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Starting a Bridge Game: Dealing and Bidding

Obviously, more is involved in playing a game of bridge than you can collect in one or two articles. If playing bridge were that simple, it wouldn't be half as challenging, rewarding, and fun. Here is a fast-forwarded view of one bridge hand so you can get acquainted with how it all works.

First and foremost, bridge is a partnership game — you swim together and you sink together. Your opponents are in the same boat. In bridge, you don't score points individually — you score points as a team.

Each hand of bridge is divided into four phases, which always occur in the same order:

1. The deal

2. The bidding

3. The play

4. The scoring

Phase 1: The deal

The game starts with each player seated facing his or her partner. The cards are shuffled and placed on the table face down. Each player selects a card, and the one who picks the highest card deals the first hand, but not before the player to the dealer's left cuts the cards. (After each hand, the deal rotates to the left.)

The cards are dealt one at a time, starting with the player to the dealer's left and moving in a clockwise rotation until each player has 13 cards (you deal the entire deck of cards). Wait until the dealer distributes all the cards before you pick up your hand. That's bridge etiquette lesson number one.

When each player has 13 cards, pick up and sort your hand using the following tips:

  • You can sort the cards in any number of ways; sorting your cards into the four suits is often preferable.
  • Alternate your black suits (clubs and spades) with your red suits (diamonds and hearts) so you don't confuse a black card for another black card, or a red card for another red card. It's a bit disconcerting to think you're playing a heart, only to see a diamond come floating out of your hand.
  • Hold your cards back so only you can see them. It's difficult to be a winning bridge player when your opponents can see your hand.

Phase 2: The bidding for tricks

Bidding in bridge can be compared to an auction. The auctioneer tells you what the minimum bid is, and the first bid starts from that point or higher. Each successive bid must be higher than the last, until someone bids so high that everyone else wants out. When you want out of the bidding in bridge, you say "Pass." After three consecutive players say "Pass," the bidding is over. However, if you pass and someone else makes a bid, just as at an auction, you can reenter the bidding.

What you're bidding for is tricks. Four people each place a card face up on the table, and the highest card in the suit that has been led takes the trick. Because each player has 13 cards, 13 tricks must be fought over and won in each hand.

Think of bidding as an estimation of how many of those 13 tricks your side (or their side) thinks it can take. The bidding starts with the dealer and moves to his left in a clockwise rotation. Each player gets a chance to bid. The least you can bid is for seven tricks, and the maximum you can bid is for all 13. A player can either bid or pass at his turn.

The bidding goes around and around the table, with each player either bidding or passing until three players in a row say "Pass."

The last bid (the one followed by three passes) is called the final contract. No, that's not something the Mafia puts out on you. It's simply the number of tricks that the bidding team must take to score points.

What happens next? See the article titled The Play of the Hand in Bridge.

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