Playing Bridge: Quickstart
The game of bridge is the most exciting game in the world. It’s easy to learn but takes a while to play well; it’s lots of fun and a great challenge! Unlike other games and sports, each bridge hand takes about 5 to 10 minutes to play from beginning to end. The action, the pressure, the strategies and emotions, the instantaneous sense of achievement (or defeat) is a wonderful “high.” The feeling of accomplishment of a single bridge hand may last for years!
And anyone may compete. Old, young, rich, poor, man, woman, healthy or disabled – all compete against one another at an equal level. “You’re never too old to learn,” said 90-year-old Boris Schapiro, a champion from England. Many believe bridge can help prevent Alzheimer’s.
Young people will learn the value of ethics, good behavior and poise. Tennis promoter Larry King said, “Bridge is better than tennis. You don’t have to run to hit a winner – you just have to think.”
The late Charles M. Schulz loved the game of bridge and drew many Peanuts cartoons about the game. LEARN TO PLAY BRIDGE IN 9 MINUTES is Mr. Schulz’s last work. It was published by Perigee, in March, 2001.
How to start
Bridge is played at a square table with four people, one on each side. The game is a battle between two teams (called “partners”), you and your partner (facing each other) against the two people to your left and right (your opponents).
To play bridge you need an ordinary deck of 52 cards (no jokers). The deck of cards contains four groups of 13 cards. These groups are called “suits.” They each have a symbol and are ranked in the following order:
Each suit has 13 cards in it, the ace the highest, down to the deuce (the 2):
A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
Once everyone is seated, each player selects a card and the player with the highest card becomes the dealer. The dealer’s opponent to his right shuffles. Then the dealer allows the player to his left to cut the deck. The dealer deals the cards clockwise beginning with the player to his left. All the cards are dealt, so everyone will receive 13 cards.
The higher the cards you are dealt, the better. The ace of spades is the best card to be dealt and the deuce of clubs the worst. But in the course of playing the hand, the deuce might prove more valuable.
Sorting your cards
Each player picks up his 13 cards and organizes them into suits and rank, without letting the other players see his cards. Usually you sort: spades, hearts, clubs, diamonds, separating the black suits (spades and clubs are black symbols) from the reds (hearts and diamonds are red symbols). And you sort the cards in rank from the best card in each suit to the worst. Here’s a typical bridge hand sorted:
A J 4 2 Q 9 7 3 10 6 5 K 2
Note: The term “bridge hand” has two meanings. It refers to the 13 cards everyone holds and also means the entire “hand” of bridge, from the shuffle to its conclusion.
In a newspaper column, you will see the above hand written vertically in order of suit rank:
A J 4 2
Q 9 7 3
10 6 5
You are now ready to play. Once the cards are dealt and sorted, there are two parts to playing bridge: the “auction” and then the “play.”
The main goal of bridge is to take “tricks.” The “auction” is a prediction of how many “tricks” will be taken by each side during “the play.” So let’s understand first what a trick is.
A “trick” consists of four cards, one played by each player face up on the table. It works like this: A player “leads” a card by putting it face up on the table. The player to his left does the same, but he must play a card of the same suit that was led. Then the leader’s partner plays a card of the same suit and then the fourth person as well. If you don’t hold any cards in the suit led, you must play a card of another suit.
The highest played card in the suit led wins the trick. The four cards are gathered up into one neat pile by the winner of the trick and placed in front of him, face down. Tricks are counted by partnerships, so if you win a trick and then later your partner wins a trick, his trick goes on your side of the table as well, for easy counting of tricks at the conclusion of the hand.
There are 13 tricks played during the course of a single bridge hand. Again, tricks are taken only during the “play,” the second part of a bridge hand. Let’s return to the first part, the “auction.”
In the auction, no cards are played at all. The auction is completely verbal. You contract for the number of tricks your side will win during the “play.” The highest bid buys the contract. Starting with the dealer, everyone gets a chance to “bid” for the “contract.”
A “bid” consists of a number and a suit. You can bid any number from one to seven. This indicates the number of tricks you contract for (your goal in the play) plus six. So if you bid “one,” your side must try to win 7 tricks (one plus six). If you bid “four,” your side must try to win 10 tricks.
The dealer speaks first and then each player clockwise around the table gets a chance to bid or pass.
You also name a suit when you bid. The suit you name is the suit you want to be “trumps.”
Trumps are like wild cards; if you can’t “follow suit” (you have no cards in the suit led to the trick), you can win the trick by playing a trump instead.
So in the auction you usually name a suit in which you have lots of cards, because you want to have lots of trumps. For example, if you held five spades, you might bid “one spade” (contracting for seven tricks with spades as trumps).
