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Contract bridge

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Contract bridge, more usually known as Bridge, is a trick-taking card game for four players who form two teams. The players of one team sit opposite one another. Game play is in two phases: bidding and playing.

Table of contents

History A number of card games similar to whist can be traced all the way back to the early 16th century. They were all trick-taking games with a variety of minor variations. Whist became the dominant form, and enjoyed a loyal following for centuries.

In the 1890s, the innovation of allowing the dealer to choose a trump suit became popular in the United States and England, and the resultant game was called "bridge whist". In 1904, the concept of using an auction phase to determine which player got to designate the trump suit caught hold, and this variation was known as "auction bridge".

The modern game was the result of innovations to auction bridge made by Harold Vanderbilt[?], who probably borrowed many of the ideas from elsewhere. He wrote down his rules for contract bridge in 1925, and it became the dominant form of the game within a few years. It has supplanted all other forms of the game, including "auction bridge", so that "bridge" is now synonymous with "contract bridge".

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word bridge is the English pronunciation of biritch, an older name of the game of unknown middle eastern origin. The OED reports speculation that it may come from a Turkish term, bir-uc which translates as "one-three" and is said to refer to the fact that one hand is exposed and three are concealed.

Dealing The game is played with one complete deck of 52 cards. One player is the dealer, and deals 13 cards to each player. In the next round, the player left to the current dealer will be dealer.

The Auction The dealer makes the first call, and the bidding continues clockwise until three players in rotation have passed after any call. A call is any bid, a pass, a double or a redouble.

When a player has the turn to bid, he may do any of the following:

  1. Make a new bid,
  2. Pass,
  3. Double if the last preceding bid was made by the opponents, or
  4. Redouble a bid that has been doubled by the opponent.

A bid must include a number of odd tricks (from one to seven) and a denomination. Odd tricks are the tricks that a team proposes to take in excess of six (known as book). A denomination is any suit or notrump specified in a bid.

Each bid must supersede the last preceding bid by naming a greater number of tricks in any denomination, or by naming the same number of tricks in a higher ranking denomination. The rank of the denominations in descending order is notrump, spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs.

When the auction ends the player on the team that has made the highest bid who first bid the denomination of that bid will be the declarer.

When, in a deal, all four players have passed without there being a bid, the deal is scored as a zero and the cards are passed on to the next dealer.

Bidding Systems and Conventions

A pair is allowed to try to pass information about their hands, but this is restricted in two ways:

  • Information may only be passed by the bids made and the cards played, not by anything else.
  • All information must be fully explained to the opponents.

Thus, one may have all kind of meanings for biddings, as long as they are told to the opponents.

The meaning of the various bids in a partnership are called that partnership's bidding system. There exist a number of different bidding systems, such as Goren, ACOL[?], Standard American, Precision etcetera.

A bid that means something different than a certain range of points and length in the suit bid and/or a willingness to play in that suit, is called a convention. Many conventions have been invented, some of the most famous are Stayman, Jacoby transfers and Blackwood.

The Play of the Hand

The player from the pair that won the bidding (that is, the pair that is going to play the contract), who was the first to make a bid in the suit of the final contract (who is thus either the player bidding the final contract or his partner), is called the declarer. His partner is called the dummy.

The first trick is started by the player to the left of the declarer. After the first card has been played, the dummy lays his cards open on the table. These cards are from then on played by the declarer, who tells the dummy which card is to be played whenever it is the dummy's turn to play on a trick.

Apart from this, the play is just like other trick-taking games - the player who made the previous trick starts the next one (if the declarer made the trick in the dummy, he has to play from the dummy on the next trick, if he made the trick in his own hand, he has to play from his own hand). Whether there is a trump and if so which, has been decided during bidding.

Techniques in the play of the hand

Basic Techniques by Declarer

A beginning player should be familiar with these strategies for playing the hand.

  • crossruff
  • duck[?] (the holdup at NT contracts)
  • establishing long suits
  • finesse
  • managing entries
  • when to draw trumps

Advanced Techniques by Declarer

Someone who plays regularly in tournaments should be familiar with these concepts.

Basic Techniques by Defenders

  • opening lead
  • when to lead trump

Advanced Techniques by Defenders

  • avoiding an endplay or squeeze
  • counting the hand (tracking opponent's distribution and HCP, using inferences from the bidding and play)
  • opening lead - using information from auction
  • signalling
  • uppercut

Duplicate Bridge

Like all other card games, the score in bridge is dependent on one's cards. To diminish this effect, and make Bridge less a game of chance and more a game of skill, in clubs and tournaments one's score is not looked at on its own, but compared to that of others who played the same deals. There are two major systems: Pairs and teams games.

