Understanding the Importance of Bidding in Bridge

By Eddie Kantar

Bidding determines the final contract for a hand of bridge. The pressure is on the partnership that gets (or buys) the final contract — that side has to win the number of tricks it contracts for. If the partnership fails to win that number of tricks, penalty points are scored by the opponents. If the partnership takes at least the number of tricks it has contracted for, it then scores points.

In addition to determining how many tricks a partnership needs to fulfill the contract, the bidding also determines the following:

  • The declarer and the dummy for the hand: For the partnership that buys the final contract, the bidding determines who plays the hand for the partnership (the declarer) and who gets to watch (the dummy).
  • The number of tricks the partnership needs to make the final contract: Each bid is like a stepping stone to the number of tricks that a partnership thinks it can take. The goal of the partnership that buys the final contract is to take at least the number of tricks contracted for.
  • The trump suit (if the hand has one): Depending on the cards held by the partnership that winds up playing the hand, there may be a trump suit (or the bidding may end in a notrump contract).

Proper bidding also allows the partners to exchange information about the strength (the number of high-card points) and distribution of their cards. Through bidding, you and your partner can tell each other which long suits you have and perhaps in which suits you have honor cards (aces, kings, queens, jacks, and 10s).

Based on the information exchanged during the bidding, the partnership has to decide how many tricks it thinks it can take. The partnership with the greater combined high-card strength usually winds up playing the hand. The declarer (the one who plays the hand) tries to take the number of tricks (or more) that his side has contracted for. The opponents, on the other hand, do their darndest to prevent the declarer from winning those tricks.

Partnerships exchange vital information about the makeup of their hands through a bidding system. Because you can’t tell your partner what you have in plain English, you have to use a legal bridge bidding system. Think of it as a foreign language in which every bid you make carries some message. Although you can’t say to your partner, “Hey, partner, I have seven strong hearts but only one ace and one king,” an accurate bidding system can come close to describing such a hand.

The bidding (or auction) consists of only the permitted bids; you don’t get to describe your hand by using facial expressions, kicking your partner under the table, or punching him in the nose. Your partner must also understand the conventional significance of your bids to make sense of what you’re trying to communicate about your hand and to know how to respond properly. If not, it’s the Tower of Babel all over again!

Of course, everyone at the table hears your bid and everyone else’s bid at the table. No secrets are allowed. Your opponents are privy to the same information your bid tells your partner. Similarly, by listening to your opponents’ bidding, you get a feel for the cards that your opponents have (their strength and distribution). You can then use this information to your advantage when the play of the hand begins.

Bridge authorities agree that bidding is the most important aspect of the game. Using a simple system and making clear bids is the key to getting to the proper contract and racking up the points. Bidding incorrectly (giving your partner a bum steer) leads to lousy contracts, which, in turn, lets your opponents rack up the points when you fail to make your contract. Of course, you have to know how to take the tricks you contracted for, or else even the most beautiful contracts in the world lead nowhere. Not to worry; the play-of-the-hand techniques can help pull you through.