COMMENTARY

 

Why should you hire a bridge teacher?

As we pursue recreational endeavors, we strive to be as good as we can be at the activities about which we are most passionate.  Whether our sentiment is casual or competitive, doing something well and improving at a craft is fulfilling and provides a coveted sense of accomplishment.  If we golf, we might take lessons from a pro to improve our swing.  If we play violin, we can enlist a professional musician to help us maximize our skills to play with sound technique and greater proficiency.

Why, then, do so few follow the same approach with bridge?

Bridge is challenging and stimulating.  No card game rises to the level of bridge when it comes to sophistication, especially regarding the bidding component of the game.  Many of the top players in the world still humbly claim that they have not mastered the game, even after winning multiple national and world championships.  While competitive activities are frequently solo endeavors, bridge is distinctive in its status as a partnership game.  Because you cannot play without a partner, bridge presents a unique opportunity for mentoring.  There is no better way to improve your skill at bridge than by having an experienced teacher as your partner.

Yet, for reasons that defy rationale, bridge players often scoff at those who hire a professional partner, especially in duplicate play.  The gossip abounds:

“Did you see that guy Mary is playing with today?  Isn’t he a Flight A player?”

“Oh yes, he’s a professional.  She is paying him to be her partner.”

“Is she trying to win the masterpoint race in her rank category this year?  Does she not think she can get enough points playing with her regular partners?”

“I guess so.  I mean, anyone can buy their way to becoming a Life Master, right?”

The stigma attached to hiring a bridge pro is preposterous and unwarranted.  While the ACBL has, indeed, created something of a monster with its antiquated ranking system, not every bridge player is consumed strictly with masterpoints.  Moreover, we must recognize how truly meaningless masterpoints are.  The late, great Paul Soloway referred to points as an “attendance” award, a stunningly accurate description of a system that makes collecting points easy if you have the financial means to travel to one tournament after another.

 

Masterpoints almost never accurately reflect a player’s ability.  I’ve had students who were reluctant to graduate from their limited games to play in open fields, yet I have assured them that much of the opposition they will face is only marginally better (if that) than what they normally experience.  I have known dozens upon dozens of players with thousands of points who do not understand some of the most fundamental criteria of bidding nor the most common technical elements of declarer play.  I have asked (in my mind, anyhow) how a player who has consumed enough duplicate bridge to amass 5,000 points still cannot discern the minimum requirements for a reverse, jump-shift, or vulnerable overcall at the two level or higher.

Equally mind-numbing as the disparaging comments made about students playing with professionals are the discussions that I routinely hear at the table between two partners having a disagreement, or choices that people make regarding matters of bidding or play because one of their peers (who is unqualified to speak on the subject) told them to do so.  If I told you that your car would run better if you filled the fuel tank with orange juice, you would look at me with wide eyes and tell me I was nuts.  Yet, I routinely hear the bridge equivalent of this absurdity go unquestioned.

 

If improving your game is a priority to you, consider working with a reputable instructor.  Whether you take classes, arrange private solo or small group lessons, or play competitively with a professional as your partner, you have a greater opportunity to bolster your skills.  While you can learn from books and resources on the Internet, there is no substitute for what an experienced professional can offer you.  We can all elevate our abilities in a variety of areas by tapping into the knowledge of an experienced professional, and bridge is no exception.