Bridge is considered one of the most, if not the most, challenging and interesting of all card games. All 52 cards are in play. There are literally billions of card combinations that one can hold. When played against the billions of different hands held by partner and opponents, each deal presents new and unique challenges.
Bridge is a four-person trick-taking game; each player starts with thirteen cards. Players sit opposite from their partner. A round of bidding starts the game. The winning bidder is the declarer. He attempts to make his bid while the opposing players try to set him. Play begins with the defender to the left of the declarer leading a card. Declarers partner, called the dummy, lays his hand face up on the table. Declarer plays both his hand and the exposed dummy hand. Cards are played in sequence, clockwise around the table. The highest card in the led suit wins the trick. If a player is out of the led suit he can play trump or anything else. The highest trump played wins the trick.
The bidding portion of the game determines the trump suit and the number of tricks the Declarer must take. For example, a bid of two spades requires the Declarer to take eight tricks, the six trick “book” plus two with spades as trump. Bidding proceeds around the table until there are three consecutive passes.
The suits are ranked in alphabetical order, clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades. For example, one spade may be bid over one club. If one spade has been bid, a player must bid two or more clubs is he wishes to name clubs as trump. Players can also play in notrump which ranks higher than spades. A typical auction around the table might go: one heart – one spade – two hearts – pass – pass - two spades – pass -pass -pass. The auction ends with three consecutive passes. The two-spade bidder would then attempt to take eight tricks, a book of six tricks plus two more with spades as trump.
In Duplicate Bridge, competing players play the same set of cards. Scores are not based on whether the bid was made, but how well each pair did compared with other pairs playing the same cards. For example, when playing in a contract of two spades and one pair makes a total of nine tricks while others are making eight tricks, that pair will get the high score on that hand.
In contract bridge, a pair wins the rubber by scoring two 100 point games. A pair is vulnerable once they win the first game of the rubber. Vulnerability affects the scoring for making game (discussed in the next section), making slam (getting 12 or all 13 tricks) and the penalty for going set.
Vulnerability is used in Duplicate. On every board a pair’s vulnerability is displayed. On half the boards the pairs have the same vulnerability. On the other half one pair is vulnerable and the other is not. A non-vulnerable pair may bid a contract they know will fail if they judge that the penalty will be less than the score their vulnerable opponents will get for making their contract.
Tricks in clubs and diamonds, called the minor suits, are worth twenty (20) points. Tricks in hearts and spades, called the major suits, are worth thirty (30) points. The first notrump trick is worth forty (40) points, each subsequent trick is worth thirty (30) points. Again, the number of tricks counted towards the contract are in addition to the first six tricks, known as the book.
If a pair makes their contract and scores less than 100 points, the score is fifty plus the value of the tricks. For example, two hearts (30 points per trick) is worth 110 points, three clubs (20 points per trick) is also worth 110 points.
If the team bids and makes a contract of 100 points or more they get a bonus of 300 points if non-vulnerable and 500 points if vulnerable. These are known as game contracts. Three notrump, four spades or hearts, and five clubs or diamonds are all game contracts. A bid of six, meaning twelve of thirteen tricks must be taken, is called a small slam. There is an additional bonus of 500 or 750 points depending on vulnerability for a small slam. A bid of seven means that declarer must take all thirteen tricks must be taken for a bonus of 1000 or 1500 points.
A pair must bid the game contract in order to win the game bonus. Bidding 3 hearts and making four is worth 170 points whereas bidding 4 hearts and making four is 420 or 620 points, depending on the vulnerability.
The defenders can score points by setting the contract. Setting a vulnerable contract earns the defenders 100 points per trick. Setting a non-vulnerable contract is worth 50 points per trick. Defenders can also double a contract. This increases the point value of the setting tricks. It actually more than doubles the value of setting tricks after the first one. For example, setting a vulnerable contract by one trick is worth 200, setting it by two tricks is worth 500, setting it by three tricks is worth 800 points.
