Beginners essentials

Bridge is like Whist with a twist. You play together with your partner opposite, and fight against the other pair. In each "mini round" of bridge, lasting a few minutes, you and partner try to score as many points as possible, most importantly by winning bonus points.

How? Each mini round is (i) an auction followed by (ii) the card play. In the "auction", you bid to choose trumps: the highest bidder chooses.

You (and only you) also win the right to see all your partners cards when you play the cards in the second part: that's when we find out if you can make as many tricks as you bid in the auction, using the trumps you proposed. "Bid and made" is your objective. You opponents (who cannot see eachother's cards - but they can see your partenr's) will try to stop you.

The second part, "the card play", at its simplest is as follows. One person chooses a suit and plays a card from that suit, everyone else uses the same suit, and the highest card wins. If they can't follow suit, they can use a trump card, which beats all the other ordinary cards no matter how high they might be. When all your 13 cards have been played, we then count how many of the 13 tricks each partnership won.

At the end of each "card play", a few points are awarded. If you'd bid high enough (to "Game") you get lots of bonus points for success. Bid even higher, to "Slam", and you get massive bonus points if successful. "Slams" are rare, "Games" are not uncommon.

To get to "Game":

  1. Check if your hand is balanced
  2. Find out if you have 25 points between you
  3. Do you have an 8-card fit ?

With 25 and balanced, bid "Game" in No Trumps.

With 25 and Major fit, bid a Major "Game".

If you fail to make as many tricks as you'd bid in the auction, the enemy will win some penalty points, but usually not too many.


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Beginner's Essential Introduction

Bridge is a silly game for 4 people: 2 teams of two people sitting round a table. Your partner sits opposite you, and cooperates with you, and generally compliments your play, charm, dress, appearance etc.

Think of it as Whist but with 2 differences: (a) you play in pairs and (b) the game splits into two parts:

  • Part 1. Looking at your cards, to guess / predict beforehand how many tricks you will make together if you play the cards well. This is the "Auction".
  • Part 2. "The card play" where you try to get these tricks. . . which is almost exactly like whist, but with one strange twist.

Part 1 is really an auction, going clockwise round and round the table with each person taking it in turn to bid. The pair that proposes the highest number of tricks in effect gets to choose which suit will be trumps. During this part, each "bid" is a proposal to achieve a certain number of tricks in the suit which was bid (club,diamond etc). But what makes it interesting is that the bid is also (at the same time) a code. The code reveals more about your hand to your partner, and of course to anyone else who's listening (which might just include your opponents). The winning bid is known as the "contract" that then has to be fulfilled in the second part.

Part 2 is when you get to play the cards on the table or board, and hopefully achieve what you have promised or ("contracted") in the preceding auction - "Bid and Made". The twist in part 2 is that one of the hands is laid down on the table for all to see.

It takes about 5-10 minutes to play both parts, during which time some people play in total concentrated silence, and other people rarely stop laughing, talking and drinking. Inevitably, these two types don't usually mix too well . . . and then there's the 'Third Way'.

Part 1, Bidding: Some basics

Overall goal of the bidding

  1. To tell your partner what you've got, and
  2. find out what he or she has got, and
  3. decide how they fit together so you can jointly choose which suit should be trumps, or whether to play without any trumps, and finally
  4. find out how high you can bid, with a view to bidding to one of the levels that will win some huge bonus points.

The first objective is to describe the contents of your hand to your partner, not in one bid, but perhaps in 2 or 3. The bidding is like a conversation between you and your dear partner, using what at first might seem a strangely coded language.

At first, you try to give a picture of what your hand contains. And from your partner's bids, you try to build up a picture of what their hand must look like. Each of you can then visualise what the two hands will look like when combined in battle, so that in the final part of the bidding you can make a sensible decision on which suit, if any, should be trumps, and how many tricks you should be able to make.

One quick note now about trumps. Nearly all beginners get this wrong, and quite a few better players too. The really important thing is how many of them you have, more than how high they are. Your high cards (A,K etc) will usually win anyway, whatever you choose as trumps. So it's much better if you can find a long suit for trumps, because then the low cards in that suit (2,3,4 etc) can become winners too.

