Bridge is not a simple game. Let me explain. No, there is too much – let me sum up.
Here’s a quick overview of the game, with Bridge-specific terms in bold, like this.
Bridge is a game of “partnerships” or “sides.” Two players form one partnership and sit across from one another at a table; two other players form a second partnership, sitting at right angles to the first.
Each deal starts with distributing all the playing cards to the players. Then the players participate in an “auction.” During the auction, each side attempts to communicate information about the playing strength of their combined hands, using a limited set of statements, while their opponents are trying to do the same thing.
Each bid during the auction proposes a “contract” in which to play the current deal. When completed, the last-named contract becomes the goal for the deal. The auction also determines which of the four players is “Declarer.” Declarer is in charge of winning the tricks for their side.
The contract determines how many tricks must be won by the Declarer to fulfill the contract and earn points.
The contract also specifies whether a suit will be used as “trump,” and if so, which suit. When there is a trump suit, any card in the trump suit outranks all cards in any other suit. So if Hearts is trump, the lowly Two of Hearts outranks even the Ace of Spades.
During the auction, the final contract may also have been “doubled” or “redoubled,” raising the stakes for each side’s score on the current deal.
Declarer’s opponents are called the “Defenders.” One defender chooses a card to play to the first trick. This card is the “opening lead.”
After the opening lead, Declarer’s partner becomes the “Dummy.” Dummy’s cards are laid face-up on the table for all to see. Declarer decides the order in which Dummy’s cards are played. The Defenders also get to see Dummy’s cards, but they cannot see one another’s cards.
Each player in turn must “follow suit,” meaning that each player must play a card of the same suit as the first card played to the trick. If a player has no cards in the suit led to the trick, that player may play any card from their hand.
Each “trick” – the group of four cards, one contributed by each player – is won by the player who contributes the highest-ranking trump card to the trick. If no trump cards have been played to the trick, the trick is won by the highest-ranking card of the suit led to the trick.
Once a player wins a trick, that same player chooses any card from their own hand to lead to the next trick. After a trick is won in the Dummy hand, the next trick must begin with a card from the Dummy hand, chosen by Declarer.
After all the tricks have been played, all players must agree on the number of tricks won by each side.
The contract is said to be “fulfilled” (or “made”) if Declarer has won at least as many tricks as specified in the contract.
The contract is said to be “defeated” (or “set” or “down”) if the Defenders have won enough tricks to prevent Declarer from fulfilling the contract.
Points are scored by the Declarer’s side if the contract is fulfilled. The number of points earned depends on (a) the number of tricks won by Declarer; (b) the number of tricks in the contract; (c) the denomination (suit or notrump) the contract was played; (d) whether the contract was modified by a “double” or a “redouble”; and (e) whether Declarer’s side was “vulnerable” or not.
Points are scored by the Defenders’ side if the contract is defeated. The number of points earned depends on (a) the number of tricks by which Declarer fell short of the contract; (b) whether the contract was modified by a “double” or “redouble”; and (c) whether Declarer’s side was “vulnerable” or not.
The object of the game is to score more points than your “competitors.” Successful Bridge players choose strategies for bidding and playing that exploit the complexity of the scoring process. Is it more valuable to play as Declarer and make a contract? Or to play as Defenders and defeat a contract? Or play as Declarer in a contract that is intentionally too high, to prevent the opponents from earning more points in their own makeable contract?
Who are you competing against? It depends on the form of scoring.
In two main forms of scoring – “Rubber Bridge” and “Chicago Bridge,” often used for social games – your competitors are your opponents, the people sitting opposite you at the table.
In another main form of scoring – “Duplicate Bridge,” often used for competitions and tournaments – your competitors are other players in the room who play the same hands you have played. Within Duplicate Bridge, there are a number of methods of scoring that can influence your choice of bidding and playing strategies.
Bridge is not a simple game; it is the very complexity of the game that makes it so compelling and challenging to play.
There’s a lot of information here to unpack. I’ll spend time in future posts elaborating on several of these ideas.