LEARN CSS

Learn Bridge

Four friends + a standard deck of cards = the best game you’ll ever play. Bridge!

Each deal in bridge is its own mini-adventure. You get to speak in and decipher coded language to determine if you will defend or attack. It’s North-South vs. East-West. And in the end someone will pay! (In points anyway).

If you already know the basics and are interested in learning more about Duplicate Bridge, click the “Duplicate Bridge” button below.

The Basics

Bridge is played with a standard 52-card deck (no jokers)

There are four suits in the deck – spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs. That order is important because the suits are ranked in bridge. Spades are the most valuable part of the deck, then hearts, then diamonds and finally clubs, which are least valuable.

Just as the suits are ranked, the cards within a suit are also ranked. The card with the highest rank is the Ace, followed by the “face cards” (King, Queen, Jack). These four cards together are called the “honor cards.”

After the honor cards come the number cards. These are pretty easy to sort – just 10 to 2 in numerical order.

Shuffle and Deal
Shuffle and Deal

Once you’ve got the cards, grab a seat with three of your friends, one person on each side of the table. In bridge we use North, South, East and West to keep the different sides straight (like a compass). Look across the table. That player is going to be your partner, and together you’ll play against the other partnership.

Going clockwise, deal the cards (one at a time) evenly among the four of you. You should each end up with 13 cards in your hand. Don’t show anyone the cards in your hand, not even your partner. (Bridge has its own language that is used to tell partner what you have in your hand. We’ll get to that soon but there are few other things you should know first!).

Once you have the cards in your hand, it’s a good idea to sort them. A common way to do so is first grouped by suit, then in rank from highest to lowest.

You could sort by the order of suit value, but it will be easier to look at your hand if the order is black-red-black-red.

How good is my hand?
How good is my hand?

In bridge the strength of your hand comes from two main sources: high-card points and long suits.

Counting your high-card points is pretty straightforward – as with most things, there will be some nuance along the way.

High-card points (HCP):

    • Ace = 4
    • King = 3
    • Queen = 2
    • Jack = 1

There are 40 high-card points in a deck.

Now that you have added your high-card points, let’s see if your suit lengths can add more value.

Length:
In most cases an odd number of cards will divide as evenly as possible. When you have a suit with more than four cards, you get to add some value to your hand.

  • Five-card suit = 1 (most common)
  • Six-card suit = 2 (less common)
  • Seven-card suit = 3 (rare}
  • Eight-card suit = 4 (very rare)

Add your high-card points and length points to determine your hand’s value.

tricksheader

Clinically defined, in bridge, a trick is:
Four cards played in rotation after a card has been led by the player whose turn it was to lead (i.e., play first).

To put it a little more simply, the first card played in a trick is called a “lead”. Each player going clockwise from the “leader” then plays a card to the trick. The rules of the game require you to play a card in the same suit as the led suit if you can. (This is called “following suit.”). Someone’s card will outrank everyone else’s, and that card wins the trick for the partnership (N-S or E-W).

There are 13 tricks up for grabs in a game of bridge. The placement of the played card after the trick will allow you to keep track of how many tricks you won or lost.

At the completion of a trick each player will place their card face down on the table in front of themself. The cards are placed either horizontally or vertically. If your side wins the trick, the card is placed vertically (“pointing” towards you and your partner). If your side loses the trick, the card is placed horizontally (“pointing” towards the opponents).

One last thing about tricks before moving on to the auction. There is a base number of tricks automatically built into a bid. That base is six tricks and is called the “book”.

There are three ways to win a trick:

1. The player who plays the highest card in the suit initially led wins.

Jim leads the Q, Robert plays the 6, Jim’s partner, Iris, plays the 5, and Sue, Robert’s partner, plays the A. Sue wins the trick for the partnership.

