Bridge Game Play

The game of bridge is one of the most strategic card games with the game play of involving a mixture of luck and skill. The Bridge game play requires two teams with two players per team. Each of the four players sit opposite their partners in a circle. The game has three major phases. The first is the auction or bidding in which a contract for that particular deal is made. The second phase is the play of the bridge hand in which players take turns playing a card from their hands. The final phase is the scoring of the bridge hand which is based on the how the hand played out and the contract that was bid.

The auction concludes once a team has declared their intentions to win at least the number of tricks for which they bid, and the other team passes on the opportunity to bid higher. The last bid is called the contract and sets the amount of tricks needed by that team to win points during that hand. Bidding can be done in any of the four suits as the trump suit or without a trump suit, called no trump (NT). A trump is by definition, a suit in a card game that outranks all other suits for the duration of a hand.

The card game of bridge involves play with four parts:

  1. Dealing
  2. Auction
  3. Play of the Hand
  4. Scoring
tournament bridge card game players

How a Hand of Bridge is Played

After each player is dealt one-quarter of the deck (13 cards) and the bidding has settled on a contract, the playing phase begins. A hand of bridge involves 13 tricks. The 13 tricks are divided up among 13 rounds in which a single card is chosen to be played by each of the four players.

The card values are set according to rank with the aces being the strongest rank followed by kings, then queens, jacks, tens, nines, eights, sevens, sixes, fives, fours, threes and finally down to the little twos.

Each round the first card played is known as the "lead". The play continues clockwise from the lead with each player playing one card.

The lead card is allowed to be any single card from the player's hand. In Bridge, each player must play a card from their hand of the same suit as the lead. However, if a player does not have any more cards matching the suit of the lead, then that player can pick any card from his or her hand to play.

After all four cards have been played, whoever played the highest ranking card of the lead suit wins that trick. However, if a trump card is played then the trick is won by that player. If more than one trump is played, the highest ranking trump card wins the trick. Trump suits are set during the auction with the final contract making that hand either a trump suit of diamonds, clubs, hearts or spades or setting that hand to be 'no trump'.

Whoever wins the trick earns the right to be the lead on the next round. The process repeats itself until all 13 tricks have been played.

The Opening Lead

The first round of the 13 tricks begins with the first lead of the game. The 'opening lead' as it is called, is the player directly clockwise (to the left) of the declarer, which is the player who made the final bid which set the contract. The opening lead is a very important part of the game because it has such a high impact on the game. Many games are decided on whether a player chose the correct opening lead with poor choices often losing the hand. After the defender plays the opening lead, the play pauses while the partner of the declarer's hand is laid out visible for all players. This hand is called the dummy hand.

The Dummy Hand

The dummy hand is the declarer's partner's hand which is displayed for all to see following the opening lead by the defender to the left of the declarer. The declarer is responsible for playing the dummy hand during each of the 13 tricks. The dummy hand is set up into four columns by suit. Each column of suits is arranged by rank. The partner of the declarer is not allowed to communicate in any way with the declarer and is essentially not involved with the hand during the 13 trick taking rounds.

Final Phase the Game of Bridge Scoring

The conclusion of the hand happens once all 13 tricks have been played and the final, scoring phase begins. The number of tricks taken by each player is added up and the total number taken by the declarer and his partner is compared to the contract. To fulfill the terms of the contract the number of tricks must be equal or more than that of the contract. Points are rewarded based on the point scoring system being used and the points are added to the overall score, which will consist of all the hands played during that session.

Bidding

The auction is considered by many bridge players to be the most important part of the game. A great deal of effort and gamesmanship are centered on the auction because each pair is trying to make a challenging contract. After the players have been dealt their cards and have had some time to arrange and study their own hands, the auction begins. The game of bridge bidding progresses towards the final contract through a series of increasing bids which relate to the number of tricks that each pair will take during the play of the hand. The bids increase until the opposing pair feels either the current bid is unlikely to be reached or that they themselves would not be able to make a higher bid. The final bid therefore becomes the contract.

The challenging aspect of bidding for each pair is setting a final contract that if fulfilled will reward the pair with the highest possible points. The higher, more difficult contracts earn more possible points for that pair. However, a difficult contract carries a greater degree of risk. Unfilled contracts result in the pair receiving penalty points. The top bridge pairs consistently produce a high success rate when it comes to creating the ideal contract that balances the risk and reward for the likelihood of making that contract. The partnership's skill of making an ideal contract stems from the ability to communicate their relative hand strength and relative hand weaknesses to their partner during the auction through meaningful bids.

