How to Play Bridge

Contract Bridge took off as an international rage in the 1930s and is considered today by many to be the ultimate card game. Even those who have been playing for decades still find room to learn. In this article, we will cover the basics of Contract Bridge, including bidding, playing, and scorekeeping. After you understand the rules for Contract Bridge, you can learn some of the variations like Auction Bridge, Honeymoon Bridge, Reverse Bridge, and Three-Handed Bridge. Let's begin with the rules of bidding in Contract Bridge:

Number of players: Four, playing as two pairs, with partners facing each other. Tradition refers to the pairs as North-South and East-West.

Object: Following an auction, to score points by taking tricks during the play and to eventually win a rubber of two games.

The cards: Each deal requires a regular 52-card deck. It's customary to keep a second pack ready for the next hand.

To play: After all the cards have been dealt out, dealer begins the auction (also called the bidding). When the bidding is over, the play of the hand starts. The play comprises 13 tricks in all.

Understanding the bidding: Most games with auctions or bids use a brief and simple procedure. Bridge is special in allowing players to have a creative and complex auction.

Contract bridge is considered by many to be the ultimate card game.

In the diagrammed deal, West deals and passes, and North opens the bidding 1.
East passes. South bids 2
. West passes. North bids 3 and, after East passes,
South bids 6
. This is a bid to take 12 out of the 13 tricks on the hand,
which South expects to happen. The next three players all pass. South, the first
to bid
s for the winning bidders, becomes declarer at a contract of 6.

In Bridge, players on both sides bid for their side's right to choose the trump suit or to play the hand at NT (no-trump). The dealer starts the bidding. A bid is a number 1-7 plus a suit (, , , , or NT). The number, added to six, indicates how many tricks your side is to take with the suit bid as trumps.
Each time it's your turn, you may bid or pass (make no bid). Simply put, if you can manage to win the bid at a suit in which your side has more cards than the other side has, it will greatly help in winning tricks.

Useful Bridge Terms
Here's a quick reference for some of the card language you will find in this article.

Auction: bidding for number of tricks to be taken in the game

Contract: number of tricks declarer must take to satisfy his or her bid

Declarer: winner of the auction, the player who tries to make the contract

Dummy: declarer's partner; the dummy hand is laid face up on the table

Double: in the auction a bid to double the score or the penalties if a contract is made or set

Major: a heart or spade card

Minor: a diamond or club card

Not vulnerable: a side that has not won a game yet in a rubber.

Overcall: a bid made after opponents have opened the bidding

Raise: a bid in a suit that partner has already bid

Rebid: your second bid

Redouble: doubling a double

Response: your call in the auction when your partner has opened the bidding

Rubber: two games

Ruff: to trump

Set: to defeat a contract

Singleton: just one card of a suit

Table: the dummy

Undertricks: number of tricks the declaring side falls short of the contract

Void: no cards in a suit

Vulnerable: a side that has won a game in a rubber

For a complete listing of card terminology,
click here.

The lowest bid, 1, is a contract your side would fulfill by taking at least 7 tricks with clubs as trumps. Similarly, 1 indicates 7 tricks with diamonds as trumps; 3 means 9 tricks with diamonds as trumps; 3 NT means 9 tricks with no suit as trumps.

The bidding can start with any opening bid. During the auction, players in turn may pass or bid (or in frequent cases, may double or redouble). Each new bid must be higher than the previous bid. The new bid may be in a higher-ranking suit without increasing the number of tricks:
s rank lowest, followed by , , , and NT. The easiest way to remember the suit ranking is that the four suits rank alphabetically, and NT ranks the highest of all. (In Bridge, s and s are called majors; s and s are called minors). Or, if you go to a higher number of tricks, you can bid in any suit or NT.

The auction ends as soon as three players in a row pass. The last bid becomes the final contract. Whichever partner first bid the winning trump suit is called the declarer. (In the hand above, South becomes the declarer because he bid
s before North). By the way, don't let any other player see your cards during the auction.

Double and redouble: If your opponent has made the most recent bid, at your turn you may double (just say the word "double"). This means you double the stakes, i.e., if you make your contract, you win double the number of points -- your risk is also correspondingly greater. Either opponent can then redouble. Three passes end every auction, so it's quite possible for the final contract to be doubled or redoubled, increasing the score.

Bidding Strategies: When you are first learning to play bridge, determining what to bid can be confusing. As you continue to play, you will quickly learn that making an intelligent bid is key to winning the game. It will take a lot of practice to understand all the nuances of bidding, and we won't get into any of the fine points here -- whole books have been written about bidding strategies!  However, to help you get started, here are some basic guidelines to help you develop your bidding skills.

Arrange your hand according to suit. Now assign points to your cards in the following way: Aces, 4 points; kings, 3 points; queens, 2 points; jacks, 1 point; singleton (only one card in a suit), 1 point; void (no cards in a suit), 2 points. Add up your points.
Now look at your cards to determine which is your strongest suit. To bid a suit as trump, you'll want to have 4-5 of the suit with a minimum of 1-2 high cards. If you have 16-18 points and a fairly even distribution of cards in each suit, you may consider bidding no trump.

The general rule of thumb is to open a bid (to bid first on your team) only if you have 13 or more points. Of course, it's a different story if your partner has already bid because he is signaling to you that he already has sufficient points to open. In that case he is asking you if you can support his suit or if you have another suit you'd like to introduce. In answering your partner's opening bid, you should have at least 6-8 points to support his suit and 8-10 if you're introducing a new suit. On the other hand, if your partner has passed and you don't have 13 points, it may be wise for you to pass as well.

As you and your partner bid back and forth, try to ascertain how many points you have as a team. For instance, if you believe that your partner's points and your points combine to total 28 or more, you should have enough to take a bid of 4. For a bid of 6, 33 points should suffice, and for a bid of 7 (a "grand slam"), you should have 36 points between you. There are numerous other point-counting conventions, but these cover some of the essentials.

Of course, every rule has some exceptions, and you must also pay attention to your opponents' bidding. You may find that they're bidding a suit that is particularly strong in your hand. Then you have to decide, based on what your partner has bid and your own points, whether it would be a better strategy to allow your opponents' bid to go through and try to set them or try to win the contract yourself and thus earn game points.

Now that you understand the rules and strategies for the auction portion of Contract Bridge, you're ready to read about playing the hand.