This system of scoring allows opponents to compete against players who have the better hands. A contract may fail by one or two tricks but still score better than if the opponents are allowed to make their contract. This contract stealing is tempered however by the fact that a pair can also score well by doubling and setting their opponents.
Hand Evaluation and Bidding Conventions
During the bidding phase, players evaluate their hands by counting points in their hand. Aces are worth four, kings three, queens two and jacks one. The points have nothing to do with scoring; this is a method to evaluate the playing strength of a hand and arrive at the best contract. A hand containing 12 or more points is considered strong enough to open the bidding. Bidders also look at distribution or shape, hands with one long suit or two suited hands, in deciding whether to enter the bidding.
Sophisticated bidding conventions are used by experienced players. Experienced partners usually employ a number of artificial bids that describe the strength and shape of their hand. An artificial bid has a meaning other than its natural meaning. For example, one of the most common conventions is Stayman Convention. When partner opens one notrump, his partner’s response of two clubs says nothing about clubs. It asks partner to bid two hearts or two spades if he has four cards in either of those suits.
A discussion of bidding cannot possibly be covered here. Countless books are available on bidding and hand evaluation. Bridge partners may spend years refining a bidding system constantly adding, removing and modifying conventions to their repertoire.
More about Duplicate
The mechanics of Duplicate Bridge may seem a little daunting at first. A game at a local club might have as few as four tables, 16 players, to more than twenty tables, 80 people. A director runs the game and rules on infractions and irregularities. Each pair is assigned a starting table, a direction - either E-W or N-S, and a pair number. The tables are numbered; each pair starts at their numbered table. In most games the North – South players remain at their table throughout the game and the East – West players move from table to table. At each table players will play two to four boards before the E -W pairs moves to the next table. The cards, or boards, will be passed in the opposite direction that the E – W players move.
The card play in Duplicate is different from most games since the hands must be kept intact so they may be passed along. Each card played is placed in front of the player. The player places the card towards himself if he has taken the trick, and towards the opponents if they took the trick. When the hand is finished, the cards are placed back in the board.
The player sitting North tallies the score for the board after it is complete. This can be done on a paper sheet that travels with the board or on an electronic device. Beginners may play 18 or 20 boards; most open games will have 24 or 27 boards in play.
Bidding is also a little different. Most games use bidding boxes. The boxes contain cards from 1 club to 7 notrump and cards for pass, double and re-double. Instead of speaking the bids players place the bid card in front of them. Everyone bids in turn until the auction is complete. This takes a little getting used to but has advantages. One can easily review the bidding throughout the auction. It also prevents players from overhearing the auction on boards they have yet to play.
When play is complete, each pair receives a score on every board played. The lowest score is zero. That means that every other pair playing that hand had a better result. High score varies depending on the number of tables. The highest score is one less than the number of tables. For example, if nine tables are in play, the pair with the best result earns eight points. Ties are common, pairs with the same result will receive the same score.
The score for all boards is totaled. Masterpoints are awarded to the top pairs in each direction and for the top pairs overall.
Bridge is a great competitive outlet. The ACBL awards Masterpoints (MPs) for playing in sanctioned games. Games played at local clubs and tournament games are sanctioned. At first points come slowly. In a ten-table game for players with less than 50 MPs the winner would get 0.60 MPs, second place earns 0.42 MPs. In open games at tournaments, awards of 10 or more points are common. Even greater awards are earned in top flight games.
Bridge players rise through the ranks as they earn Masterpoints. One becomes a Life Master upon accumulating 500 Masterpoints. This is a goal for many players and usually takes years. There are ranks along the way to Life Master; Junior Master, then Club Master, Sectional Master and so on. Furthermore, there are ranks after Life Master; Bronze Life Master, Silver, then Ruby. The highest rank is a Grand Life Master. This is someone who has 10,000 points and has won a national title. About one out of five hundred ACBL members reach this level.