Robert
6
Jim
Q
Iris
5
Sue
A (Winner!)
2. The player who is out of cards in the suit led plays the highest (or only) trump to beat (a.k.a., “ruff”) that suit.
Having a trump suit is something like having wild cards. If you can’t follow suit after a lead, (Hello, wild card!), a trump can be played, and the trump will be higher and more powerful than any card in the suit led. What the trump suit is – or if you even have one at all – will be decided during the auction.

3. The player who has established a suit by repeated leads has the only card remaining in that suit wins.
When playing in a notrump contract (again, decided during the auction), a long suit can mean taking a lot of tricks, even with a card as small as a two. If you are the only person with clubs and you lead with a club, you’ll win the trick. This can also be the case in a suit contract if your opponents don’t have any trump cards left.

This can also be the case in a suit contract if your opponents have no trump cards left.

Ready to take some tricks?
Try Minibridge!

Play Now!

The auction determines the “goal” (contract) for each deal in bridge. The auction is the bidding sequence of the players at the table. And bidding is the language of bridge.

Unlike most languages, bidding only has a few words, the basics are easy to learn, and you’ll be able to have conversations with your partner right away. Some conversations with your partner will be short, sweet and to the point. Some will be longer, full of questions that can lead to clarity or could possibly be misunderstood. Misunderstandings at the bridge table often lead to hilarious stories after the game. Either way a game of bridge is always fun.

How it works:

The auction is made up of both bids and calls.

Bids are composed of a number (1-7) and a suit (Notrump, ♠, , , ♣).

Calls are Pass, Double and Redouble.

Bids must be made according to the hierarchy of suits: clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades and finally notrump.

If 1♣ is the opening bid, the next hand to bid must bid at least 1, the next hand at least 1 and so on. If dealer were to open 1♠, the next bid would have to be 1NT or 2♣, 2 or 2.

The dealer makes the first call, either a pass or a bid.

The auction proceeds clockwise until it is ended by three successiveplayers saying “Pass.”

The bid preceding the three passes is the final contract.

Jim bids 1NT, Robert passes, Iris bids 2♠, Sue passes, Jim bids 3♠, Robert passes again, Iris bids 4♠, Sue passes again as do Jim and Robert. The Auction is over, and the contract is 4♠. Jim and Iris have contracted to take 10 tricks with spades as trump.

Here is a visual representation of the bidding from above. You will see these diagrams often on your bridge journey.

West
(Sue)
North
(Jim)
East
(Robert)
South
(Iris)
1NT Pass 2♠
Pass 3♠ Pass 4♠
Pass Pass Pass

Get a feel for the table with Just Declare – infinite deals, no bidding

Play Now!
LP_Play

You’ve dealt, sorted your hand, counted your HCP, and bid to a final contract. Now you get to play the hand. Get ready to take some tricks! One side will try to fulfill the contract; the other will try to stop them from reaching that goal.

Who’s Who and Play of the Hand
When the auction ends, each player takes on a specific role. The pair trying to make the contract are the declaring side, the pair trying to “set” the contract are the defenders.

On the declaring side are the declarer and the dummy. The declarer is the player who first bid the denomination of the final bid. The declarer decides what card is played from their hand and the dummy hand (partner’s hand).

The player to the left of the declarer is the opening leader. They get to play the first card of the first trick.

Immediately following the opening lead, the dummy will put all their cards on the table face up and sorted by suit (when playing in a trump contract, the trump suit is placed on dummy’s right). The declarer will “call” the card that dummy will play each time it is dummy’s turn in the rotation. The dummy is silent and may only play the card called.

Once all four cards have been played to the first trick, the winner of the trick gets to make the lead to the next trick. This will be the case for each trick in the deal. You win the trick, you lead to the next trick.

After all 13 tricks have been played, the only thing left to do is record the score.

Learn_LP_image
Guidelines

We’ve gone over counting points (both high-card points and length points), ways to take tricks and how the bidding works. Now let’s talk about some guidelines to help. Some of these are hard and fast rules, and some are just a good rule of thumb.

