Bridge For Dummies
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Arguably, bridge is the greatest card game ever. Not only is it a lifelong friend, it also enables you to make lifelong friends because it's a partnership game. From the four phases of playing a bridge hand to some expert advice on bidding, get started with playing bridge and then refine your game to increase your chances of winning.

The four phases of a bridge hand

Each hand of bridge is divided into four phases, which always occur in the same order: dealing, bidding for tricks, playing the hand, and scoring. Here’s a summary of each phase:

  1. Dealing

    The game starts with each player seated facing their 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 so one person doesn’t get stuck doing all the dealing.)

    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 (yep, 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. 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, but consider sorting your cards into the four suits for easy reference.

    • Alternate your black suits (clubs and spades) with your red suits (diamonds and hearts) so that 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, way back, so only you can see them. It’s difficult to be a winning bridge player when your opponents can see your hand.

  2. 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.

    In bridge, you don’t bid for cars, art treasures, or precious gems; you bid for something really valuable — tricks. The four players 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 their 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 their turn.

    The last bid (the one followed by three passes) is called the final contract, which is simply the number of tricks that the bidding team must take to score points.

  3. Playing the hand

    After the bidding for tricks, the play begins. Either your team or the other team makes the final bid. Say that you make the final bid — for nine tricks. Therefore, your goal is to win at least nine tricks in the hand.

    If you take nine (or more) tricks, your team scores points. If you take fewer than nine tricks, you’re penalized, and your opponents score points.

    After the bidding determines who the declarer is (the one who plays the hand), that person’s partner becomes the dummy (no offense intended). The person to the declarer’s left leads, or puts down, the first card (called the opening lead) face up in the middle of the table. The opening lead can be any card of their choosing.

    When the opening lead lands on the table, the game really begins to roll. The next person to play is the dummy — but instead of playing a card, the dummy puts their hand face up on the table in four neat vertical rows, one row for each suit, and then bows out of the action entirely. After they put down their cards, they say and do nothing, leaving the other three people to play the rest of the hand. Ever heard of the Sphinx?

    The 13 cards that the dummy puts down are also called the dummy. Yes, the dummy puts down the dummy. Because the dummy (the player) is no longer involved in the action, each time it’s the dummy’s turn to play, the declarer must physically take a card from the dummy (meaning the dummy player’s hand) and put it in the middle of the table. In addition, they must play a card from their own hand when it’s their turn.

    The fact that the declarer gets stuck with playing all the team’s cards while the dummy is off munching on snacks may seem a bit unfair. But they do have an advantage over the defenders: they get to see their partner’s cards before they play, which allows them to plan a strategy of how to win those nine tricks (or however many tricks they need to make the final contract).

    Following suit

    The opening lead determines which suit the other three players must play. Each of the players must follow suit, meaning that they must play a card in the suit that’s led if they have one. For example, pretend that the opening lead is a heart. Down comes the dummy, and you (and everyone else at the table) can see the dummy’s hearts, as well as your own hearts. Because you must play the same suit that’s led if you have one, you have to play a heart, any heart that you want, from the dummy. You place the heart of your choice face up on the table and wait for your right-hand opponent to play a heart. After they play a heart, you play a heart from your hand. Voilà: Four hearts now sit on the table. A trick! Whoever has played the highest heart takes the trick.

    What if a player doesn’t have a card in the suit that has been led? Then, and only then, can a player choose a card, any card, from another suit and play it, which is called a discard. When you discard, you’re literally throwing away your card, knowing that it’s worthless because it’s not in the proper suit. A discard can never win a trick.

    In general, you discard worthless cards that can’t take tricks, saving good-looking cards that may take tricks later. Sometimes, however, the bidding designates a trump suit (think wild cards). In that case, when a suit is led and you don’t have it, you can discard from another suit or take the trick with a trump card.

    If you can follow suit, you must. If you have a card in the suit that’s been led but you play a card in another suit by mistake, you revoke. Not good; if you’re detected, penalties may be involved. Don’t worry, though — everybody revokes once in a while.

    Playing defense

    Approximately 25 percent of the time, you’ll be the declarer; 25 percent of the time, you’ll be the dummy; and the remaining 50 percent of the time, you’ll be on defense! You need to have a good idea of which card to lead in the first trick and how to continue after you see the dummy. You want to be able to take all the tricks your side has coming. Remember, defenders can’t see each other’s hands so they have to use signals (yes, legal ones) to tell partner what they have. They do this by making informative leads and discards that announce to partner (and the declarer) what they have in the suit they are playing.

