Definitions

rebidding

Contract bridge

[n., adj., and usually for v. 15–17, 21, 22 kon-trakt; otherwise v. kuhn-trakt]
Contract bridge, usually known simply as bridge, is a trick-taking card game of skill and chance (the relative proportions depending on the variant played). It is played by four players who form two partnerships; the partners sit opposite each other at a table. The game consists of the auction (often called bidding) and play, after which the hand is scored.

The bidding ends with a contract, which is a declaration by one partnership that their side will take at least a stated number of tricks, with a specified suit as trump or without trumps. The rules of play are similar to other trick-taking games, with addition of the feature that one player's hand is displayed face up on the table as the "dummy".

Bridge can be played in tournaments, where more than two tables play the same deals of cards and the results are compared; this form is called duplicate bridge. Competitions in duplicate bridge range from small clubs with only a few tables, to the World Championships and Olympiads where often hundreds of tables play the same hands.

Game play

See Contract bridge glossary for an explanation of unfamiliar words or phrases in this article.

Two partnerships of two players each are needed to play bridge. The four players sit around a table with partners opposite one another. The compass directions are often used to refer to the four players, aligned with their seating pattern. Thus, South and North form one partnership and East and West form the other.

A session of bridge consists of several deals (also called hands or boards). A hand is dealt, the bidding (or auction) proceeds to a conclusion and then the hand is played. Finally, the hand's result is scored.

The goal of a single deal is to achieve the highest score with given cards. The score is affected by two principal factors: the number of tricks bid in the auction, and the number of tricks taken during play. The concept of contract, which distinguishes contract bridge from its predecessors, refers to a statement by one partnership that they shall take at least a certain number of tricks, with a given suit as trumps, or without trumps. The contract consists of two components: level and strain (also called denomination). Level represents the number of tricks to be taken above the first six (referred to as the book) — this treatment (and the requirement that the lowest possible level is one) ensures that at least a majority of the tricks must be taken by the partnership that wins the contract. Since there are 13 possible tricks, there are seven levels, numbered 1-7, corresponding to 7-13 tricks to take. Five strains are ranked, from lowest to highest, as clubs diamonds hearts spades and no trump (NT). The two lower-ranked strains (and ) are called the minor suits (or minors), and the higher-ranked strains (and ) are called majors.

For instance, the contract "3 hearts" is an assertion that the partnership will take nine tricks (book plus three) with hearts as the trump suit. Thus, there are 7 × 5 = 35 possible basic contracts; 1 being the lowest, followed by 1 etc., up to 7NT.

In the bidding stage or auction, the pairs compete to determine who proposes the highest-ranked contract, and the side that wins the bidding must then strive to fulfil that bargain by winning at least the contracted number of tricks in play if it is to obtain a score. Broadly speaking, there is an incentive to bid accurately to the optimum contract and then to play to make the contracted number of tricks (or more if good play or luck allows). If the side that wins the auction (declaring side) then takes the contracted number of tricks (or more), it is said to have made the contract and is awarded a score; otherwise, the contract is said to be defeated or set and points are awarded to the opponents (defenders).

In finding an optimum contract, it can sometimes pay to bid slightly too high with the expectation of losing points, rather than allow the opposing side to bid and make a larger score. This is known as a sacrifice, and is quite common if both sides are contesting the final contract. This aspect is more common in some forms of duplicate bridge (which is played in competitions and many clubs) in which the goal is to get a better score than any other partnership facing the same hands, by however small a margin and in whatever way possible.

Dealing

The game is played with a standard deck of 52 cards. On each deal, one player, the dealer, distributes the cards and also bids first. The dealer changes on each deal, usually proceeding clockwise around the table.

In rubber bridge (or other non-duplicate games), the cards are shuffled before each deal, and the dealer distributes all the cards clockwise one at a time, starting with the left-hand opponent and ending with the dealer, so each player receives a hand of thirteen cards. At the same time, for convenience, the dealer's partner usually shuffles a second deck, to be ready for use on the following deal. The dealer's left-hand opponent deals next. Each deal in rubber bridge is therefore meant to be random and unrelated to other hands played, and to a large extent the score depends on the cards as well as the skill of play.

In duplicate bridge the hands are shuffled only once, at the beginning of the session, and dealt into four hands of 13 cards. In contrast to rubber bridge, however, each deal is preserved for the entirety of the tournament session rather than being reshuffled. In this way, each time it is played, the results for different players will be comparable and the element of chance due to some players having better cards is largely eliminated. Cards in duplicate are passed from table to table in bridge boards, plastic or metal containers that clearly mark the hands and identify which compass direction holds which cards. The board usually also contains a folded slip of paper on which to record each pair's scores after the deal is played; the director calculates the scores from this slip, called the traveler, at the end of the tournament session. Alternatively, scores may be written on a pickup slip which is collected by a caddy and submitted to the director for recording after each round of play. More recently, wireless electronic scoring is becoming more common. This does away with paper score slips entirely. Instead, a purpose-made keypad is provided on each table. Players use these to enter scores which are then transmitted to the scoring computer.

