Bridge, officially known as contract bridge, is one of the world’s most popular card games. People play at home, in clubs, online, and in tournaments. It is believed to have developed from the British card game whist. While the origin of the name is unknown, the most popular theory claims that the name was derived from “Biritch,” which is the name for Russian whist. Modern bridge is credited to Harold Vanderbilt, who developed an early form of the scoring system in the 1920s.
Each game of bridge consists of several hands, each of which progresses through four phases: dealing the cards, the auction—also known as bidding, playing the hand, and scoring the results. The competitive parts of the game are the auction and playing the hand. New players are encouraged to learn to play before they learn to bid.
Bridge is categorized as a trick-taking game. Each hand focuses on specific units of play, called “tricks,” which are evaluated to determine the winner. Bridge uses a standard deck of playing cards, with the ace being ranked the highest and followed by, as in most card games, the king, queen, jack, and number cards. In bridge, the ace cannot double as a low card; it is always high. The suits are also ranked; spades are highest, then hearts, diamonds, and clubs. The rank of the suits is for bidding purposes only. When playing the hand, all suits are equal, unless one suit has been named as trumps; in this case, it beats all the others.
Four players are required to play. The players form competing partnerships, and the partners sit opposite each other around a table. Typically, the players are identified as compass points, so North/South play against East/West. Unless the partnerships have been determined in advanced, each player draws a card at random from the pack. The two players who draw the highest cards are partnered against the other two, and the player drawing the highest card deals. In the case of a tie, for example, two players draw queens, it is broken by the suit rank.
The player to the left of the dealer shuffles the cards, and the player to the right cuts the deck. The dealer then gives each player thirteen cards, dealt face down, starting with the player to the left of the dealer and moving clockwise around the table.
After the deal is complete, the players look at their cards to evaluate their hand and determine their bid. In order to determine the strength of a hand, the ace and face cards, also known as honor cards, are given a number value: the ace is worth four points, the king three, the queen two, and the jack one. Each player totals the values of the honor cards he or she holds. In order to make an opening bid, that total should be at least twelve, and the player should have at least four cards of a single suit.
The purpose of bidding is to establish the “declarer”—the player who will decide which suit, if any, is made trumps. The declarer’s partner is called the “dummy”—this player’s cards are placed face up on the table and are played by the declarer. The dummy cannot speak or otherwise participate during play.
The bid is the number of tricks a team thinks it can win. The bid is made up of a number and a suit. The number is added to six, and the total is the number of tricks that team predicts it will win. For example, a bid of “one club” means the team will win seven tricks with clubs as the trump suit. A bid can also be “notrump,” meaning the team will win a designated number of hands, but with no suit as trumps.
If a player doesn’t have a strong enough hand to bid, he or she can “pass,” signaling a weak hand. If all four players pass, the deal is considered “passed out,” and the cards are thrown in, reshuffled, and re-dealt. A player with a strong enough hand can bid, for example, one heart, which means an honor card total of at least twelve and at least four hearts. This player’s partner could then bid two heart, meaning there are cards available to help the hand should the first player be made declarer. Bidding continues for up to three rounds, with the partners, as well as their opponents, trying to get a sense of what each other has in their hands.
Players can also “double” or “redouble” during bidding. A player may only double a bid made by an opponent. The purpose of doing this is to increase the penalty should the bidding team fail to make their contract—the number of tricks they have stated they win; however, it also increases the bonus if they do succeed. The redouble is made by the bidding team and doubles the penalties and rewards a second time.
The object of the game is to win tricks for your team. A trick is made up of four cards, one played by each player, moving clockwise around the table. Therefore, there are thirteen tricks to be won after each deal. The first card played is called the “lead,” and the person playing first can play any card in his or her hand. The second person to play has to match the suit if possible. If the player can’t match the suit, then any card can be played. The same rules apply to the remaining players. Except for the need to match suit, any card can be played during a trick.
When scoring the trick, if all the cards are the same suit, then the highest one wins. If the suit changes during the trick, unless a suit is declared trump, the highest card of the lead suit wins. After the trick, the four cards are collected by the winning team and set aside for easy counting at the end of the hand. When a suit is declared “trumps,” it outranks any other suit, regardless of its usual place in the hierarchy. The winners of the trick will lead the next round.
The most common variants of the game are rubber bridge and duplicate bridge. Rubber bridge is a best of three contest that ends when one side has won two games. Duplicate bridge, which requires a minimum of eight players, emphasizes skill and is the most popular version of the game played in competition.
Despite its complexity, or perhaps because of it, bridge remains hugely popular. Teachers are even using it in schools to help students learn math and teamwork. There are competitions and tournaments for all ages of players, and local bridge clubs exist all over the world. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are perhaps two of the most famous players living right now. Buffett, who has been quoted as saying "If I'm playing bridge and a naked woman walks by, I don't even see her,” introduced Gates to the game, and they often play in tournaments together. Buffett also sponsors the Warren Buffett Bridge Cup, a tournament which is held every two years and has teams from Europe and North America competing against each other. There has even been a move to have bridge made a part of the Olympic Games. With the growing popularity of family nights and entertaining at home, it is likely that contract bridge has a prosperous future.
Additional Information and Resources:
Founded in 1937, the ACBL promotes the game of bridge and serves the interests of its members.
Promotes bridge in the African-American community.
Resource for tournaments and competitions.
Promotes bridge throughout Canada.
Promotes the sport of bridge throughout the world.
A not-for-profit organization that promotes online bridge education.
A breakdown of the rules of the game, with a glossary of terms.
Focuses on the rules for bidding.
Written for people with little to no experience with the game.
A comprehensive site with lessons for beginner-advanced players.
An overview of the game, including the history.
A reference site for bridge.
How-to help and videos.
A reference site for the game, which includes video tutorials.
Information about the online bridge community.
News about bridge, including commentary and archival articles published in The New York Times.
Daily news and tools to help your game.
A lesson about matchpoint scoring.
A short summary of standard bidding.
A crash course in duplicate bridge scoring and strategy bidding.
An overview of how duplicate bridge differs from the regular game.
An overview of the game with illustrations.
Play and scoring.
Outlines the differences between the Rubber and Chicago scoring systems.
A numbered list of tips to warm up for the game.
An overview of bridge apps, news, and online resources.
Information on the World Computer-Bridge Championships.
A resource for teachers using bridge in the classroom. Information could also be helpful for beginning players.
Bringing the game to the next generation.
A free online bridge service with lessons and games.
The magazine for the game. Contains free resources as well.
Play bridge for free online.
North America vs. Europe in bridge competition.
A directory for people who want to take bridge vacations.
The rules for playing bridge’s ancestor.
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