Contract bridge


Contract bridge, or simply bridge, is a trick-taking
game using a standard 52-card deck. It is played by four players in two competing partnerships,
with partners sitting opposite each other around a table. Millions of people play bridge
worldwide in clubs, tournaments, online and with friends at home, making it one of the
world’s most popular card games, particularly among seniors. The World Bridge Federation
is the governing body for international competitive bridge.
The game consists of several deals each progressing through four phases: dealing the cards, the
auction, playing the cards, and scoring the results. However, most club and tournament
play involves some variant of duplicate bridge, where the cards are not re-dealt on each occasion,
the same deal being played by two or more different sets of players to enable comparative
scoring. Game play
Fundamentals and preliminaries Scope
Contract bridge has immense scope by virtue of the large number of unique deals which
are possible. The 52-card deck can be distributed to the four players some 53.6×1027 ways.
In turn, each deal presents many options on how it might be bid and played.
Players In its most basic form, bridge is a game played
by four people in two teams of competing partnerships. For purposes of scoring and reference, each
player is identified by one of the cardinal directions and thus North and South play against
East and West. More can participate, either as individuals or pairs or as teams of up
to six, in formal tournaments or social gatherings where the governing rules of the event are
prescribed by the sponsoring host. Additional designations for each of the four
players may be used when referring to their actions during the auction or play of the
cards: Dealer: the player entitled to make the first
call; so chosen by a draw of the cards or in duplicate bridge, so designated by the
board to be played Opener: the first to make a bid
Responder: partner of opener Intervenor: the first of the opponents to
make a call other than pass Overcaller: the first of the opponents to
make a call other than pass or double Advancer: partner of intervenor; also, partner
of overcaller Declarer: the player who first bids the denomination
of the ultimate contract Dummy: partner of declarer
First seat: the dealer Second seat: the player next in clockwise
rotation after the dealer Third seat: the player next in clockwise rotation
after the player in second seat Fourth seat: the player next in clockwise
rotation after the player in third seat Balancing seat or passout seat: the player
who if he passes would end the auction Opening leader: the player to the left of
declarer; he makes the lead to the first trick Left hand opponent: the player to one’s left
Right hand opponent: the player to one’s right Contracts and objectives
Contract bridge is a trick-taking card game where on each of several deals the opposing
sides first compete in a bidding auction for the right to establish the contract for that
deal, the side winning the auction being known as the declaring side. The contract is an
exchange of the right to establish which suit, if any, is trumps for an undertaking to win
the number of tricks specified by the highest bid. After the contract has been established,
the play of the cards proceeds as in most trick-taking card games until all thirteen
tricks have been played; at any time during the play, one side may claim a stated number
of the remaining tricks and concede the balance, if any.
Based on the actual number of tricks taken, the declaring side will have either succeeded
or failed in fulfilling the contract; if successful, the declaring side scores points; if unsuccessful,
the defending side scores points. The overriding objective is to win the contest by accumulating
more points than the opponents. Although each variant of bridge has its own particular scheme
for awarding and accumulating points, all are based upon whether or not the contract
for each deal was made or defeated and by how many tricks.
It can sometimes be advantageous to bid a contract that one does not expect to make
and to be defeated, thus losing some points, rather than allow the opposing side to bid
and make a contract which would score them an even greater number of points. This is
known as a sacrifice, and is not uncommon if both sides are contesting the final contract.
Card, suit and bid rankings In the standard 52-card deck used in bridge,
the ace is ranked highest followed by the king, queen, and jack and the spot-cards from
ten down through to the two. Suit denominations also have a rank order with notrump being
highest followed by spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs. The two lower-ranked suits are
called the minor suits and the higher-ranked suits are called the major suits.
Bidding is based on the premise that the lowest contract available to bidders starts with
the proposition to take seven tricks, i.e. one cannot contract to make less than seven
tricks. Given this, the bidding is said to start at the one-level when contracting for
a total of seven tricks, at the two-level for eight tricks and so on to the seven-level
to contract to take all thirteen tricks. The six tricks required as the base for any bid
are referred to as the “book”. Within any level of bidding, suit rank establishes
the bid’s rank, i.e. a bid of two diamonds outranks a bid of two clubs, a bid of three
spades outranks a bid of three hearts, a bid of three notrump outranks a bid of three spades.
Thus, there are 35 possible basic contracts; 1♣ being the lowest, followed by 1♦ etc.,
up to 7NT, the highest possible bid. Vulnerability
A key feature of bridge is the concept of vulnerability. On each deal, each side is
said to be either vulnerable or not vulnerable depending upon whether or not it has won a
game in the current rubber; if it has, the side is said to be vulnerable; if it has not,
it is said to be not vulnerable. The scoring points that are won on a deal as a result
of making a contract, and the points which are lost when failing to make a contract,
are both significantly increased for the side that is vulnerable. Accordingly, whether one’s
side is vulnerable affects one’s strategy for both bidding and play.
