An Ideal Partnership

Larry Cohen brings bridge lessons to AARP membership

AARP North Carolina is partnering with world-famous teacher Larry Cohen to bring bridge to its more than 38 million members.

AARP has many aims for its constituency but improving the quality of life as they age is at its core. Bridge offers mental stimulation and social interaction. That makes bridge a natural fit for the organization.

The pilot program is being developed out of the North Carolina State AARP office but will be offered nationwide (virtually) with the hope to make bridge an ongoing AARP program nationwide. The partnership with Larry Cohen was the brainchild of Lisa Riegel, a lobbyist with AARP in North Carolina. “AARP is focused on healthy aging so we can all live our best lives – with brain health as a top interest to our members,” Riegel said. “Opportunities to learn something new to stimulate the brain while at the same time doing something fun that involves in-person or virtual social interaction is a win-win-win.”


Photography by: ©Michael B. Lloyd

Riegel reached out to Larry Cohen, a recent ACBL Hall of Fame inductee, because of his clear teaching style. Cohen jumped at the opportunity. He said, “It was a no-brainer for us. The opportunity to reach out to AARP members could be game-changing for bridge.”

The initial program will be a five-week course for total beginners and free for all – not just AARP members. “We’re starting with ‘an ace is better than a king,’” Cohen said, describing the general level of the program. “We want this to be as basic as possible and get players excited about learning more.” While not designed for experienced players, they can help by sharing this opportunity with friends that have expressed interest in learning the game.

Cohen and Michael Berkowitz will be teaching the course, and Berkowitz is working to ensure that players within North Carolina have ways to practice after the course.

“You can’t teach all of bridge in five weeks, but you can give players an idea of why it’s a great game,” Berkowitz said. “We need to ensure that we offer clear next steps so players can continue their learning journey. We hope to continue some online courses if it is successful, but we are also thrilled that the team is working to offer in-person follow-up and supervised play.”

The course is being organized on AARP’s end primarily by volunteer Maryann VonSeggern of Cary NC. “This is a passion project for me,” said VonSeggern, a budding bridge player herself. “I took a few lessons and jumped into duplicate, but I do not think that is the path for everyone. We want people to be able to play in a setting that makes them comfortable.”

While AARP is hosting the course, it is open to the general public. “The more the merrier,” said VonSeggern.

The class will be capped at three thousand students, but everyone is simply hoping for a solid turnout. “We hope that there is enough interest that we can offer more beginner and intermediate courses as time goes on,” said Cohen.

Berkowitz, also the program chair of the ACBL Education Foundation, said, “Bridge is the best game in the world, but it is also intimidating. Students need to be able to make progress and enjoy it at every level. The idea that ‘you won’t play well until you’ve played for years’ is off-putting.”

Cohen intends to focus on play in the beginning class, with only a brief introduction to bidding. “Most players get hooked on the play. There is no reason to complicate it. Bidding is Pandora’s box; once you open it, there is no going back.”

While the specifics of what happens after the class are still being ironed out, all involved expressed optimism that the program has the potential to generate a lot of interest in bridge.

Cohen said, “There’s no reason we can’t be introducing bridge to hundreds or even thousands of new players if we get this right.”

The class will begin January 17th and continue weekly for five weeks. More information, including how to sign up, will be available at once registration opens to the public.


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