In some competitions, boards are pre-dealt prior to the competition, especially if the same hands are to be played at many locations (for example in a large national or international tournament). There are also special machines for pre-dealing at large tournaments. As the boards arrive for play at each subsequent table, the four players take their cards from the board and should count them to ensure that there are 13 cards in their hand; the auction and play then begin.

Unlike rubber bridge and most other trick-taking games, in duplicate games players do not throw their cards to the center of the table during the play; instead, played cards are placed immediately in front of each player and turned face down after each trick has been completed. This allows each player to return his hand, intact, to the board after play is finished, so that subsequent tables can play the same deal unaltered. It also allows that in case of a review of the play, as may be necessitated by an irregularity or dispute, it is clear exactly who played which cards and the order in which they were played.

The auction

The auction determines the declaring side and the final contract. Only one of the partners of the declaring side, referred to as declarer, plays the hand, while the other becomes the dummy (i.e. doing nothing). In addition to establishing strain and level, the final contract may be doubled (by the opponents) or redoubled (by the declaring side after the opponents had already doubled), in which case the scoring of the hand is increased, whether the contract is made or defeated.

During the auction, each player makes a call in turn, which must be one of the following:

  • a Bid (stating a level and a denomination)
  • Double (when the last call other than pass was a bid by an opponent)
  • Redouble (when the last call other than pass was a double by an opponent)
  • Pass (when unwilling to make one of the three preceding calls)

(Note: although technically incorrect, the word "bid" is also often used informally in place of "call")

The auction starts with the dealer and proceeds clockwise with each player, having first evaluated their hand, making a call in order. The auction ends when three successive passes occur at some point after the dealer's first call. If all four players pass in the first round, the deal is not played (in rubber bridge the deal is not scored and the hand is redealt by the original dealer, while in duplicate the score is recorded as zero for each pair since re-dealing a hand that has been 'passed out' is prohibited by the rules).

A bid specifies a level and denomination, and ostensibly denotes a willingness to play the corresponding contract. A player wishing to bid must make a bid that is sufficient; a bid is sufficient if it specifies any denomination on a higher level than the last bid, or a higher-ranked denomination on the same level. Thus, after a bid of 3, bids of 2 or 3 are not allowable, but 3 or 4 are.

A double can be made only after the opponents have made a bid. At its simplest, this states that the player is confident that the opponents cannot make their bid during play and the player is willing to risk doubling their score if they do and the penalty if they do not. However, in modern bridge, the double is more often used in a conventional sense, to ask partner to bid or to pass information to partner. A "redouble" can be made only after an opponent's double; it increases the points scored and the penalty for failure yet further. In practice, the double and redouble are often used systemically for other purposes, though if they are in effect for the final contract they increase the score regardless of their intended meaning. Double and redouble remain in effect only until the next bid — any subsequent bid invalidates them.

Once the auction ends, the last bid (together with any double or redouble that followed it) becomes the contract, and the level of this bid determines the number of tricks required to fulfil the contract and its strain determines what suit, if any, will be trumps.

It should be noted that the primary purpose of early bids is to exchange information rather than to determine the final contract. As most players play, most calls (bids, doubles and redoubles, and sometimes even passes) are not made with the intention that they become the final contract, but to describe the player's hand strength and distribution, so that the partnership can make an educated guess which contract would be the optimal one. The set of agreements used by a partnership about the meanings of each call is referred to as a bidding system, full details of which must be made available to the opponents; 'secret' systems are not allowed.

The pair that did not win the contract is called the defence. The pair that made the last bid is divided further: the player who first made a bid in the denomination of the final contract becomes the declarer and his partner becomes the dummy. For example, suppose West is the dealer and the bidding was:

West North East South
pass 1 pass 1
pass 2 double 3
pass 4 pass pass
pass

Then East and West would be the defenders, South would be the declarer (being the first to bid spades), North would be the dummy, and spades the trump suit; 10 tricks would be required by declarer (and dummy). Since East's double was invalidated by the subsequent South's 3 bid, it does not affect the contract. For the purpose of determining the declarer, bids in the denomination of the final contract by the defence are ignored.

Bidding boxes, which allow the calls to be placed using cards rather than announced orally, are often used to prevent players at nearby tables overhearing the bidding and to avoid voice inflexions passing information to a partner.

The play of the hand

The play consists of thirteen tricks, each trick consisting of one card played from each of the four hands. Aces are high in bridge, followed by kings, queens, jacks, 10s, 9s ... down to 2s, the lowest card in each suit. The first card played in a trick is called the lead; after the lead play proceeds clockwise around the table. Any card may be selected from a hand as the lead, but the remaining hands must follow suit, meaning they must play a card of the same suit as the lead, unless the hand in question has no more cards of that suit, in which case any card may be played. The hand that plays the highest card in the suit of the lead wins the trick, unless any of the played cards are of the trump suit, in which case the hand that plays the highest trump card wins the trick. The hand that wins the trick plays the lead card of the next trick, until all the cards have been played.

