Nathan Susser learned bridge on a cruise with his great-grandmother Jean Krakower in 2016 when she turned 100. He played a few times on the cruise and then didn’t really think about the game for a year.
After her death, he got interested in bridge and decided he’d like to teach it to kids. He reached out to San Francisco’s Parks and Recreation Department and, at 15, started his own card camp at the Chinatown Rec Center. But he realized he wasn’t qualified to teach bridge.
“I was teaching games like war, spades, hearts,” said Susser, now 17.
Then he found out about the Center For Bridge Education, a kid- and family-oriented local nonprofit. They were starting a program called Cardology Kidz and teaching a new game called Handz.
Handz, designed by Richard Bellerose, is a simplified game that plays like bridge without the bidding. Players write down their high-card points and distribution on erasable information sheets that everyone can see. They use that information to arrive at a contract and start playing right away.
The CBE, says teaching coordinator Deborah Drysdale, has two prongs: spokes and a hub. “The spokes are going out to schools,” she explains. It varies by semester, but volunteers are going out about four elementary and middle schools at a time. “The hub is people come to us.” That’s the Cardology program for adults and Cardology Kidz for youth. The name comes from the location: a room at a hospital where they can meet without having to pay rent.
When Susser attended the first meeting of Cardology Kidz, there were eight kids. He was the only one with any bridge knowledge. That made it easy for him to pick up Handz quickly. He also started taking bridge lessons from Bellerose.
Volunteers are in high demand for the CBE’s school bridge programs. “It helps the more table monitors you have,” Drysdale said. “Classroom management is an issue.”
So Susser, eager to teach bridge, got sent to Aptos Middle School. For four months he spent two hours there every Monday teaching Handz at first and then bridge with three other volunteers.
“Being able to teach is really rewarding,” he said. “Bridge is such a dynamic game that makes you use your mind in a way that builds skills that you need later in life.”
Meanwhile, the Cardology Kidz program has grown. One day Drysdale was offering a workshop for people who wanted to teach Handz at her house. Two moms she wasn’t expecting showed up with their 9-year-old sons. She brought them in and taught them the game. She had no idea what was coming next.
“All of a sudden it was like a fire hose of players learning to play Handz,” she said.
“It’s been incredible to watch the Cardology Kidz grow,” Susser said. “It’s gone from two table to five to eight tables. So many new kids have come through there.”
Two years ago, they sent four students to Toronto; last year in Atlanta, it was seven. They have 16 here in Las Vegas, along with coaches William Zhu and Edmund Wu.
Susser went last year with his sister, but she doesn’t play anymore. His siblings know how to play from the same family cruise, but they gave it up. That leaves Susser as the only one still playing his great-grandmother’s game. “It’s special to me,” he said, “to be able to carry on her legacy.”