Contract Bridge is the game most people are referring to when they just say “Bridge”. It’s a classic game for four players in partnerships. Contract Bridge is the king of the trick-taking games. Most of the successful games of that family that have succeeded after Contract Bridge came to the fore bear some resemblance to it. In particular, those who have played Spades will find picking up Contract Bridge to be relatively straightforward.
Contract Bridge was one of the most popular games of the 20th century. Though it first appeared in 1920, many date the game’s “birth” to November 1, 1925, when yachtsman Harold Vanderbilt perfected it. One of the game’s strong suits is that it lends itself equally to social play for fun, but also for strategic, analytical play—so much has been written about Contract Bridge theory, one could scarcely hope to digest it all. The only other card game that is as prolific in terms of works written about it is the many variants of Poker.
Object of Contract Bridge
The players divide into two partnerships, with partners sitting across from one another, so that the turn of play alters between partnerships when going clockwise.
Scorekeeping is traditionally done on pencil and paper by one player from each partnership, with both scorekeepers logging the scores of both sides to keep each other honest. The score sheet is divided vertically, with headings of “WE” and “THEY” (referring to the two partnerships), as well as horizontally, resulting in a sheet divided into four quadrants. Preprinted bridge score pads are available for purchase.
Bridge is usually played with two decks of cards with contrasting backs, like those offered in a set of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. While one deck is being dealt, the next dealer shuffles the unused deck so that it’s ready for the next hand, thus saving time.
Deal thirteen cards to each player, one at a time.
Bidding begins with the dealer. Bids consist of a number, representing the number of odd tricks (tricks in excess of six) the partnership will collect during the course of the hand, and either a suit to become trump for the upcoming hand or “no trump”. From lowest to highest, the suits rank clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades, no trump. Therefore, the lowest bid is 1♣, which would be overcalled by a bid of 1♦, and so on up to 1♠, then 1NT, which would be overcalled by 2♣.
Rather than overcalling an opponent’s bid, a player may instead double it. This allows the last bid to stand, but doubles the risk of breaking and the reward of fulfilling the contract. The responsibility for fulfilling the contract remains with the partnership that originally made the doubled bid. A player will generally double when they are confident the proposed contract cannot be successfully completed. Any bid doubled by an opponent can be redoubled, which again doubles the risk and reward of accepting the contract.
Players who do not wish to make a bid may pass. Whenever three consecutive players pass, bidding is closed, and the last bid becomes the contract. The winning bidder becomes the declarer, their partner the dummy, and the other partnership the defenders.
Play of the hand
The defender to the declarer’s left leads to the first trick. As soon as this opening lead is made, the dummy reveals their hand, spreading it face-up, grouped in vertical columns by suit. The dummy takes no further part in game play; instead, when it is the dummy’s turn to act, the declarer plays a card from the dummy hand.
Players must follow suit if possible. If a player is unable to follow suit, they may play any card. The highest played card of the suit led wins the trick, unless a trump was played, in which case the highest trump wins. Aces are high.
Collected tricks are not added to the hand, but rather kept in a discard pile face down in front of one of the partners. Since it is important to keep track of the number of tricks captured, each trick should be placed onto the pile at right angles, so that the tricks can be easily separated after the hand. The individual player that won the trick leads to the next one.
After the thirteenth trick has been played, both sides count the number of tricks collected and tally the trick score for that hand. Trick scores are entered under the horizontal rule dividing the sheet.
If the declarer succeeded at making the contract, the scores are as follows:
- Trump was clubs or diamonds—20 for each odd trick bid
- Trump was hearts or spades—30 for each odd trick bid
- No trump—40 for the first odd trick bid, plus 30 for each additional odd trick bid
Multiply these values by 2 if the contract was doubled, or by 4 if it was redoubled. Therefore, a successful bid of 2♠ would score 30×2=60, a successful bid of 3♦ doubled would score 20×3×2=120, and so on.
If the contract was not fulfilled, the declarer scores zero, and the opponents score a premium (see below).
Whenever one side reaches 100 points, the game is concluded. The winner of the game is now said to be vulnerable, which affects the scoring of some premiums, as described below. A horizontal line is drawn across the score sheet to separate games. Trick scores then reset to zero—points from the first game are not carried over to the next—and the next game begins. When a side wins two games, a rubber is concluded. At the end of a rubber, trick scores are added to all of the premiums accrued during the game, and the partnership with the most points wins the rubber.
All premium scores are entered above the line. Premium scores do not affect when games end and are not tallied until the end of a rubber.
The following premiums are scored for overtricks (odd tricks taken in excess of the contract):
- If the contract was not doubled or redoubled—the trick value, as would be scored below the line (described above)
- If the contract was doubled—100 if not vulnerable or 200 if vulnerable
- If the contract was redoubled—200 if not vulnerable or 400 if vulnerable
A partnership is also eligible for premiums based on the number of honors held in one hand. The five honors are the ace, king, queen, jack, and ten of trump, or the four aces in a hand played with no trump. Honor bonuses are not affected by doubling/redoubling or vulnerability.
- Four honors in one hand (trump contract)—100
- All five honors in one hand (trump contract)—150
- All four aces in one hand (no-trump contract)—150
If the declarer does not make contract, the defenders score a premium depending on how many tricks below contract—called undertricks—the declarer collected:
|Defenders not vulnerable|
Other available premiums:
- Collecting 12 tricks, called a small slam—500 if not vulnerable, 750 if vulnerable (not affected by doubling/redoubling)
- Collecting all 13 tricks, called a grand slam—1000 if not vulnerable, 1500 if vulnerable (not affected by doubling/redoubling)
- Fulfilling a doubled contract—50
- Fulfilling a redoubled contract—100
Finally, after a rubber has been completed and the score has been tallied, the winner of the rubber scores points based on how many total games were played before they won the rubber:
- Win in two games (opponents shut out)—700
- Win in three games (opponents won one game)—500