Variations The most common contract bridge variations
are rubber bridge and duplicate bridge. Variants within these two types of contract bridge
are numerous. In rubber bridge, two partnerships participate
in the game at one table and the objective is to score the most points in the play of
several hands. A rubber is a ‘best-of-three’ contest and is completed when one side is
first to have won two games. The side which has accumulated the most points and wins the
rubber may or may not be the side to have won two games. While rubber bridge is played
competitively and for stakes, it is most often played socially and with less formality than
duplicate bridge. In duplicate bridge, the cards held by each
player in each deal are preserved so that each partnership plays the same set of hands
as their East-West or North-South counterparts at other tables and with the scoring based
upon relative performance, thus emphasizing skill over chance. While duplicate is the
primary form of higher levels of competitive bridge, it is also played socially.
Dealing In rubber bridge, partnerships may be self-determined
or decided by a cut of the cards, the two highest cut playing against the two lowest,
and the first dealer is the player cutting the highest card. The cards are shuffled before
each deal, and the dealer deals the cards clockwise one at a time, starting with the
left-hand opponent, so that each player receives a hand of thirteen cards. The deal rotates
clockwise each hand. In order to save time, a second deck, preferably distinct from the
first, is employed so that as the first is being dealt, the second is being shuffled
by the partner of the current dealer. When shuffled, the second deck is placed to the
shuffler’s right, i.e. to the next dealer’s left. After the play and scoring of the hand
has concluded, the deal is rotated and the second deck is moved by the next dealer from
his left to his right, cut by the previous dealer and dealt; the partner of the new dealer
shuffles the first deck continuing the process. If the auction is passed out, i.e. no bids
are made and only four passes are called, the hands are abandoned and the turn to deal
passes in rotation. In duplicate bridge, the hands are shuffled
and dealt only once, at the beginning of the session. Players do not play their cards to
the centre of the table during the play but instead play them immediately in front of
themselves and turn them face down at the end of each trick. The direction that each
face down card is pointed indicates which side won each trick, so that at the end of
the hand, the number of tricks taken by each side can be determined. At the end of the
hand each player returns his hand, intact, to the correct slot in a bridge board such
as that shown at right in which it is transported to other tables so that everyone can play
the same deals. The results for different players playing the same deal are then compared.
This removes much of the element of chance from scores. It also means that in the case
of an irregularity or dispute over a hand before the cards are returned to the board,
they can be reviewed and it can be determined who played which cards in what order.
In some competitions, boards are pre-dealt prior to the competition, especially if the
same hands are to be played at many locations. Sometimes mechanical dealing machines are
used for pre-dealing hands at large tournaments and in many clubs. Even for boards dealt or
assembled manually, computer software is often used to generate the random distributions
of hands. Before the widespread availability of computers, printed books of random deals
could be purchased. In the past it was common for uninteresting hands to be eliminated or
replaced, but this practice is now prohibited in sanctioned tournament play. As the boards
arrive for play at each subsequent table, the four players take their cards from the
board and should count them to ensure that there are 13 cards in their hand before looking
at the cards, so that any irregularity can be corrected before the auction and play commence.
In some countries, the rules require that after the hand is played for the first time,
the players write the hands down on the traveling scoresheet, which can be consulted later if
the cards are accidentally mixed up. Alternatively, if the boards are pre-dealt, “curtain cards”
may be supplied which have each hand printed on them, so that each player can check at
the beginning of the deal that he has the right cards. Pre-dealt hands also have the
advantage that, at the end of the session, diagrams of each deal can be made available
to the players for later analysis. Auction or bidding The auction is a bidding process undertaken
within strict procedural and ethical protocols to determine the declaring side and the final
contract. The contract is an undertaking to win at least the specified number of odd tricks
in the declared denomination. Each partnership works jointly by means of various ‘calls’
to secure a contract at the highest level deemed advisable by them given their card
holdings. A call is limited to a vocabulary of 38 words or phrases consisting of:
a Bid which states a level and a denomination; given 7 levels of bidding and 5 denominations,
there are 35 possible bids Double, when the previous call other than
pass was a bid by an opponent Redouble, when the previous call other than
pass was a double by an opponent Pass, when unwilling or unable to make one
of the three preceding calls In social games, the players may make their
calls orally; otherwise, players use a bidding box containing cards for each possible call
and place the respective card face up on the table in front of their position.
The auction starts with the dealer and proceeds clockwise with each player, having first evaluated
their hand, making a call in order. During the auction, each bid must be ‘sufficient’,
i.e. it must be higher than its predecessor. A bid is sufficient if it specifies any denomination
at a higher level than the last bid, or a higher-ranked denomination at the same level.
Thus, after a bid of 3♥, bids of 2♠ or 3♣ are not sufficient, but 3♠ or 4♦
are. The auction continues until there are three
consecutive passes not including the dealer’s first call. The partnership which makes the
last bid then becomes the “declaring side” and is said to have ‘won’ the auction. The
player on the declaring side who, during the auction, first stated the denomination of
the final bid becomes “declarer,” the declarer’s partner becomes the “dummy,” and the opposing
side become the “defenders.” The defender to the left of declarer must make the opening
lead. In addition to establishing the level and
denomination of the final contract, the final contract may be doubled or redoubled, in which
case the score for the hand is increased, whether the contract is made or defeated.
