Getting started

Bridge is a partnership game, and therein lies its challenge. You and your partner communicate and share the same score on every deal. Each deal of bridge has two distinct phases: The bidding, which involves all four players, and the play, in which three players participate.

The Bidding

The purpose of the bidding is for one partnership to name (declare) a final contract. The contract will always specify a denomination (a trump suit or notrump) and a minimum number of tricks to be taken. The other partnership will defend the final contract. Their goal is to prevent declarer from taking the contracted number of tricks.

To make decisions about whether to declare or defend, each player in turn uses one or two of 15 words to describe his hand to his partner. The 15 words are:
     1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
     Clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades, notrump
     Pass, Double, Redouble

The entire round of bidding is called the auction.  It starts with the dealer and proceeds clockwise around the table. When it’s your turn to call, you’ll choose one of two actions:

(1)  Make a bid (a number and the name of a suit or notrump) to tell partner you have the strength (high cards) and/or suit length to compete for the contract. A bid is always two words -- a number followed by the name of a suit or notrump.

(2)   Pass to show no current interest in trying to name the final contract. A Pass tends to show a hand that's weak in high cards, but you may still make a bid later in the auction.

The first person to make a bid (rather than a Pass) is the opening bidder. See Opening bids for guidelines on how to determine your hand's strength and whether you should open or pass.

On some deals, you and partner will have most of the strength and you’ll be doing most of the bidding. When you have weak hands, you’ll usually pass and let the opponents select a trump suit. On many deals, both partnerships will be bidding for the final contract.

The bidding ladder:  Every bid uses a number (1 through 7) followed by the name of a suit or notrump. For purposes of bidding, the suits are ranked alphabetically (lowest to highest), followed by notrump  — Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, Spades, Notrump. When it’s your turn to call, you must either pass or make a bid at a higher level or in a higher-ranking suit than the previous bid.

If the player on your right bids 1S, the only available bid at the 1-level is 1NT. If you want to bid any other suit, you must go to the 2-level (a bid of 2C, 2D or 2H).

Partner opens 1H and the next player bids 2D. If you want to bid clubs, you must go to the 3-level (a bid of 3C).

Think of the bidding as moving up a ladder, with 1C on the bottom rung, 1D above it, then 1H-1S-1NT-2C-2D ... on up to 7NT. Once a bid is made, all the bids below it are used up — the next bid must be higher up the ladder. The bids of Pass, Double and Redouble use no space.

Most auctions start with a 1-level bid. By the end of the first round of bidding, you'll often be able to tell you if your partnership has enough combined strength to try to name the final contract (at least 19-20 pts. in your two hands). If you do, you’ll make two more decisions:

(1) WHERE you should play (what suit will be trumps, or if you should choose notrump); and

(2)  HOW HIGH you should bid (how many tricks you are willing to contract for).

Decision #1:  Where?

For purposes of scoring, the four suits are grouped into two categories: minor suits ( clubs & diamonds) and major suits ( hearts & spades).  Major-suit and notrump contracts score higher than minor-suit contracts. Trump suits offer advantages over notrump contracts, so your bidding conversation will focus first on finding out if hearts or spades will be a good trump suit for you.

A good trump suit is a fit of 8 or more cards of one suit, divided in any way between your two hands (4 and 4, 5 and 3, 6 and 2, etc.). If you can find this fit in hearts or spades, that will be your choice for the final contract. If not, you'll consider notrump, then clubs and diamonds. Your preferred choices for the final contract are:

If you have any 8-card fit (in a major or minor suit) and you are stopping in a partscore (a contract below game), you'll usually want to choose the suit contract instead of notrump.

Decision #2:  How high?

The number in each two-word bid corresponds to the number of tricks you must take after the first six. The first six tricks in a deal are called book. To make a contract of 3H, for example, you must take at least 9 tricks (6 for book plus the 3 named in the final bid).

