How to Play Bridge

Bridge is a card game derived from whist, an English trick-taking card game which was widely played in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Bridge whist, auction bridge, and contract bridge have been played since approximately 1896. Contract bridge, however, gained the most popularity. Millions of people play contract bridge today worldwide and there are even leagues dedicated to playing professionally. The World Bridge Federation is a great resource for learning more about bridge!

Bridge is a team trick-taking game played by four people with a standard 52 playing card deck. Partners sit across from one another at the table to play.

What You'll Need:

Tip: Our Bridge Gift Sets have everything you need!

Things to Know:

The game of bridge has two main parts: the Bidding (also called the Auction) and the Play.

The Objective: Each partnership attempts to score points by making its bid, or by defeating the opposing partnership's bid. At the end of play, the side with the most points wins.

In bridge the four suits are ranked: spades ♠︎ (highest), hearts ♥︎, diamonds ♦︎, and clubs ♣︎ (lowest). The ranking is for bidding purposes only. In the play all suits are equal, unless one suit has been named as trumps, then it beats all the others. Suits are sometimes shown as symbols or abbreviated: S H D C.

The cards of each suit are ranked from the ace (highest) through the two (lowest). The exact order using common abbreviations: A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2. Note that the ace is always high, unlike in some games such as poker or gin rummy, where it can be low.

 

DEAL

To start, the dealer distributes all of the cards, 13 to each player, one at a time, clockwise around the table beginning with the player to the left of the dealer.

 

THE BIDDING OR AUCTION

Once cards are dealt, each player picks up their hand and, beginning with the dealer, makes a call (pass, bid, double or redouble).

Bidding

To bid, the bidder says the number of tricks that they expect to win and a suit which will become the trump suit. So, a bid represents the number of tricks the team expects to make along with the trump suit they desire for the round. A bid may be made in "No-trump", meaning that there will be no trump suit.

The minimum bid is 7 tricks, while the maximum is 13. Bidding starts at one, but because the minimum number of tricks is 7, “one” means seven tricks.  “Two” means 8 tricks, “three” means 9 tricks, “four” means 10 tricks, etc. The highest possible bid is seven (13 tricks).

Examples:

"One Spade" is a bid to win seven tricks with spades as trumps.

“Two Hearts” is a bid to win 8 tricks with hearts as trumps.

 The dealer has the first chance to bid. If the dealer has at least 12 high card points in the hand and a preference for one suit over another (usually decided by the length of the suit), dealer makes a bid to let his partner know which suit he prefers. If the dealer doesn’t have many high cards and doesn’t want to make a bid, he says “pass.”

Bids must be made according to the hierarchy of suits: clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades and finally notrump. Thus, if 1♣ is the opening bid, the next hand to bid must bid at least 1♦, the next hand at least 1♥ and so on. If declarer were to open 1♠, the next bid would have to be 1NT or 2♣, 2♦ or 2♥︎.

 Doubling or Redoubling

Any player may double the last preceding bid if it was made by an opponent.

Any player may redouble the last preceding bid if it was made by their side and doubled by an opponent.

A doubled or redoubled bid may be overcalled by any bid, which would have been sufficient to overcall the same contract undoubled.

Ex. = "Two Spades" is doubled and redoubled, it may still be overcalled by a bid of "Two No-trump," a bid of "Three Clubs," or by any other higher bid.

Passing

If a player passes, they decide not to make a bid, redouble or double. If all four players pass in the first round, the deal is "passed out," and the next dealer in turn deals a new hand.

 

FINAL BID AND THE DECLARER

When a bid, double, or redouble is followed by three consecutive passes, the bidding is closed. The final bid in the auction becomes the contract. The player who, for their side, first bid the denomination named in the contract becomes the "declarer." If the contract names a trump suit, every card of that suit becomes a trump. The declarer's partner becomes the "dummy," and the opposing players become the "defenders."

The Declarer is the player who first mentions the suit or notrump that becomes the final contract.

The Opening Leader is the player to the left of the declarer who starts the play by making the opening lead, playing a card face-up on the table.

 

THE PLAY

Take a card and place it, face up, in the center of the table. Four cards so played, one from each hand in rotation, constitute a trick. The first card played to a trick is a lead. The leader to a trick may lead any card. The other three hands must follow suit if they can. If a player is unable to follow suit, they may play any card. For the first trick, the defender on the declarer's left makes the first lead (the opening lead).

 

THE DUMMY HAND

The Dummy is declarer’s partner. After the opening lead, the dummy places his hand face-up on the table, and declarer calls the cards during the play for both hands.