If all four players pass in the first round, the deal is not played; in rubber bridge the
deal is not scored and the turn to deal passes to the next player, while in duplicate the
score is recorded as zero for each pair and returned to the board.
Strategy The purpose of some early bids may be to exchange
information rather than to set the final contract. For most players, many calls are not made
with the intention that they become the final contract, but to describe the strength and
distribution of the player’s hand, so that the partnership can reach an informed conclusion
on their best contract, and/or to obstruct the opponents’ bidding. The set of agreements
used by a partnership about the meaning of each call is referred to as a bidding system,
full details of which must be made available to the opponents; ‘secret’ systems are not
allowed. An opponent can ask the bidder’s partner to explain the meaning of the call.
Example In the example at left, West was the dealer
and first to bid. The bidding proceeded as shown with South becoming the declarer in
a 4♠ contract, being the first to bid spades. East-West become the defenders and West becomes
the opening leader, North becomes the dummy and spades the trump suit. Ten tricks are
required by North-South, the book plus the 4-level bid. Since East’s double of 2♦ was
cancelled by the subsequent South’s 3♠ bid, it does not affect the contract. Play of the cards The contract level sets a specific target:
in the example above, the declarer must attempt to win ten tricks, to make the contract and
get a positive score. Success in this goal is rewarded by points in the scoring phase
for the declarer’s side. If the declarer fails to make the contract, the defenders are said
to have set or defeated the contract, and are awarded points for doing so.
To begin play, the defender on the declarer’s left makes the opening lead. In more formal
play, the opening leader does so by first placing the card face down on the table to
afford his partner an opportunity to ask questions about the auction, then faces it when partner
has no further questions. This practice also allows the defender to return the card to
his hand without penalty if the lead is not his to make.
The dummy then spreads his hand on the table with each suit in a column from highest to
lowest facing the declarer, customarily with any trump suit on declarer’s left and the
colors of the suits alternating. The rules of play are similar to other trick-taking
games, except that the declarer directs the play of cards from the dummy in addition to
playing cards from his own hand. Dummy is allowed to try to prevent declarer from infringing
the rules, but otherwise must not interfere with the play; for example, dummy may attempt
to prevent declarer from leading from the wrong hand but must not comment on opponents’
actions or make suggestions as to play. The hands play clockwise around the table,
and each hand must “follow suit” if able. A hand that cannot follow suit may either
“ruff” if there is a trump suit or “sluff”. The hand that plays either the highest trump
or, in a trick that contains no trumps, the highest card of the suit led to the trick
wins the trick for its side and proceeds to lead to the next trick. The play continues
until all thirteen tricks are played. The declarer or a defender may “claim” the rest
of the tricks by showing his hand and stating how he will take them.
In rubber bridge, one player typically gathers the tricks for each side. In duplicate bridge,
each player retains the card played from his hand to each trick and lays it on the table
turned in the direction of the side that won the trick, thus keeping the hands separate
to return them to the board at the end of play.
If upon reviewing dummy after the opening lead, declarer assesses that he does not have
enough tricks immediately available to make his contract, he can try to develop additional
tricks through a variety of methods. These include:
losing tricks to the defenders’ high cards in order to “promote” the remaining cards
of that suit in his hand. running out long suits after the defenders’
cards in that suit are exhausted, to force defenders to discard useful cards.
the “finesse”, in which a low card is led toward a high card in the hope of trapping
a high card held by the defender who must play in between.
in trump contracts, the declarer may attempt to cover losers in his hand by trumping them
in dummy, while also taking care to draw out the defenders’ trumps if necessary.
cutting communications between the two defenders, for instance by allowing them to win early
tricks in a suit until they are unable to use the suit as an entry.
more advanced techniques include the “squeeze play” in which a defender is forced to choose
which card to discard before declarer has to make his own discard choice.
Scoring When play ends, the score is determined by
comparing the number of tricks won by the declaring side to the number required to satisfy
the contract. The available scoring points for the declaring side are dependent upon
both the level and strain of the contract and are awarded to them only when the contract
is ‘made’, i.e. at least the contracted for number of tricks are won. If the declaring
side fails to take the required number of tricks, defending side receives points instead
for “setting” the contract. When the declarer makes the contract, the
declarer’s side receives points for: Every odd trick bid and made, known as contract
points Each overtrick, i.e. each trick taken over
the contract level, known as overtrick points Bonus points dependent upon the game variant
being played for certain contract levels including part-game, game, small slam and grand slam
contracts as well as for winning the rubber Bonus points in some game variants for making
a doubled or redoubled contract Bonus points in some game variants for holding
four or more honors in one hand When the declarer fails to make the contract,
the defending side receives points for undertricks – the number of tricks by which declarer fell
short of the goal. The various bonus structures give certain
bid levels special significance. For example, if the declarer takes all thirteen tricks
in a notrump contract, there is a large score difference between contracts of 1NT and 7NT.