If you don’t want any suit to be trumps, you can bid a number followed by “notrump.” You tend to bid notrump, rather than a suit, when you hold lots of high cards but no very long suit. Notrump is ranked higher than all the suits.
The Order to the Auction
There’s an order to the auction. You must make a bid “higher in rank” than the one made by the previous bidder. A bid can outrank the previous bid by being a higher ranking suit, or a higher numeric level, or both.
For example, if the opponent to your right bids “one heart,” you can bid “one spade” or “one notrump” but you can’t bid “one club” or “one diamond,” because those suits are ranked lower than hearts. If you want to name clubs or diamonds as a trump suit, you must bid at the next level, “two clubs” or “two diamonds.”
Here’s an example auction:
Here’s an example auction:
Snoopy, the dealer, opened the bidding one diamond. Charlie bid two clubs (he couldn’t bid one club, because clubs are lower ranked than diamonds). Linus (Snoopy’s partner) bid two hearts. Lucy passed and Snoopy bid four hearts. Three passes followed, so Snoopy’s bid has bought the contract for four hearts (and Snoopy and Linus’s goal is to take 10 tricks with hearts as trumps).
Notice that if you don’t want to bid, you say “pass.” There are two other calls you can make as well, called “double” and “redouble,” but you’ll learn more about these when you take a complete course on bidding.
After the third consecutive pass, the auction is over and the contract is determined by the final bid. In the auction above, the final bid was “4 hearts.” So the contract is 4 hearts.
The Play Begins
The player in the partnership who first called the suit (or notrump) of the contract becomes the “declarer.” In this case it was Linus, who bid hearts before Snoopy bid them. So Linus becomes “declarer” and his partner becomes the “dummy.” Let’s look at a complete bridge diagram:
A K 2
Q J 8 6
A 5 4 3
J 9 8 7 6
10 8 7 6
Q 10 5
Q J 9
A K 10 9 8 4
A K 10 9 4 3
Q J 6
Linus’s contract is “four hearts.” He must try to take 10 tricks with hearts as trumps. His opponents (Lucy and Charlie) must try to stop him! The battle has begun.
The player to the left of “declarer” makes an opening lead (placing a card face up on the table). In this case, Lucy leads. The “dummy” then puts all his cards face up on the table. He is no longer involved in the bridge hand. He must remain quiet; all his cards are played by his partner, the “declarer.”
NOTE: Snoopy is called the “dummy” AND his bridge hand is called the “dummy.”
Now Linus, the declarer, selects a card from dummy. The opening lead was the first card played, and the second card played is chosen from the dummy. Clockwise, Lucy’s partner (Charlie) plays his card and then the last card is played by Linus.
Usually you try to win the trick by playing the highest card in the suit led. But there are other strategies involved. Remember, it is just as good if your partner wins the trick than if you win it, since you are a partnership. When you take a course on cardplay, you will study the various strategies for which cards to play in different situations.
The four cards played face up on the table constitute the first trick.
The Order of Tricks
Let’s look at how the play to the first trick might go. Suppose Lucy leads the 7 of clubs. Snoopy (the dummy) puts his hand face up on the table. Linus plays the 2 of clubs from dummy, Charlie plays the king of clubs, and Linus (the declarer) plays the 6 of clubs. (Linus can’t beat the king, so he plays his lowest club, preserving the jack and queen for later.)
Charlie has won the trick for his side, because he played the highest club. The four cards are placed in a pile face down in front of Charlie and he leads to the next trick. This goes on for 13 tricks, when there are no more cards left in anyone’s hand.
When there are no more cards, the play of the hand is over. You count the tricks taken by each partnership and score the hand. Then you shuffle the cards and start a new hand, with the player to the left of the previous dealer as the new dealer. The dummy is back in action as a totally new hand begins.
The main idea in scoring is to get bonus scores by bidding “games” or “slams.”
Game contracts are: three notrump (9 tricks without a trump suit),
four hearts (10 tricks with hearts as trumps),
four spades (10 tricks with spades as trumps),
five clubs (11 tricks with clubs as trumps), and
five diamonds (11 tricks with diamonds as trumps).
Slam contracts are at the six level and grand slams (rare) are at the seven level (in which case declarer must take all 13 tricks!).
NOTE: If you fail to make your contract, you lose points.
There are methods of bidding that enable you and your partner to communicate to each other in the bidding and calculate how high to bid. There are hundreds of books on bidding methods and this is one of the most satisfying parts of the game: to gage the right contract before you see anyone else’s hand.