On most bridge deals, the auction will stop somewhere between 1NT and 4S (contracts that require declarer to take 7 to 10 tricks). The lower-level contracts are easier to make, but the scoring rules offer an incentive for bidding higher.

Bridge awards a big scoring bonus if you bid up to a specified level and make your contract. This is the game bonus, and it's given for a making contract whose trick score adds up to at least 100 points. There's also a rubber bonus, which is awarded to the partnership that earns two game bonuses before their opponents do.

Your goal in every auction is to score the entire 100 points on that deal by bidding to at least game level if you have enough strength. Majors, minors and notrump award different trick scores, so the game level depends on what denomination you choose for the final contract. The trick scores and game levels for each denomination are:

Bigger scoring bonuses can also be earned for slams (any bid of 6) and grand slams (any bid of 7). You must bid up to game or slam level to earn these bonuses. If you play at any lower level, you'll score points for taking extra tricks past your contract level, but you won't collect the bonus, which is several hundred points.

The bidding will give you clues about whether or not you have enough strength for a game contract. If the bidding tells you this many tricks aren’t possible, you’ll want to stop in a partscore (any contract whose total trick score is fewer than 100 pts.). You can add on to this score and try to reach the 100 pts. by bidding and making another partscore on the next deal.

When deciding how high to bid:  Find your trump fit first, then decide if you have enough power for game. You'll evaluate your hand's strength by counting points for its honor cards (see Opening Bids) and using bids to communicate that information to partner.

If you’re sure you and partner have fewer than 25 combined points, you'll stop in the lowest partscore available in your trump suit or notrump.
If you determine that you and partner have 25 points or more, you'll bid up to game level.
If you determine that you and partner have 33 points or more, you'll bid up to slam level.

The end of the auction:  A bid becomes a final contract after three consecutive passes. This means that you won't usually want to pass partner's bid unless you believe it will be a suitable final contract.

The Play

Winning tricks: The object of the play is to win tricks for your partnership. A trick is four cards, one from each player in turn (clockwise around the table). There are 13 tricks in each deal.

The first card played to a trick is the lead. The player on lead may choose any card in his hand. Each of the other players must then "follow suit" by playing a card of the suit led if they have one. You can choose any card of the led suit -- there is no obligation to play a high card or try to win the trick. If you cannot follow suit, you can play a trump (in a suit contract) or you can discard any other suit.

If all four players follow suit, the highest card wins the trick. If one of the four cards is a trump, it wins. If there are two or more trumps played on a trick, the highest trump wins.

After the opening lead, the hand that wins each trick becomes the leader to the next trick.

Declarer and dummy: When the auction ends, the bid immediately preceding the three passes is the final contract. It names a trump suit or notrump and a number of tricks over book (the first 6 tricks) that the declaring side must take to fulfill the contract.

The player who first bid the suit or notrump named in the contract is declarer. The player to declarer’s left is the opening leader. He chooses a card from his hand to start the first trick and places it face-up on the table.

Only three players participate in the play. The fourth player, declarer’s partner, becomes the dummy, and he puts all 13 of his cards face-up on the table for all players to see. For convenience, dummy sorts his cards into suits and places them vertically, facing declarer. Trumps are put down first (on dummy’s right, declarer’s left).

Dummy makes no decisions. Declarer plays both his own hand and dummy’s, choosing which of dummy’s cards will be played in order to each trick. If dummy wins a trick, declarer chooses a card from dummy to lead to the next trick.

The result of the play determines the score on each deal. If you or your partner declared, you’ll receive a plus score if you fulfill your contract  —  if you win 6 tricks (book) plus at least the number of tricks named in your bid. If you did not make your contracted number of tricks (if you “went down”), your opponents receive a plus score (a penalty based on the number of tricks you went down).

NextTo learn how you and partner can exchange information in the bidding, see Opening Bids and Basics for Responder.

  ©  Karen Walker                   Back to Karen's Bridge Library