This acronym represents a philosophy of teaching bridge.


Stands for Safety. Students want to feel comfortable and providing for this is almost an art.


Stands for Timing. Starting on time, and as important, ending on time. Keep students informed about how long they have for playing a deal or “talking among themselves.”


Stands for Energy. Teachers need to be skilled on ways to maintain good classroom energy.


Stands for attitude. What’s the teachers attitude to learning; how is this passed on to the students.


Stands for methods and material. Up-to-date methods and materials are essential. Steam focuses on five areas to improve your teaching.


If we were introducing a physical sport, it would be accepted that a responsibility of the instructor is safety — even “safety first.” In a mental sport, protecting the students is often overlooked; the assumption is that a teacher is accountable for simply delivering the facts. Making sure the participants are in a comfortable environment requires close attention to detail of what is happening in our class, and the desire to implement methods that improve class atmosphere.

Start with the Teachers' Guarantee

Simply state at the beginning of each new class:

"I’d like to start by giving you the Teachers' Guarantee: I won’t ask you to answer any questions during the course, unless you volunteer."

It’s straightforward to implement this tip. The obstacle is the instructor’s lack of commitment to deliver the statement. It can be a challenge to appreciate the contribution this simple assurance has on making our bridge classes an amazing adventure for our students.

Experienced teacher Richard Strauss of Chicago shared this at a teachers’ meeting:

I decided to give the Teachers' Guarantee to my beginner class. There were twenty students who started the class, and twenty-four who completed the course. This is the first time in my career — and I’ve taught for a long time — that I had an increase in attendance in the Absolute Beginner Class. I think the Teachers’ Guarantee was a big reason for this. The students felt very comfortable and told their friends.

-Richard Strauss

Avoid Praise

Give up praising an individual student, during class time, when other students can hear.

Alfie Kohn, in his highly acclaimed PUNISHED BY REWARDS, writes about why praise is so difficult to avoid: it’s so deeply rooted that we think it’s common sense to praise students.

There is time to admire the grace and persuasive power of an influential idea, and there is a time to fear its hold over us. The time to worry is when the idea is so widely shared that we no longer even notice it, when it is so deeply rooted that it feels to us like plain common sense. At the point when objections are not answered anymore because they are no longer raised, we are not in control; we do not have the idea; it has us.

-Alfie Kohn

The idea is that the best way to get something done is to provide a reward to people when they act the way we want them to. The core of pop behaviorism is ‘Do this and you’ll get that.’

Mr. Kohn’s argument is that even a ‘well done’ can discourage students’ desire to do their best. A reviewer in the LOS ANGELES TIMES observed that Kohn backs up the theme in PUNISHED BY REWARDS with solid, exhaustive evidence. I read the book at a time when I suspected there was a better method than praising students during class, but hadn’t yet found research to document this aspect of teaching. Mr. Kohn’s book directed me toward a way to get better results in my bridge class. It’s worth reading (

Now most educational writers agree with the ideas put forth by Alfie Kohn.

Dr. Thomas Gordon’s TEACHER EFFECTIVENESS TRAINING has sold over a million copies. He’s well respected in the educational field, has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, was a consultant to the White House Conference on Children, and has representatives world-wide. This excerpt is written with younger students in mind, but applies equally to adult learners. He writes:

Praising, Agreeing, Giving Positive Evaluations

  • While teachers easily understand the terrible hurting power of negative evaluation, they are often shocked to learn that, contrary to commonly held belief, praise is not always beneficial to students and often has very negative effects.
  • A positive evaluation that does not fit a student’s self-image may evoke anger: “I am not a good student.”
  • Students interpret these positive messages as attempts to manipulate them, a subtle way of influencing them to do what the teacher wants. “You just say that so I’ll work harder.”
  • Students correctly infer that if a teacher judges positively, there can also be a negative judgment at another time. They also correctly infer that to judge implies superiority.
  • The absence of praise in a classroom where praise is frequently used can be interpreted by students as criticism: “You didn’t say anything good about my drawing, so you must not like it.”
  • Praise is also frequently embarrassing to students when given publicly. Most students despise being held up as the “good example” as much as being exposed as the “bad example.”
  • Students who are praised a lot may grow to depend on it, even demand it. “Look, teacher, look at my paper” “Isn’t this a good drawing?” “Look teacher I’m sharing with Rodney.”
  • Finally students sometimes infer that teachers who praise them don’t really understand them, that the positive evaluation is used to save the teacher from having to take the time to understand what the students are feeling.

These points are also echoed by Anthony D. Frederick, author of SUCCESS AS A TEACHER. He writes:

"Early in my career, I used to give lots of gold stars and smelly stickers! I’ve reached some new conclusions. The body of research to convince us that there is a better way to conduct a class than to rely on praise given to an individual student during class time is vast. It’s worth our consideration."

The Delicate Balance Between Fact and Opinion

There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil.

—Alfred North Whitehead, THE AIMS OF EDUCATION

Teachers decide what to teach. What are the facts? The easiest approach is to present a body of material that we’re convinced is correct, and sell it to our students. Simple as that.