Pairs games

In a pairs game, each deal is played a number of times, after which all the scores are compared. Each pair scores 2 points for each other pair that with the same hand scored less points (or had their opponents score more points), and 1 point for each other pair that scored the same number of points. These points are added over a number of games to determine the winner. Scores are usually given in percentages; 100% means that the pair scored more than any other pair on all the hands, 50% means that it scored a dead average in the tournament.

[Note: in the United States, scoring is 1 point for each pair beaten, and one-half-point for each pair tied.]

Team of four games

In a teams game, a pair is part of a team of two pairs. Each deal is played twice, and the second time the other pair of the team plays the cards that were played by the opponents the first time. Of course the teams may not discuss the deals between the two plays. After each deal has been played twice, the scores per deal are compared, and a score is given depending on the total score in the two times playing. For example, if one pair scores +1000 on a deal, and their team mates score -980, then the team's score on that deal is +20. Usually, this number is converted using a scale that compresses big scores. Otherwise, one slam hand will determine who wins. At "board-a-match", each hand has equal weight; each hand is won, lost, or tied. At IMPs, the difference is converted using a 0-24 scale that compresses big swings. Games and slams still count for more than partscores, but not as much as at "total points".

Scoring - Rubber Bridge

In friendly play, one generally plays rubber bridge. In rubber bridge, extra points are scored for winning a rubber, which means getting to a game (100 points) twice. There are two types of points: Points below the line and points above the line. Only points below the line count towards a game.

Score for making

If the declarer makes his contract, the number bid, multiplied by a suit-dependent multiplier, is scored below the line. Any overtricks, again multiplied by the suit-dependent multiplier, are scored above the line.

The multiplier is 20 for clubs and diamonds, and 30 for hearts and spades. For No Trump, the multiplier is also 30, but with an added 10 points below the line.

bid: 2 clubs, made 9 tricks: 40 (2x20) points below, 20 (1x20) above the line.
bid: 4 hearts, made 10 tricks: 120 (4x30) points below, 0 (0x30) above the line.
bid: 4 no trump, made 11 tricks: 130 (4x30+10) points below, 30 (1x30) above the line.

Game and Rubber

If the score of the pair below the line equals or exceeds 100 points (either at once or taken together with what already was below the line), the team is said to have scored a game, and all scores below the line are turned into scores above the line. If the team has made their second game, the rubber has ended, and the final scores are counted. The team that won the rubber scores 500 points bonus if their opponents also made a game, 700 points bonus otherwise.

Vulnerability and slam bonus

A team that has already made a game, is called vulnerable, which is of importance for the slam bonus and for the downtricks.

If a player bids and makes a bid of 6 in something, he is said to have made a small slam. This gives a bonus (above the line) of 500 points when not vulnerable, and 750 points when vulnerable. If a player bids and makes a bid of 7 in something (thus scoring all the tricks), he is said to have made a grand slam. This gives a bonus of 1000 points when not vulnerable, and 1500 points when vulnerable.


If a pair goes down, their opponents score points above the line. If the pair is not vulnerable, their opponents get 50 points per undertrick, if it is vulnerable 100 points per undertrick.


If a pair is doubled, and makes their contract, they get double points for all tricks bid, while overtricks score extra - 100 points per overtrick if not vulnerable, 200 points if vulnerable. Furthermore, the pair gets 50 points bonus 'for the insult'. All these values are doubled again if the contract was redoubled. The slam bonuses are not influenced by a double, nor are the rubber bonuses - although the latter are of course influenced by the fact that there are more scores below the line, and thus games are reached faster.

If a pair is doubled and goes down, the penalty (points to the other pair) are as follows:

  • If the pair is not vulnerable, 100 for the first downtrick, 200 for the second and third, and 300 for each subsequent downtrick.
  • If the pair is vulnerable, 200 for the first downtrick, and 300 for each following one.

These scores are also doubled again if the contract was redoubled.

Footnote - Recent scoring changes

If you read old Bridge books, you may notice some differences in the scoring rules.

The undertrick penalty when doubled, not vulnerable, used to be 100 for the first undertrick and 200 for each subsequent. This was changed because it was too easy to sacrifice against a grand slam. A vulnerable grand slam is worth 1500 (slam bonus) + 500 (game bonus) + 210 (major suit trick score) = 2210. Down 11, doubled not vulnerable, used to be 2100, a profitable sacrifice.