The bonuses available for contracting at higher levels ensures competitiveness in the auction.
The most important level is game, which is any contract whose bid trick value is 100
or more points. Game level varies by suit, since different suits are worth different
amounts in scoring. The game level for notrump is three, the game level for hearts or spades
is four, and the game level for clubs or diamonds is five. Because of the value of the game
bonus, much of the bidding revolves around investigating the possibility of making game.
Additional bonuses are awarded for bidding and making small slam and grand slam contracts.
The concept of vulnerability affects scoring and introduces a wider range of tactics in
bidding and play. Every partnership is in one of two states: vulnerable or non-vulnerable,
either by virtue of their previous deals in rubber bridge or as predetermined by the board
in duplicate bridge. When a pair is vulnerable, game and slam bonuses are higher, as are penalties
for failure to make the contract. Finally, doubling and redoubling also has a significant
effect on scoring, especially for vulnerable contract which are either defeated or which
win overtricks. While the scoring of individual hands in rubber
and duplicate bridge share many features, the accumulation of scores over several hands
differs significantlly. See bridge scoring for details and examples.
Rules The rules of the game are referred to as the
‘Laws’ as promulgated by various bridge organizations. Laws of duplicate bridge The official rules of duplicate bridge are
promulgated by the World Bridge Federation as the “International Code of Laws of Duplicate
Bridge, 2007”. The Laws Committee of the WBF, composed of world experts, updates the Laws
every 10 years; it also issues a Laws Commentary advising on interpretations it has rendered.
In addition to the basic rules of play there are many additional rules covering playing
conditions and the rectification of irregularities which are primarily for use by tournament
directors who act as referees and have overall control of procedures during competitions.
In addition, some details of procedure are left to the discretion of the zonal bridge
organisation for tournaments under their aegis and some to the sponsoring organisation.
The zonal organisations of the WBF also publish editions of the Laws. For example, the American
Contract Bridge League publishes “Laws of Duplicate Bridge, 2008”, “Laws of Contract
Bridge, 2003” and additional supporting documentation including: Director Decisions, Tech Files
and Casebook. Rules of rubber bridge
There are no universally accepted rules for rubber bridge promulgated by bridge governing
bodies; instead local rules such as The Laws of Contract Bridge as published by the American
Contract Bridge League constitute the rules for those wishing to abide by a published
standard. The majority of rules mirror those of duplicate
bridge in the bidding and play and differ primarily in procedures for dealing and scoring.
Laws of online play In 2001, the World Bridge Federation promulgated
a set of Laws for online play. History Bridge is a member of the family of trick-taking
games and is a development of Whist, which had become the dominant such game enjoying
a loyal following for centuries. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Bridge is
the English pronunciation of a game called Biritch, which was also known as Russian Whist.
The oldest known Biritch rule book dated 1886 is by John Collinson. It and his subsequent
letter to The Saturday Review dated May 28, 1906, document the origin of Biritch as from
the Russian community in Constantinople and having some features in common with Solo Whist.
The game had many significant bridge-like developments: dealer chose the trump suit,
or nominated his partner to do so; there was a call of notrumps; dealer’s partner’s hand
became dummy; points were scored above and below the line; game was 3NT, 4H and 5D; the
score could be doubled and redoubled; and there were slam bonuses. This game, and variants
of it known as bridge and bridge-whist, became popular in the United States and the UK in
the 1890s despite the long-established dominance of whist.
In 1904 auction bridge was developed, in which the players bid in a competitive auction to
decide the contract and declarer. The object became to make at least as many tricks as
were contracted for and penalties were introduced for failing to do so.
The modern game of contract bridge was the result of innovations to the scoring of auction
bridge made by Harold Stirling Vanderbilt and others. The most significant change was
that only the tricks contracted for were scored below the line toward game or a slam bonus,
a change that resulted in bidding becoming much more challenging and interesting. Also
new was the concept of vulnerability making sacrifices to protect the lead in a rubber
more expensive. The various scores were adjusted to produce a more balanced and interesting
game. Vanderbilt set out his rules in 1925, and within a few years contract bridge had
so supplanted other forms of the game that “bridge” became synonymous with “contract
bridge.” In the USA, most of the bridge played today
is duplicate bridge, which is played at clubs, in tournaments [4] and online [5]. In the
UK, rubber bridge is still popular in both homes and clubs, as is duplicate bridge. The
number of people playing contract bridge has declined since its peak in 1940s, when a survey
found it was played in 44% of US households. The game is still played, especially amongst
retirees, and in 2005 the ACBL estimated there were 25 million players in the US.
