Bridge: 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.

Bridge uses a standard 52-card deck. The game starts by dealing 13 cards to each player. The players' positions at the table are commonly called North, South, East and West. The two partnerships are North-South and East-West.

The Bidding

The game starts with the bidding, which will end when one partnership names (declares) a final contract. The contract will always specify a denomination (a trump suit or notrump) and a minimum number of tricks to be taken. which will always be more than half of the 13 total tricks in each deal.

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 auction

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). This tells partner you have the strength (honor 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. This shows no current interest in trying to name the final contract. A Pass tends to show a hand that's weak in honor cards, but you may still make a bid later in the auction.

The first person to make a bid (instead of 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 (lowest rank), Diamonds, Hearts, Spades, Notrump.

Just as in a sale auction, if you want to "buy" the final contract, you must bid higher than the previous offer. When it’s your turn to call in a bridge auction, you will either pass or make a bid at a higher level or in a higher-ranking suit than the previous bid.

Think of the bidding as moving up a ladder, as in the diagram at right. The ladder shows all 35 possible two-word bids, ranging from 1C (the lowest possible bid) up to 7NT.

There are also three one-word calls -- Pass, Double and Redouble. These calls use no space in the auction.

Once a player makes a two-word bid, all the bids below it are unavailable. The next bid by any player must be higher up the ladder. For example:

  • 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 at least 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).

Most auctions start with a 1-level bid. By the end of the first round of bidding (all four players have had one chance to bid), you'll often be able to tell you if your partnership has enough combined strength to try to name the final contract. 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:

The two higher-ranking suits  (Hearts &  ♠ Spades) are called major suits.

The two lower-ranking suits  (♣ Clubs &  Diamonds) are called minor suits.

Major-suit and notrump contracts score higher than minor-suit contracts. Trump suits can 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:

BEST A major suit (hearts or spades) if you and partner have a combined fit of 8 cards or more.

2ND BEST:  Notrump if you have honors in all suits and no 8-card fit in a major suit.

3RD BEST A minor suit (clubs or diamonds) if you have unbalanced hands and a combined fit of 8 cards or more.

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 you take 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 bidding and making a contract whose trick score adds up to at least 100 points. 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:

   Minor-suit contracts award 20 points per trick past book.
     Game level is 5C or 5D (11 tricks), which scores 100 (5 in the bid  x  20 points).

    Major-suit contracts award 30 points per trick past book.
     Game level is 4H or 4S (10 tricks), which scores 120 (4 x 30).

Notrump contracts award 40 points for the first trick past book and 30 points for all subsequent tricks.
     Game level is 3NT (9 tricks), which scores 100 (40 + 30 + 30).

These game contracts are the boxed bids on the ladder. 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. Contracts at any level lower than game are called partscores. If you play in a partscore, you'll score points for taking extra tricks past your contract level, but you won't collect the bonus.

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.
To evaluate your hand's strength, count your high-card points:

Ace = 4 points 

King = 3 points

Queen = 2 points

Jack = 1 points

You and partner will use bids to tell each other about your high-card points and the lengths of your suits. On average, you and partner will need:

     25+ points to make the higher-scoring games of 3NT, 4H and 4S

     29+ points to make 5C or 5D

     33+ points to make a small slam (any bid of 6)

When deciding how high to bid: 

If you’re sure you and partner have fewer than 25 combined points, stop in the lowest partscore available in your trump suit or notrump.

If you and partner have 25 points or more, force the bidding up to game level.

If you and partner have 33 points or more, 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 to a lead, 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