Coach of the Year
By: Fred Gitelman
Originally Published in Canadian Bridge Canadien, 1995
Montreal's Eric Kokish is well known as a great bridge player,
writer, and theorist. Eric also happens to be the world's most successful
bridge coach. Under Eric's ongoing coaching program, Holland has become
a power in world bridge, winning the Bermuda Bowl in 1993. Language never
seems to be a problem for Eric. China and Indonesia, two rising stars of
international bridge, have greatly benefited from his coaching methods.
Eric has also brought success to Brazil, Chinese Taipei, Ireland, Jamaica,
Eric was recently appointed to be Canada's National Bridge Coach. The
current Canadian Open, Women, and Junior Teams have had and will continue
to have the benefit of Eric's coaching program. In any professional sport,
a coach of comparable stature to Eric would be a very wealthy man. There
is not a lot of money in bridge coaching, but Eric is paid by the Canadian
Bridge Federation for his services. The purpose of this article is to let
the members know that they are getting their money's worth.
As a member of the Canadian Open Team, I believe both myself, personally,
and my partnership with George Mittelman have benefited greatly
from our association with Eric. This association is more than just a player/coach
relationship. Eric is also a member of the Open Team (he was appointed
Coach well before our team won the 1994 Canadian National Team Championship).
Eric's partner is Joey Silver. Mark Molson and Boris Baran
make up the other partnership on our team. I think all of my teammates
would agree that Eric's coaching has improved our chances of success in
the Bermuda Bowl in Beijing this fall.
In December Eric's house was the scene of an intense three day weekend
of bridge. Here are some of the things we did:
- Each partnership bid prepared sets of hands and recorded their auctions.
At the end of each set, Eric would go over every bid that the partnership
made. Eric would constantly bombard us with questions like "What would
it mean if he had bid 3 instead?"
and "How would you bid with the same hand including the Q?".
We also received printed records of the hands and Eric's analysis.
- Each partnership received quizzes to fill out. One of these quizzes
consisted of 40 hands that you might consider preempting on. Each player
had to write down what bid he would make in first, second, and third position,
and at each of the four vulnerabilities. That's 480 questions. After the
quizzes were filled out, each set of partners got together and compared
their answers. Eric never tried to alter our style as to what hands we
preempted on. His emphasis was on each member of the partnership knowing
what to expect when the other one preempts.
- We played a practice match against the Junior Team. The hands were
pre-dealt by Eric and were taken from historically important bridge matches.
After we compared scores (the Open Team narrowly won), Eric handed out
records of the deals and his analysis. All of the members of both teams
discussed the hands for hours with Eric as moderator.
- We participated in a defensive quiz. Eric had created 20 hands for
each partnership to defend. In each hand, we were given the bidding and
were instructed to make a specific opening lead. Each deal was set up so
that in order to defeat the contract, the partnership had to communicate
properly with their carding. A moderator would play the declarer and dummy
hands with the benefit of being able to see all four hands. This was one
of my favourite deals from the defensive quiz:
I (West) led the 7 (attitude)
to the 8, Q
and A. Declarer led the 5
at trick two. Would you and your partner get the defense right? George
and I did. Dummy's strong trick source in clubs made it too dangerous to
consider ducking this trick (it would be declarer's ninth). So I won the
A as George followed with the 2.
We play Smith Echo and this hand is a perfect advertisement for that convention.
George's play of a low spade indicated that he did not like my opening
lead (a high spade would say he liked diamonds). Since declarer presumably
had the K, I had to play George
for the A in order to have a chance
to defeat the contract (otherwise declarer has nine top tricks).
It was clearly necessary to get George in to lead a diamond through
declarer. If I led the K and another
heart to George it would be too late. Declarer's Q
would be established as his ninth trick. I eventually figured out to play
the 4. George won the A
and played back a diamond, leaving declarer without recourse.
Since doing Eric's defensive quiz, I have found myself to be much more
aware on defense to the problems my partner might have. I think of every
defensive situation as if it were one of Eric's problem hands. I have noticed
that it has helped my results. At the recent Tri-Country Playoff in Bermuda,
I do not recall a single hand in which George and I had a problem with
each other's carding. Eric prepared us very well and, as a result, our
defense has become a strength of our partnership. This is rare, especially
considering we have only been playing as partners for about four months.
Eric worked us hard that weekend and it was very intense work. Considering
that most of my teammates and I are pretty lazy people, it was really something
to see all of us work so hard at improving. This is a further tribute to
how stimulating and beneficial Eric's exercises are. Eric left us with
lots of additional material to work with: more hands to bid, a forcing
pass questionnaire, suggested defenses against unusual systems, and much
more. We are looking forward to more coaching weekends as the Bermuda Bowl
Eric later had a coaching weekend with the Canadian Women's Team in
Toronto. I attended and played some practice matches against the Women's
Team. This weekend was also a big hit. The Women's Team seemed to benefit
greatly and they were all enthusiastic about Eric's material and methods.
I strongly believe that if we want Canada to field teams capable of
winning at the international level, good coaching is a must. We are very
fortunate to have the best coach in the world living in Canada. I hope
the Canadian Bridge Federation chooses to continue their association with