Ready to put it all together?
Try Just Play Bridge.

Play Now!


Scoring

So how did you do? When discussing bridge scores they are generally referred to in terms of plus and minus. Bridge scoring can be a lot to take in at first and is not something to spend much time on at the beginning of the learning process.

There are two main categories of bridge scoring: duplicate and rubber scoring. While based upon the same basic elements of scoring, they differ in how the elements are applied to individual deals and in how these are then totaled. Rubber/Chicago (social) bridge is heavily dependent on plus scores. In the world of duplicate, -50 could be the winning ticket.

There are two levels of scoring, partscores and bonus levels which include games and slams.

Certain calls in the auction and vulnerability also affect score values.
Vulnerability
Vulnerability: The condition of being subject to greater undertrick penalties and eligible to receive greater premiums as provided by the scoring table. In rubber bridge, vulnerability comes about by having won one game toward rubber. In duplicate bridge, vulnerability is arbitrarily assigned by board numbers.
Double
Double: A call that increases the scoring value of odd tricks or undertricks of an opponent’s bid. A double can be made only over the opponent’s last bid with only passes intervening.
Redouble
Redouble: A call that increases the scoring value of odd tricks or undertricks of your partnership’s bid following a double by the opponents of your partnership’s bid. A redouble can be made only after an opponent doubles and only when the intervening calls were passes.

For a more in-depth discussion on types of scoring, use the buttons below. Too much to think about? Try our Instant Scorer.



Duplicate Bridge

Duplicate bridge is the A term applied to the playing of the same deal of cards by more than one table of players. Scoring of duplicate bridge is based on your performance against the field. In this way, every hand, whether strong or weak, is played in competition with others playing identical cards, and the element of skill is heightened while that of chance is reduced.

There are different tactics for the differnt types of scoring (Matchpoints, IMPs).

What to expect at your first Duplicate Game
You may want to start in a newcomer game (meaning new to duplicate, not necessarily new to bridge). Most clubs and tournaments have games especially for new and intermediate players. Many other games are “stratified” so that your scores are compared only to others at your level.

Before your first trip to a club or tournament, you may want to call ahead. Let your club manager know that you’re about to play in your first duplicate game. They will be thrilled and encouraging! If you don’t already have a partner, ask the manager or director to find one for you. If you are looking for a tournament partner, you’ll find that many sectionals and regionals and all national tournaments have a partnership desk onsite, staffed by volunteers whose mission it is to make compatible bridge matches.

Your first club game is like your first day at a new school. You walk through the door and find that everyone knows one another. Don’t hesitate to tell the others you’re a newcomer. You’ll find many players eager to show you the ropes.

Find the person selling entries. The cost for a club game varies, but is usually about the same as a movie ticket. You’ll probably want an East–West entry so that you don’t have to keep the official score (that’s the job for the player sitting North). The entry will show your direction and table number.

The Convention Card

Before you play, you and your partner should fill out a convention card. A convention card shows your general approach to bidding (aggressive, conservative, traditional, scientific, etc.) and goes into some detail about your offensive and defensive bidding methods. The form also includes sections about your defensive carding agreements — your opening leads and signals. (You can find convention cards and tips for filling them out under the learning toold button on this page)

The card serves two purposes. One, it tells your opponents what you play. Your opponents are the only people allowed to look at your card during the game (though most bridge clubs are somewhat lenient about this rule for the new player). Two, making out a card allows you and your partner to get your understandings straight.

Alerts and Announcements

At first sight, the convention card can be intimidating. Don’t worry yet about filling it out in detail. You’ll see it already has common conventions, such as Stayman and Blackwood. Dozens of other conventions have been invented to describe various hands, and you’ll discover some you will enjoy using.

Unusual conventions are shown in red on the card. Your opponents will “Alert” them by saying the word or using the “Alert” card in the bidding box. You may ask for an explanation when it is your turn to call.

