or play and see how you can do better. You can also inspect how others played and learn from them. If you can succeed at Funbridge, you can also do well at the club. It is free for up to 10 boards a week, or you can pay for more games as needed. Funbridge even has a regular EBU tournament.
Overall the challenge of integrating new players into our clubs is an area where we are all learning. If you have tips for success, we would love to know them and share them with others so please let us know!