Also, the "insult bonus" for making a redoubled contract used to be only 50. This was changed to 100, so that playing 5 of a minor, redoubled, making an overtrick, is always worth more than an undoubled small slam.

Scoring - Duplicate Bridge

In duplicate bridge, which is what is normally played on a club or tournament, each hand is played on itself, and not as part of a rubber. This changes (and simplifies) the scoring as described above.

In duplicate bridge, if the required number of tricks for the contract has been made, the pair gets a number of points for the tricks bid and the overtricks as described above (20 per trick above 6 in clubs/diamonds, 30 per trick in hearts/spades, 30 per trick plus 10 bonus in No Trump, possibly doubled or redoubled). If the number actually bid is enough to score 100 points or more, a game has been made, which scores 300 when not vulnerable and 500 when vulnerable. If it is lower, the score is not carried over to the next hand, but there is a 'part score' bonus of 50 points.

The bonus for slam, the bonus 'for the insult' and the scores for downtricks and doubled overtricks are the same as described above.

In duplicate bridge, in every series of four deals, the vulnerabilities of 'all vulnerable', 'none vulnerable', 'vulnerable against not vulnerable' and 'not vulnerable against vulnerable' will all occur once, in a predetermined order.

Bidding Boxes and Bidding Screens

In tournaments, "bidding boxes" are frequently used. This prevents unauthorized information from being conveyed via voice inflection. For example, saying "double" versus "**DOUBLE**". In the top national and international events, "bidding screens" are used. You are unable to see or hear your partner until the bidding is over. There are 2 players on each side of the screen. All alerts are written, and each player alerts both his and his partner's bids.

Most of these problems are avoided in online Bridge. There is less unintentional cheating due to unauthorized information. However, blatant cheating is possible. For example, you can conduct a phone conversation with your partner on a separate line. Fortunately, most experts can detect such cheating. Electronically, a detailed record of every hand is kept, so abuse complaints can usually be resolved properly. Another benefit of online Bridge is that it is impossible to revoke or lead out of turn, as the software won't accept your attempted illegal play.

Bridge on the Internet

Obviously, it is possible to play Bridge on the Internet. There are several free servers available. There are some subscription-based servers, most notably OKBridge. OKBridge is the oldest of the internet Bridge services, and is the service that is most popular among better players. The ACBL has started its own subscription-based internet Bridge service, but is not having much success. The disadvantage of the free servers is that they don't police cheating and have a lower quality of play. Any serious player who plays online should try the subscription-based services, with OKBridge the most popular choice.

There are many advantages to playing Bridge online:

  • The ability to choose when you play. A club game may start at 7pm and end at 10pm. Playing online, you can choose to play from 7-9 or 6-11.
  • The ability to choose your opponents. In a club game, you may be forced to play against pairs that are much weaker, rude, or much stronger. Playing online, you can play against opponents of nearly equal ability.
  • An accurate player rating system. The ACBL masterpoints system measures how much you've played rather than how well. Most online services feature a rating system similar to that of the ELO system in chess. These ratings are not perfect, but they are a good estimate. (Include a description of Lehman rating system?)
  • Fewer convention restrictions. Since you can choose your opponents, there are no convention restrictions. Many players dislike the ACBL because of its convention restrictions.
  • It is easier to police cheating online. Accidental "unauthorized information" problems happen less online. Intentional cheating, such as calling your partner on the telephone, is easier. However, there is a complete record of each bid and play, so it is easy for an expert to detect cheating afterwards. A player won't be banned due to one complaint of cheating, but it is easy to establish a pattern.

There are also some disadvantages to playing online:

  • The ability to choose your opponents. If you get a good result or two, your opponents will probably leave. If you get a bad result with a pickup partner, your partner will likely leave.
  • Some players are more rude online than they would be in person, but this is a very subjective statement.

Definitions of Common Terms

(move this section to a separate page?)

  • trump
  • ruff
  • dummy reversal
  • crossruff
  • bid
  • call
  • pass
  • major suit
  • minor suit
  • slam
  • game
  • rubber
  • double
  • declarer
  • dummy
  • defender
  • board
  • notrump
  • ACBL
  • OKBridge
  • director
  • revoke
  • lead out of turn
  • vulnerable
  • partscore

External link

Great Bridge Links (http://www.greatbridgelinks.com/)

All Wikipedia text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

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