The first lead, called the opening lead, is made by the defender to the left of the declarer. After the opening lead is played, the dummy lays his/her hand face up on the table in four columns, one for each suit, with the column of the trump suit (if there is one) on the right as dummy looks at the table. The declarer is responsible for selecting cards to play from the dummy's hand and from his own hand in turn. The defenders each choose the cards to play from their own hands. Dummy is allowed to prevent declarer from infringing the rules but otherwise must not interfere with the play; for example, dummy may attempt to prevent declarer from leading from the wrong hand (by stating, e.g., "you won the last trick in dummy") but must not comment on opponents' actions or make suggestions as to play. In casual bridge games the dummy often does nothing, but in duplicate bridge dummy must play cards from the dummy hand at declarer's instruction (e.g., by stating "jack of hearts please, partner", or less frequently by touching or pointing at the jack of hearts).

The contract level sets a specific target: in the example above, the declarer must attempt to win ten tricks (the assumed "book" of six, plus four as bid, with spades as trumps), to make the contract and get a positive score. Success in this goal is rewarded by points in the scoring phase for the declarer's side. If the declarer fails to make the contract, the defenders are said to have set or defeated the contract (declarer has gone down), and are awarded points for doing so.

Scoring

The goal for each pair is to make as high a score as possible. However, if the contract is made, its level is the primary factor affecting the scoring, rather than the number of tricks taken in play: for example, if the declarer takes all 13 tricks without trumps, there is a huge score difference between the cases of contract being 1NT and 7NT. The premium for contracting to take more tricks ensures competitiveness in the auction: even if a partnership holds a majority of the high cards and the opponents have no interest in bidding, they are still encouraged to bid high in order to achieve the best possible score, which in turn often results in contracts that are difficult to make.

When the declarer makes the contract, the declarer's side receives points for:

  • Every trick bid and made (20 for minor suit contracts, 30 for major suit and notrump ones, with an additional 10 points for the first trick at notrump)
  • Overtricks (tricks taken over the contract level), again with 20 for minor suits, 30 for majors and notrump
  • Bonuses for contract level
  • Other specific bonuses

When the declarer fails to make the contract, the defending pair receives points for undertricks — the number of tricks by which declarer fell short of the goal.

Because of the structure of bonuses, certain bid levels have special significance. The most important level is game, which is any contract whose bid trick value is 100 or more points. Game level varies by suit, since different suits are worth different amounts in scoring. The game level for notrump is 3 (9 tricks), the game level for hearts or spades (major suits) is 4 (10 tricks), and the game level for clubs or diamonds (minor suits) is 5 (11 tricks). Because of the attractiveness of the game bonus, much of the bidding revolves around investigating a possibility to bid a makeable game. High bonuses are also awarded for bidding and making small slam (level 6) and grand slam (level 7, i.e., all the tricks). The contracts below game level are called partial contracts or partscores.

The concept of vulnerability affects scoring and introduces a wider range of tactics in bidding and play. Every partnership is beforehand assigned one of two states: vulnerable or non-vulnerable. When a pair is vulnerable, game and slam bonuses are higher, as are penalties for failure to make the contract. Methods for assigning vulnerability differ for duplicate and rubber bridge.

There are two important variations in bridge scoring: rubber scoring and duplicate/Chicago scoring. They share most features, but differ in how the total score is accumulated. In rubber bridge, the declaring partnership counts points for successfully taken contracted tricks "below the line" on a scoresheet (which can be accumulated to make a game), while penalties and bonuses are tallied "above the line". The first partnership to accumulate two games gets a "rubber" bonus. In duplicate bridge, all the points are accumulated for each hand by itself and present a single score, expressed as a positive number (sum of trick points and bonus points) to the winning pair, and by implication, as a negative number to the opponents. (A third form, "Chicago" bridge, is a 'friendly' game that uses duplicate scoring, with every deal scored as a single number, but usually with only one table (i.e., not duplicated elsewhere) and with vulnerability assigned in a very simple fashion.) Bonuses are given for hands which made game immediately and not accumulated between hands.

In duplicate bridge, the same hand is played unchanged across two or more tables and the results are compared. The resulting scores for each board are expressed in matchpoints or international match points (IMP). Regardless of the actual contract, the competitor (pair or team) with the best performance on each board gets the highest number of points for that board and vice versa. The competitor with the highest total number of points becomes the winner of the tournament. Thus, even with bad cards, a competitor can win the tournament if it has bid better and/or played better than the other players who played the same set of cards.

Matchpoint or (for teams) "Board-a-match" scoring simply awards a team or pair one matchpoint for every other pair that had any lower score playing the same hands on that board and half a matchpoint for every other pair that had exactly the same score.

IMPS convert differences in scores using a sliding scale. 0 IMPS are awarded for a 0-10 point difference.

