Bridge is an exciting and extremely popular card game. The ability to play is a great social skill, a passport to endless hours of enjoyment.
Most people find the best way to learn is to attend lessons. That way you have a teacher to guide you and other students to play with. And it is easier to learn by playing than just through theory.
Alternatively, we can recommend a good Beginners' Bridge book and Flipper.
Or, you could download a good learning program.
But first, here is an introduction to the basic mechanics of the game.
An outline of the game of bridge
Bridge is a game for four players, playing as two partnerships. Your partner is the player sitting opposite you.
We use an ordinary pack of 52 cards without jokers or other fancy cards. The cards are ranked from the ace (highest), then king, queen, jack, ten, nine, eight and so on down to the two. The rank of suits is spades (), hearts (), diamonds (), then clubs (). If partnerships are not pre-arranged, each player draws a card and the two with the highest cards play against the two with the lowest. The player with the highest card deals first.
After being shuffled, the full pack is dealt one at a time in a clockwise direction, starting with the player on dealer’s left. Each player should therefore receive 13 cards.
Once the cards are dealt, we proceed to the two main parts of the game: the bidding, then the play. You bid to commit your side to win a specified number of tricks and to choose a suit as trumps. You then play to make as many tricks as possible, while harnessing the special power of the trump suit.
Tricks and trumps
A trick comprises one card played by each of the four players at the table. The first card played to a trick is called the lead and the other players must then follow suit (play a card of the same suit as the one led) if they are able to. Play proceeds in a clockwise direction.
A trick is won by the player who contributed the highest card of the suit led, unless it is trumped. The player who wins the trick then leads to the next trick.
The trump suit, if any, is chosen in the bidding (explained in the next section). When a trump is played on a trick it wins the trick. Even the two of the trump suit will beat the ace of any other suit. The only way a trump can be beaten is if someone plays a higher trump on that trick.
The following bridge deal will give us a better idea of tricks and trumps. For ease of reference, we label the four players according to the compass directions.
Let’s say that hearts is the trump suit (the master suit) on this hand. Imagine West starts by leading the K. North can’t beat that, so the 4 is played. East could win the trick with the A, but there is no need - remember West and East are partners, and West’s K is winning anyway. So East plays a low club. South contributes the 7 and now the trick is complete, won by West.
Having won the trick, West now leads to the next trick, and would probably try the Q, which also wins. Say West now leads the K. The A is played from North. East has no diamonds, and may therefore play any other suit. We said hearts were trumps on this hand, so East should play a heart to win the trick. Note that you do not have to trump just because you are able to. If you think your partner will win the trick anyway, just discard something you don’t want instead of trumping. Also remember, of course, that you must always follow suit if you can. Only if you have no card of the suit led may you trump or, for that matter, discard a card of another suit.
The game begins: the bidding
Before we commence the play of the tricks, we first bid to determine which suit, if any, is to be trumps, and how many tricks must be won.
The bidding proceeds in a clockwise direction. The dealer makes the first call. With average strength or less, just pass (“no bid”). With better, make a bid.
A bid consists of a number (1-7) and a suit or notrumps. If you make the final bid, your side must make six more tricks than your bid. The suit specified in the final bid will be trumps. For example, if the final bid is 4, the side that made that bid must try to take 6+4=10 tricks, and hearts will be trumps.
If the final bid is notrumps, then no suit is trumps - the highest card of the suit led always wins the trick since there are no trumps to interfere.
The bidding is sometimes called the auction and as in other sorts of auction, if you wish to make a bid you must go higher than the preceding bids. You can do this by bidding at a higher level (a bid of two of anything would beat a bid of one of anything) or by bidding at the same level in a higher-ranking suit or notrumps.
Notrumps ranks higher than any suit, then spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs. If one of the other players had bid 1, you could bid 1 (higher suit), but if someone had bid 1 you could not bid 1 (lower suit) - you would have to bid at least 2.
If all four players pass without making a bid, the hand is thrown in. Once anyone makes a bid, the other players all get a chance to bid, even if they passed previously; the auction finishes once a bid is followed by three successive passes. Here is a typical auction:
West dealt and passed. North opened with a bid of 1; the first bid is nearly always one of something. Over that, East could legally bid 1 because spades are higher than diamonds, but now South had to go to the 2-level (or higher) to bid hearts because hearts are lower-ranked than spades. West, who passed on the first round, now showed a fondness for partner’s spades by bidding 2. When the other three players all passed, that finished the auction.
The final bid is called the contract. The player (from the side which won the auction) who first suggested the final trump suit becomes declarer. The two opposing players are called defenders. The defender on the left of declarer makes the opening lead (plays the first card). The cards of declarer’s partner are then laid face up on the table as the dummy hand, with the trump suit placed on dummy’s right. If you are declarer you then have a double responsibility - you must play the dummy hand as well as your own!
This has been a very basic introduction to the rules of bridge. To learn how to play properly, attend lessons and/or obtain a copy of the book Beginners' Bridge.