ACBL Bridge Beat #95: Teaching Bridge

The first teacher of games in the bridge family was also one of the most successful. The “ladies of good family” to whom Edmund Hoyle taught whist were charged at the rate of one guinea an hour, equivalent to at least $100 an hour in modern terms. Hoyle’s celebrated Short Treatise, published in 1743 and a bestseller for more than a century, was intended as a textbook for his students.

The first professional teacher of whist in America was Miss Kate Wheelock, who began teaching in Milwaukee in 1886. She achieved immediate success, touring the continent to lecture in all the principal cities. The Whist-o-Graph she invented for use in her classes was the forerunner of the vugraph used by ACBL in modern times. She was the first woman to be made an associate member of the American Whist League, and Cavendish called her, “The Whist Queen.”

Whist teaching was a highly suitable occupation for ladies of some status and education who needed to supplement their incomes, and many others followed Miss Wheelock’s example.

The first prominent male teacher was Charles Stuart Street of New York City, who began in 1890. The most successful teacher of bridge whist and auction bridge was Joseph B. Elwell. Among his most prominent successors was Josephine Culbertson.

In the Twenties, Milton Work and Wilbur Whitehead organized conventions for teachers, issuing certificates to those who had completed courses. A similar procedure was followed later by Ely Culbertson, and later still by Charles Goren, who was one of the highest-paid teachers of all time before he decided to concentrate on writing. The American Bridge Teachers Association (ABTA), founded in 1957, holds an annual convention immediately preceding the ACBL’s Summer North American Bridge Championships.

Many persons turned to bridge teaching as a temporary occupation during the Depression years, and at its peak, membership of the Culbertson National Studios totaled some 6000. The number of bridge teachers dwindled markedly when prosperity returned, but increased again in the postwar years, particularly after Goren’s point-count methods gained general currency.

In the Sixties and Seventies, the number of teachers continued to grow. Their ranks included many players of the highest quality. These teachers popularized the playing lesson for students with tournament ambitions. ABTA activities for bridge teachers flourished and certification by this organization was thought by many to be a prerequisite for professional bridge teachers.

In the late Eighties, ACBL contracted with Audrey Grant to write a series of beginning bridge textbooks and teacher manuals. Through a program known as the TAP, new bridge teachers were recruited and taught to teach bridge effectively using the ACBL materials. These teachers became known as Accredited Teachers and numbered more than 4500 by the mid-Nineties.

In Europe, as in the United States, major steps have been taken to put major teaching programs to work. According to José Damiani, former president of the World Bridge Federation, the French Bridge Federation is among the leaders in bridge education. Damiani wrote as follows in the European Bridge League Review: “To make a success of such a challenge, a definite consistency between the mini-bridge taught to students and a complete teaching system of training for instructors was needed. Rigorous methods were used to obtain the magnificent results achieved by the French Bridge Federation.”

In the Netherlands, a similar approach has produced excellent results. A high percentage of the population of the Netherlands play bridge as a result of the Dutch teaching program.

Some years ago, bridge leaders in Poland succeeded in setting up a school championship with more than 3000 finalists.

Many other countries have outstanding teaching programs, and bridge is thriving in those countries – New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, Italy, Iceland, Sweden and Australia, to name a few.

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