Laws of Duplicate Contract Bridge

Rules of contract bridge are standardized by World Bridge Federation and published in the book Laws of Duplicate Contract Bridge. The last edition was issued in 1997 and consists of 93 laws (articles). All duplicate bridge sponsoring organizations on lower levels must apply these rules. A large portion of the laws, though, is devoted to dealing with various irregular situations, and as such it is mostly used by tournament directors (referees) as a reference book.

These laws do not apply to rubber bridge, which has its own set of laws, the Laws of Contract Bridge, issued in 1993; the rules are broadly similar to those of duplicate bridge. In practice, simpler rules for dealing with irregularities than those set out in the lawbook are often applied by the players themselves or by house rules.

History

Bridge is member of the family of trick-taking games and is a development of Whist, which had become the dominant such game enjoying a loyal following for centuries. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Bridge is the English pronunciation of a game called Biritch, which was also known as Russian Whist.

The oldest known Biritch, or Russian Whist dates from 1886 and documents many significant bridge-like developments from whist: dealer chose the trump suit, or nominated his partner to do so; there was a call of no trumps (biritch); dealer's partner's hand became dummy; points were scored above and below the line; game was 3NT, 4H and 5D (although 8 club odd tricks and 15 spade odd tricks were needed); the score could be doubled and redoubled; and there were slam bonuses. This game, and variants of it known as bridge and bridge-whist, became popular in the United States and the UK in the 1890s despite the long-established dominance of whist.

In 1904 auction bridge, (also known as royal auction bridge), was developed, in which the players bid in a competitive auction to decide the contract and declarer. The object became to make at least as many tricks as were contracted for and penalties were introduced for failing to do so.

The modern game of contract bridge was the result of innovations to the scoring of auction bridge made by Harold Stirling Vanderbilt and others. The most significant change was that only the tricks contracted for were scored below the line toward game or a slam bonus, a change that resulted in bidding becoming much more challenging and interesting. Also new was the concept of vulnerability, making sacrificing to protect the lead in a rubber more expensive, and the various scores were adjusted to produce a more balanced game. Vanderbilt set out his rules in 1925, and within a few years contract bridge had so supplanted other forms of the game that "bridge" became synonymous with "contract bridge."

In the USA and Australia, most of the bridge played today is duplicate bridge, which is played at clubs, in tournaments and online. In the UK, rubber bridge is still popular in both homes and clubs, as is duplicate bridge.

Tournaments

Bridge is a game of skill played with randomly dealt cards, which makes it also a game of chance, or more exactly, a tactical game with inbuilt randomness, imperfect knowledge and restricted communication. The chance element is in the deal of the cards; in competitions and clubs the chance element is largely eliminated by comparing results of multiple pairs in identical situations. This is achievable when there are eight or more players, sitting at two or more tables, and the deals from each table are preserved and passed to the next table, thereby duplicating them for the next table of participants to play. At the end of a session, the scores for each deal are compared, and the most points are awarded to the players doing the best with each particular deal. This measures skill because each player is being judged only on the ability to bid with, and play, the same cards as other players.

This form of the game is referred to as duplicate bridge and is played in clubs and tournaments, which can gather as many as several hundred players. Duplicate bridge is a mind sport, and its popularity gradually became comparable to that of chess, with which it is often compared for its complexity and the mental skills required for high-level competition. Bridge and chess are the only "mind sports" recognized by the International Olympic Committee, although they were not found eligible for the main Olympic program.

The basic premise of duplicate bridge had previously been used for whist matches as early as 1857. Initially, bridge was not thought to be suitable for duplicate competition; it wasn't until the 1920s that (auction) bridge tournaments became popular.

In 1925 when contract bridge first evolved, bridge tournaments were becoming popular, but the rules were somewhat in flux, and several different organizing bodies were involved in tournament sponsorship: the American Bridge League (formerly the American Auction Bridge League, which changed its name in 1929), the American Whist League, and the United States Bridge Federation. In 1935, the first officially recognized world championship was held. By 1937, however, the American Contract Bridge League had come to power (a union of the ABL and the USBF), and it remains the principal organizing body for bridge tournaments in North America. In 1958, the World Bridge Federation was founded, as bridge had become an international activity.

Bidding boxes and bidding screens

In tournaments, "bidding boxes" are frequently used. A bidding box is a box of cards, each bearing the name of one of the legal calls in bridge. A player wishing to make a call displays the appropriate card from the box, rather than making an oral declaration. This prevents unauthorized information (i.e., anything other than the call itself) from being conveyed via voice inflection. In top national and international events, "bidding screens" are used. These are diagonal screens that are placed across the table, preventing partners from seeing each other during the game; often the screen is removed after the auction is complete.

Game strategy

Bidding

Much of the complexity in bridge arises from the difficulty of arriving at a good final contract in the auction. This is a difficult problem: the two players in a partnership must try to communicate sufficient information about their hands to arrive at a makeable contract, but the information they can exchange is restricted—information may be passed only by the calls made and later by the cards played, not by other means; in addition, the agreed-upon meaning of each call and play must be available to the opponents.