    Winning and stacking tricks

    The player who plays the highest card in the suit that has been led wins the trick. That player sweeps up the four cards and puts them in a neat stack, face down, a little off to the side. The declarer “keeps house” for their team by stacking tricks into piles so anyone can see how many tricks that team has won. The defender who wins the first trick does the same for their side.

    The player who takes the first trick leads first, or plays the first card, to the second trick. That person can lead any card in any suit desired, and the other three players must follow suit if they can.

    The play continues until all 13 tricks have been played. After you play to the last trick, each team counts up the number of tricks it has won.

  4. Scoring

    After the smoke clears and the tricks are counted, you soon know whether the declarer’s team made its contract. You then register the score.

    Play continues until one team bids and makes two game contracts, which is called winning a rubber. When the rubber is over, everyone can go home or start playing another rubber. If you play tennis, think of winning a rubber as winning a set, not necessarily the match.

Bidding tips for winning bridge games

In bridge, bidding is considered the most important aspect of the game. It’s a given that a good bidder equals a winning bridge player. Here are a few bidding tips to start you off:

  • Before opening, add your high card points (HCP): Ace = 4, King = 3, Queen = 2, Jack = 1. If you have 12 or more HCP, open the bidding.

  • To open 1♥ or 1♠, you need at least five cards in the suit.

  • With two five-card suits, open in the higher-ranking suit first.

    The rank of the suits, from highest to lowest, is spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs.

  • With two four-card suits, one a major (hearts or spades), one a minor (diamonds or clubs), open in the minor. With two four-card minors, open with the higher minor (1♦).

  • Open 1 notrump (NT) or “no specific suit” with 15 to 17 HCP plus a balanced hand (no suits with zero or one card, or two suits of only two cards each, also called voids, singletons, or two doubletons).

  • If your partner opens, pass if you have fewer than 6 HCP. With 6 or more HCP, bid your longest suit at the one level, if possible. Responding at the two level in a new suit requires 11 or more HCP. A response of 1NT shows 6 to 10 HCP and denies a four-card major if your partner opens 1♣ or 1♦.

  • Supporting your partner’s first bid major suit requires three or more cards in the suit; supporting any second bid suit requires four or more cards in the suit.

  • A primary objective in bidding is to locate an eight-card or longer major suit fit between your hand and your partner’s.

Bridge etiquette: Bidding do's and don'ts

In bridge, bidding is an exchange of information. During bidding, you’re trying to telegraph details about your cards to your partner. Your first impulse may be to develop some special bidding conventions that only you and your partner know. According to the rules of the game, however, you can’t have any bidding secrets with your partner; the same goes for your opponents. So even though the opponents may be bidding their heads off, you at least will know what their bids mean.

Here are some tips to help you keep your bidding on the straight and narrow:

  • Do try to use the minimum number of words possible when you bid. If you want to pass, say just one word: “Pass.” If you want to bid 3♣, say “Three clubs.” No more, no less.

  • Do be careful about how you use your voice. You may be tempted to bid softly if you have a weak hand or loudly if you have a strong one. Remember to keep all your bids at the same decibel level.

  • Don’t use body language. If your partner makes a bid you don’t like, don’t throw any looks across the table and don’t use any negative body language. If your partner makes a bid that you do like, you also must refrain from any telltale signs of glee.

  • Don’t give in to emotional reactions or breakdowns, no matter what happens during the bidding. Bridge is too great a game to mess it up with illegal signals, so keep an even keel.

Points scored by making your contract in bridge

This handy table for bridge players shows how many points you score if you make your contract. Your bridge score depends upon which suit you end up in (including notrump) and how many tricks you take. For example, if spades are trumps and you bid for 8 tricks and you take exactly 8 tricks, read across the spade line to see that you scored 60 points. If you don’t make your contract, you don’t have to worry about this table because you don’t score any points, the opponents do!

Note: Game = 100 points. There are bonuses for bidding and for making 100 points or more on one hand.

Tricks Taken 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
Notrump 40 70 100 130 160 190 220
Spades 30 60 90 120 150 180 210
Hearts 30 60 90 120 150 180 210
Diamonds 20 40 60 80 100 120 140
Clubs 20 40 60 80 100 120 140

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Eddie Kantar is a Grand Master in the World Bridge Federation and a two-time world bridge champion. He wrote Complete Defensive Play, a book listed as a top ten all-time bridge favorite, and is the author of the first three editions of Bridge For Dummies.

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