What’s in a Bridge Contract?

According to the Laws of Duplicate Bridge, the contract is defined to be “the undertaking by declarer’s side to win, at the denomination named, the number of odd tricks specified in the final bid, whether undoubled, doubled, or redoubled.”

What does all that mean, anyway?

Understanding the Definition

Let’s break down this law-book definition:

The contract is an undertaking. It is an attempt to meet a goal.

The contract is an undertaking by declarer’s side. The goal is established in reference to the declarer’s side. The defenders strive to keep declarer’s side from reaching that goal.

The contract is established in a denomination. There are five “denominations” in Bridge: Notrump and the four suits (Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs). When a contract is in a suit, that deal is played using the specified suit as trump; when the contract is in Notrump, there is no trump suit for the play of that deal.

The contract is an undertaking to win some number of odd tricks. In Bridge, an “odd trick” is a trick to be won in excess of six. The number of odd tricks can be as low as 1 (representing 7 tricks, or just more than half the tricks in the deck). The number of odd tricks can be as high as 7 (representing all 13 tricks). We’ll encounter “odd tricks” in other posts as well.

The contract is the final bid of the auction. This has some interesting implications; in particular, any bid made during the auction might become the contract. When we discuss auctions and bidding systems, we’ll explore this more thoroughly.

The contract may be undoubled, doubled, or redoubled. Doubling and redoubling are ways to raise the stakes for the deal — increasing the number of points won or lost — without raising the number of tricks required to fulfill the contract. Doubling and redoubling are optional, so a contract may also be left undoubled.

Example Contracts

There are 105 possible contracts, one for each combination of (a) the 7 levels of odd tricks; (b) the 5 denominations; and (c) the 3 ways of modifying the contract by doubling (by leaving it undoubled; by doubling it; and by redoubling it). Multiply these numbers, 7 × 5 × 3, and you get 105.

Let’s look at some example contracts and explain their meanings:

Declarer undertakes to win 1 odd trick (7 tricks total) with Clubs as the trump suit.
Declarer undertakes to win 2 odd tricks (8 tricks total) with Hearts as trump, in a doubled contract. The “×” indicates the contract has been doubled.
Declarer undertakes to win 5 odd tricks (11 tricks total) with Diamonds as the trump suit, in a redoubled contract. The “××” indicates the contract has been redoubled.
Declarer undertakes to win 6 odd tricks (12 tricks total) with Spades as the trump suit.
Declarer undertakes to win 7 odd tricks (13 tricks total) with no trump suit.

Now You Know

Now you know how to read a Bridge contract. The contract is written with a number, a denomination, and optionally some indication about whether the contract has been doubled or redoubled.

The number tells how many odd tricks are required to fulfill the contract. These are in addition to the six tricks you need to win before you start counting the odd tricks.

The denomination tells which suit is the trump suit for the current deal; or it may tell that there is no trump suit for the current deal.

If the contract was doubled, we write a little “×” next to the denomination. If it was redoubled, we write “××”. And if it was undoubled, we don’t write either of those.

What’s Next

When we discuss the auction, we’ll learn about the process of establishing the contract in the first place.

When we discuss scoring, we’ll look at classifying contracts into “partscore,” “game,” and “slam” contracts. We’ll also touch on the concept of “vulnerability,” which can affect the score earned by either side on some contracts.

What Do You Think?

If you’re a Bridge player, have I missed some important detail?

If you’re new to the game, what questions come to mind after reading this post?

Leave your thoughts and questions in the comments below.