Bridge, also known as Contract Bridge, is a trick-taking card game in which the object of the game is to win or “take” tricks. Like another trick-taking classic, Spades, the most common variant of Bridge involves partnership.
Two teams of two, in a four-player arrangement, is most common. Bridge can also be played in a three-handed or three-player variant, known as cutthroat.
Bridge is a classic card game using the standard 52-card Anglo-American deck, and one whose age and complexity lends itself to a depth of strategy. As such, this guide is intended for beginners and will not touch upon the more advanced variations and strategies of Bridge, and will settle with the basics.
How to Play Bridge?
The rules for Bridge, or Contract Bridge, can get quite complex and hard to understand. This guide will teach how to play Bridge in a basic fashion, with the aim of teaching Bridge simply to new players.
The game begins with arranging the partnerships. Although other variations of Bridge can be played, this guide will be primarily concerned with the four-handed variation of Bridge.
The partners will sit opposite of each other, example below:
The North-South and East-West Players will form partnerships, for the ease of both Players. Sitting across from your partner makes it easier to play off of their Dummy hand as the Declarer. Cards will be dealt after partnerships are determined, and before the auctioning phase has begun.
As a trick-taking game, Bridge is similar to another game from the same genre, Spades. Like in Spades, Bridge has a phase of the game dedicated to bidding, known as the auction.
The Dealer of the hand begins the first call of the auction, after which the auction continues clockwise. A call is a bid in the auction, or a declaration of the number of tricks that the partnership is likely to win.
Bids in Bridge are assumed to be a minimum of six, and therefore shorthand for Bridge notation ignores the 6 assumed bids.
2♥ is a call from the Declarer partnership that says “Our team will win 8 tricks, and the trump suit will be hearts.”
The Dealer of the hand having made their call, the bidding will then move clockwise to the opposing partnership, who may either pass and avoid the bid, call their own bid (so long as it is higher than the previous bid), or double the bid of their opponent for increased risk, but also reward. For example:
- West bids 2♣
- North doubles for 4♣
If North becomes the Declarer, they must win 10 tricks, and the trump suit for the hand must be clubs. If they meet or exceed their bid, North-South will be awarded with contract points for each “odd trick” that they received.
Odd tricks are those tricks greater than the minimum 6 required. If the contract predicted 7 total tricks, and the Declarer took 9, then they scored 1 odd trick and 1 overtrick. They will be awarded points for the contract or odd-trick, as well as the overtrick.
Undertricks, or penalty points, are tricks below the contracted amount, and are points that are awarded to the Defenders, instead of the Declarer and Dummy.
After a call has been doubled, the opposing partnership may use their opportunity to bid in order to “redouble.” This doubles the bid once again, quadrupling the original call.
Doubles and redoubles offer 2x and 4x the points during scoring, respectively, but also award penalty points to the Defenders in the case of a failed contract by 2x and 4x per undertrick, respectively.
No Trump (NT)
A call may also be made known as an “NT” or No Trump. If a No Trump call wins the auction, there will be no trump cards for the remainder of the hand, and instead the lead card of the trick will always determine the suit to be followed. No trump contracts award the most points of all regular contracts for both overtricks and undertricks.
Declarer and Dummy
The “Declarer” as they have been referenced, is the player that made the winning bid during the auction phase. Their partner is then referred to as the Dummy. These terms will be important for the next phase of the game. The remaining players are referred to as Defenders.
The Deal and Play
Once partnerships have been determined, each player will be dealt 13 cards. Then, the trick-taking begins. The Declarer controls his partnership completely, with the Dummy will reveal the cards in their hand. The Dummy must follow the Declarer’s decisions about what cards to play in the trick.
From this point, the trick-taking will occur normally. Players will create a small pile of four cards, each taking a turn, until every player has placed a card in the trick. Once every player has played their card, the value of each card will be determined.
- A card’s value depends upon its numerical value (Aces are always high in Bridge), and its suit. 2-10, J, Q, K, A numerically.