Tournaments Bridge is a game of skill played with randomly
dealt cards, which makes it also a game of chance, or more exactly, a tactical game with
inbuilt randomness, imperfect knowledge and restricted communication. The chance element
is in the deal of the cards; in competitions and clubs the chance element is largely eliminated
by comparing results of multiple pairs in identical situations. This is achievable when
there are eight or more players, sitting at two or more tables, and the deals from each
table are preserved and passed to the next table, thereby duplicating them for the next
table of participants to play. At the end of a session, the scores for each deal are
compared, and the most points are awarded to the players doing the best with each particular
deal. This measures skill because each player is being judged only on the ability to bid
with, and play, the same cards as other players. However very often even the most skillful
play will only succeed some of the time, and the skilled player may be unlucky because
an alternative, less expert play achieves a better result. But in the long run the expert
player will score better. This form of the game is referred to as duplicate
bridge and is played in clubs and tournaments, which can gather as many as several hundred
players. Duplicate bridge is a mind sport, and its popularity gradually became comparable
to that of chess, with which it is often compared for its complexity and the mental skills required
for high-level competition. Bridge and chess are the only “mind sports” recognized by the
International Olympic Committee, although they were not found eligible for the main
Olympic program. The basic premise of duplicate bridge had
previously been used for whist matches as early as 1857. Initially, bridge was not thought
to be suitable for duplicate competition; it wasn’t until the 1920s that bridge tournaments
became popular. In 1925 when contract bridge first evolved,
bridge tournaments were becoming popular, but the rules were somewhat in flux, and several
different organizing bodies were involved in tournament sponsorship: the American Bridge
League, the American Whist League, and the United States Bridge Association. In 1935,
the first officially recognized world championship was held. By 1937, however, the American Contract
Bridge League had come to power, and it remains the principal organizing body for bridge tournaments
in North America. In 1958, the World Bridge Federation was founded to promote bridge world-wide,
coordinate periodic revision to the Laws and conduct world championships.
Bidding boxes and bidding screens In tournaments, “bidding boxes” are frequently
used, as noted above. In top national and international events, “bidding screens” are
used. These are placed diagonally across the table, preventing partners from seeing each
other during the game; often the screen is removed after the auction is complete.
Game strategy Bidding Much of the complexity in bridge arises from
the difficulty of arriving at a good final contract in the auction. This is a difficult
problem: the two players in a partnership must try to communicate sufficient information
about their hands to arrive at a makeable contract, but the information they can exchange
is restricted – information may be passed only by the calls made and later by the cards
played, not by other means; in addition, the agreed-upon meaning of each call and play
must be available to the opponents. Since a partnership that has freedom to bid
gradually at leisure can exchange more information, and since a partnership that can interfere
with the opponents’ bidding can cause difficulties for their opponents, bidding systems are both
informational and strategic. It is this mixture of information exchange and evaluation, deduction,
and tactics that is at the heart of bidding in bridge.
A number of basic rules of thumb in bridge bidding and play are summarized as bridge
maxims. Bidding systems and conventions
A bidding system is a set of partnership agreements on the meanings of bids. A partnership’s bidding
system is usually made up of a core system, modified and complemented by specific conventions
which are pre-chosen between the partners prior to play. The line between a well-known
convention and a part of a system is not always clear-cut: some bidding systems include specified
conventions by default. Bidding systems can be divided into mainly natural systems such
as Acol and Standard American, and mainly artificial systems such as the Precision Club
and Strong Diamond. Calls are usually considered to be either
natural or conventional. A natural bid is one in which the suit and level bid is essentially
passing the information “I have some cards in this suit and some high cards in my hand”;
a natural double says in effect “I don’t think the opponents can make their contract, so
I want to raise the stakes”. By contrast, a conventional call offers and/or asks for
information by means of pre-agreed coded interpretations, in which some calls convey very specific information
or requests that are not part of the natural meaning of the call. Thus in response to 4NT,
a ‘natural’ bid of 5♦ would state a preference towards a diamond suit or a desire to play
the contract in 5 diamonds, whereas if the partners have agreed to use the common Blackwood
convention, a bid of 5♦ in the same situation would say nothing about the diamond suit,
but tell the partner that the hand in question contains exactly one ace.
Conventions are valuable in bridge because of the need to pass information beyond a simple
like or dislike of a particular suit, and because the limited bidding space can be used
more efficiently by taking situations in which a given call will have less utility, because
the information it would convey is not valuable or because the desire to convey that information
would arise only rarely, and giving that call an artificial meaning that conveys more useful
information. There are a very large number of conventions from which players can choose;
many books have been written detailing bidding conventions. Well-known conventions include
Stayman, Jacoby transfers, and the Blackwood convention.
The term preempt refers to a high level tactical bid by a weak hand, relying upon a long suit
rather than high-value cards for tricks. Preemptive bids serve a double purpose – they allow
players to indicate they are bidding on the basis of a long suit in an otherwise weak
hand, which is important information to share, and they also consume substantial bidding
room before a possibly strong opposing pair can identify whether they have a good possibility
to play the hand, or in what suit or at what level they should do so. Several systems include
the use of opening bids or other early bids with weak hands including long suits at the
2, 3 or even 4 or 5 levels as preempts. Basic natural systems
As a rule, a natural suit bid indicates a holding of at least four cards in that suit
as an opening bid, or a lesser number when supporting partner; a natural NT bid indicates
a balanced hand. Most systems use a count of high card points
as the basic evaluation of the strength of a hand, refining this by reference to shape
and distribution if appropriate. In the most commonly used point count system, aces are
counted as 4 points, kings as 3, queens as 2, and jacks as 1 point; therefore, the deck
contains 40 points. In addition, the distribution of the cards in a hand into suits may also
contribute to the strength of a hand and be counted as distribution points. A better than
average hand, containing 12 or 13 points, is usually considered sufficient to open the
bidding, i.e., to make the first bid in the auction. A combination of two such hands is
often sufficient for a partnership to bid, and generally to make, game in a major suit
or notrump. In natural systems, a 1NT opening bid usually
reflects a hand that has a relatively balanced shape cards in each suit) and a sharply limited
number of high card points, usually somewhere between 12 and 18 – the most common ranges
use a span of exactly three points,, but some systems use a 4 point range, usually 15-18.
