Bridge History


Bridge (game), one of several related card games played by four people with a deck of 52 cards. Two of the players are partners competing against the other two. The term bridge alone is generally used today as an abbreviation for contract bridge, which virtually has displaced other forms of the game. All bridge games stem from whist. Bridge whist, the original variation, was introduced in England late in the 19th century.

The card game bridge has long been popular as a social activity. There are three main varieties of the game: auction bridge, contract bridge, and duplicate bridge. All are played by two teams of two players each.

In all forms of bridge, 13 cards are dealt to each player. One of the players declares which of the four suits shall be trump (making the 13 cards of that suit higher in rank than the other 39 cards) or declares that there shall be no trump. The method of declaration varies with the form of bridge. The player to the left of the declarer then leads a card. Each of the others in turn plays a card and must play a card of the suit led, if possible. The 4 cards played constitute a trick, which is won by the person playing the highest card of the suit led, or the highest trump if any trump has been played. The winner of the first trick leads the first card of the second trick, and so on for the remainder of the 13 tricks. The scoring depends primarily on the number of tricks won by each side and is different for the different forms of bridge.


In auction bridge the players bid against one another for the right to declare the trump suit; each bid is an undertaking to win the specified number of tricks, and the winner of the auction is penalized if he or she does not make the bid. Auction bridge was developed in the early 1900s and by 1910 had almost completely replaced bridge whist.


In auction bridge penalty points and bonus points are scored above the line, which means they are not counted toward game; points are scored below the line only by the side winning the auction and only if it makes at least as many tricks as bid. No score is accumulated for the first six tricks; each additional trick counts 6 points if the trump suit is clubs, 7 points if diamonds, 8 points if hearts, 9 points if spades, and 10 points if there are no trumps. A total of 30 or more points below the line completes a game; the first side to win two games completes the rubber and gets a bonus of 250 points. At the conclusion of each rubber the scores are totaled without distinction between points below or above the line.

Penalties for failure to make a contract—that is, the number of tricks bid—are awarded to the defending side as bonuses and amount to 50 points for each undertrick. If the contract has been doubled by the defenders, the penalty is 100 points for each undertrick; if redoubled by the bidding side, the penalty is 200 points. If a doubled contract has been made, the side that made the bid scores double the trick value below the line, plus a bonus of 50 points for making the bid, plus an additional bonus of 50 points each for any overtricks. Corresponding redoubled scores are four times the trick value; 100 points for contract; and 100 points for each overtrick.

Bonuses are given for the holding of honors (the five highest cards of the trump suit, or the four aces if there are no trumps). If one side holds three honors, it scores 30 points; four honors, 40 points; five honors, 50 points. Four trump honors in one hand and one in the partner’s hand count 90 points, and all the honors in one hand count 100 points. Bonuses are also awarded for slams; 50 points for a small slam—that is, for taking 12 of 13 tricks—and 100 points for a grand slam, which requires taking all 13 tricks.


In contract bridge the scoring places an emphasis on skillful bidding. The bidding and play in contract bridge are identical with those in auction bridge, but the techniques are different because of the difference in scoring. The bonuses that are awarded for rubber or for slams encourage bidding the full value of the hands as dealt; however, the penalties for failure to make the bid, especially if doubled, are so severe as to evoke extreme caution against overbidding. Bidding techniques have been developed to such an extent that experienced bridge players rarely fail to contract for games or slams that have a reasonable chance for success.

Battle of the Century
American bridge player Ely Culbertson, left, is shown here playing with his wife, Josephine, second from right, in a bridge match in New York City. The Culbertsons played against bridge champions Sidney Lenz, second from left, and Oswald Jacoby, right, in the tournament, which was called the “Battle of the Century.” Culbertson is best known for his Culbertson system of bidding in contract bridge, which was used until the late 1940s.