Although right answers are comfortable for the instructor, there are challenges. History proves that ‘facts’ can change with the times. A more open-ended approach is attractive to the student. Students will encounter methods that we don’t teach. Bridge can be divided into bidding, play and defense. The bidding usually gives the best opportunity for different opinions among the experts and the students. With only one right answer, students feel it’s a guessing game to see who gets it. One student in an evaluation wrote: Now that I know there’s room for judgment it makes me think more. It’s a delicate balance, and we need to be open-minded about right answers. The teacher can use more attractive language such as the ‘Guideline’ of 20 rather than the ‘Rule’ of 20. The possibility of opinion puts the class at ease. Play and defense are more exact sciences. One line of play results in taking more tricks than another. So the nature of the game, with the three categories of bidding, play and defense gives a chance for a philosophy that combines opinion and fact; the lesson plans reflect this philosophy.


Do we believe in starting a class on time? What seems to get in the way of being prompt? Is going beyond the advertised schedule giving extra value? Do most students want this extra time? If students come late, what methods do we use to try to get them there on time? The bottom line is that we start and end on time, as advertised. No excuses. If students arrive late, they quietly come into the class, without interrupting, and we carry on. It usually self corrects if we make no comment. It’s almost a matter of integrity: we meet student expectations by starting and finishing promptly, as agreed.

The Break

Is it important to have a short break after about fifty minutes in a two-hour class? It’s common practice at tournaments to have a hospitality break. Although the procedure was first introduced to accommodate smokers, it’s now accepted that most players appreciate the chance to get up from the table after about an hour, for many different reasons. Experience has shown that it is a good idea to have a break after between 50-60 minutes. Do we announce at the beginning of our lesson that there will be a break in about an hour? It’s important to mention this at the beginning of the class for players who would be uncomfortable having to stay in the same place for two hours.

The Play of a Deal

The basic structure for the lessons is that four deals are played during the class. We have to decide ahead of time how long we’re going to give the class to bid and play a deal. The next challenge is to have the students follow the suggestions. How do we do this? Students will usually follow along with the suggested time allotted, if they agree ahead of time that it’s reasonable. We could say something like this: Players bid and play a deal at different rates. Some of us are comfortable taking a long time, even thirty minutes per deal. Others like to finish quickly, in about five minutes. It’s been agreed by the card players of the world that in most situations about eight minutes is what the majority of players prefer. So in our class, we can bid and play as many cards as we can in eight minutes. Then we’ll turn all of the cards face up on the table. I will let you know when the bidding should be complete, the lead made, and the dummy on the table.

Length of the Course

The ideal time for the length of a bridge course is dependent on many factors. Three of the most common considerations are: the schedule for the teacher, the schedule for the students, and the availability of an appropriate venue. Golf Clubs, for example, often want only a four-week course.

Course Schedule

Although the Teachers’ Manual is divided into four lessons, the material can be adapted in a number of ways. The challenge in writing a manual is to have just the right amount of material to fit into a two-hour lesson, or two one-hour segments. However, there is no such thing as an ideal class and the teacher will need to be flexible in adjusting the lessons to meet the needs of the class.

The Four-Week Course

Each lesson is 2 hours long. The four deals are played in the two hours, with the focus on the bidding and the play of the hand. The teacher can choose whether to walk through Card-by-Card on each deal or to simply go over a summary of the play and defense, referring the students to the description of the deal in the textbook.

The Six-Week Course

There are sixteen extra deals in the text that are ideally suited for two lessons of supervised play. The deals can be played, turned up dummy style, and discussed. The students look at all fifty-two cards, and discuss the bidding and play. The declarer’s ABC’s for planning the play can be reviewed and applied to each hand. Or, the students can “bid” the hand first and then turn it face up, ready for discussion.

The Eight-Week Course

After the first four weeks with Card-by-Card, introduce four weeks of supervised play. Play four deals each week and include transitions instead of Card-by-Card.

Length of Individual Lessons

The lessons are designed for a two-hour class. They can also be used for two one-hour classes. It’s not advisable to have classes of more than two hours in length, although it may seem as if the players are appreciative of the extra time we spend. More important is to present what was advertised. If the class is advertised as two hours, it’s important to deliver the material in that time.


The quality of energy in a class is key to success. When we enter a room with a skilled teacher, we can feel the productive, positive energy.

Good teaching is one fourth preparation and three fourths theatre.

—Gail Godwin, THE ODD WOMAN

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

How does the teacher keep the class energized? There are many ways. Here are a few.


Action creates energy. It can take the form of laughing, singing, moving from one place to another, or just being asked to raise our hand.

One of the simplest ways to involve people in an audience is to ask for a show of hands in response to a non-threatening question. Just the physical act of raising their hands can boost their energy level and receptivity.


Asking the group for an opinion works as long as we’re careful to keep the Safety factor in place. For example, the North hand in the first deal in IMPROVING YOUR JUDGMENT 1 — OPENING THE BIDDING, could be passed or opened 1♠. In the lesson plans, the suggestion is that when the 52 cards are face up on the table after the deal has been played, all four players look at the North hand and offer an opinion about the opening call. The teacher says:

"Suppose we’re the dealer and hold North’s hand. Would we open the bidding or pass? Let’s see what our colleagues think. If you would open the bidding with the North hand, raise your hand. If you would not open the bidding with the North hand, raise your hand. There’s only one right answer!"