Opening bids of 3 or higher are preemptive bids, i.e., bids made with weak hands that
especially favor a particular suit, opened at a high level in order to define the hand’s
value quickly and to frustrate the opposition. For example, a hand of ♠ KQJ9872 ♥ 7
♦ 42 ♣ 763 would be a candidate for an opening bid of 3♠, designed
to make it difficult for the opposing team to bid and find their optimum contract even
if they have the bulk of the points, as it is nearly valueless unless spades are trumps,
it contains good enough spades that the penalty for being set should not be higher than the
value of an opponent game, and the high card weakness makes it more likely that the opponents
have enough strength to make game themselves. Openings at the 2 level are either unusually
strong or preemptive, depending on the system. Unusually strong bids communicate an especially
high number of points or a high trick-taking potential.
Opening bids at the one level are made with hands containing 12–13 points or more and
which are not suitable for one of the preceding bids. Using Standard American with 5-card
majors, opening hearts or spades usually promises a 5-card suit. Partnerships who agree to play
5-card majors open a minor suit with 4-card majors and then bid their major suit at the
next opportunity. This means that an opening bid of 1♣ or 1♦ will sometimes be made
with only 3 cards in that suit. Doubles are sometimes given conventional meanings
in otherwise mostly natural systems. A natural, or penalty double, is one used to try to gain
extra points when the defenders are confident of setting the contract. The most common example
of a conventional double is the takeout double of a low-level suit bid, implying support
for the unbid suits or the unbid major suits and asking partner to choose one of them.
Variations on the basic themes Bidding systems depart from these basic ideas
in varying degrees. Standard American, for instance, is a collection of conventions designed
to bolster the accuracy and power of these basic ideas, while Precision Club is a system
that uses the 1♣ opening bid for all or almost all strong hands and may include other
artificial calls to handle other situations. Many experts today use a system called 2/1
game forcing, which amongst other features adds some complexity to the treatment of the
one notrump response as used in Standard American. In the UK, Acol is the most common system;
its main features are a weak one notrump opening with 12-14 high card points and several variations
for 2-level openings. There are also a variety of advanced techniques
used for hand evaluation. The most basic is the Milton Work point count, but this is sometimes
modified in various ways, or either augmented or replaced by other approaches such as losing
trick count, honor point count, law of total tricks, or Zar Points.
Common conventions and variations within natural systems include:
Point count required for 1 NT opening bid Whether an opening bid of 1♥ and 1♠ requires
a minimum of 4 or 5 cards in the suit Whether 1♣ is ‘natural’ or ‘suspect’, signifying
an opening hand lacking a notable heart or spade suit
Whether opening bids at the two level are ‘strong’ or ‘weak’.
Blackwood Stayman
Whether the partnership will play Jacoby transfers, minor suit transfers and Texas transfers
What types of cue bids the partnership will play, if any.
Whether doubling a contract at the 1, 2 and sometimes higher levels signifies a belief
that the opponents’ contract will fail and a desire to raise the stakes, or an indication
of strength but no biddable suit coupled with a request that partner bid something.
Whether doubling or overcalling over opponents’ 1NT is natural or conventional. Most common
artificial agreement is Cappelletti, where 2♣ is a transfer to be passed or corrected
to a major, 2♦ means both majors and a major shows that suit plus a minor.
How the partnership’s bidding practices will be varied if their opponents intervene or
compete. Which bids are forcing and require a response.
Within play, it is also commonly agreed what systems of opening leads, signals and discards
will be played: Conventions for the opening lead govern how
the first card to be played will be chosen and what it will mean,
Signals indicate how cards played within a suit are chosen – for example, playing
a noticeably high card when this would not be expected can signal encouragement to continue
playing the suit, and a low card can signal discouragement and a desire for partner to
choose some other suit. Discards cover the situation when a defender
cannot follow suit and therefore has free choice what card to play or throw away. In
such circumstances the thrown-away card can be used to indicate some aspect of the hand,
or a desire for a specific suit to be played. Count signals cover the situation when a defender
is following suit. In such circumstances the order in which a defender plays his spot cards
will indicate whether an even or odd number of cards was originally held in that suit.
This can help the other defender count out the entire original distribution of the cards
in that suit. It is sometimes critical to know this when defending.
