The HandzTM approach averts the stated goal of creating bridge players—sort of. HandzTM introduces the mechanics and strategies of card play in the form of contract bridge to entice without intimidating. HandzTM emphasizes the form of the game that became wildly popular in the first half of the last century.
The goal of HandzTM is to introduce card play without long manuals, books, presentations, or instructor-paced lessons. While it may be great for many people to take up the challenge of learning to play bridge in five weeks or one day, for those who are unwilling to set aside hours of learning to become a novice player, HandzTM is an attractive alternative.
Typical methods of teaching bridge divide the game into halves: auction and card-play. From the point of view of an experienced bridge player, this bifurcation seems natural and necessary. It is neither. The level of bidding taught to the beginner is well beyond anyone who cannot plan the play of a hand. The popular bidding proposals of Eli Culbertson and Charles Goren were targeted at people already familiar with bridge and the new bidding systems were tricycles to motorcycles when compared with bidding today. Honor count and point count methods were presented to players who already knew how to play and to score. Today, bridge instructors teach 5-card majors to people who cannot count trump.
Bidding, as currently taught, goes well beyond the rules of the game. Often players who have never made a finesse are thrust into the strategy of the auction. One popular introduction to bridge starts with this daunting phrase: “[We begin with] an emphasis on modern bidding (opening bids, responses, rebids, overcalls, takeout doubles and stayman.)” For students who have not made an informed commitment to bridge, this is a bridge too far. Students join clubs for many reasons, but the first reason is to have fun.
When bridge was wildly popular in the 30s and 40s, all bidding was natural and the play of the cards drew in players. The decline of bridge is commonly blamed on TV and video games (and doubtless, that’s part of it), but the sale of playing cards remains strong. The largest manufacturer of playing cards, The United States Playing Card Company (includes “Bicycle” and “Hoyle”), claims to sell more than 100 million decks of cards annually. Somebody still plays cards, despite the pernicious influence of the TV sitcom.
The famous poet/humorist wrote a poem, under copyright so few bridge players seem to know of its existence, called, “Your Lead Partner, I Hope We’ve Read the Same Book.” In this poem, Nash laments the complexity with, “You could no longer bid by the seat of your pants,” and this complaint was written when bridge was still wildly popular:
HandzTM is structured to get students playing in less than 15 minutes. After that, progress from one level to the next requires less than 5 minutes of explanation. Each level is its own game.
The progress from level to level is controlled by the players. Some might move from level 1 to level 8 in a single session. Others might take 3-6 months. It must not matter. Allow players, regardless of age, to play at the level at which they feel comfortable. Let them take on each successive level when ready. Without homework, players see the progress as part of the fun.
Tactics and Strategies
Separate from the levels of HandzTM are brief lessons (also planned for video) that explain traditional card-play concepts in a language suitable for beginners—called Tipz. Players learn the importance of shape, how to manage trump, the positional value of strength, finesses, establishing long suits, card combinations, and so forth. Those looking for more detailed and advanced knowledge can find many sources in the bridge literature.
The Goal of This Method
Game play at any level should be a purpose unto itself, not a means to playing at a more advanced level. In San Francisco, limited games are more successful than open games. Those who play in the limited games choose to do so because they perceive it as more fun (at their level of experience) than playing in open competition. HandzTM has 10 levels of play, but none serve the purpose of helping players achieve the more important game at the next level.
Rather than create bridge players from people who express interest in the game without knowing anything about it, we identify bridge players from those who find the play of the cards interesting and fun. Of those who feel they are good at card play by the end of level 7, most will have interest in bidding. Thus, we hope to uncover those who might enjoy bridge but resist committing to hours or months of learning without any knowledge of the game.
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