News & Comment

FIRST HANDS: Larry Cohen -- How He Learned Bridge

Larry Cohen was age 6 when he learned how to play bridge from his grandparents.In 1965, Larry Cohen’s grandparents had retired in Mount Vernon, NY, and, looking for new hobbies, decided to learn bridge. But they needed opponents to be easily available for a rubber or two. The most convenient ones they found were Larry and his brother, Paul. Paul was 10, Larry was 6.

“I already knew War and Casino,” Larry recalls, so he had some idea about suits and ranks. And learning bridge, it turned out, wasn’t all that tough because the bidding was simple, “basic Goren” he says, “strong twos.”

And what really interested him then, as now, was the play of the cards. Being declarer or defender didn’t matter to him, the important thing was figuring out what to do to make the most of the 13 cards he held. Dorothy Truscott’s Winning Declarer Play was his favorite bridge book.

A couple of years later his grandparents moved to Florida, and he was 14 before he played bridge again, with some high school friends. He remembered going to his first duplicate game – “a room full of a lot of old people” – and how surprised his opponents were to be playing against teenagers.

But much as he loved his introduction to the game, he said that process wouldn’t work now to recruit new players. In the 1960s, Cohen noted, “We could sit down and play cards for an evening.”   

Some young people may learn from their parents or grandparents, Cohen said. “But kids don’t play cards now; they get more things on the screen.”

After an enormously successful run as a player, Cohen shifted to writing and teaching. His book, To Bid or Not to Bid: The LAW of Total Tricks, was the best-selling bridge book of the 1990s. His bridge cruises and the seminars at clubs draw thousands of students every year.

He believes the largest pool of potential recruits to the game is the growing population of retirees who have the time to learn and are looking for new activities. But keep it simple, he emphasizes.

The median age of his students is 70 and “they get turned off by the fancy bidding systems.” Cohen concentrates on what made him appreciate the beauty of the game, play of the hands.

Looking back at his introduction to bridge, he said, “I don’t remember why I loved it.” He paused, thinking about his boyhood. “But it might have been better than doing homework."

Jonathan Friendly, Author of

By Jonathan Friendly


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