In bridge, each player is not allowed to communicate with their partner during the hand. Because of this, creating a contract which can be fulfilled is a challenge. The way partner's communicate the information about their hands with one another is through the calls that they make during the bidding process. As the bidding progresses clockwise, each player's bid is referred to as his or her call. Every call that is made is a way for one player to share with their partner information about their relative hand strength. For example, certain calls can mean that a player has an abundance of high spades while other calls may signify that a player has a very balanced hand. The calls can communicate a lot of information including which suits a player has a lot of or a few of, the point value of their hand, the number of high cards of a particular suit, the number of aces, the player's preferred suit to be set as trump and much more.

The opposing pair also hears the calls made by the other pair and can to a large extent understand the meaning of each call made by the opposing team. This comprehension of an opposing pair's calls is due to the fact that the meaning of each call is openly disclosed at the start of the match with the opposing team.

The more calls which are made during the bidding phase results in more information being exchanged. So a slow, gradual increase in bids during the auction provides pairs an opportunity to share more information about their hand with the partner. On the other hand, a fast increase in bids during the auction results in less calls being made and therefore less information about each hand is exchanged. Because of this, ideally both pairs will seek to employ a bidding strategy that exchanges just enough information about their hands to arrive at a favorable contract while using the least number of bids necessary. Since unfulfilled contracts result in penalty points, ideally a pair creates contracts which themselves can be attained while forcing the opposing pair to create contracts that are difficult to attain.

The Bridge Bidding Maxims

The complexity of bridge game bidding can be simplified using a few common contract bridge rules of thumb that a large majority of the time should be used during that bidding situation. These basic ideas are known as the bridge maxims and generally should be remembered by every player.

  • According to "Hamman's Law" if given several bidding options in which one is 3NT then you should choose to bid 3NT.
  • The focus should be on major suits before minor suits. The major suits of hearts and spades are usually preferred to over the minor suits of clubs and diamonds because the major suits score more points. Additionally, major suits can overbid an opposing pair's bid made at the same bidding level.
  • More importance is given to length than strength meaning a hand which has a weak long suit carries more strength than a short suit containing high cards. This concept comes from both of the facts that long suits make tricks towards the end of the hand being played and that long suits offer a player more hand playing options and control.
  • If your hand is a misfit with your partner's hand then bid with caution. However, hands that are a good fit with your partner's hand should be bid aggressively. This concept incorporates the idea that you should not create a difficult contract when you and your partner's hands do not work together, but you should consider going for a high contract when your hand works well with your partner's hand.

High Card Points

One of the first things a beginning player should learn is how to evaluate the strength of his or her hand. One of the first methods bridge players use to determine their relative hand strength is to determine their High Card Points (HCP). The number of High Card Points determines your shape, fit and overall quality/strength of the hand you are playing. Knowing the strength of your hand will be useful during the bidding phase as you and your partner try to create an optimal contract.

Learning how to count your High Card Points in bridge games is rather simple. Each high card: Aces, Kings, Queens and Jacks are set with point values. After adding up your HCP's you will have a good idea about the strength of your hand and knowing that improves your ability to make good bids.

High Card Points help partnerships create good contracts, but it is only the first step in determining the value of your hand as HCP's by themselves are not enough to determine the relative value of your hand.

High Card Points

  • Ace: 4 HCP
  • King: 3 HCP
  • Queen: 2 HCP
  • Jack: 1 HCP

In every deck of cards there are exactly 40 high card points comprising of 4 aces (4 aces x 4 points = 16 points), (4 kings x 3 points = 12 points), (4 queens x 2 points = 8 points) and (4 jacks x 1 point = 4 points). Another thing to understand is that each suit has 10 high card points.

Examples of Counting High Card Points in a Hand

  • A,K,Q,Q,10,9,9,7,5,4,4,2,2 = 11 HCP
  • A,A,K,Q,J,J,7,6,5,5,3,3,2 = 15 HCP
  • K,J,10,10,9,8,8,6,5,4,4,3,2 = 4 HCP

The High Card Points system is based on the concept that higher cards are more likely to take a trick than a lower card. For instance, a queen has a better chance of taking a trick than a jack and an ace has a better chance of taking a trick than a king, queen or jack. This point-count system only counts the aces, kings, queens and jacks because these are the cards that are probably going to take tricks during the hand playing phase.

The average bridge hand has 10 high card points and usually you need at least 12 HCP's to open the bid.

