How to Play Bridge
In this section, we’re going to teach you how to play bridge. Taking you from the basics to some more advanced techniques, this guide should help you start ahead of the competition when you play your first game of bridge.
SHUFFLING AND DEALING
Before the game starts, a cut takes place to determine who plays with who (unless the players have agreed on a partner beforehand). The two players with the highest-ranking cards become a pair, which means the remaining players become a pair. Once this process is complete, another cut takes place and the person showing the highest card becomes the first dealer.
During a game of live bridge, a standard 52-card deck (jokers removed) is shuffled and dealt at the table. In general, the cards are shuffled by the player on the dealer’s left and then passed to the player on the dealer’s right who cuts the deck. Once the deck has been returned to the dealer, they give each player a card in turn, starting with the person on their left. This process continues in a clockwise fashion until each player has 13 cards. (In duplicate bridge, the cards are pre-dealt by a computer).
If you play bridge online, the shuffling and dealing side of the game won’t really be an issue because everything will be controlled by the site’s software. It is important to note, however, that the software used will be something known as a random number generator (RNG), which basically ensures that the distribution of cards is always fair and random.
THE BASICS OF BIDDING
One for the UK and one for the US.
Beyond the general rules of bidding, there are two main systems used depending on where you are in the world or the type of rules you’ve established:
ACOL – The system typically used in the UK, the ACOL system uses a four-card major dynamic.
Standard American – Typically used in the US, the American Standard system uses a five-card major dynamic.
The main differences between the two bidding systems are:
THE BASICS OF BRIDGE PLAY
ADVANCED BIDDING AND CONVENTIONS
Bridge players make use of what is known as conventions during the bidding. This is where the suit bid has a codified meaning that does not imply the suit they just called. In essence, it’s an in-game language where certain card suits are used as signals to a partner.
Clearly these conventions need to be defined and understood between the two players involved. The two most common conventions used are Stayman and Blackwood, which are the only ones allowed during a game of rubber bridge.
The Stayman Convention: This system is used after an opening bid of 1NT. At this point, a call of 2♣ is Stayman. Although the club is used as a signal, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the responder holds clubs. In reality, what someone is actually asking their partner is whether they hold four cards in either major suit (spades and hearts). If they do have four, they call the major. However, if they don’t, they respond with 2♦.
The Blackwood Convention: This used when a side is heading for slam. A call of 4NT is one player asking their partner how many aces they hold. The responses are 5♣= 0 or 4, 5♦= 1, 5♥= 2, 5♠= 3.
Margaret Thatcher played bridge
ADVANCED TECHNIQUES: DECLARER PLAY
If you’ve got the basics of bridge down pat and you’re comfortable with how to play, here are a few advanced tips to help improve your game:
- If you wish to make use of the trumps with a shorter length in order to “ruff” (i.e. trump) the loser
- If you need to play the hand on a cross-ruff
- If you need your entries to one hand or the other in order to establish a side suit
- If none of these apply, you should draw trumps straight away, before the opponents can ruff your winners
ADVANCED TECHNIQUES: DEFENSIVE PLAY
If you are defending a “no trump” contract, your default move is to lead the fourth highest of your longest and strongest suit. However, the exceptions to this rule are:
- If you have an honour cards (i.e. the A, K, Q and J of any suit are known as honour cards) and you have a sequence such as K, Q, J or Q, J, 10, you should lead the highest card of the sequence. This tells your partner what you hold and is a fast way to establishing the smaller cards in the suit, once the missing honor(s) are driven out
- If the suit has been bid strongly by declarer or defender, you may decide to choose a different suit; especially if there is one unbid suit, or a suit bid by your partner
- A singleton is often a good lead. If partner holds the ace, or a fast entry elsewhere, you will be able to ruff the next round before the declarer has had a chance to draw your trumps
- As with “no trump” contracts, an honour sequence is always a good lead. It establishes tricks in that suit without giving away any trick that the declarer may not have been entitled to. If the declarer wins the trick in a suit that you have led with the ace, that does not mean it was a bad lead. In fact, the opposite may be true. The declarer would always have made that ace in any case, and you will have gone some way to establishing the lower cards in the suit for your side
- Leading with a trump card can be a solid move in the right situation. This doesn’t often happen, since it is known to be the suit of choice for the declaring side. However, there are some situations when a trump lead can be an effective form of defense. This main situation where this might happen is when the auction suggests that the declarer may be looking to make extra tricks by ruffing with shorter trumps. A common scenario here is when the declarer shows two suits in the auction, but the dummy leaves the declarer in their second (possibly shorter) suit
- If you are defending against a “no trump” contract, you should continue to establish your long suit each time you gain the lead. Don’t switch suits unless the suit lead is clearly hopeless for your side, and don’t be tempted to cash your aces
- If you are defending a trump contract, you may be looking to take ruffs. Your default as the defender sitting over the dummy is to return your partner’s lead, unless you have a better plan
- Finally, don’t reject leading a suit just because you can see that you won’t win the next trick with it. Play the long game and remember it doesn’t matter which tricks you take - it only matters how many you’ve taken at the end