Bids shown in blue require an “Announcement.” For example, when your partner opens 1NT, you “Announce” to your opponents you’re agreed notrump range. A standard 1NT opening is 15–17 or 16–18 high-card points; some pairs use more unusual methods.

Keeping a private score

Duplicate is scored like Chicago or party bridge (see scoring under the bridge basics button). If your side makes a contract, you receive your trick score, plus a bonus of 50 points if you bid and make a partscore, 300 points if you bid and make a non-vulnerable game, or 500 points if you bid and make a vulnerable game. Each deal stands alone and has no effect on any following or previous deal. If you don’t know the score of a particular contract, just look on the back of the cards in the bidding boxes.

On the back of a convention card you’ll find a private score card, which indicate board numbers and vulnerability and includes space for you to note the contract and result of the deal. There is also space to jot down your matchpoints for each board when you’ve finished playing. If your club uses computer scoring, the director may be able to print out individual recaps following the game.


Bidding boxes

In bridge parlance, any time you speak or pull a card from your bidding box, you are going to be making a call. Even in an informal game, your vocabulary is limited to fifteen words:

  • Pass
  • Double
  • Redouble
  • One – Seven
  • Club
  • Diamond
  • Heart
  • Spade
  • Notrump

Most games use bidding boxes filled with cards designating every possible call. The director or one of your opponents will show you how to use the box. The cards provide an instant review of the bidding and eliminate the possibility of mishearing an auction.

Shuffle, deal and play

You’ve found your table and greeted your opponents. The director will place duplicate boards on your table and ask you to shuffle and deal the cards. Instead of dealing them to a player, deal them in front of you and insert each hand into one of the slots in the boards. Cards are dealt for the first round only. No more shuffling!

To keep each deal intact for the next round, place each card face down in front of you on the table, pointing toward your partner if you win the trick, toward the opponents if you lose the trick.

As declarer, you will tell your partner which card to play from dummy instead of pulling the card yourself.

As more clubs and tournaments gain access to dealing machines, the boards are mechanically shuffled and dealt in advance. The director will distribute these boards saying, “Ready to play.” Do not reshuffle these boards.

Just pick up your hand, noting from the board instructions who is dealer, and play bridge. If your club is using predealt boards, hand records will generally be available after the game.

Get into the habit of making your opening lead face down. This helps prevent irregularities such as leading when it is not your turn to do so and allows questions about the auction and any Alerts to be answered.

Recording the score

Many clubs have invested in electronic scoring devices. The devices look like oversized calculators. There is one on each table.

After the auction, North enters the contract and, when play of the hand is complete, enters the result and offers the device to one of the opponents to verify. After the opponent agrees to the score, it is transmitted directly to the director’s computer. When the final score of the session is entered, the complete results are available for printout.

If your club scores manually, using pick-up slips or travelers, North enters the contract and the result, and East-West approves it.

Move for the next round

You will play two to four boards at each table, a total of 20 to 28 deals for the entire session. To keep the game going smoothly, each round is timed. You are allowed an average of about seven and a half minutes for each board, so you will want to learn to use your time wisely.

When you have finished all of your boards at a given table, the director will call the round and direct the movement of the boards and players. Generally, North–South remain stationary while East–West “get older” (move to the next higher table), and the boards “get younger” (they are passed to the next lower table).

Director, Please!

Duplicate bridge is a sport, and sports have rules. The rules ensure that the game is fair for everyone. You’re not expected to memorize the entire “Laws of Duplicate Contract Bridge,” but don’t hesitate to politely call the director to your table if you think there has been an irregularity. Never be intimidated when the director is called because of something you might have done. A good director will assess the situation and present a solution in a manner that doesn’t embarrass or offend anyone. Do players always agree with the director? Does LeBron James always agree with the referee? Accept rulings with grace.

How did you do?

