It is traditional for players to sit across from each other at the bridge table—with partners sitting directly across from one another. The players' positions at the table are referred to as “North,” “South,” “East,” and “West.” North and South would be partners as would East and West. Players should take their places at the table in their proper seating positions.
A standard 52-card deck is used and Aces are high.
In this game, the suits have a rank in terms of how powerful they are when trick-taking starts. The order of rank is Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs. This is easy to remember if you notice that the rank of the suits is in reverse alphabetical order: S, H, D, C. The most powerful cards (highest ranking) in a suit are King, Queen, Jack, and 10. These cards are called the “honor” cards—the rest are referred to as “spot” cards.
A man named Ely Culbertson wrote a top-selling book on the game of Bridge in 1931, which popularized Bridge in the United States.
The dealer is chosen by drawing cards from the deck. The players that draw the two highest cards become partners as do the players drawing the lowest cards. If two players draw the same card—let's say they each draw a Queen—the tie is broken by the highest suit.
The dealer shuffles the cards and the person to the dealer's right cuts the cards. The dealer then deals out all the cards one by one to each player. With each hand the deal rotates in a clockwise direction.
It is tradition to use two decks of cards, but there is only one deck in play at a time. The second deck is shuffled by the dealer's partner and set aside for the next hand. This is just a way to save a little time from hand-to-hand.
Tricks and Bids
Bridge is a trick-taking game, meaning that when the cards are dealt and the bidding completed, players lay down one card at a time in an effort to take other players' cards. You do this by taking one card from your hand and placing it face-up in the center of the table—there are a total of 13 tricks in a game as there are 13 cards in each player's hand. The player who lays down the most powerful card in terms of rank and suit wins the trick. When playing a trick, players are required to follow the suit of the lead card. The lead card is the first card put on the table by a player.
Bridge is still very popular in the United States and the United Kingdom. There are over 1,000 annual American Bridge tournaments and well over 4,000 Bridge clubs.
When the cards are dealt the bidding begins. Bidding is the most important part of the game because it “writes” the contract for the game. The bidding identifies the number of tricks and whether or not there will be a trump suit. You bid according to how many tricks you will try to win during the course of each hand. You score based on whether or not you meet the bid you won (or “the contract you made”). The team that wins the bid is responsible for fulfilling their bid commitment (contract).
Players look at their hands after the cards are dealt and the bidding begins starting with the dealer and rotating to the left. You may call to pass, bid, double, or redouble.
If you don't wish to bid, you say “pass.” If everyone passes, the cards are tossed in and the player on the dealer's left deals a new hand.
In bidding you have to be careful not to overbid or underbid. You are basically guessing based on the cards in your hand (and in the hand of your partner) how many tricks you think you will take during the course of a game. If you guess correctly, you score points. If you don't win as many tricks as you thought, or you go over the amount of tricks you thought you could take, you lose and your opponent scores points.
It's in the Cards
A book is the number of tricks a player must win before any trick can have scoring value.
To win the bid, you have to say that you will take more tricks than the opposing team. In bidding you also decide whether or not there will be a trump suit. You do so by naming the suit and the number of tricks you think you can take during the bidding process. Because there are 13 hands, you must take at least seven tricks to win the game. You are bidding for anything over six. Books are not counted in the bidding process.
So, if you call “one-Spade,” you are saying that you will take seven tricks with Spades as trumps (a book of six tricks plus one additional trick). Likewise, if you call “three-Clubs,” you are expected to win nine tricks with Clubs as trumps (one book or six tricks and an additional three tricks). You can also bid “no trumps”; you do so by saying “three no trump.” This bid means you are expected to take nine tricks and no trump suit. The maximum you can bid is seven. If you bid seven, it means you are actually winning 13 tricks (all the tricks you can play in one hand).