This is an article that I wrote in the late 1990's. An edited version was published in the January 1999 ACBL Bulletin. TFM 6/22/2007
GETTING YOUR CHILDREN TO PLAY DUPLICATE BRIDGE
by Thomas F. McDow
by Thomas F. McDow
Adults have embarrassed easily since Eve took the bite from the apple. As a result they are not willing to risk being seen as inexperienced, foolish, or lacking confidence. They require at least the Club, Diamond, Heart, and Spade series before they will venture near a novice game at the local club.
Children are different, particularly younger children who have not reached their teens. They get on horses, ride skate boards over large obstacles, dive from any height, and on a "triple dog dare" stick their tongues to a frozen flag pole. They will even play duplicate bridge. I taught my children to play bridge and its something we do together. Most parents lose their children's interest when they try to teach too much.
There are some conditions. They will not take the Club, Diamond, Heart, and Spade series lessons (Sorry Audrey). They will not even take a lesson if it is recognizable as a lesson. They will simply play when asked, particularly if several of their friends, siblings, or cousins are asked to play at the same time.
My three children began playing duplicate during the summer of 1983 when Dodie was 12, Randolph was 11, and Mary Croom was 8. They had all caddied and we may have had a few 15 minute lessons at home but they had never played a hand of bridge. Dodie was the first, befitting his status as the eldest.
I had a date to play in Charlotte, about 25 minutes from home. I talked Dodie into riding up with me and kibitzing. There may have been a bribe involved. I explained the basics of the game on the way. When we arrived Kevin Chen, a novice player, needed a partner and Dodie was drafted. Dodie and Kevin got a lot of bottoms but there were several tops based on lucky errors. More importantly, Dodie had a good time so the other children received good reports.
I had learned the basics of "kid bridge" which I put into practice with Randolph, Mary Croom, two cousins, and several friends. Everyone learned riding to their first duplicate game. Brad McKeown, Glen Savage, and other experienced players agreed to play with the kids. We only taught the following before the first session:
The bidding goes clockwise starting with the dealer. You learn who is dealer from the board.
The rank of the suits: clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades, and no trump.
Counting points: 4 for an ace, 3 for a king, 2 for a queen, and 1 for a jack. We ignored distribution.
Open every hand with 12 points. Open with a major suit with 5 or more in the major. Open with the best minor without a 5 card major. Open 1 NT with 16-18 points, no 5 card major, and at least 2 cards in every suit.
If partner opens with a 1 bid, bid at the 1 level with 5-11 points. If you have 12 or more points then you must get partner to 3 NT, 4 , 4 , 5 , or 5 . We did not discuss Blackwood and we did not discuss slams.
Open with a 2 bid with a six card suit and 5-11 points. We did not discuss 2 , 4 card majors on the side, or voids. (The results on "flawed" weak 2's was so good that I now routinely open weak 2's with a four card major on the side, a 5 card minor on the side, or a void.)
Open at the 3 level with a 7 card suit and less than 12 points.
Overcall with 11 or more points and at least a 5 card suit. If you have less than 11 and really want to bid, jump.
The person to the left of the declarer makes the opening lead. If partner has bid, lead partner's suit. If partner has not bid, lead a suit you like. Lead a low card against NT.
When your partner leads a suit, return that suit. (This rule really improved my opening leads. When partner automatically returns your lead, you have to get it right the first time.)
This appears to be a formula for disaster; as non-players, 30 to 70 years younger than their opponents, spread tops all over the room while "fixing" one or two Life Masters. The adults were delighted to see some young blood and the children were equally delighted to engage in an adult activity as equals. Lifetime friendships were made.
The difficult part is for the teacher. Stealing hands from kids may be easy but it does not teach anything positive and it denies experience as declarer play. Do not teach at the table and only teach one or two lessons per session away from the table. Do not criticize at all and be quick to praise. Introduce the kids to each opponent and expect the kids to respond with a cheerful greeting. These are radical principles that you should first practice with your regular adult partner just to make sure that you can do it.
The children's bridge progressed quickly to a point of shaky consistency. Today, none of them are great players but they are competent.