Since a partnership that has freedom to bid gradually at leisure can exchange more information, and since a partnership that can interfere with the opponents' bidding (as by raising the bidding level rapidly) can cause difficulties for their opponents, bidding systems are both informational and strategic. It is this mixture of information exchange and evaluation, deduction, and tactics that is at the heart of bidding in bridge.

A number of basic rules of thumb in bridge bidding and play are summarized as bridge maxims.

Bidding systems and conventions

A bidding system is a set of partnership agreements on the meanings of bids. A partnership's bidding system is usually made up of a core system, modified and complemented by specific conventions (optional customizations incorporated into the main system for handling specific bidding situations) which are pre-chosen between the partners prior to play. The line between a well-known convention and a part of a system is not always clear-cut: some bidding systems include specified conventions by default. Bidding systems can be divided into mainly natural systems such as Acol and Standard American, and mainly artificial systems such as the Precision Club.

Calls are usually considered to be either natural or conventional (artificial). A natural bid is one in which the suit and level bid is essentially passing the information "I have this suit for you"; a natural double says in effect "I want to raise the stakes as I don't think the opponents can make their contract". By contrast, a conventional (artificial) call offers and/or asks for information by means of pre-agreed coded interpretations, in which some calls convey very specific information or requests that are not part of the natural meaning of the call. Thus in response to 4NT, a 'natural' bid of 5 would state a preference towards a diamond suit or a desire to play the contract in 5 diamonds, whereas if the partners have agreed to use the common Blackwood convention, a bid of 5 in the same situation would say nothing about the diamond suit, but tell the partner that the hand in question contains exactly one ace.

Conventions are valuable in bridge because of the need to pass information beyond a simple like or dislike of a particular suit, and because the limited bidding space can be used more efficiently by taking situations in which a given call will have less utility, because the information it would convey is not valuable or because the desire to convey that information would arise only rarely, and giving that call an artificial meaning that conveys more useful (or more frequently useful) information. There are a very large number of conventions from which players can choose; many books have been written detailing bidding conventions. Well-known conventions include Stayman (to ask for the showing of any 4 card major suit in a 1NT opener's hand), Jacoby transfers (a request by the weak hand for the stronger partner to bid the agreed suit first, and therefore to become the declarer), and the Blackwood convention (to ask for information on the number of aces and kings held, used in slam bidding situations).

The term preempt refers to a high level tactical bid by a weak hand, relying upon a long suit rather than high-value cards for tricks. Preemptive bids serve a double purpose — they allow players to indicate they are bidding on the basis of a long suit in an otherwise weak hand, which is important information to share, and they also consume substantial bidding room before a possibly strong opposing pair can identify whether they have a good possibility to play the hand, or in what suit or at what level they should do so. Several systems include the use of opening bids or other early bids with weak hands including long (usually six to eight card) suits at the 2, 3 or even 4 levels as preempts.

Basic natural systems

As a rule, a natural suit bid indicates a holding of at least four (or more, depending on the situation and the system) cards in that suit as an opening bid, or a lesser number when supporting partner; a natural NT bid indicates a balanced hand.

Most systems use a count of high card points as the basic evaluation of the strength of a hand, refining this by reference to shape and distribution if appropriate. In the most commonly used point count system, aces are counted as 4 points, kings as 3, queens as 2, and jacks as 1 point; therefore, the deck contains 40 points. In addition, the distribution of the cards in a hand into suits may also contribute to the strength of a hand and be counted as distribution points. A better than average hand, containing 12 or 13 points, is usually considered sufficient to open the bidding, i.e., to make the first bid in the auction. A combination of two such hands (i.e., 25 or 26 points shared between partners) is often sufficient for a partnership to bid, and generally to make, game in a major suit or notrump (more are usually be needed for a minor suit game, as the level is higher).

In natural systems, a 1NT opening bid usually reflects a hand that has a relatively balanced shape (usually between two and four (or less often five) cards in each suit) and a sharply limited number of high card points, usually somewhere between 12 and 18 — the most common ranges use a span of exactly three points, e.g., 12-14, 15-17 or 16-18).

Opening bids of 3 or higher are preemptive bids, i.e., bids made with weak hands that especially favor a particular suit, opened at a high level in order to define the hand's value quickly and to frustrate the opposition. For example, a hand of would be a candidate for an opening bid of 3, designed to make it difficult for the opposing team to bid and find their optimum contract even if they have the bulk of the points, as it is nearly valueless unless spades are trump, it contains good enough spades that the penalty for being set should not be higher than the value of an opponent game, and the high card weakness makes it more likely that the opponents have enough strength to make game themselves.

Openings at the 2 level are either unusually strong (2NT, natural, and 2, artificial) or preemptive, depending on the system. Unusually strong bids communicate an especially high number of points (normally 20 or more) or a high trick-taking potential (normally 8 or more).