- The suit’s value depends upon the Declarer’s contract at the start of the hand. If the contract called for diamonds as the trump suit, for example, then diamonds will be the trump card.
- Trump cards always beat non-trump cards, even if they are a higher numerical value. For example, the 10♦ loses to the 2♠ when ♠ is the trump suit.
- Trump cards only lose to other trump cards of a higher numerical value.
The Player whom placed the card which has the greatest value in the trick collects the pile of cards, or “takes” the trick, hence trick-taking.
The hand continues until every player has exhausted all 13 of the cards in their hand, and 13 tricks have been played. In Two-Handed Bridge, there will be 26 cards and 26 tricks that must be played per hand.
At the end of the hand, the Declarer will tally together the tricks won by them and the Dummy, and will determine if their contract was achieved or not. If the contract was achieved, points will then be scored based on the number of tricks won, and the trump suit of the contract.
Spades♠ and Hearts♥ are considered the “major suits” and award 30 points for each odd-trick. These 30 points are then doubled, or quadrupled, if the contract was doubled or redoubled respectively.
The “minor suits” are Clubs♣ and Diamonds♦ and award 20 points for each odd-trick. The minor suits also double or quadruple depending on the auction, as specified. No trump contracts award 40 points for the first odd-trick, and then 30 for each following odd-trick. When doubled or redoubled, both values are doubled. Meaning the first trick is worth 80 or 160 points, and following contract tricks (or odd-tricks) are valued at 60 and 120 points.
Overtricks and Vulnerability
Tricks accumulated which are in excess of the called contract are known as Overtricks, and score differently than contract tricks because of their dependence on vulnerability. When a partnership wins the first hand, they become vulnerable in the second hand.
A team that is vulnerable can massively increase their own score, but can also inadvertently increase the score of their opponents.
Vulnerability increases the score of doubled or redoubled contracts, as overtricks become worth 200 points when doubled, and 400 when redoubled. Overtricks are worth 100 and 200 points when doubled and redoubled when the partnership is not vulnerable. In both cases, if the contract was not doubled or redoubled, overtricks score the same value as the equivalent contract bid.
A “hand” of Bridge ends when one partnership garners 100 points. A “game” of Bridge ends when one partnership wins two hands.
Even though a partnership managed to win two hands, that does not necessarily mean that they won. Ending the game grants the team which one two hands a “rubber bonus” of 500 points if the opposing team also won a game, or 700 points if they did not, but it does not automatically make them the winner.
The team that wins the game is the team with the highest total number of points scored in all hands.
It is possible to score the rubber bonus, but still lose if a large number of undertricks paid out penalty points to the opposing team.
How Many People Can Play?
Bridge is normally and for the purposes of this guide played by four people. This is also known as four-handed Bridge. However, there exists two- and three-handed bridge variations.
Two-Handed Bridge follows the same rules as Four-Handed Bridge, except for the following:
- Two-Handed Bridge has no partnerships
- Scores are individual
- Each Player is dealt 26 cards, instead of 13
- Three-Handed Bridge follows the same rules as Four-Handed Bridge, except for the following:
- Deal each Player 13 cards, then deal 13 cards to an “invisible” player that will act as a permanent Dummy hand
- Reveal 6-8 of the Dummy’s cards
- The Declarer will play with the Dummy’s cards, as usual, while the remaining players will make up the Defenders.
Below we outlined some of the most basic rules of Bridge, including some subjects we already touched upon earlier in this guide.
- The Dummy must follow the lead of the Declarer during that hand. Everybody has to be the Dummy sometimes.
- The shorthand notation of Bridge is useful to know, although calls are still largely made verbally during the course of the auction.
- Players must “follow suit” if they are able. This means that the lead player of the trick, the first to play their card, determines the suit of the trick. If able, all players must play a card of the same suit as the leader. If they are not able, then the Player may use a trump card.
- Trump cards win the trick, and only a trump card of greater numerical value can beat a trump card.