The available bids

The lowest bid is one club, 1club. Taken literally, this means that you think that you and your partner would like to propose club as trumps, and that you will make the minimum number of tricks to secure a majority of the 13 available (i.e. 7 tricks). Because this is the minimum required to secure a majority, this bid is called "one" club. Unsurprisingly, a bid of two club means the same, except that you think you'll make one more trick, namely 8 tricks.

To put it another way, you need to make 6 more tricks than the number of your bid. The highest bid is 7, where you propose that you think you will make all 13 tricks. That takes some doing, and there is a special prize for bidding and making a "Slam". You buy the drinks.

In the normal course of bidding, the partners will exchange information about their hands, focusing very much on their long suits at first which they hope will become trumps. Then, having established which is their best suit when the two hands are considered together, partners will then switch their attention more towards their strength - and therefore how high to take the bidding. Sometimes no particular suit will dominate, and, provided that every suit has at least some winners, the partners will bid to play in a contract without any trumps. This is imaginatively called "No Trumps", sometimes written "NT".

The strength of every bid must always exceed the previous bid, as in any auction. Except that you are allowed to "pass" as Americans put it, or say "no bid" as the British like to put it. The lowest bid of all bids is one Club (club). Each bid increases from the weakest suit, club, alphabetically through Diamonds (diamond) and Hearts (heart) to Spades spade (CDHS), and then finally to the strongest of all which is No Trumps ("NT"). So, a bid of 1heart is higher than 1diamond, but lower than 1spade. If you have some nice diamonds, and your opponents have bid 1spade, you will have to bid 2diamond, if you want to mention your diamonds.

So, the order of bids from the weakest to the strongest is:

1club 1diamond 1heart 1spade 1NT
2club 2diamond 2heart 2spade 2NT
3club 3diamond 3heart 3spade 3NT
4club 4diamond 4heart 4spade 4NT
5club 5diamond 5heart 5spade 5NT
6club 6diamond 6heart 6spade 6NT
7club 7diamond 7heart 7spade 7NT


Suppose you and your partner do not win the auction, and your opponents bid a higher contract that you are able to. As a result, you and your partner and going to be the defenders. Your goal is to stop the enemy from making the number of tricks they require to make their contracted bid. It's aptly called "getting them down", and you'll get some nice "penalty points" and prizes for doing this.

Now, if you are confident that the enemy have overstretched themselves in the bidding, then you can make a special bid where you announce "double". For example, you might want to "double" if your hand has sufficient guaranteed winning cards to "get them down".

If you "double" the enemy bid, and no other bids follow, it means that the penalty points for "getting them down" will be doubled, or even more. But guess what? The points the enemy gets if they succeed will also double.

There's also a counter bid known as "redouble". You can probably work out for yourself that that means. It all gets very exciting.

Part 2, Playing the hand

After the bidding has finished, when one team has won the contract by bidding the highest, then that team must now play the cards in such a way as to win the number of tricks they promised to make during the auction. The person in that team who first mentioned the suit that was finally agreed is known as the Declarer. His partner is know as "Dummy", not because he's stupid, but for reasons that will soon become clear.

The play is started by the person who sits to the left of the Declarer. From the point of view of the Declarer, this person is romantically referred to as the LHO. Anyway, from the Declarer's point of view, this person is one of the enemy! This person is also known as a "Defender". As soon as he lays down his first card, known as the "opening lead", then Declarer's partner, Dummy, lays down all his cards on the table for everyone to see.

Although you might think that this early revelation of Dummy's cards helps the enemy, which is true, it's a much greater advantage to the Declarer. Defenders don't know for sure which cards their own partner has (other than by making intelligent and informed guesses and logical deductions). Whereas the Declarer can make much more coordinated moves because he can actually see his partner's cards. Although of course Declarer has to guess (or work out) which of his two opponents has which danger cards.

The game now proceeds like whist, with Declarer making all the decisions about which card dummy must play each time. Dummy can now nip off and fix the drinks, or sneak out for a cigarette. Or quietly watch and smile, waiting to congratulate his charming partner at the end of the round (whatever the outcome, Alex).



It needs to be said that the higher you bid, the more likely it is that you and your partner will win the auction and therefore have the right to choose trumps and play for the contract. Which is generally how you score points, assuming you make the number of tricks you bid.


