Bridge is one of the most popular card games of all time, played by four plays divided into two teams of two. It is not, however, a game which is familiar to everyone, playing bridge takes patience, many are dissuaded by the apparently arcane rules and scoring system. Many of you will doubtless have already scrolled down this page in order to determine the length of this article. Fear not, for your patience will be rewarded.
There are many variants of the game. While the basic rules change slightly between different variants, a knowledge of one will equip you to learn its cousins. The version we’re going to focus on is the most widely-played today: Rubber Bridge. Let’s get started.
First you must decide who the dealer is. Each player should draw a card; whoever draws the highest card then becomes dealer. If multiple players should draw a card of the same value (as when, say, three players draw a seven), then they should draw again until a dealer has been established with the same rules in mind. With that done you’re ready to get onto the business of playing.
Play commences with players bidding for the right to play the hand. The number being ‘bidded’ by each player refers to the number of tricks that players think they can take. So if a player thinks they can take ten tricks, then they bid ten.
There is, however, a final complication. As well as bidding with a number, players must also name the suit, if any, that they wish to be the trump suit. The bidding value of the trump suit are, from high to low, no trumps, spades, hearts, diamonds and finally clubs. Note that a higher number of tricks will always beat a lower one, regardless of the trump suit being named.
This is where many aspirant bridge players become disheartened. After all, how can one reasonably place a bid if they don’t understand what’s being bid for? If you’re feeling lost at this point, then don’t worry! Just remember that the minimum bid is one, and the maximum bid is six. Plays might also bid ‘double’ to double the previous bid and ‘redouble’ to double a double. This will further complicate the scoring later on; so, if you’re struggling to keep up so far, don’t worry about it for now.
Bidding continues until three successive players have passed. The remaining player has won and will now be referred to as the declarer. The declarer is looking to win seven tricks in the next round, plus the number they’ve just bid.
If everyone passes on their first turn, then the hand must be scrapped. Throw in the cards and have the next dealer deal a new hand.
The player opposite the declarer places their cards face up on the table, arranged, by suit, into four columns, each in turn arranged into numerical order with the faces pointing toward the declarer; this player, known as the dummy, plays no further role in the hand.
The player to the declarer’s left will first place a card in the middle of the table, facing upward. This is the opening lead. Play continues clockwise. Each of the remaining players (the dummy, the third hand and the declarer) must, if possible, play a card of the same suit as the opening lead. If this is not possible, then they can play any card of their choosing – a card of the trump suit being the most advisable, for reasons which should become apparent.
The person playing as dummy will play no active role in the round, the declarer will play on their behalf, nominating any legal card from those on display. You might now be able to see the importance of cooperation with the player opposite you.
A ‘trick’ occurs when all four players have put a card into the middle of the table. The highest trump card wins the trick; or, if no trump cards have been played, the highest card wins the trick. The winner should collect all four cards, and place them somewhere where they can be easily counted.
The winner of the trick will play the lead in the next trick, and play will proceed clockwise in much the same way for the remaining twelve tricks – though the dummy and declarer will remain as they are. If the dummy wins the trick, the declarer can nominate a card for them to lead with.
Once thirteen tricks have been won, the cards are taken in and the bidding process begins again.
By now you should have a passable understanding of how a hand proceeds. You’re still not quite ready to play the game, though, as you’ve no way of determining who ultimately wins and loses – and what’s a game without that?
Scoring is surprisingly easy – if the declarer has won the amount of tricks they bid to begin with, then they score accordingly highly. If they have not, then they score nothing. Higher bets are more rewarding, though the precise score yielded will vary according to the variant of bridge being played. Moreover, some trump cards will multiply this yield.
So far, so confusing. Let’s look at an example. Let’s say that you bet that you’d win ten tricks and proceed, to your ill-concealed delight, to do exactly that. First we must take six away (as, if you’ll recall, only bids higher than six were legal). This leaves us with four. Now, in order to derive this score, we’ll need to multiply this according to the trump card.
If the trump suit was Clubs or Diamonds (the so-called minor suits), your multiplier is twenty. If it’s Hearts or Spades (the so-called major suits), or if there was no trump card, your multiplier is thirty – though in the latter case, you can add an additional ten points to your total. Let’s assume, for the purposes of our example, that there was no trump card.
(4 x 30)+10 = 130.
A game is won by scoring a hundred points. A ‘rubber’ – the term from which this particular variant of bridge draws its name – consists of three games.
‘Above the line’ bonuses
Here’s some further food for thought. Additional points can be accrued in certain circumstances; they do not count towards winning the game, but they do count towards your final score. These points will vary depending on whether a team has won a game toward the current rubber. If a team has already won a game, they are said to be ‘not vulnerable’. If they have not, then they are said to be ‘vulnerable’. This will impact the potential rewards and penalties they can accrue.
Getting a high number of tricks, as you might imagine, is difficult. It therefore yields an extra, added bonus. Twelve tricks is called a small slam, while thirteen is called a grand slam. If you’re not vulnerable, you get 500 for a small slam and 750 for a grand slam. If you’re vulnerable, you get an extra 50% on top of that – so a small slam would earn you 750 and a grand slam would earn you 1500.
Overtricking and undertricking
If a declarer overshoots, or falls short of, the amount of tricks bet, then they can be rewarded and punished accordingly.
If the bid was not doubled or redoubled, then each overtrick is worth the same amount as the bid tricks (though it is recorded above the line). If the bid was doubled or redoubled, then each overtrick is worth one or two hundred, respectively. If your team is vulnerable, then you score twice as much per overtrick.
If the bid was not reached, then the opponent’s team earns some points above the line. This is where things get a little bewildering. If the bid was not doubled, then each undertrick is worth 50 (or 100 if you’re vulnerable. If it was, then the first trick is worth 100 (or 200 if you’re vulnerable), the second and third are worth 200 (or 300 if you’re vulnerable) and each trick beyond that is worth 300 whether you’re vulnerable or not. In the case of redoubled undertricks, the cost is double that of doubled undertricks.
Winning the rubber
Winning the rubber will also earn you some points above the line. If you win two games to nil, you earn 700 points; if you win two games to one, you earn 500.
How to win
Once the rubber is finished, then you can tot up the scores both above and below the line. In Rubber Bridge, you can emerge the victor even if you’ve won less games than your opponent – provided you have scored the more points overall.
If you’ve gotten this far, congratulations! Having learned all of this, you should have an understanding of the game sufficient to play it and have a great deal of fun doing so. Now all that’s left is to find three willing volunteers and explain everything you’ve just learned to them!