Bridge Burglar’s Contract Bridge Primer

If you are new to bridge or just need a refresher, this contract bridge primer will get you up to speed.

Bridge is without a doubt the most intellectual of all card games. The outcome and your degree of success do not depend on luck or the cards that you are dealt. It’s all about how you play the cards you are dealt.

Bridge is also a team game and success depends on the quality of the communication you manage to establish and develop with your partner. In every hand, one pair of players will be on offense (trying to make a contract) and the other pair is on defense (trying to defeat the other pair’s contract). Offense and defense should be evenly matched in every hand and there are always equal opportunities for scoring points. If the offense goes “one bridge too far,” the offense loses and only the defense gets points

Bridge is played with a minimum of four players per table. Bridge can be played in private homes with four family members or friends or it can be played at duplicate tournaments with hundreds or even thousands of tables. The players at each table are designated as North, East, South and West. East-West are partners and North-South are partners. (In so-called “kitchen bridge” in a private home among family or friends, the pairs can also be designated simply as “we” and “they.”)

Every hand of bridge is divided into two distinct parts, the Auction (or the bidding) and the Playing. First the pairs (North-South and East-West) have to predict what kind of success they think they can have on the hand. That’s the auction (or bidding) part. Then they actually play the hand and see how close they came to their predictions.

The entire deck of 52 cards (minus jokers) is dealt out and distributed evenly among the players so that every player has 13 cards. All cards are played one at the time, so that every hand has 13 possible tricks. Each partnership, East-West or North-South, will try to take the greatest number of tricks. But, taking only 5 tricks while the other pair took 8 may not be a bad score at all – it all depends on what each pair predicted they would make. And in duplicate tournaments it especially depends on what other pairs playing exactly the same hands will get as a result.

You can play a friendly game of “kitchen” bridge with a deck of poker cards, but you can’t play duplicate bridge with them. For duplicate bridge, you need special bridge cards. They are narrower, and only they fit in the special metal or plastic numbered “boards” that get passed from table to table.

As bridge enthusiasts move up from kitchen or country club bridge to duplicate bridge, they will discover that they will need special bridge decks.

Commodore Vanderbilt is supposed to have invented modern contract bridge, but the game likely developed from the English club game of whist, also called bidwhist, a simpler way in which the players predict how many tricks they are going to take, depending on which suit is declared “trump.”

Click the links below, which are the major components in this contract bridge primer, to learn more about each part of the game.

Part I: The Auction

Part II: The Playing of the Hand

Part III: The Scoring


To learn more about bidding conventions, see the Bridge Burglar’s Guide to Bridge Bidding Conventions.