Bridge is played with 2 partnerships of 2 players. For each hand, deal all the cards out equally. Some bidding occurs, and one team wins the bidding, naming a trump suit and the number of tricks they must take. The player on that team who first bid the trump suit (Declarer) plays both hands for his team; his partner (Dummy) lays his hand out face up once the opponents have led to the first trick.

This is a description of the basic rules of the card game bridge. It does not go into bidding systems in detail, nor does it describe bridge scoring or bridge tournament rules. I have used he and him exclusively to refer to players but that is of course an arbitrary gender denomination.

Introduction

A game of bridge is played by four people paired two and two. They are seated around a (usually square) table where the seats are named after the directions of a compass rose. The player North is paired with South, and East is paired with West.

A whole deck of 52 cards is used and each player is dealt 13 cards. This is called a hand. Four cards, each played by one player, is called a trick. The ultimate goal of the game is to win as many tricks as possible.

The game of bridge is divided into two parts: bidding and play.

Bidding

During the bidding phase the objective is to try to determine the combined strength of your and your partner's respective hands. There are five valid bids:
  • Color - A color bid is one of the four suits combined with a number from one to seven, which states the number of tricks (plus six) the bidder expect to win if that suit is chosen as trump. Valid bids are for example one spade, two spades, four hearts, seven diamonds, etc.
  • Notrump - A notrump bid is always combined with a number from one to seven, stating the number of tricks (plus six) the bidder expect to win if the game is played without a trump color. Valid bids are for example one notrump, two notrump, etc.
  • Double - A bid that inreases the amount of points gained for the winning pair.
  • Redouble - Further increases the amount of points gained, but is only valid directly after someone has bid double, and not by a member of the same pair.
  • Pass - The player refrains from bidding this round.
The color or notrump bit of a bid is called strain. Strains are ordered (ascending) clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades, notrump. This means that two clubs is higher than one club, two hearts is higher than two diamonds and two notrump is higher than two spades.

The dealer starts the bidding, the players then take turns clockwise around the table. A strain bid must be higher than the previous strain bid. If a double is followed by anything other than pass or redouble, the double is canceled (it's ok to bid double again, though). The same goes for redouble, with the exception that it can't be followed by a redouble. Bidding ends when a player has made a bid followed by three consecutive passes. The resulting bid is called a contract, because that is the number of tricks (again, plus six) that the pair must win in order to score any points. If they fail, the opposing pair instead gets points for each trick they missed.

Bidding is made a bit more complex by the fact that some bids are worth a lot more points than others. A game gives a bonus if you can win the bet, a small slam or grand slam rewards you with even bigger bounty.

  • Game - a game is either three notrump, four spades, four hearts, five diamonds or five clubs.
  • Small slam - either six of any suit or six notrump.
  • Grand slam - either seven of any suit or seven notrump.
A typical bidding round might look like this (North is the dealer, his partner is South):
  1. North - one spade
  2. East - pass
  3. South - two diamonds
  4. West - pass
  5. North - two notrump
  6. East - pass
  7. South - three notrump
  8. West - pass
  9. North - pass
  10. East - pass
In this particular example, North wants to play with spades as trump, South is more interested in Diamonds but they finally settle on playing three notrump, since that's usually easier to win than five diamonds.

Play

The player of the pair who won the bidding and who also made the first bid in the winning strain (in the example above that would be North since he was the first to bid notrump) is said to be the declarer. His partner is the dummy and won't take an active part of the play. The opposing pair are defenders.

The object of play for both pairs is to win as many tricks as possible; the declarer must try to take at least enough tricks to fulfill the contract and the defenders must win enough tricks to make this impossible (the total number of tricks is, of course, 13).

The player to the left of the declarer plays the first card. Then, the dummy places all his cards face up on table. From now on, the declarer chooses which card the dummy will play (which means that since the declarer controls half of the cards in the game he has a distinct advantage over the defenders). Apart from that, play proceeds as in whist;

  • The trump color is determined by the contract. If the contract is notrump, no trump color is used.
  • The first card played in a trick is called the lead and determines the suit. The other players must follow suit if possible, otherwise they are free to play any card.
  • The trick is won by the player with the highest card in the choosen suit if no trump is played, otherwise it is won by the highest trump.
  • The player who won the last trick plays the lead in the next one.

Notes

This is basically what you need to know to be able to play a game of bridge. However, you won't get far without using a decent bidding system, which is a number of conventions that you and your partner use to communicate information about the strengths and weaknesses about your respective hands. But mastering the perfect bidding system is something you can spend a lifetime on and far beyond the scope of this writeup.

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