Bidding in contract bridge begins with the dealer and continues, with a pass, bid, double, or redouble, until the auction closes. A bid is an offer to win a number of odd tricks (tricks in excess of six, with the first six tricks known as the book) with a named trump suit, or with a bid of no trump. For example, a bid may consist of “two hearts” or “one no trump.” Each subsequent bid must overcall (be greater than) the preceding bid. An overcall requires bidding a higher number of odd tricks or, if bidding the same number of tricks, specifying higher-ranking cards. Cards rank as follows (from high to low): no trump, spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs. A player may double (increase the scoring value) the preceding bid if that bid has not been previously doubled. If the preceding bid has been doubled the next player may redouble the bid, further increasing the scoring value of the trick. The auction closes when three consecutive passes follow a bid, double, or redouble, and every card of the suit named in the final bid becomes a trump. If the final bid is no trump the cards are played without a trump suit. The member of the partnership that specified the suit or no trump in the final bid becomes the declarer, and the number of tricks specified in that final bid becomes the contract the declarer must fulfill when play commences.

Contract bridge was developed about 1925, and by 1930 had almost completely replaced auction bridge. Its popularity has become so great that millions of people currently play the game and thousands of professional bridge experts teach it.


In contract bridge only those tricks bid and made are scored below the line; overtricks are scored as bonuses. The first six tricks are not counted; each additional trick in clubs or diamonds counts 20 points; in hearts or spades, 30 points; and in no trump, 40 points for the seventh trick and 30 points for each additional trick.

A total of 100 points below the line is required for game. A side is not vulnerable at the beginning of each rubber and becomes vulnerable after making one game. The first side to make two games collects a rubber bonus of 700 points for a two-game rubber or 500 points for a three-game rubber.

Honor bonuses are given only for honors all in one hand. Four honors in a suit are worth 100 points; five honors in a suit, or four aces in a no-trump contract, are worth 150 points. Bonuses for slams are given only for slams bid and made. A small slam yields 500 points if the bidding side is not vulnerable, 750 points if vulnerable. The corresponding bonuses for grand slams are 1000 and 1500 points. An additional bonus of 50 points is awarded for making a doubled contract, and 100 points is awarded for a redoubled contract.

Penalties for undertricks are scored as bonuses by the defending side and are assessed at 50 points per undertrick not vulnerable and 100 points when vulnerable. Doubled contracts double the value of the first undertrick and increase successive undertricks at a rate of 200 points not vulnerable for the first three tricks, 300 points not vulnerable thereafter, and 300 points vulnerable. Redoubled penalties are twice the doubled value.


Duplicate bridge is a variety of contract bridge in which the element of luck affecting the final score is greatly decreased and the factor of skill is correspondingly increased. Duplicate is virtually the only game now played in championship bridge tournaments and matches.

Duplicate bridge can be played by any number of players divided into pairs or teams. Each pair competes against all (or in some duplicate tournaments against half) the other pairs. The cards are all dealt before play begins and placed in pockets in separate trays known as boards on each table. The dealer and conditions of vulnerability are marked on the board. The bidding and play in duplicate bridge are similar to rubber bridge, except that the cards are not gathered together at the end of each trick, but are placed in front of each player. At the end of the hand, everyone’s cards can thus be placed intact back in the board. The board is then passed on to the next table, and the same cards are replayed by four different players. A traveling score sheet goes with each board. Between hands the players move from table to table in accordance with a prearranged plan so that each pair plays against as many other pairs as possible; at the same time, the boards are moved in such a way that the same pair never plays the same hand twice.


The scoring of points in duplicate bridge is different from that of rubber bridge in that each hand is unrelated to all others. For part scores—that is, hands on which less than game is bid—a bonus of 50 points is added to the trick score. On game bids a bonus of 300 points is added if not vulnerable and 500 points if vulnerable. Slam bonuses are the same as in rubber bridge. These points are used indirectly to calculate the match point score. The pairs (North-South and East-West) in each direction scoring the most points will get the top score; the second best, next to top; and so on. The top score is that figure equal to the number of tables the hand is played less one. Thus, in a 13-table duplicate game, top score on a board will receive 12 points; the next, 11 points; down to zero. Therefore it is unimportant by how many points a player achieves a top score. The player will receive the same 12 points whether 20 points above second best or 1000 points better. In a board-a-match team of four, two pairs constitute a team. One pair plays North-South, the other East-West. Thus a direct comparison on each board is made. The team receives 1 match point on each board; a net profit is achieved, 4 points if the scores are equal, and a zero if there is a net loss. The team winning the most match points, not total points, wins the tournament.
Contributed By:
Charles H. Goren