As soon as the opening lead has been made, the dummy then spreads their hand face up, grouped in suits, with each suit vertically arranged so that the other three players can easily view all 13 cards. The suits may be placed in any order as long as the trump suit (if any) is placed to the declarer's left. There is no particular order for placing the suits down in a No-trump bid.

 

WINNING OF TRICKS

A trick containing a trump is won by the hand playing the highest trump. A trick not containing a trump is won by the hand playing the highest card of the suit led. The winner of each trick leads next.

 

DECLARER'S PLAY

The declarer plays their own cards and the dummy's cards, but each in proper turn, since the dummy does not take an active part in the play.

 

PLAYED CARD

The declarer plays a card from their own hand when they places it on the table or when it is named as an intended play. When the declarer touches a card in the dummy hand, it is considered played (except when he is merely arranging the dummies cards). Alternatively, the declarer may name a card in the dummy and such a card must be played. A defender plays a card when they expose it so that the other defender can see its face. A card once played may not be withdrawn, except to correct a revoke or other irregularity.

 

TAKING IN TRICKS WON

A completed trick is gathered and turned face down on the table. The declarer and one of the defenders should keep all tricks won in front of them, and the tricks should be arranged so that the quantity and the order of the tricks played are apparent.

 

HOW TO KEEP SCORE

When the last (13th) trick has been played, the tricks taken by the respective sides are counted, and the points earned are then entered to the credit of that side on the score sheet. Any player may keep score. If only one player keeps score, both sides are equally responsible to see that the score for each deal is correctly entered.

The score sheet is ruled with a vertical line making two columns that are titled They and We. The scorekeeper enters all scores made by his side in the We column and all scores made by the opponents in the They column. A little below the middle of the score sheet is a horizontal line. Scores designated as "trick score" are entered below the line; all other scores are "premium scores" and are written above the line.

 

TRICK SCORE

If the declarer fulfills their bid by winning as many or more odd-tricks as the contract called for, their side scores below the line for every odd-trick named in the contract. Thus, if the declarer wins eight tricks and the bid is Two Hearts, the score for making "two" in a bid of hearts would be credited, as per the Scoring Table.

 

OVERTRICKS

Odd-tricks won by the declarer in excess of the contract are called "overtricks" and are scored to the credit of their side as premium score.

 

THE GAME

When a side has scored 100 or more points below the line, it has won a "game." To show this, the scorekeeper draws a horizontal line across the score sheet, below the score that ended the game. This signifies that the next game will begin. A game may be made in more than one deal, such as by scoring 60 and later 40, or it may be scored by making a larger bid and earning 100 or more points in a single deal. Once the next game begins, if the opponents had a score below the line for making a bid, such as 70, this score does not carry over, and each side needs the full 100 points to win the next game.

 

VULNERABLE

A side that has won its first game becomes "vulnerable," and that side's objective is to win a second game and thus earn a bonus for the "rubber." When a side scores its second game, the rubber is over, and the scores are totaled. The winning partnership is the side with the most points. A vulnerable side is exposed to increased penalties if it fails to fulfill a future bid, but receives increased premiums for certain other bids that are fulfilled.

 

HONORS

When there is a trump suit, the ace, king, queen, jack, and ten of trumps are "honors." If a player holds four of the five trump honors, that partnership scores 100 above the line; all five honors in one hand score 150. If the contract is in No-trump, a player holding all four aces scores 150 above the line for their side. Note that the points for honors are the same whether the side is not vulnerable or vulnerable, and that the defenders can also score for honors.

 

SLAM BONUSES

Other premium scores are awarded for bidding and making a "small slam" (a bid at the six-level, such as Six Hearts) or a "grand slam" (a contract at the seven-level, such as Seven Spades or Seven No-trump).

 

DOUBLED OR REDOUBLED CONTRACT

When the declarer makes a doubled contract, a premium bonus is scored. Making a redoubled contract scores an even bigger premium bonus - this is a recent change in scoring. Note that doubling and redoubling do not affect honor, slam, or rubber bonus points.

 

UNFINISHED RUBBER

If the players are unable to complete a full rubber and only one side has a game, that side scores a 300 bonus. If only one side has a part score, that side earns a 100 bonus.

 

BACK SCORE

After each rubber, each player's standing, plus (+) or minus (-), in even hundreds of points, is entered on a separate score called the "back score." An odd 50 points or more count 100, so if a player wins a rubber by 950 he is +10, if he wins it by 940 the player is +9.

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