EBU 75th Anniversary
Over 75 years Dedicated to Duplicate Bridge in England

All about bridge

by Matt Betts

What is bridge?

Bridge is a trick-taking card game of skill and chance. It is played by four players who form two partnerships (sides); the partners sit opposite each other at a table. The game consists of the auction (often called bidding) and play, after which the hand is scored.

Who Plays Bridge?

Different people and ages are hooked by bridge, and it is a rapidly growing pastime with ever more individuals enjoying what the game has to offer. In these days of electronic entertainment, including DVDs, iPods and the Xbox, more and more people are returning to board and card games as families see the value of learning and playing together in a more social, interactive environment.

Many couples attend classes together, because bridge is a great inexpensive activity and it’s a wonderful way to make new acquaintances. Finally, bridge is prominent throughout the celebrity and political world: from Bill Gates to Winston Churchill, and Omar Sharif to Damon Albarn! Sharif is quoted as stating that, "Acting is my living, but bridge is my passion."

Why Play Bridge?

"Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young." - Henry Ford

Primarily, bridge has been proven to be very good for the mind, and each game played will offer a unique challenge of problems and solutions. Every single deal is different; every deal poses a new problem and can taunt the players to find the solution!

The American Jazz composer Duke Ellington famously said, "a problem is your chance to do your best", and it won’t come as a surprise to know that bridge players soon develop special skills in problem solving! It’s frustrating for players when they don’t rise to the challenge, but tremendous when they are successful — whether through finding great technical play, by outwitting their opponents, or by co-operating really well to achieve success with their partner.

Secondly, bridge is an excellent social game and can be played by everyone — players can meet new people, make new friends, take on new challenges and learn the game through the any bridge clubs and teachers.

Finally, you can play bridge anywhere! You can play locally and nationally; there are open, women’s and mixed; senior and junior events throughout the year. Next time it could be you!

How does it work?

Bridge is a partnership game for four people deriving from the much older game of whist. It uses a standard pack of 52 cards in four suits, 13 of which are randomly dealt to each player in each deal.

The objective is for each partnership to win as many tricks as possible, each trick comprising one card from each of the four hands dealt. Tricks can be won by high cards — aces are high, followed by the other honour cards: king, queen and jack and then the 10 down to the 2 — or by trumps, cards of a designated suit which always outrank cards in any other suit.

Each deal consists of two distinct stages: the bidding and the play of the cards to the tricks. During the bidding the trump suit is decided and a target number of tricks is set, which must be won before any points can be scored for the side winning the contract.

What makes bridge different from whist is that there is a dummy — one of the four hands which is placed face up for all to see during the cardplaying stage. This is always the hand which partners the declarer — the player who has won the auction and contracted to take a particular number of tricks — always more than half the total of 13 available. The other two players are the defenders, whose aim is to prevent the contract being made.

The bidding is conducted in a special bridge language where the words are the same all over the world, but the meanings given to the bids can vary enormously. Much of the skill at this stage is in making sure you and your partner ‘talk the same language’ — that you mean the same things by your bids. There’s plenty of scope for misunderstandings, and bridge players have been known to be quite vociferous in arguing for their own interpretation!

The card play stage requires all kinds of skills: planning, counting, reasoning, working out probabilities and often a bit of cunning and deception as well. Again there’s a need for teamwork — the defending side has to pull together if it is to do well.

When a player first looks at his hand, he needs to assess how good it is — how likely is it to take lots of tricks in conjunction with partner’s hand? Obviously, the honour cards are important, so we assign a value to each of them: four points for an ace, three for a king, two for a queen and one for a jack.

The total points in a hand give a pretty good idea of its strength, though possession of a long suit — five or six or more cards in one suit — can also be very useful, especially if you can contrive for that suit to be trumps.

Isn’t it just a game of luck?

Absolutely not. There is some luck in any one deal, though over a period of time this should even out. But there is a form of the game — duplicate bridge — which eliminates the luck element. This is because the same deals are played by different partnerships — the hands are duplicated to allow this, which sounds rather complicated to organise but actually isn’t at all. So you are just trying to do better than others holding exactly the same cards — pure skill, in fact.

Further information:

Matt Betts