- If the hand has been contracted under a “no trump” auction, then there are no trump cards for the hand and only the lead suit may win the trick.
- Suit ranking is as follows: Spades and Hearts are major tricks, Clubs and Diamonds are minor tricks.
Scoring & Points
Understanding how to score in Bridge can be quite confusing, but this guide will explain how to account for high-card points in addition to the scoring explanations provided above.
High-card points are a manner of card evaluation in Bridge. HCP are notation that represents the value of a hand based upon the “high-cards” within it.
For example, Aces are worth 4HCP. A hand with two aces in it, and no other face cards, has an HCP evaluation of 8.
High-Card Points, or HCP, are notated as follows:
HCP is used by professional Bridge players in order to understand the rough value of their hand at the start of the game.
In a game like Bridge, where it is important to accurately guess the number of tricks to be taken in a particular hand, HCP gives a player the ability to judge the probability of “safe” or guaranteed tricks.
Aces offer such high HCP because they are the highest rank of their suit. In a hand with no trumps, Aces become an automatic victory when following suit or leading.
In the above example, assume that West was the leading Player, and that Diamonds are trump cards in this hand. Even though North played the numerically superior card, and followed suit, diamonds are trump cards. Despite being a low value card, because it is a trump suit, East wins the trick.
Assume in the above example that there are no trump cards, and assume that West was the lead player. As all players must follow suit, and there are no trump cards, North was forced to play an otherwise high-value card in order to follow suit. East and South both followed suit and played spades, but were able to discard low value cards into a trick they already could not win (As Aces are the highest value cards).
Below we listed several basic tips that will help you improve your game.
- Defenders should not compete with each other. If you are a Defender and your partner is already poised to win the trick, there is no reason to waste a high-value card or a trump card trying to take the trick from them. Your tricks are combined for scoring purposes.
- Doubling and redoubling a contract can be worth it for the high reward, but the risk is also great. Doubling a contract can greatly increase the number of tricks needed to win, as the minimum to even bid is already 6 out of 13 possible contracts. A contract of 4 or 5 is a promise to win 10 or 11 out of 13 tricks. A very strong opening hand is required to safely do this.
- Vulnerability completely changes the way you should play the game. If you are vulnerable, you are able to win enough points to guarantee victory, but if you do not meet your contract, you are giving that opportunity to your opponents to win. Once vulnerable, do not take doubled or redoubled contracts unless you are behind and must in order to have a chance at winning.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a call in Bridge?
A call in bridge is merely a declaration during the bidding phase. It is an assertion of the number of tricks that a partnership will take during a given hand of Bridge.
When do you declare honors?
Honors are similar to melds found in Penuchle, however unlike Penuchle, honors are the only meld in the game. As honors are a form of meld, they are declared after the cards have been dealt, before the auctioning phase.
How many cards are there in a Bridge deck?
Bridge is played with the standard, 52-card Anglo-American deck.
Do you have to cut the cards?
Cutting is not necessary, but is an extra layer of protection against cheating. Customarily, the dealer will shuffle the deck and then hand it to another Player on the opposite team in order for the deck to be “cut.”
The other Player will roughly cut the deck in half, and then place the top half on bottom. This makes it much harder to cheat when shuffling a deck, because the dealer will not be able to know exactly which card will be on the top of the deck after cutting. .
What is 1NT?
1NT is shorthand notation for a particular call in Bridge, known as the “one, no trump” or 1NT. The 1NT is essentially a declaration during the auction of “Seven tricks, no trump suit.” However, 1NT has the same meaning, but different strategic implications, depending on the stage of the auction that it is declared.
Bridge Vs. Euchre: What is the difference?
Euchre is similar to Bridge, as it is a trick-taking card game involving teams of two, trump cards, and bidding. However, Euchre is different from Bridge in many ways. The Jokers are involved in the Euchre deck, acting as ultimate trump cards, and Euchre can be played with 24, 28, or 32 cards, compared to Bridge’s mandatory 52.