Although there are many variations of bridge, there are some commonalities across the board. In this guide, we’ve outlined the main points you’ll need to know when it comes to the run of play in four main variants. Of course, if you’re an online player, most of the hard work will be done for you. However, if you’re playing live or you simply want to hone your skills, it’s worth brushing up on the basics.
The general aim for any bridge variant is to meet a declared number of tricks (as the declarer) or stop the declarer from completing their contract (i.e. a set number of tricks). To achieve this goal, you need the following basic elements:
A single standard deck of cards with the jokers removed. Cards are shuffled before every deal
Four players at the table, with each one holding 13 cards
There are two phases to a hand of bridge: the bidding phase and the play phase
Before we breakdown the scoring system for various versions of bridge, let’s define some of the general terms you’ll encounter during the course of a game:
Bidding – An auction takes place at the start of a hand where players are required to make a bid. After each player examines their hand, they have the opportunity to bid (i.e. show the strength of their hand). The dealer always has the first opportunity to bid, before the option moves round in a clockwise direction.
As a general rule, you should only make an opening bid if you have 12 high card points (HCP). If you don’t have a strong enough hand to open the bidding, you can pass. Overall, the bidding determines the contract, declarer and dummy.
Contract – This is decided on by the auction. The contract tells players the number of tricks the declarer must make as well as the trump suit for the round.
Trick – A trick consists of one card from each player. The aim of a trick is to lay the highest value card in the lead suit. For example, if a club is laid first, the aim is the lay the highest value club. If a player can’t “follow suit”, they can pass or lay another suit. The player that lays the highest value card of the lead suit wins the trick and also starts the next round. The overall aim is to win the most tricks/stop the declarer from winning their contracted number of tricks.
Play - This is the second phase of the hand, where the cards are played and the success of the contract is ultimately determined.
Declarer – This is player who wins the bidding. Their choice of suit becomes the trump suit. Additionally, the declarer’s bid will also dictate how many tricks determine the contract which they must then fulfil (before being stopped by a defender). Finally, the player named the declarer will have the power to will choose which cards both they and their partner play.
Dummy – This is the declarer’s partner. This player must turn their cards face up on the table and has no part in the play phase. All their cards are chosen by declarer.
Defenders – These are the two opposing players to the declarer and dummy. Their job is to try to ensure that the declarer fails to make the contract, if possible.
All formats of bridge can be played online and you can choose which site to enter.
Rubber bridge is a form of the game played socially at home or a local bridge club. In general, the deal and bidding take place according to the general rules of bridge. However, the scoring system in this game is slightly different, in that a part-score can be carried forward to the next deal and two part-scores can equate to a game contract. In other words, you have to win two parts of a game to make a whole. However, if the opposing team secures a win before you’ve claimed your second game, you have to start the process again. Basically, to put it another way, it’s a best of three rule i.e. you need to win two parts to win a game.
For example, if a side bids and makes two hearts once, they will have claimed a part-score. If they make two hearts again in the next round, they claim the second part-score and a game. However, if the opposing team bids and makes a part score in-between, their opponents’ part-score is “wiped out” and they must begin again from zero.
Once a side has won a game, they become vulnerable. In simple terms, a side is “vulnerable” when they are in the lead. In this position, they score more bonuses for bidding successfully, making a game or a slam. The reason for this is that they are under more pressure and every move they make is worth more. In other words, if the vulnerable team fails to make their contract, each under trick costs them double what it would if were non-vulnerable.
Once you’ve got your head around the general run of play, the scoring system operates in the following way:
The first side to bid and make two games wins the rubber
The value of winning a rubber is determined before the game and a running total is kept
The side that wins a rubber without their opponents making a game is awarded 700 bonus points
The side that wins a rubber when their opponents are making a game is awarded 500 bonus points
At the end of the game it’s common for players to switch teams
This main type of bridge is played in clubs all over the world. In this game, you typically play in a prearranged pair. For all forms of duplicate bridge, the deal will be played at more than one table i.e. once a trick is complete, cards in each of the four table positions are locked in place (put in a wallet) and passed to the next table without being shuffled. This means that everyone gets to use the same deck to make a hand. Because of this, it’s important to preserve the deal so that it can be handed on to the next table.
At the start of a game, pre-dealt cards in a wallet are set down. Once the auction is over and play commences, the players all retain their cards. To indicate how many tricks have been won by each side, cards are placed in front of each player in the following way:
Horizontally if the trick has been lost
Vertically if the trick has been won
Once the round is over, the cards are placed back into the wallet ready for the next table to play the same deal.
If you look at the image labeled “Board 1”, neither side is vulnerable (shown by the green print on the board). As you can see, five tricks have been played and turned over and, at this point, three tricks having been won by the declarer and two by the defenders. The dummy is in the south position.
Unlike rubber bridge, there is no concept of a part-score in this game. Because of this, vulnerability is determined not by checking if one side has made a game, but by the board number instead. So, on Board 1, neither side was vulnerable. However, on Board 2, north-south are vulnerable, shown by the red print. On board 3, east-west are vulnerable, and on board 4, both sides are vulnerable.
The main benefit of duplicate bridge is that removes much of the luck associated with a random deal. For example, if you are dealt a good hand in rubber bridge, you are a favorite to make money. However, in duplicate bridge, if you are dealt a good hand it doesn’t matter because the same deal will be played by others in the room. Therefore, in order to win, you have to do better than everyone else did with your hand.
In other words, if you bid and make two spades with two over-tricks, but the other players in the room all reach four spades, you will score 0% even though you got a positive score. Basically, in duplicate pairs, you must outrank the other pairs in the room in order to win points and, therefore, secure an overall win.
Boards 2, 3 and 4
Duplicate bridge is the most popular variation of contract bridge for both club and tournament play.
This variant is typically played in high level matches such as internationals, where one country competes against another in a duplicate format (i.e. the same tables all use the same cards). Each game is played with a team of four at two tables, each side having a pair at each table, one sitting north-south and the other sitting east-west.
Cards may be pre-dealt or shuffled and dealt at the first table, but they are always kept in wallets in the same way as duplicate bridge. In this game, however, your score isn’t being compared with an entire room full of players. Instead, you’re simply comparing yourself with one other table.
Duplicate team matches are typically played in stanzas of between eight and 20 deals, after which the team will get together to compare scores. If four spades are bid and made at both tables, the deal is flat and no international match points (IMPs) have changed hands. If one side failed to get to game, there will be a score difference. Overall, the smaller score is subtracted from the larger to give a net difference, which is then converted to IMPs using this scale.
The match has a pre-agreed number of boards and the winning team will be that with the largest number of IMPs based on the following scale.
This form of bridge is also used by rubber bridge clubs and has become more popular in the high-stake games over recent years. This variant is similar to rubber bridge scoring, except that it removes the carry-forward of the part-score. Instead, this game awards a 50-point bonus for each part-score bid. Vulnerability is pre-determined in the same way as duplicate bridge.