Although you will win points for each trick that you bid and make, these points are nothing compared with the real objective which it to try to "bid and make" sufficient tricks to get to a so-called "Game", or even sometimes a "Slam", although the latter is relatively rare. If you get to a Game, you will score large bonuses, and you can get these quite often if you are a little daring. Cautious players are the ones who tend to worry too much about not making a contract, and although they don't get clobbered with penalties points for failing, they miss out on the bonuses, which are usually much much bigger. There's an expression in bridge that's worth keeping in mind: "One down is good bridge".

If you get to a "Slam" you get some seriously huge bonuses. (Think: investment bank - or at least 10 times as much).

In general, it's by obtaining these bonuses that you win in bridge. And it's by getting into the position of going for either Game or Slam that you explore the amusing balance between risk or danger - and joy, satisfaction & relief.

There are three ways of bidding "Game". These are: bidding to the level of 3 No Trumps, or 4 of a Major suit (spadeheart), of 5 of a minor suit(diamondclub).

Depending on the circumstances, the bonus points are either 300 or 500, on top of the 100+ you scored anyway for your tricks.

You see, you get 20 points for a minor trick, but 30 for a major. For NT you also get 30 per trick, plus 10 extra points for the very first trick only. So long as these "trick" points add up to 100 or more, you get your "Game" bonus.

The penalty for missing your target is usually 50 points for each trick you failed to make in your "contract". Or rather more, if your opponents "double" you, which is a bid that can be made after any bid of your enemy, as mentioned above. The thing is though, if they double you and you do make your contract, then your points are doubled too, sometimes more than that.

"Slam" means bidding 7 and getting all the tricks (13), that's a Grand Slam. A Small Slam means bidding and getting all but one, namely bidding to 6 and making 12 tricks. The extra bonus points here are between 500 and 1500, depending also on the state of the game. That's on top of the "Game" bonus (300 to 500) and on top of the basic points for your tricks (in the range 120-220).

You could be in for well over 2000 points for a mere 5 minutes intelligent work. Like I say, think Investment Bank.

Vulnerable - the other way to score some serious points

When your opponents are "vulnerable", the penalty points you will earn if they should fail are much higher. Especially if you double them (called "doubled and vulnerable"). If you can get them to go down 3 or 4 tricks, this can be worth as much as bidding and making a "Slam".

The main bidding guidelines

The number of combinations of cards that you and your partner could be dealt runs into the trillions. Yet there are relatively few practical possible bids, maybe thousands of combinations, rather than trillions.

In other words, the bids you can use can never totally describe your hand. However, over time, players have evolved codes and guidelines for bidding which do a remarkably good job. It's a good idea to learn and use these frameworks, known as bidding systems. Well er, no, it's actually essential, at least to some degree.

You can get to grips with one of the best ones, Acol, by browsing this website. It's almost identical to to American Standard SAYC, with a couple of differences, which you can also read about here. Two other other systems in use round the world are "2 over 1" and "precision" (from China), but they are a little more esoteric.

Sometimes, even with the help of these frameworks, it's not obvious what to bid, so compromises will frequently be needed, and indeed it can sometimes go wrong and you will go down. The best players very frequently don't make the contract they just bid - so don't feel in the slightest that missing the contracted bid is a failure - it really is not !

The points to keep in mind about bidding systems are these:

  1. The bidding systems are not foolproof, and so every now and again, an unfortunate distribution of cards will catch you out.
  2. Going down - i.e. bidding a contract that is higher than the number of tricks you eventually make is very common. Just laugh when it happens. Remember that it's more fun to try a high bid and not get there, rather than not even try in the first place. The joy of succeeding will soon teach you this.
  3. As you become more experienced, you will come to know how to use the framework less as a set of rules, and more as a set of a guidelines where the rules can be broken and interpreted more freely.
  4. Don't bid timidly. The rewards for succeeding in a higher contract usually outweigh the penalties for failing to make a contract. And sometimes it's a good idea to sacrifice - i.e. bid high and fail, simply to stop you enemy getting a contract that will earn them more than you would lose by failing in your contract.
  5. If anything's not clear, send us your question using the contact page.
  6. Start by learning the basic parts of the framework, which deal with the most common situations, such as Hand Evaluation, Opening bids and Responder's first bids. Before anything else, read about "Beginners basic strategy".
  7. Have fun on your journey.

Before you read too much, try to have a go!



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