Opening bids at the one level are made with hands containing 12–13 points or more and which are not suitable for one of the preceding bids. Using Standard American with 5-card majors, opening hearts or spades usually promises a 5-card suit. Partnerships who agree to play 5-card majors open a minor suit with 4-card majors and then bid their major suit at the next opportunity.

Doubles are sometimes given conventional meanings in otherwise mostly natural systems. A natural, or penalty double, is one used to try to gain extra points when the defenders are confident of setting (defeating) the contract. The most common example of a conventional double is the takeout double of a low-level suit bid, implying support for the unbid suits or the unbid major suits and asking partner to choose one of them.

Variations on the basic themes

Bidding systems depart from these basic ideas in varying degrees. Standard American, for instance, is a collection of conventions designed to bolster the accuracy and power of these basic ideas, while Precision Club is a highly conventional system that uses the 1 opening bid for all or almost all strong hands (but sets the threshold for "strong" rather lower than most other systems) and includes many other artificial calls to handle other situations. Many experts today use a system called 2/1 game forcing (pronounced two over one game forcing), which is similar to but more complicated than Standard American. In the UK, Acol is the most common system.

There are also a variety of advanced techniques used for hand evaluation. The most basic is the Milton Work point count, (the 4-3-2-1 system detailed above) but this is sometimes modified in various ways, or either augmented or replaced by other approaches such as losing trick count, honor point count, law of total tricks, or Zar Points.

Common conventions and variations within natural systems include:

* Point count required for 1 NT opening bid ('kamikaze' 10-12, 'weak' 12-14, 'intermediate' ~14-16, or 'strong' ~16-18)
* Whether an opening bid of 1 and 1 requires a minimum of 4 or 5 cards in the suit (4 or 5 card majors)
* Whether 1 (and sometimes 1) is 'natural' or 'suspect' (also called 'phoney'), signifying an opening hand lacking a notable heart or spade suit
* Whether opening bids at the two level are 'strong' (20+ points) or 'weak' (i.e., pre-emptive with a 6 card suit). (Note: an opening bid of 2 is usually played in otherwise natural systems as conventional, signifying any exceptionally strong hand)
* Blackwood (either the original version or Roman Key Card)
* Stayman (together with Blackwood, described as "the two most famous conventions in Bridge".)
* Whether the partnership will play bids of 2D and 2H (and sometimes other bids) over 1 NT as transfers
* What types of cue bids (e.g. rebidding the opponent's suit) the partnership will play, if any.
* Whether doubling a contract at the 1, 2 and sometimes higher levels signifies a belief that the opponents' contract will fail and a desire to raise the stakes (a penalty double), or an indication of strength but no biddable suit coupled with a request that partner bid something (a takeout double).
* How the partnership's bidding practices will be varied if their opponents intervene or compete.
* Which (if any) bids are forcing and require a response.

Within play, it is also commonly agreed what systems of opening leads, signals and discards will be played:

* Conventions for the opening lead govern how the first card to be played will be chosen and what it will mean,
* Signals indicate how cards played within a suit are chosen — for example, playing a noticeably high (or low) card when this would not be expected can signal encouragement to continue playing the suit, and a low (or high) card can signal discouragement and a desire for partner to choose some other suit.
* Discards cover the situation when a player cannot follow suit and therefore has free choice what card to play or throw away. In such circumstances the thrown-away card can be used to indicate some aspect of the hand, or a desire for a specific suit to be played.

Advanced bidding techniques

It is noteworthy that every call (including 'pass', also sometimes called 'no bid') in fact serves not one, but two purposes; it first of all confirms or passes some information to partner. It also denies by implication any other kind of hand which would have tended to support an alternative call. For example, a bid of 2NT immediately after partner's 1NT not only shows a balanced hand of a certain point range, but also tends to deny possession of a five card major suit (otherwise the player would have bid it) or even a four card major suit (or the player would probably have used the Stayman convention).

Likewise, in some partnerships the bid of 2 in the sequence 1NT - 2 - 2 - 2 between partners (opponents passing throughout) explicitly shows five hearts but also confirms four cards in spades: the bidder must hold at least five hearts to make it worth looking for a heart fit after 2 denied a four card major, and with at least five hearts, a Stayman bid must have been justified by having exactly four spades, the other major (since Stayman (as used by this partnership) is not useful with anything except a four card major suit). Thus an astute partner can read much more than the surface meaning into the bidding.

The situations detailed here are extremely simple examples; much of advanced bidding is specific agreements related to very specific situations and subtle inferences regarding entire sequences of calls.

Play techniques

Terence Reese, a prolific author of bridge books, points out that there are only four ways of taking a trick by force, two of which are very easy:

  • playing a high card that no one else can beat
  • trumping an opponent's high card
  • establishing long suits (the last cards in a suit will take tricks if the opponents don't have the suit and are unable to trump)
  • playing for the opponents' high cards to be in a particular position (if their ace is to the left of your king, your king may be able to take a trick)

Nearly all trick-taking techniques in bridge can be reduced to one of these four methods.

