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On teaching play of the hand

When you started studying this game in earnest, did you, like me, try tackling books on hand play that were too hard on the first run through? You might not have seen the solution that first time, maybe not even the second time through, but each time you went back to them more things started to click. Eventually you were able to recognize each hand's solution the minute you saw it. How much of the ability that you possess today, to process complex problems, do you attribute to those early studies and to the simple repetitive technique involved?

There are just so many ways you can make a hand. Recognizing hand and suit patterns and the possibilities each present is huge. Dummy comes down. Oh this is clearly a strip and end play, a squeeze, an avoidance play, a combining chances hand, etc.

This ability to to see a hand, to see the possibilities each possess, not as separate cards, or separate suits, but as a unit, in its entirety, as a complete story, is central to card play. It is missing if we try teaching play of the hand to beginners by simply focusing on certain techniques like setting up suits or ruffing in the short. All necessary tools for sure, but then comes the exasperating problem of how to teach recognizing them, when to use them, and which applies?  Ask any teacher which is harder to teach a student to grasp, bidding or play. 

Hands down, it is play. Play seems almost impossible to teach. Yes, you can go through demonstrating techniques for sure, but that only goes so far.  They may know how to set up a suit or take a finesse, but the overall logic involved in thinking through a hand escapes most new players. We know that some will never get it. They will never learn to put all 26 cards together and see the hand as a unit. 

Taking a page from our book, I believe I've hit on a simple and maybe effective way of going part of the way to accomplishing this. It's based on how we learned. Hand recognition.

We've started working this through at Honors. It is truly a work in progress.

We now give our students homework. In all three of our beginner courses, our students work with the Israeli online teaching site, Best e-Bridge. In between lessons we give them five hands to work on at home. Just five. We ask them to start each playing session with those hands. We say, "First do these five hands. Play out each one, card by card if necessary. Play them over and over again until, when the hand appears for that umpteen time, you will not have to play out the hand to make it. You will "see" the solution. You will own the hand. The hand's story will be familiar to you. It will become your friend. This will become a building block of yours."  At the start of each lesson we play a game. We have copies made of one of the hands and have the students turn the sheet over and see who recognizes the hand and its solution first. 

We've been doing this at Honors for just a few series now. It is still too early to know if this will work as a general teaching method or just as a helpful tool for those students who were bound to get it anyway. It's too soon for several reasons. Not the least is that not every student does the homework or does it the way we ask. But if you think this technique has merit, I ask that you try it and get back to this forum with your observations.

Thank you.

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