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By: Paul Linxwiler

Originally Published in The American Contract Bridge League BULLETIN, July, 1999

Blown Away

ACBL and the ACBL Educational Foundation commissioned expert player and software designer Fred Gitelman to create a free, easy-to-use program to teach people how to play bridge. Gitelman used his experience from his previous successful ventures in bridge software (Bridge Master for Windows, Counting at Bridge by Mike Lawrence and The Master Solvers Club among others) to create a learning tool to educate interested players in the intricacies of contract bridge. All I can say is: Wow!

Learn to Play Bridge is an amazing effort. It thoroughly explains all aspects of the game that are relevant to the aspiring bridge player. It starts by assuming that the user knows nothing about cards, and progressively unfolds the structure of the game through a series of lessons. Anyone who works through the entire program will be sufficiently familiar with the fundamentals of the game that he or she could confidently sit and play a reasonable game of bridge. As far as the LTPB’s ability to teach the non-player the game, there hasn’t been anything like this to come along since Alfred Sheinwold’s 5 Weeks to Winning Bridge.

Speaking of five weeks, I’d estimate that it would realistically take about that long for the average adult (given the hectic demands of the modern world), reading an hour or so per day, to work his way through Gitelman’s tutorial. He is an extremely thorough taskmaster. After a brief introduction into how the 52 cards in the deck are structured, Gitelman dives into teaching the user about the play of the hand, specifically about the significance of trick taking. He wisely delays discussion of bidding until later in the program.

Once the topic of tricks and how they are won is presented, Gitelman provides example deals to allow the user to test his newly acquired knowledge. The software is designed in a way that allows the user to go back at any point and review material he may not have grasped earlier. Important bridge terms are explicitly defined; later, these key terms are highlighted wherever they appear. If the user forgets what a particular term means, he can simply point his mouse at the phrase and the definition appears again on screen.

After the basics of card play are discussed, Gitelman turns the user’s attention to bidding. The Goren point-count method is explained, as is how to adjust the evaluation of a hand based on its distribution. Standard American with five-card majors is, of course, the system used throughout the presentation. Most of the usual treatments are found here: 15-17 1NT openers, weak two-bids, negative doubles, Stayman, Blackwood and 2 as strong, artificial and forcing.

Learn to Play Bridge is the best software-based teaching vehicle I have ever seen. If you have friends who want to learn how to play, get a copy of this software.

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