The optimum play of the cards can require much thought and experience, and is too complicated to describe in a short article. However, below are some of the common techniques.

Techniques by declarer

  • establishing long suits
  • finessing
  • when not to finesse
  • the holdup (mostly at NT contracts)
  • timing
  • unblocking
  • blocking
  • managing entries
  • trumping
  • the crossruff
  • when to draw trumps (how many rounds to draw)
  • when not to draw trumps
    • ruffing losers
    • discarding a quick loser
    • complete crossruff

Advanced techniques by declarer

Techniques by defenders

Defense is commonly seen as much harder then playing as a declarer mainly because the defenders have less information than the declarers. It starts from an opening lead. The opening lead can often determine the number of tricks the defenders can win. It's so important that the common opening lead conventions are usually included in the convention card. Below are the most commonly used conventions:

  • Which card to lead in a suit
    • the higher card from a doubleton to show count, create ruff opportunity, and avoid blocking (with or without honors)
    • the top card from a three-card sequence with honor(s) to cash and possibly establish the suit (strong enough to do so)
    • the smallest one or the fourth-highest card in a suit with honor to encourage return and help establish the suite (both suit and notrump contracts)
    • A or K from a suit led by AK for suit and notrump contracts (depending on conventions)
    • one card from a three-card suit without honor in suit and notrump contracts (depending on conventions)
  • Which suit to lead
    • singleton/doubleton for ruff in the second/third round
    • longest and strongest in notrump contracts
    • partner's bid suit
    • trump suit
  • Aggressive or passive leads

After the opening lead, the most important technique is signaling. There are three types of signals: attitude signals, count signals, and suit preference signals. Among them, the attitude signals are most frequently used. As its name shows, signaling is to disclose one defender's card information to the other defender (and the declarer as well).

Since the defenders usually have access to less information, communication is more crucial in defense. As seen above, both opening lead and signals disclose valuable information to help communicate. Other techniques for better communication include unblocking, overtaking, ducking, etc.

Generally, it's more effective for a beginner to learn play as a declarer before play as a defender since techniques for defenders are related to the declarer techniques, which are easier to understand.

Example

For definition of terms used in the example, see Contract bridge glossary.
The cards are dealt as in the diagram, and North is the dealer. As neither North nor East have sufficient strength to open the bidding, they each pass, denying such strength. South, next in turn, opens with the bid of 1, which denotes a reasonable heart suit (at least 4 or 5 cards long, depending on the system) and at least 12 high card points. West overcalls with 1, North supports partner's suit with 2, and East supports spades with 2. South inserts a game try of 3, inviting the partner to bid the game of 4 with good club support and overall values, and North complies, as North has extra values in the form of the A, a fourth trump (the previous bid promised only three), and the doubleton queen of clubs to fit with partner's strength there. (North could instead have bid 3, indicating not enough strength for game.) The bidding was:
West North East South
Pass Pass 1
1 2 2 3
Pass 4 Pass Pass
Pass
In the auction, North-South are trying to investigate whether their cards are sufficient to make a game (ten tricks in hearts or spades, 11 tricks in clubs or diamonds), which yields bonus points if bid and made. East-West are competing in spades, hoping to play a contract in spades at a low level. 4 is the final contract, 10 tricks being required for N-S to make with hearts as trump.

South is the declarer, having been first to bid hearts, and the player to South's left, West, has to choose the first card in the play, known as the opening lead. West chooses the spade king because spades is the suit the partnership has shown strength in, and because they have agreed that when they hold two touching honors (or adjacent honors) they will play the higher one first. West plays the card face down, to give their partner and the declarer (but not dummy) a chance to ask any last questions about the bidding or to object if they believe West is not the correct hand to lead. After that, North's cards are laid on the table and North becomes dummy, as both the North and South hands will be controlled by the declarer. West turns the lead card face up, and the declarer studies the two hands to make a plan for the play. The bottom line is, since the trump ace, a spade, and a diamond trick must be lost, a trick must not be lost in clubs.

Tactically, if the K is held by West, South will find it very hard to prevent it making a trick. However, there is an almost-equal chance that it is held by East, in which case it can be 'trapped' against the ace, and will be beaten, using a strategy known as a finesse.

After considering the cards, the declarer directs dummy (North) to play a small spade. East plays low (small card) and South takes the A, gaining the lead. South proceeds by drawing trump, leading the K. West decides there is no benefit to holding back, and winning with the ace, cashes the Q. For fear of a ruff and discard, West plays a diamond instead of another spade. Declarer ducks (plays low) from the table, and East scores the Q. Not having anything better to do, East returns the remaining trump, taken in South's hand. The trumps now accounted for, South can now execute the finesse, perhaps trapping the king as planned. South enters the dummy (i.e. wins in the dummy's hand) by leading a low diamond, using dummy's A to win the trick, and leads the Q from dummy to the next trick. East covers the queen with the king, and South takes the trick with the Ace, and proceeds by cashing the remaining master J. (If East doesn't play the king, then South will play a low club from South's hand and the queen will win anyway, this being the essence of the finesse). The game is now safe: South ruffs a small club with a dummy's trump, then ruffs a diamond in hand for an entry back, and ruffs the last club in dummy (sometimes described as a crossruff). Finally, South claims the remaining tricks by showing his or her hand, as it now contains only high trumps and there's no need to play the hand out to prove they are all winners.