Suit preference signals cover the situation where a defender is returning a suit which
will be ruffed by his partner. If he plays a high card he is showing an entry in the
higher side suit and viceversa. There are some other situations where this tool may
be used. Surrogate signals cover the situation when
it is critical to show length in a side suit and it will be too late if defenders wait
till that suit is played. Then, the play in the first declarer played suit is a count
signal regarding the critical suit and not the trump suit itself. In fact, any signal
made about a suit in another suit might be called as such.
Advanced bidding techniques Every call serves two purposes. It confirms
or passes some information to a partner, and also denies by implication any other kind
of hand which would have tended to support an alternative call. For example, a bid of
2NT immediately after partner’s 1NT not only shows a balanced hand of a certain point range,
but also would almost always deny possession of a five-card major suit or even a four card
major suit. Likewise, in some partnerships the bid of
2♥ in the sequence 1NT – 2♣ – 2♦ – 2♥ between partners explicitly shows five hearts
but also confirms four cards in spades: the bidder must hold at least five hearts to make
it worth looking for a heart fit after 2♦ denied a four card major, and with at least
five hearts, a Stayman bid must have been justified by having exactly four spades, the
other major is not useful with anything except a four card major suit). Thus an astute partner
can read much more than the surface meaning into the bidding. Alternatively, many partnerships
play this same bidding sequence as “Crawling Stayman” by which the responder shows a weak
hand with shortness in diamonds but at least four hearts and four spades; the opening bidder
may correct to spades if that appears to be the better contract.
The situations detailed here are extremely simple examples; many instances of advanced
bidding involve specific agreements related to very specific situations and subtle inferences
regarding entire sequences of calls. Play techniques Terence Reese, a prolific author of bridge
books, points out that there are only four ways of taking a trick by force, two of which
are very easy: playing a high card that no one else can beat
trumping an opponent’s high card establishing long suits
playing for the opponents’ high cards to be in a particular position
Nearly all trick-taking techniques in bridge can be reduced to one of these four methods.
The optimum play of the cards can require much thought and experience and is the subject
of whole books on bridge. Example
The cards are dealt as shown in the bridge hand diagram; North is the dealer and starts
the auction which proceeds as shown in the bidding table.
As neither North nor East have sufficient strength to open the bidding, they each pass,
denying such strength. South, next in turn, opens with the bid of 1♥, which denotes
a reasonable heart suit and at least 12 high card points. On this hand, South has 14 high
card points. West overcalls with 1♠, since he has a long spade suit of reasonable quality
and 10 high card points. North supports partner’s suit with 2♥, showing heart support and
about 6-8 points. East supports spades with 2♠. South inserts a game try of 3♣, inviting
the partner to bid the game of 4♥ with good club support and overall values. North complies,
as North is at the higher end of the range for his 2♥ bid, and has a fourth trump,
and the doubleton queen of clubs to fit with partner’s strength there.
In the auction, North-South are trying to investigate whether their cards are sufficient
to make a game, which yields bonus points if bid and made. East-West are competing in
spades, hoping to play a contract in spades at a low level. 4♥ is the final contract,
10 tricks being required for N-S to make with hearts as trump.
South is the declarer, having been first to bid hearts, and the player to South’s left,
West, has to choose the first card in the play, known as the opening lead. West chooses
the spade king because spades is the suit the partnership has shown strength in, and
because they have agreed that when they hold two touching honors they will play the higher
one first. West plays the card face down, to give their partner and the declarer a chance
to ask any last questions about the bidding or to object if they believe West is not the
correct hand to lead. After that, North’s cards are laid on the table and North becomes
dummy, as both the North and South hands will be controlled by the declarer. West turns
the lead card face up, and the declarer studies the two hands to make a plan for the play.
On this hand, the trump ace, a spade, and a diamond trick must be lost, so declarer
must not lose a trick in clubs. If the ♣K is held by West, South will find
it very hard to prevent it making a trick. However, there is an almost-equal chance that
it is held by East, in which case it can be ‘trapped’ against the ace, and will be beaten,
using a tactic known as a finesse. After considering the cards, the declarer
directs dummy to play a small spade. East plays low and South takes the ♠A, gaining
the lead.. South proceeds by drawing trump, leading the ♥K. West decides there is no
benefit to holding back, and so wins the trick with the ace, and then cashes the ♠Q. For
fear of conceding a ruff and discard, West plays the ♦2 instead of another spade. Declarer
plays low from the table, and East scores the ♦Q. Not having anything better to do,
East returns the remaining trump, taken in South’s hand. The trumps now accounted for,
South can now execute the finesse, perhaps trapping the king as planned. South enters
the dummy by leading a low diamond, using dummy’s ♦A to win the trick, and leads the
♣Q from dummy to the next trick. East covers the queen with the king, and South takes the
trick with the ace, and proceeds by cashing the remaining master ♣J.. The game is now
safe: South ruffs a small club with a dummy’s trump, then ruffs a diamond in hand for an
entry back, and ruffs the last club in dummy. Finally, South claims the remaining tricks
by showing his or her hand, as it now contains only high trumps and there’s no need to play
the hand out to prove they are all winners. (The trick-by-trick notation used above can
be also expressed in tabular form, but a textual explanation is usually preferred in practice,
for reader’s convenience. Plays of small cards or discards are often omitted from such a
description, unless they were important for the outcome).
