TEACHING BRIDGE ONLINE - PART ONE

by Caitlin, from The Bridge Forum International

The growth of on-line bridge is astounding and quite understandable. I recall an e-mail from Eric Kokish, who travels far and wide coaching so many international teams. In response to discussions about him working on-line, he wrote, "You mean Beverly and I may get a chance to stay at home for a night!"

Teaching bridge on-line is not only convenient but, in the expression of a bygone era, 'it's where it's at'. Your clients don't have to leave their homes to brave what we often get in my part of the world, either blizzards in the winter or heat waves during the summer. Certainly this is not to say that lessons at bridge clubs are or should be obsolete. Indeed, the social aspect of such lessons is a major plus. Nonetheless, many bridge pros and a vast number of teachers are turning to the net. In this series of articles on how to establish yourself as an on-line teacher, I will address the following topics:

  • What one needs in terms of a computer and computer skills
  • How to decide where to make your 'home' on-line
  • Net etiquette and net networking
  • What to teach on-line
  • How to get students, the art of ethical public relations
  • How much to charge and how to bill for fees
  • Modes of teaching and recommended lesson formats
  • Useful tools for teaching online
  • Giving back to where you teach
This series is based on my own experience as I found myself no longer able to work outside the home. There I was with hubby at work, the kids in school and time to do what? With limited computer skills, and as an accredited ACBL teacher, friends from Australia encouraged me to join OKBridge. I did so four years ago and somewhere found an announcement from FIFTH CHAIR (www.fifthchair.org), the non-profit organization devoted to promoting on-line bridge, requesting mentors for novices. I volunteered and found myself working with the most wonderful woman, a person who has become a cherished friend, an inspiration to me.

Over time I became more involved with FIFTH CHAIR, launching both novice and intermediate team games where I have been commentator with an analysis of the hands played sent out thereafter. With no intention whatsoever to teach for profit, students fell into my lap, so to speak! Thus began my foray into on-line teaching as I have moved from working one-on-one with students to offering courses and now a Co-Founder of a full-fledged on-line bridge school, THE BRIDGE FORUM INTERNATIONAL (http://www.bridge-forum.com). My partner, Harold Schogger, resides in the U.K., our expert affiliates hail from the U.S., Mike Lawrence, and Australia, Ron Klinger. Our 'Bid With The Experts' panel is comprised of renowned pros from far and wide: Sabine Auken (Zenkel) from Germany; Tim Cope, South Africa; Fred Gitelman, Canada; Liz McGowan, Scotland; Lorenzo Lauria, Italy; Patrick Jourdain, Wales; Eddie Kantar, United States Jan Van Cleff, the Netherlands. . . just to name a few!

On-line bridge encompasses an international community with no boundaries and no real governing body such as the ACBL. Thus you meet up with Benjamin Two Bids, Chih-Kuang Two Bids, Kamikaze/Mini-Notrumps, and a wide range of systems -- Standard American, Polish Club, SAYC, Precision, ACOL and Two Over One, again just to name a few! Amidst this boundless territory, you are now about to establish yourself as a credible, ethical, top notch teacher.

Firstly, your choice of computers will be contingent on what you plan to do with it from your chosen location. Do you want a computer solely for teaching? Or will you be using it for other purposes, such as desktop publishing, graphic design or the kid's homework? By forecasting what you will use your computer for today and for the tomorrows, and your budget, you will have a better idea what you need when you go out there shopping with a friend who is well versed in computers. Decide on whether you should either purchase outright or lease, and this can be contingent on your budget. There are advantages to leasing, such as warranty for the life of the contract. But that depends upon the terms of the contract, length of warranty, possible unauthorized equipment (a printer that may not have come with the computer, additional storage not installed or offered by the computer company at the time of purchase, such as a tape drive, zip drives,etc.)

You will need someone to connect you to the internet, usually an I.S.P.(Internet Service Provider). Does your server restrict you to sending e-mails out only to a limited number of people at a time? Can you send documents via your server -- yes you will quickly learn how to put your work into documents, but if you choose a server such as America On Line (AOL) for example, good luck, as you will find it nearly impossible to send or receive such material.

Does your server provide good technical support? Talk to your computer-literate friends and find out which server(s) they use. Talk to the manager of technical support before signing on the dotted line and if you expect to get on-line, best to have two servers in case one goes down and this has happened to everyone I know at one time or another. Find out where the main hub for your server is and ensure your second server is on a different hub so they both don't go down at the same time. Check out different types of servers, from cable to ASDL--via phone lines. Also when you are talking with your prospective server, especially with cable and ASDL, find out if your costs include leasing and installing your connection, i.e., cable modem or other special equipment.

A wise investment is to either take a course on basic computer skills or hire a reputable computer teacher for private lessons so that you can type, use your e-mail and word processing programs and know how to use the internet, from search engines (such as Alta Vista, Excite, Infoseek and Hotbot to name a few) to downloading the wonderful freebies, typically found more on a P.C. than a Macintosh, though that is changing over time.

So now you have your computer and can actually log on and send an e-mail to your neighbour, but where to go to teach bridge?

Where you would want to play bridge is likely the place where you will feel most comfortable teaching bridge. Take out free guest memberships on OKBridge (www.okbridge.com), BP LIVE! (www.bridgeplayer.com), and try out the free sites, from Microsoft's Zone (www.zone.com), Yahoo's. Even if you know which site you want to teach on, it is wise to become familiar with as many bridge sites as you can as you are now an on-line bridge teacher and it is incumbent upon you to know the lay of the 'net' land. As you familiarize yourself with a variety of sites, know that as an aspiring on-line bridge teacher, you will become a model of optimum ethics for your students for we not only teach bridge, we teach net etiquette by our actions and by the bridge lingo we type.

You go to a table and there is a vacant seat. The first thing you do is NOT sit down without asking whether you can join. Having asked, you are welcomed and find that your partner, who ranks himself as an advanced player, does not know how to take a finesse. You watch in horror as he goes down two in a cold four spade contract. You do not get up in the middle of the hand and leave; however, you have every right to politely excuse yourself from the table after the hand is played. You are not expected to be a martyr, but typing in that there is a fire blazing through your house during the hand in play is unacceptable. You move on to another table and you and partner bid to 6NT. You are dummy and your LHO is on lead. She determines not to lay down her Diamond Ace. You wrap up 6 club tricks, 4 hearts, and three spades while your opponents swallow the diamond Ace, King and Queen. This is not the time to type in 'wd' (well done) to your partner. This is gloating at your opponents' obvious mis-defence. Now your opponents bid to 6 clubs while the rest of the field is in 3NT making 6. Now is time to say 'wdo'(well done opponents) for they have gracefully bid to a great spot that others did not find. Yes, had partner led the DJ from J32, rather than leading the HK from KQJ, you would have defeated the contract. But you do NOT point this out. Nor do you give unsolicited lessons or engage in post-mortems while your opponents sit there waiting for you to bid the next hand. The game closes and you go to a third table and you ask your partner, "What system do you play?" He types in SAYC (Standard American Yellow Card). You then ask which conventions your partner plays. You get no response. You ask a second time and again nothing comes up on the screen. Take note that your partner's name is Emilio and he is from Chile. Your RHO is also Chilean and also speaks English. Eventually RHO types in Spanish to your partner and then back to you, clarifying your convention card. The game proceeds in a friendly, competitive mode with your gracious opponent as translator.

On-line bridge is worldwide bridge and next month we will look at how to connect -- net networking -- as well as how you choose what you are going to teach, preparing to teach and how to establish yourself as a teacher with clients. Until then, happy bridging.

September 1999

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