Each of the children have great bridge stories to tell. And they love telling them. Mary Croom had only been playing for a few months when she asked what the red dot on the back of the convention card meant. It was explained that a red dot showed that the person made funny leads. She immediately wanted one. Later during the session the declarer was in 6 . Mary Croom led the Q from A Q x x x x x. Declarer thought long and hard before ducking with K x on the board and a singleton in his hand. He went down one for a bottom board. Afterwards he was telling the story when Mary Croom asked, "May I have a red dot for funny leads now?" Declarer responded, "Honey, with leads like that you can have one that glows in the dark."
Mary Croom won a club game the Saturday night before her ninth birthday but an even greater memory for me is Mary Croom playing duplicate with my late mother, their 63 years age difference not interfering with their mutual respect or enjoyment.
My favorite picture of Randolph shows him with Brad McKeown pointing to the blackboard the night they won a club game and Randolph made junior master. That started the tradition of going to Baskin-Robbins to celebrate after every game in which any kid won any fraction of a master point.
Randolph recruited a ninth grade classmate from Thomas Jefferson High for the first Epson. The most recent ACBL Bulletin had featured the current bright young stars of bridge on the cover. Their first opponents, an older couple, were absolutely intimated to be playing against two people they thought had been featured on the bulletin cover. His partner blew their cover by asking which direction the bidding went. They did manage one world-wide top for the day.
Randolph humiliated Dodie. In 1985 at Augusta Laura Maybin, with her 2500 master points, played on a Swiss team with the children and me. Dodie was not bothered that we went 0 for 7. The embarrassment was that Randolph had the gall to criticize Laura for opening an 11 point hand.
Two years later Brad McKeown played with the boys and me at the Columbia sectional. In the open pairs the bidding went 1 NT on my right, 3 NT on my left, and double by Dodie. We played the Elwell double asking for a heart lead on that auction. I led the heart. Even though Dodie only had 3 hearts, we not only defeated the contract one more than any other pair, we were the only ones to double. I asked Dodie whatever possessed him to double. His response, "I wanted to tell Brad I used the Elwell double." The next day in the Swiss teams we were 0-4 in the afternoon and 4-0 in the evening. A very successful tournament.
Teaching kid bridge led to the greatest bridge experience of my life and I was not even playing. I married Lucy in 1985. In 1986 we were at the fall Nationals in Atlanta with the children. They could have played a 0-20 novice game but Lucy had 35 points so they had to play up, in the Tillie Grist 0-50 novice teams, a four match Swiss event. Lucy and Mary Croom played at one table while the boys played at the other. Lucy would not let me kibitz Mary Croom because Mary Croom was so excited that Lucy did not think she could follow suit with a kibitzer so I watched the boys. Randolph, now an engineer, but even then as an ninth grader he had all of the makings of an engineer or scientist. He made very good, descriptive, and technically correct bids. Dodie, the operator then and now, stole hand after hand from his younger brother. And it worked. They won the first match, which I thought was a miracle. Then they won the second match and I was stunned. It was the middle of November and I was dripping sweat. By the time they won the third match, word of the kid team had spread and there were a lot of kibitzers for the fourth match, even at Mary Croom's table. They won. They got wonderfully large and gaudy trophies, a full two master points, and their pictures taken to hang on the bulletin board. I never expect to have a greater thrill at the bridge table.
Mary Croom was the first to divide director calls into two categories. A simple "director call" was for something routine such as a bid or lead out of turn. A "big time director call" was for anything that upset the director or an opponent or which required more than one ruling.
The bridge improved. At one point Dodie had about 16 gold points out of 40 total points. In 1989 as a senior in high school Randolph not only made a slam on a squeeze in a gold point event, but before playing the squeeze card turned to his left hand opponent and innocently asked, "Are you busy in two suits yet?" I still have that hand.
As a result of kid bridge, when Dodie went to college he took bridge with him. His roommate, Todd Keithley, and several of his friends showed an interest and formed an informal bridge club. I met most of the players in the spring of 1992 when I flew to Yale and played with Dodie and his friends at the Mystic, Connecticut, sectional.