You don’t have to hold a lot of aces to win in duplicate bridge. Your score is the result of a comparison between how well you did with the cards when you held them and how each of the other pairs did with those same cards.

Matchpoints are awarded for the results on each board. You receive one matchpoint for each pair whose result you beat and one-half a point for each pair whose result you tie.

When you add up all of your matchpoints, you will be able to see whether you did better or worse than average. You will also be able to see which boards you found troublesome. Don’t be afraid to ask one of the better players about one or two of your problem deals. Every club has experienced players eager to help newcomers sharpen their bidding and their play of the cards. Look for these friendly faces and seek their advice. You’ll meet a lot of interesting people this way.


Are you a winner?

Play well and you will be awarded a prize: masterpoints, the coin of the duplicate bridge realm.

Masterpoints appeal to members because it allows them to track their growth in the game by achieving new ranks on their way to becoming a Life Master.

To learn more about masterpoints, visit www.acbl.org/masterpoints.

Thank you, partner

Bridge is as friendly as the players, and it’s important to be a good partner and opponent. Introduce your partner and yourself to the opponents at the start of each round. Thank your partner when she puts down the dummy. Wish the opponents good luck before you start the game. Don’t get upset about a bad result — you get to start fresh with the next 13 cards. Successful partnerships will discuss difficult hands and situations where something went wrong after the session in private.



Lessons

You can really master the game when you take a class with a bridge teacher. They’ll walk you through each aspect from counting high-card points to taking a trick even when you think the cards are stacked against you.


Intro to Bridge is a new online course hosted by ACBL. It’s comprised of 10 highly interactive lessons, one each week.

Calendar Calendar

Learn Bridge in a Day? (LBIAD) is a five-hour course taught by Hall of Famer Patty Tucker at North American Bridge Championships (NABC).

Calendar Calendar


Learning Tools

The more you play bridge, the more you’ll see it takes some strategizing. Luckily, there are common tactics and many ways to learn them. Check some out below.

videos

There are many videos and even series of videos that take you through the steps and strategies of bridge. We’ve grouped these together by the topics you’ll run into. Some cover the basics, like bidding and opening leads, and others get into the nitty gritty of strategy through bidding and play.

Video Library Video Library

reading

There are also books about playing bridge – everything from setting up for a game to the finer points of common strategies.

Books and Topics Books and Topics
terms

self

There are also programs that combine learning and play that you can access on your own.

Learn to Play Bridge Online

An interactive, learn-as-you-play web-based program powered by Bridge Base robots. LTPB online proves a safe environment for players to test and learn new skills. LTPB online can be accessed from any device with an internet connection

Play Now!
Learn to Play Bridge Software (Windows Only)

Created by BBO’s founder Fred Gitelman, this software has been downloaded by thousands of players worldwide. Learn to Play Bridge I is for beginners; Learn to Play Bridge II is for those who know the basics but want to develop their playing, bidding and defense skills. Software funded by the ACBL Educational Foundation and the ACBL.

Download Now!
Bridge Bites by Brian Gunnell

Bridge Bites is mostly about the play of the cards, but there are a handful of Bites with subject matter of interest in the area of bidding.

Declarer Play Declarer Play
Card Play Techniques Card Play Techniques
Defensive Plays Defensive Plays
Bidding Bidding


CONVENTION CARDS

ACBL Convention Card: Download a PDF file and print a blank card. You may also save the file to your computer and edit this card for your personal use.
ACBL “Fat Free” Convention Card: Download a completed card with a basic system for you.
Basic 2 over 1 Convention Card: From Larry Cohen’s Conventional Wisdom Lite series featured in the ACBL Bridge Bulletin Download the completed card. To view the Conventional Wisdom Lite series, click here.
Bridge Bulletin Standard Bridge Bulletin Standard
Standard American Yellow Card (SAYC): Download a PDF of the card as well as full instructions for using this popular convention card in single-page format or paginated format. A Spanish version of the instructions is available at Bridgear.com.