(The trick-by-trick notation used above can be also expressed in tabular form, but a textual explanation is usually preferred in practice, for reader's convenience. Plays of small cards or discards are often omitted from such a description, unless they were important for the outcome).

North-South score the required 10 tricks, and their opponents take the remaining 3. The contract is fulfilled, and North enters +620 for the winning side (North-South are in charge of bookkeeping in duplicate tournaments) on the traveling sheet. All players return their own cards to the board, and the next deal is played.

Bridge on the Internet

There are several free and some subscription-based servers available for playing bridge on the Internet. OKbridge is the oldest of the still-running Internet Bridge services; players of all standards, from beginners to world champions may be found playing there. OKbridge is a subscription based club, so it offers premium services such as customer support and ethics reviews. Another subscription-based and institutionalized online Bridge club since 1994 is Bridge Club Live (BCL). With the claim of being "The Friendliest Bridge Club of the World", BCL organizes 4-6 day annual meetings in different countries each year to get together its members. SWAN Games is a more recent competitor of subscription-based online Bridge clubs. Bridge Base Online is the most populated online bridge club in the world, in part because it is free to play regular games thereon. The above online clubs offer various features such as options to earn ACBL masterpoints, play in online tournaments, compile lists of friends, purchase software to improve Bridge skills, and earn money playing Bridge. On Bridge Base Online there is also a Vugraph feature where important international events are shown for anyone interested to watch.

Some national contract bridge organizations that now offer online bridge play to their members include the English Bridge Union, the Dutch Bridge Union and the Australian Bridge Federation. MSN and Yahoo! Games have several online rubber bridge rooms. In 2001, World Bridge Federation issued a special edition of the lawbook adapted for internet and other electronic forms of the game.

Differences relevant to online play include:

  • Flexibility when to play, and choice of opponent skill level.
  • Player rating systems may attempt to measure ability without regard to the number of games played or the number of years spent accumulating masterpoints.
  • Fewer restrictions on the conventions that are permitted.
  • Unauthorised information cannot be passed by tone of voice or body language (but can much more easily be passed by external communication).
  • Detailed records can be kept, to help resolve complaints.
  • The software prevents improper plays and calls.

There are also a number of disadvantages:

  • Inability to decide on bidding convention ahead of time, because partners are (usually) strangers.
  • A reduced social element.
  • Players may leave before a hand finishes, or in the middle of a planned session, either intentionally or because of connection difficulties.

Computer bridge

After many years of little progress, at the end of the twentieth century computer bridge made big strides forward. In 1996, the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) initiated official World Championships Computer Bridge, to be held annually along with a major bridge event. The first Computer Bridge Championship took place in 1997 at the North American Bridge Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Strong bridge playing programs such as Jack (World Champion computer bridge 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006) and Wbridge5 (World Champion computer bridge 2005 and 2007) would probably rank among the top few thousand human pairs worldwide. A series of articles published in 2005 and 2006 in the Dutch bridge magazine IMP describes matches between Jack and seven top Dutch pairs. A total of 196 boards were played. Overall, the program Jack lost, but by a small margin (359 versus 385 imps).

Notable bridge people

Creators and early inventors, in the first half of the 20th century:

Influential players and theorists in the second half of the 20th century:

Modern world-top experts:

Notable people who play bridge:

Bridge players in fiction:

Definitions of common terms

References

History of bridge

  • Foster's Whist Manual by R.F. Foster. London, Frederick Warne and Co. with Mudie and Sons. (4th ed, 1899)
  • The Bridge Manual by "John Doe" (George Cavendish Benedict). London, Mudie and Sons. (1900)
  • Bridge Whist by C.J. Melrose. New York, Charles Scribner's Sons. (1901)
  • Elwell's Advanced Bridge by J.B. Elwell. London, George Newnes. (5th ed., 1905)
  • Bridge and Auction Bridge by "Valet de Pique". London, Eveleigh Nash. (1912)
  • Royal Auction Bridge by Ernest Bergholt. London, George Routledge & Sons. (1915?)
  • The Mad World of Bridge by Jack Olsen. New York, Holt, Rinehart & Winston. (1960)
  • The Walk of the Oysters by Rex Mackey, London, W.H.Allen, 1964.
  • Bridge Is My Game by Jack Olsen with Charles Goren. New York, Doubleday. (1965)

General reading

  • "Turning Tricks" by David Owen. The New Yorker, September 17, 2007 pp.90-93.
  • "Card Play Technique or the Art of Being Lucky" by Victor Mollo and Nico Gardener
  • "Teach Yourself Bridge" by David Bird. Hodder's

External links

General links

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