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Lesson Plan and Tips

Below are a series of lesson planning tips for teachers introducing novice players to a range of topics. To access more information about the topics, click on the headline. All topic notes and lesson tips were initially part of the successful ABF Summer School. 



  • Have students make up (cards on the table), balanced hand shapes (4333, 4432, 5332) with 15-17 points. Don’t include a five card major yet.
  • Stress that opening 1NT exchanges a lot of information.
  • Explain that responses to 1NT openings are different to other one level openings.
  • Focus on whether responder’s hand is balanced or unbalanced; is there a fit; are there enough points for game.
  • Practise playing no trumps with balanced hands, or a trump suit when responder is unbalanced, either weak or strong.
  • Show why passing 1NT with a weak hand and a long suit won’t work.
  • Introduce invitational bids 
  • Help them to see (cards on the table) that losing tricks early may be essential to winning long suit tricks.
  • Don’t introduce Stayman or Transfers until students have a grasp of natural responses.


  • Remembering point ranges (minimum, medium and maximum) and shapes are hard and take ages to master. Don’t expect your students to know them.
  • Ask students to construct different hand shapes on the table: single-suiter, two-suiter, balanced, and a fit for responder to let them see the difference.
  • Don’t discuss jump shifts and reverses; bidding with these two–suited hands is too much at first.
  • Explain that bidding a second suit without jumping shows 13-18 points. Most think it is minimum only. 
  • Explain that a “new” suit in the bidding is forcing, and “old” suits are not. 
  • Stress that responder’s point categories are different to opener’s.
  • Use the idea of “how high” and “where” for both opener and responder when deciding the contract.
  • Don’t expect students to bid game even though there are enough points.


  • Although this will not happen at first, it’s good to encourage students to develop judgement by looking at factors other than points.
  • Show your students via the Cards on the Table method, the positive and negative factors of hands.
  • Explain that some raises are based on the size of the trump fit rather than points.
  • Stress that opener needs a good hand to bid again when responder has chosen a single raise, but not much to go to game opposite a limit raise. 
  • Show your students that hands with four+ trumps opposite a five card major opening often play better than hands with only three trumps.
  • Demonstrate that trumping a short suit in dummy will add to the trick-taking potential of a hand, but trumping in the long hand usually does not. 


  • When first introduced to overcalls, students will not understand the difference between opening and overcalling. Show them that it’s the position at the table rather than the number of points they hold.
  • Quality of suit should be emphasised in deciding whether to overcall or not. Show students (via cards on the table) what constitutes a good suit
  • Carefully explain the difference in point requirements between overcalling at the one-level and at the two-level
  • Show students why two-suited hands play better than single-suiters
  • Explain why bidding over 1NT openings should be with single-suited or two-suited hands


  • Students do not recognise doubles for a long time, because they have been taught to bid suits, so it is foreign to say double. 
  • Stress that it’s only possible to double after one or other opponent has bid. Otherwise, students will try to start the bidding with double.
  • Responding to doubles requires knowledge of the precise point ranges, so show students why it is important to go straight to game if they have enough points. 
  • Explain that the responder to a double is not bidding on their hand alone, that they should imagine that their doubling partner is showing an opening hand, and they don’t  know the best place to play the hand yet. 


  • Most students will be nervous about going as high as slam and will want to stay in game  
  • Explain the difference between opening 2♣ with balanced hands and unbalanced hands 
  • Show that balanced hands and slams is all about points, and unbalanced hands and slams is more about playing strength
  • Show students how you count quick tricks and losers 
  • Explain when to use Blackwood and when not to 
  • Students will not realise that Blackwood and cue bidding can work together in the same auction  


  • Students will have an easier time learning to count winners first, and losers much later (it’s much harder to count losers)
  • Explain that in suit contracts they need to count both winners and losers because having a certain number of losers does not guarantee the number of winners they need
  • show them every single thing you say, don’t assume they will understand your verbal explanations
  • stress that the plan is everything and stop them playing too quickly to the first trick (they will do this) 
  • it will take a long time for them to really consider the order of play – they would not have a clue and will take all their aces and kings first 
  • showing them everything on the table with the cards will help 


  • Set one suit up on the table to show students how each technique works. This will take about 10 minutes for each.
  • Also mention that the defenders are using the same techniques when developing their tricks. 
  • When showing students a finesse, take the honour card from one hand and let them see it in the other when the finesse doesn’t work.
  • When showing length, have students change the cards to show different splits, e.g. 3/2, 4/1, 5/0. They really need to see this on the table.   


  • A student’s attitude towards defending will be one of utter confusion at first. Their first step is to play honour cards out, to try to keep the lead. 
  • It’s difficult to teach that you sometimes lose a trick early to gain tricks later, so leading all their aces is not always recommended.
  • Have your students set card combinations out on the table and use only one suit, using the Cards on the Table method 
  • Present the techniques for winning defensive tricks one at a time and say that declarer is doing the same thing
  • Tell the students that the leading philosophy is different in no trumps and suits, 
  • An easy way to show students how to think about the opening lead, is to say “First think about which suit looks best to lead”. Usually it will be your long suit, but there are exceptions…
    Once you’ve decided which suit, the next step is which is the correct card of that suit to lead in order to show partner what’s in your hand.
  • Giving students the table of opening leads outlining the “correct” card in many situations will often be too hard. They can’t memorise them, and even if they could, it would not make sense to them.
  • Explain that the goal of defence is to play cards build up a picture of what’s in each others’ hands, and ultimately what’s in declarer’s.


  • Don’t try to teach all three signalling types in one lesson. They need at least one lesson each, and are very confusing if presented together. 
  • The worst thing for developing players is when they try to make one card mean too many things – teach them that attitude is the primary signal, followed by count (at different times), and at special times, suit preference
  • When approaching the topic of signals, explain that the first job of the defenders is to win tricks, but if unable to win it, now is time for a signal
  • All the rules in the books don’t make up for a player using their own logic, watching how declarer plays a suit, and thinking what cards they must have to be playing in a particular way. Students will never think this way unless you train them to. 
  • If you encourage this your students will feel that their own natural input is valuable.