North-South score the required 10 tricks, and their opponents take the remaining three.
The contract is fulfilled, and North enters the pair numbers, the contract, and the score
of +420 for the winning side on the traveling sheet. North asks East to check the score
entered on the traveller. All players return their own cards to the board, and the next
deal is played. On the prior hand, it is quite possible that
the ♣K is held by West. For example, by swapping the ♣K and ♥A between the defending
hands. Then the 4♥ contract would fail by one trick. However the failure of the contract
would not mean that 4♥ is a bad contract on this hand. The contract depends on the
club finesse working, or a mis-defense. The bonus points awarded for making a game contract
far outweigh the penalty for going one off, so it is best strategy in the long run to
bid game contracts such as this one. Similarly, there is a minuscule chance that
the ♣K is in the west hand, but the west hand has no other clubs. In that case, declarer
can succeed by simply cashing the ♣A, felling the ♣K and setting up the ♣Q as a winner.
However the chance of this is far lower than the simple chance of approximately 50% that
East started with the ♣K. Therefore the superior percentage play is to take the club
finesse, as described above. Computer bridge User-based play
After many years of little progress, computer bridge made great progress at the end of the
20th century. In 1996, the American Contract Bridge League initiated official World Championships
Computer Bridge, to be held annually along with a major bridge event. The first Computer
Bridge Championship took place in 1997 at the North American Bridge Championships in
Albuquerque, New Mexico. Strong bridge playing programs such as Jack,
Wbridge5, RoboBridge and many-time finalist Bridge Baron, would probably rank among the
top few thousand human pairs worldwide. A series of articles published in 2005 and 2006
in the Dutch bridge magazine IMP describes matches between Jack and seven top Dutch pairs.
A total of 196 boards were played. Overall, the program Jack lost, but by a small margin.
Internet-based play There are several free and subscription-based
services available for playing bridge on the internet. For example:
OKbridge is the oldest of the still-running internet bridge services: was established
as a commercial enterprise in 1994, but the program started to be used interactively in
August 1990 on players of all standards. Beginners to world class may be found playing there.
OKbridge is a subscription-based club, with services such as customer support and ethics
reviews. The subscription-based online Bridge Club
Live, founded in 1994. Calling itself “the friendliest Bridge club of the world”, BCL
organizes annual 4–6 day meetings, in a different country each year, to get its members
together. SWAN Games was founded April, 2000. In March
2004, announced a partnership to provide internet services to SBF members and is a competitor
in subscription-based online bridge clubs. Bridge Base Online is the most active online
bridge club in the world, with more than 100 000 daily connections and 500 000 hands played
each day. in part because it is free to play regular games and volunteer-run tournaments.
These and other sites offer various features, such as opportunities to earn ACBL masterpoints,
to play in online tournaments, to compile lists of friends, and to earn money playing
Bridge. Bridge Base Online also has a Vugraph feature showing tournaments from around the
world for anyone interested to watch live. As well as written commentaries from top level
players, voice commentaries have been incorporated since mid-2011. Software and hardware has
been tested in 2011 in order to have digital cameras recognize the cards being played,
which will avoid human error or delay. Some national contract bridge organizations
now offer online bridge play to their members, including the English Bridge Union, the Dutch
Bridge Federation and the Australian Bridge Federation. MSN and Yahoo! Games have several
online rubber bridge rooms. In 2001, World Bridge Federation issued a special edition
of the lawbook adapted for internet and other electronic forms of the game.
Advantages of online play include: The software prevents improper plays and calls,
such as insufficient bids, revokes, and actions out of turn.
Unauthorised information cannot be passed by tone of voice or body language.
Detailed records are kept which can aid partners to review and improve their bidding and play.
Hands can be easily be analysed for best play afterwards.
Can play with partners far away – or across town.
No need to assemble 4 people in one place. Faster play – no shifting chairs or waiting
for shuffles. Player rating systems may attempt to measure
ability without regard to the number of games played or the number of years spent accumulating
masterpoints. Fewer restrictions on the conventions that
are permitted compared to club tourneys. Easy to find opponents for practice in bidding
and playing. You will meet bridge players from every country
and time zone. Flexibility when to play, and choice of opponent
skill level. Choice of individual, pairs, or team competitions.
Fun to watch famous bridge stars play “live” as well as well-known personalities such as
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett There are also a number of disadvantages:
Inability to decide on bidding convention ahead of time when partners are strangers.
A reduced social element. Players may leave before a hand finishes,
or in the middle of a planned session, either intentionally or because of connection difficulties.
Tournaments are usually shorter online. A common length is 12 boards(deals). Online
services support many simultaneous tournaments. When you finish one tournament, another will
start soon. Some online services like BBO have apps for
Android and iPhone. Card games related to bridge
See also References
Notes Bibliography Further reading External links
American Contract Bridge League New Zealand Contract Bridge Association
World Bridge Federation

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