Then there has to be a conclusion, and the teacher says:

"Play with someone who has his or her hand up the same time you do! Opening the bidding can be a matter of judgment."

The teacher gives the information about how we could value this hand using the Guideline of 20, and decide to open 1♠. Then the reasons for passing are presented.


Providing the opportunity for the students to talk to one another and exchange ideas creates magic in our class. They are animated, they laugh, they learn, and they enjoy the kind of experience that puts them in a good position to easily learn the game.

In the first half-hour of the first lesson of the BRIDGE BASICS series, for example, after the students have played only two hands, one in notrump and one with clubs as trumps, they’re asked to discuss these questions:

"Do you prefer playing in notrump or with a trump suit?

Did you like the choice of clubs as the trump suit in this deal?"

It may seem too early to have a discussion with such limited experience, but it gives the students a chance to reflect on playing the first two hands and to talk about them. There will be different, valid, opinions. Players who have a lot of clubs will like to play in the trump suit!


The lesson plans include a section called Transitions. A hand is created on the table in front of one of the players, and all players talk about the hand, exchanging ideas. Then the teacher gives general information about the hand sharing the opinions from the best players in the world. Here’s an example from IMPROVING YOUR JUDGMENT 1 — OPENING THE BIDDING.

You’re the dealer in the South position. What’s your call?

  • ♠ x x
  • A K Q x x
  • A K x
  • ♣ x x x

Most students suggest 1. Some always open with a five card major suit even with a balanced hand and 15–17 points. Others would open 1NT. Here is the material, in the lesson plans, following this example.

With so much concentration in two suits, we might consider opening 1, even though the hand is balanced and we have 16 high-card points plus 1 for length.

In fact, expert Larry Cohen, watching world champion Mike Passell holding this hand, commented, “I usually opens 1NT with a five-card major, but this hand would be the exception.” Larry predicted that Passell would open 1.

Passell proceeded to open 1NT, showing that even experts can disagree on the best opening bid!


We all know that our students like to play deals. It’s so important to their learning, that every one of the lessons in the BETTER BRIDGE Series provides four hands for the students to play. The concepts for the lessons are presented through these four deals.

Playing a Deal

The first step is that the students experience the deal by bidding and playing without interference from the teacher. It starts with what the participants know. Then they turn it face up on the table, dummy style, with the high cards at the edge of the table. Next the bidding is discussed, carefully, making sure that no student is put on the spot. It’s emphasized that it’s much easier to come up with an opinion looking at all of the hands, after they’ve been played, and talking with three other people at the table. After presenting information about the bidding, the teacher can walk the students through the Card-by-Card description of the play and defense. This creates a holistic approach that appeals to students with a wide range of experience and skill.


What do we need to do to advance our craft as a teacher? Most of the time, the focus is mainly on the subject matter. We try to improve our bridge skills. Our classes improve when we focus on teaching bridge as two words: teaching and bridge.

Clearly, subject matter knowledge affects teaching performance; however, it is not sufficient in and of itself. Teacher training programs that emphasize content knowledge acquisition and neglect pedagogical coursework are less effective in preparing prospective teachers.


A Practical Attitude

The question we most commonly ask is the “what” question — what subjects shall we teach?

When the conversation goes a bit deeper, we ask the “how” question — what methods and techniques are required to teach well?

Occasionally, when it goes deeper still, we ask the “why” question — for what purpose and to what ends do we teach?

But seldom, if ever, do we ask the “who” question — who is the self that teaches? How does the quality of my selfhood form, or deform, the way I relate to my students, my subject, my colleagues, my world? How can educational institutions sustain and deepen the selfhood from which good teaching comes?

He has no quarrel with the what, or how, or why questions, except when they are posed as the only questions worth asking.

All of them can yield important insights into teaching and learning. But none of them opens up the territory I want to explore in this book: the inner landscape of the teaching self.

- Parker J. Palmer, in THE COURAGE TO TEACH

Attention to Detail

Attention to detail is an attitude that yields outstanding results in our classroom. To succeed we need to have the attitude that success is not automatic; like any sport or activity it requires focus and practice.

Knowing the Material

Improving our familiarity with the material to be presented doesn’t come from playing a lot of bridge; it comes as a result of careful study of the texts and the lesson plans. We need to order the text and the Color-Coded Cards and play the deals before the class. We need to read the plans aloud, to decide where we are going to put the emphasis. The plan is a script. The success depends on the delivery.

Practicing the Method

Teaching with an emphasis on bidding, play and defense is a challenge. To deliver the Card-by-Card is an art: it takes many hours of practice before we are ready to do it in front of our class.

It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.

— John Wooden

Methods and Material

The preceding four elements - safety, timing, energy, and attitude - are essential to delivering a first rate lesson program. That said, they are not sufficient and the teacher must pay attention to methods and material. For more on this, see separate sections on Cards on the Table, Presentation Options, and Materials.