Bridge bids have a legal ranking structure all their own. Remember that each new bid any player makes must outrank the previous one. During the bidding, players call out their bids to communicate information about their hands to their partners. Each bid corresponds to a predetermined “message” about the strength and distribution of your hand. Each bid also corresponds to the number of tricks that you’re saying you can win.

A bid consists of two elements:

• The suit: For bidding purposes, you actually play five suits: spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs, and notrump. (Note this expanded meaning of a suit.)

• The number of tricks you’re bidding for in that suit: You start with an automatic six tricks, called a book (who knows why), and build from there.

When people make a bid, they don’t say, “I want to bid three in the spade suit.” Instead, players use a special language. You announce bids as “four notrump,” “three clubs,” or “two diamonds.” When you see bids referred to in books or articles, the bids are abbreviated to card number and suit symbol. For example, the written equivalent of the preceding bids looks like this: 4NT (four notrump), 3♣ (three clubs), and 2♦ (two diamonds).

Each bridge hand consists of exactly 13 tricks; the minimum opening bid must be for at least seven of those 13 tricks. Therefore, each bid has an automatic six tricks built into it; thus, a 1♥ bid actually says that you think you can take seven tricks, not one trick.

The numbers associated with a bid correspond to bidding levels. Bids of 1♠, 1♥, 1♦, and 1♣ are called one-level bids. A bid that starts with a 3 is a three-level bid. The highest level is the seven level; doing a little math tells you that 7 NT, 7♠, 7♥, 7♦, and 7♣ are the highest bids because 7 + 6 = 13.