Any hand with more than 10 HCP's is an above average hand and any hand with less than 10 HCP's is a below average hand. Knowing how many high card points your hand has is important. However, even more important is knowing how many HCP's you and your partner have combined. It is against the rules to discuss with your partner anything about your hand, so learning how many HCP's your partner's hand holds can only be figured out through meaningful bids. The total number of HCP's a pair has in their combined hands can guide you and your partner towards reaching an optimal contract. The combined points can generally help you predict the number of tricks your pair is going to take during that hand.

General Guideline for Number of Tricks Taken During a No Trump (NT) Game Based on Number of Combined High Card Points

  • 25 HCP = 3 NT
  • 33 HCP = 6 NT
  • 37 HCP = 7 NT

Note: If you and your partner win all the tricks it is considered a Grand Slam. To have 37 combined HCP's a pair will have all 4 aces. To have 33 combined HCP than the pair will have 3 or 4 aces.

When bidding no trump HCP's are most effective but when hands are very unbalanced and trumps are being bid using HCP's loses some effectiveness. To compensate for these common situations other counting methods like distribution points are used to adjust the value of your HCP's.

Overall, the bridge card game has many aspects that need to be understood in order to be able to play but learning the bridge game rules and strategy is actually part of the fun as you can quickly see yourself improve as a player. 

how to play bridge basics

Bridge card game is one of the most popular games to play online or in real life. Created many years ago, the history of bridge shows how it has undergone many changes over the years that have progressively improved this card game so it now can be played by beginners, intermediate and masters in both a competitive and fun way. Unlike most other card games, Bridge requires a partner to play on your team and the two of you will play another team of two players. Often referred to as pairs, the partners cooperate with one another to strategically play each hand during the Bridge card game.

Playing the Bridge card game requires skill during the auction and play of the hand phases. More skillful partners will regularly outbid their opponents during the auction in order to arrive at the ideal contract. The contract is the amount of tricks that will be taken during the hand playing phase. If a team makes a contract during the auction and manages to accomplish their contract by gaining the necessary number of tricks that equal or surpass the number of tricks they bid then that partnership will be rewarded with points. The other partnership's goal is to prevent the contract from being completed and if they are successful in doing so then that partnership will earn points. Any of the two partnerships can establish the contract during the bidding phase with only the highest bid resulting in the contract that will be the one for that hand. Competitive bidding forces both teams to reach for the highest possible bid which they think they can reach. Deciding what the ideal bid is requires skill because neither pair knows exactly what their partner is holding in their hand. The pair communicates to each other their holdings during the bidding phase with bids that help communicate their cards in the hand. The Bridge card game does not allow any communication at the table between partners except the bids, so understanding what your partner means when he or she passes or increases the bid during the auction is where the skill of determining your partner's hand comes in. Also, paying attention to the bids of the opposing pair can also clue a player into knowing more about each of their hands.

Bridge card game uses conventions that increase the understanding of certain bids making what would seem like a meaningless bid much more meaningful. For example, information passed between partners during bidding includes what suit your partner prefers to play the hand in and what suit your partner does not want to play the hand in. With conventions, the information gained by using a preset convention card, which you share with your opponents before the match, can allow a partnership to transfer more informative information between each other than simply the suit. This exchange can include such things as short suits, long suits, number of high card points and how many aces a player holds.

holding your bridge hand

Reading your own hand is a vital aspect of the Bridge card game because knowing the strength of your hand is vital to helping your partnership arrive at a makable contract. A common way to determine your Bridge card game hand strength is to add up your high card points.  High card points use a system of counting aces as 4 points, kings as 3 points, queens as 2 points and jacks as 1 point. In a total deck, their are 40 total high card points so an average hand has 10 points. An opening bid requires a minimum of 12 points. As a partnership, having 25 high card points combined makes bidding 3 No Trump a possible target and 37 or more points combined makes bidding 7 No Trump possible, which if the contract is reached is a grand slam. Bids including 6 tricks already, so a bid of 3 means a team aims to get 6+3=9 tricks and a bid of 7 means a team aims to get 6+7=13. There are only 13 tricks per hand so a grand slam is when a pair wins every trick during that hand and is rewarded with maximum points for that hand.

Having an unbalanced hand, meaning having more cards of a specific suit can be advantageous. This is called having long suits and these can increase your total high card points. These hand distribution points can help you determine the relative hand strength you have before a trump suit is created during the auction. After the bidding is completed, shortage points can be figured into your hand strength and these are figured out by counting the points for voids, singletons and doubleton.

After the contract is created, the play of the hand begins with skill involved in determining which card should be played at the most opportune time. These are just a few of the strategies used during Bridge card games and learning to master all of the strategies can take a lifetime.