By Larry Cohen
Lots has been written and discussed about the future of our great game. Sadly, tournament attendance and league membership have been dropping every year. The aging adherents are dying, and not enough new players are taking their place.
Yes, there are some efforts to get youngsters involved (and anything that is "electronic” is surely the way to go for that demographic). Regardless, it will take lots of volunteer time and effort. Getting bridge to be taught in schools would be wonderful, but it is a tough sell.
IMHO, the main way to keep our game going and growing is by getting retirees to take it up.
They have time and money – both key ingredients. Taking up tennis/golf is not as attractive for retirees – because the body can’t handle it. Bridge is something that can be played pretty much until death (barring an unfortunate mental illness such as Alzheimer’s or Dementia).
So, ACBL and other organizations surely should be focusing in this area. I’d love to get AARP (a huge organization for U.S. retirees) involved, but so far, they’ve been impenetrable.
Regardless, I do believe that with the right marketing effort, we can get “seniors” to take up our game. I’d love it if marketers can get bridge in the spotlight as “the cool thing to do” (maybe we can learn from the successful Pickleball and Chess marketers)?
Teaching retirees will require a good syllabus and the right teachers. It takes patience to teach beginners. While getting them in the door is a marketing problem, retaining them once they walk through is something that falls upon we “bridge people.” We need to get it right.
I feel strongly that teaching bidding is the way to turn them off. The concept of a “one-club opening” is much too abstract. Learning bidding requires memorization—no fun, no appeal. Best is to hook them with card play. Start simply with an ace beats a king (the same way we’d teach a five-year-old a card game like “WAR”). Then show some tricks. One suit at a time. Build up to all four suits and then introduce the concept of trump. Only after many weeks/lessons on cards/tricks should we even mention the “b” word (bidding).
As a teacher/writer, I (and all teachers/writers) need to radically adjust our thinking and expectations. Nearly all my students are indeed retirees (it is rare that I get a student younger than 65). Most of my current students played cards when they were young. They went to college in the 1960’s or 1970’s. Back then, people actually played cards. When they were kids, there were no computers and families played cards at home. Many of these people had some exposure to bridge, or at least some trick-taking games early in their lives.
That makes it much easier to teach them. They have some card sense and some ideas about trick-taking. But, for the new crop, it will be different. The retirees of the coming decades will have missed the card-playing days of youth. They will have grown up watching TV. In college, they’ll have been more interested in TV and video games than playing cards. Card games in 1980’s or 1990’s dorms weren’t in vogue.
This will be a challenge. We teachers and writers will have to be more patient. Tolerant. Understanding. Dare I say, “dumb things down?” It is difficult to learn new things, especially bridge, when you are in your 60’s or 70’s. I don’t mean to be insulting at all. Just realistic. Lower the expectations.
Does that sound sad? I don’t want it to be. New players will still be able to get addicted to and enjoy our wonderful game. No, they won’t become world champions, but they can spend many years of socialization (a key marketing aspect) and brain stimulation (another marketing hook). Our job will be to make sure not to lose them. Teachers and writers of the world: Be ready.
Larry is widely regarded as one of the world's best bridge teachers and is as close to a household name as you can probably get in the world of bridge. He has been named ACBL Player of the Year, ACBL Honorary Member of the Year, 2020 Hall of Famer, and has won a total of 25 National Bridge Tournaments. He’s also a regular contributor to bridge magazines and has written and produced many best-selling, award winning bridge books, cd’s/computer software, videos and webinars.
Find out more about Larry on his website, https://www.larryco.com/