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Playing Contract Bridge

Contract Bridge is one of the most popular card games ever. It’s played by millions of people at home, in clubs, and even online. There are also regular tournaments taking place all over the world. It’s probably the most popular among seniors, but it’s enjoyed by people of all ages.

Bridge seems to date back as far as the 16th century, along with many other trick-taking games that are part of the Whist family. Several developments were made to the game throughout the years, and it evolved over time to become what it is today.

Bridge is one of the more complicated card games and it’s recommended to learn how to play simpler Whist games, such as Spades or Solo Whist, before progressing to Bridge. Although there is some element of luck, as you can’t control what cards you are dealt, overall it’s very much a game of skill. There’s in­-depth strategy involved, and it’s a tough game to master.

Types of Contract Bridge

There are multiple variations of Contract Bridge, the two most commonly played being Rubber Bridge and Duplicate Bridge. Rubber Bridge is usually the variation played in informal social games and many clubs, while Duplicate Bridge is also played in clubs, and is the most common choice for tournaments and formal matches.

The basic rules for each of these two versions are pretty much the same. The biggest difference is that Duplicate Bridge aims to remove the element of luck that exists in the game. Although stronger players will always have the edge in Bridge, it’s also fair to say that getting dealt better cards is a big advantage. Duplicate Bridge essentially removes that advantage by having the same hands played more than once, by different players, to see which players do better.

Below we have explained the basic rules for playing Rubber Bridge. Please note these are only the basics and not the complete set of rules. This will provide you with some insight into the game and how it’s played.

Basic Rules

In a standard game of Rubber Bridge four players take part, in two fixed partnerships. Tradition is to refer to the players according to their position at the table, based on the main compass points. So, in clockwise order, one player will be North, one will be East, one will be South and one will be West. North and South play as one partnership, East and West play as the other.

The Deal

A standard deck of 52 playing cards is used, and the cards are shuffled and cut before each hand is dealt. Players take turns dealing, in a clockwise order, with the player to the dealer’s right cutting the cards after they have been shuffled. It’s common practice to use two decks of cards, so that one deck can be shuffled while the deal is taking place to save time in between hands.

The cards are dealt out one at a time to each player, face down, until each player has 13 cards. Once the deal is complete, the bidding starts.

The Bidding

A bidding auction takes place to determine who will be the declarer, and thus which partnership will be trying to win the specified number of tricks in the upcoming hand. A bid specifies the number of tricks to be taken and which suit will be trump. The number of tricks bid is actually the number of tricks above six that a partnership has to win. So a bid of three represents a bid to win nine tricks.

A higher number of tricks bid will always beat out a small number of tricks bid on. However, when the number of tricks bid are equal bids they are ranked based on the trump suit. A bid of “no trumps” (meaning there will be no trump suit) is the highest, followed by spades, then hearts, then diamonds, then clubs. Thus the highest possible bid is seven no trumps (all 13 tricks with no trump suit) while the lowest is one club (seven tricks with clubs as trumps).

An auction starts with the dealer, and the turn to bid then passes clockwise. A bid must be higher than a previous bid, otherwise a player must pass. Once there are three passes in a row, the last bid becomes the contract. The partnership that made that last bid must now try to make that contract happen. Whichever member of the partnership bid first on the denomination of the contract (no trumps or a specific suit for trumps) becomes the declarer, and their partner becomes the dummy.

During an auction, if all players pass before a bid is made, then the hand is null and void (it’s said to be passed out) and the next dealer deals a new hand.

The Play

After the bidding auction, play begins. The player to the left of the declarer leads with the first card, laying it face down on the playing surface. They can choose to lay any card from their hand. Once this has been laid, the dummy must then expose all their cards so that they are clearly visible to all players. They should be arranged in suit and rank order.

Play then proceeds in a clockwise order, with each player laying a card face up. If a player can follow suit (i.e. match the suit of the first card played), then they must. If they cannot, then they can play any card they choose. Once each player has laid one card, the winner of the trick is determined. The highest trump card laid will win and if no trump card has been laid then the highest value card of the same suit as the first card played will win.

After a trick is won, the four cards are gathered and placed face down in front of the member of the partnership that won it. Tricks must be arranged so they can be counted easily. The next trick then starts, with the winner of the previous trick leading with the first card. The process is then repeated until all cards and a total of 13 tricks have been played.

A key rule is that the dummy cannot make any decisions, or offer any advice, during a hand. Their partner (the declarer) must decide which cards they lay on each of their turns.

The Scoring

At the end of a hand, points are awarded based on the outcome. If a contract has been made successfully by a partnership, they are awarded points as follows.

  • 20 points per trick won (in excess of six) if trumps were clubs or diamonds
  • 30 points per trick won (in excess of six) if trumps were hearts or spades
  • 40 points for the first trick won (in excess of six) if there were no trumps
  • 30 points for each subsequent trick won if there were no trumps

These points are said to be awarded “below the line”. The first partnership to reach 100 points below the line, over several hands if necessary, wins the game. When a partnership wins two games, they have won the “rubber”.

The winner of a rubber isn’t necessarily the overall winner though. During a rubber points are also awarded “above the line” for various things: including winning games and winning the rubber. Once a partnership has won a rubber, all these points are added up. The partnership which has the most points wins the match overall.