Number of Players
Four players are required to play bridge; two against two as partners. Five or six players may participate at the same table, but only four play at one time.
A standard deck of 52 cards is used. It is customary to have two packs of contrasting back design at the table. While one pack is being dealt, the other is shuffled by the dealer’s partner and then set aside for the next deal.
Rank of Suits
For bidding purposes the suits rank: Spades (high), hearts, diamonds, clubs. Suits are often represented by the symbols: ,,,. The most important suits are hearts and spades. In bridge terminology:
Hearts and Spades are major suits while Clubs and Diamonds are minor suits.
Note: In the play of the cards there is no difference in the rank of the suits (one is as good as another) unless there is a trump suit, in which case the trump suit outranks the other three.
Rank of Cards
The 13 cards in each suit are ranked: Ace (high), king, queen, jack, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two. These are abbreviated as A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.
Draw for Partners
Unless partnerships have been predetermined by agreement, it is customary for each player to draw a card at random from the pack. The two players drawing the highest cards will be partners against the other two, and the player drawing the highest card will deal. In the case of a tie (e.g., two aces) it is broken by the suit rank.
If more than four people are participating at the same table, the player (or players) drawing the lowest card(s) will sit out the first round.
The player on the dealer’s left shuffles the pack and then sets it at the dealer’s left. The dealer may shuffle the pack further if desired, then he sets the pack down at his right to be cut.
The player on the dealer’s right must lift off a portion of the pack (not less than four cards nor more than 48 cards) and set it down toward the dealer. The dealer then completes the cut.
The entire pack of 52 cards is dealt face down, one card at a time, in clockwise rotation, beginning with the player to the left of the dealer. Players should not pick up or touch their cards until the deal is completed. Each player then picks up his own 13 cards.
All rotations in bridge are clockwise. This includes the turn to deal, the turn to call, and the turn to play.
After looking at his cards, each player in turn, beginning with the dealer, must make a call. A call is a pass, bid, double or redouble. The meanings of these calls are discussed separately.
If a player does not wish to bid, double or redouble at his turn, he should say the word “pass.” No other wording is acceptable. It is improper to use phrases such as “I pass” or “no bid.”
If all four players pass at their first turn, the deal is passed out. The cards are thrown in and the same player deals again.
A bid is a statement to win a specific number of tricks with a specific suit as trumps (or with no suit as trumps).
Each bid must state a number from one to seven, which is the number of tricks in addition to six that the bidder agrees to win. Each bid must specify the suit (spades, hearts, diamonds or clubs) that will be trumps or notrump if the bidder wishes to play without a trump suit.
For example, a bid of one club is a statement to win seven tricks (six plus one) with clubs as the trump suit. A bid of four spades is a statement to win 10 tricks (six plus four) with spades as the trump suit. A bid of three notrump is a statement to win nine tricks (six plus three) without a trump suit.
Each successive bid around the table must name a higher number than the preceding bid, or name an equal number in a higher ranking suit (or notrump). For bidding purposes notrump is the highest rank, just above spades. Note that there are 35 possible bids, from one club (lowest) through seven notrump (highest). No bid can exceed seven since a bid of eight would be a statement to win 14 tricks — obviously impossible with only 13 tricks in play.
For example, if the opening bid is one spade, the next bid by any player may be one notrump or two or more in any suit or notrump. No player may bid one club, one diamond or one heart. The bidding cannot go backwards.
When bidding it is proper to state only a number and a suit (or notrump). Do not add additional words or phrases. Adornments, such as “I’ll bid one heart” or “I’ll try four spades” are improper and unethical. Learn to be an ethical player from the start!
Doubling & Redoubling
Any player, at his turn, may double the last preceding bid if it was made by an opponent. The effect of doubling is to increase the scoring value should the doubled bid become the final contract. (Do not worry about keeping score now.)
A player may redouble, at his turn, only when the last bid was made by his side and doubled by an opponent. The effect of a redouble is to increase the scoring values even further.
Any player may bid over a doubled or redoubled bid, provided the new bid is higher than the current one. If this is done, all previous doubles and redoubles are cancelled.
When doubling or redoubling, only a single word is proper. The player should say “double” or “redouble” in his normal speaking voice. Additional wording or overemphasis (as our gentle friend below) is improper and unethical.
Reviewing the Bidding
Any player, at his turn, may ask to have all previous calls restated. This should be done by one player of the opposing side, who simply repeats the bidding to refresh everyone’s mind.
Try to pay attention while the bidding is in progress so you will not need to ask for a review frequently.
When any bid, double or redouble is followed by three consecutive passes in rotation, the bidding is closed. The final bid becomes the contract. If the contract names a suit, all cards in that suit become trump. If the contract is in notrump, the deal is played without a trump suit.
Declarer and Dummy
The player who, for his side, first bid the suit (or notrump) of the contract becomes the declarer. For example, if you bid three notrump (which becomes the contract) and partner previously bid one notrump, then partner will be the declarer.
The partner of the declarer becomes the dummy. The two remaining players will be the defenders.
A play consists of taking a card from your hand and placing it face up in the center of the table. Four cards so played, one from each player in clockwise rotation, constitute a trick.
The first card played to each trick is called the lead. The defender to the left of the declarer must make the first lead on each deal. This is called the opening lead.
The leader to any trick may play any card in his hand. The remaining three players must then follow suit if able; i.e., they must play a card of the same suit. If unable to follow suit, a player may play any card.
Play of the Dummy
Immediately after the opening lead is made, the dummy spreads his entire hand face up, neatly arranged into suits for all players to see. If there is a trump suit, it should be placed on the right as viewed by the dummy. As viewed by declarer, trumps would be on the left.
The player who became the dummy does not select his own cards during the play. Declarer must play his own hand and the dummy’s hand, although each hand must be played from in proper turn. All four players are responsible to see that declarer’s plays from the dummy are legal, i.e., following suit when able.
The player who is dummy may warn another player against infringing any of the rules. For example, if clubs are led and declarer plays a spade from his hand, dummy might inquire, “No clubs, partner?” to prevent a revoke (failing to follow suit when able).
Winning of Tricks
A trick containing a trump card is won by the player who played the highest trump. A trick not containing a trump card is won by the player who played the highest card of the suit led. The winner of each trick leads to the next trick. Note that the dummy is considered a separate “player” even though declarer actually selects the cards.
Each completed trick is gathered and turned face down on the table. Declarer should keep all the tricks won by his side neatly arranged so that it is apparent how many tricks have been won and the order in which they were won. The defender who first wins a trick should do the same for all the tricks won by either defender.
End of Play
After 13 tricks have been completed, the play is over. Both sides must agree on the number of tricks won by declarer, then the deal is scored. Scoring is discussed in the appendix, but I suggest you let someone else keep score while you are learning to play.