Bridge/How to Play

Contract bridge, usually known simply as Bridge, is a trick-taking card game for four players who form two partnerships, or "sides". The partners on each side sit opposite one another. Game play is in two phases: bidding and playing.



The game is played with one complete deck of 52 cards; one player is the dealer.

In rubber bridge, after the shuffle, the dealer hands out all the cards clockwise one at a time, starting with his left-hand opponent and ending with himself. At the same time, for convenience, the dealer's partner is usually shuffling a second deck, ready for use on the following deal. The deal rotates clockwise, so the dealer's left-hand opponent will deal next.

In duplicate, one player is designated as "dealer" on each particular board, but this is only for purposes of the auction and does not affect the actual dealing. The cards may be manually shuffled and dealt as in rubber bridge, but by any player; if this is done, it happens only once at the start of a session or match. Where computer-dealt hands are used, dealing machines (which may read either the standard markings, or bar codes added to each card) may be used to assemble the hands ready to be placed in the boards. It is also common for the movement to be arranged so that none of the players play all the boards; then at the start of play, each one may be given to players who will not play it, together with a printed record of the deal, and they assemble the hands.

The auction


The dealer makes the first call, and the bidding continues clockwise until three players in rotation have passed after any call. A call is any bid, a pass, a double or a redouble. (However, the word "bid" is often used informally in place of "call".)

When a player has the turn to bid, he may do any one of the following:

  1. Make a new bid,
  2. Pass,
  3. Double if the last preceding bid was made by the opponents, or
  4. Redouble a bid that has been doubled by the opponent.

A bid must include a number of odd tricks (from one to seven) and a denomination. Odd tricks are the tricks that a partnership proposes to take in excess of six (known as book). A denomination is any suit or notrump specified in a bid.

Each bid must supersede the last preceding bid by naming a greater number of tricks in any denomination, or by naming the same number of tricks in a higher ranking denomination. The rank of the denominations in descending order is notrump, spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs.

The auction ends when there have been three passes following a bid (or double or redouble). The last bid becomes the contract. The player in the partnership that made this final bid who first bid the denomination of that bid (suit or notrump) will be the declarer.

When, in a deal, all four players have passed without there being a bid, the deal is scored as a zero and the cards are passed on to the next dealer.

The play of the hand


The player from the pair that won the bidding (that is, the pair that is going to play the contract), who was the first to make a bid in the suit of the final contract (who is thus either the player bidding the final contract or his partner), is called the declarer. His partner is called the dummy.

Play to the first trick starts with the player to the left of the declarer. After the first card has been played, the dummy lays his cards open on the table. These cards are from then on played by the declarer, who tells the dummy which card is to be played whenever it is the dummy's turn to play on a trick.

Apart from this, the play is just like other trick-taking games - the player who took the previous trick leads to the next one (if the declarer took the trick in dummy, he has to play from dummy on the next trick, if he took the trick in his own hand, he has to play from his own hand). Whether there is a trump suit, and if so, which suit it is, has been decided during bidding.

During the play, each player must follow suit--that is, play the same suit as that led. If a player cannot follow suit (has no more cards of the suit led), he may discard a card of another suit, or, in a suit contract, play a trump. Trumping is optional. Failure to follow suit can result in penalties for a 'revoke.' The player who contributes the highest card from the lead suit wins, except that if any player plays a trump, the highest trump card wins.

Duplicate Bridge


Like all other card games, the score in bridge depends on one's cards. To diminish this effect, and increase the element of skill, in clubs and tournaments one's score is not looked at on its own, but compared to that of others who played the same deals. There are two major systems: Pairs and teams games.

With Pairs games, two person teams (pairs) compete. Depending on the rotation, the pairs may be grouped as 'North/South' and 'East/West' or may rotate between north/south and east/west seating. In each case, a team receives a point for each team they beat and half a point for each team they tie. At the end of the session, points are added and the team with the highest point total is the winning team. Only half the teams (or less) will play any particular hand (the other half will play the opposing hands in the four-hand deal).

With team games, four-person teams divide into pairs. A 'North/South' pair plays the 'East/West' pairs from the other team(s). The 'East/West' pair plays the 'North/South' pair of the opposing team(s). At the end of team play, teams compare their overall scores.

Scoring - Rubber Bridge


In friendly play, one generally plays rubber bridge. In rubber bridge, extra points are scored for winning a rubber, which means getting to a game (100 points) twice. There are two types of points: Points below the line and points above the line. Only points below the line count towards a game.

Score for making


If the declarer makes his contract, the number bid, multiplied by a suit-dependent multiplier, is scored below the line. Any overtricks, again multiplied by the suit-dependent multiplier, are scored above the line.

The multiplier is 20 for clubs and diamond (the minor suits), and 30 for hearts and spades (the major suits). For No Trump, the multiplier is also 30, but with an added 10 points below the line for the first trick (made) only.


  • bid: 2 clubs, made 9 tricks: 40 (2×20) points below, 20 (1×20) above the line.
  • bid: 4 hearts, made 10 tricks: 120 (4×30) points below, 0 (0×30) above the line.
  • bid: 4 no trump, made 11 tricks: 130 (4×30+10) points below, 30 (1×30) above the line.

Game and rubber


If the score of a partnership below the line equals or exceeds 100 points (either at once or taken together with what already was below the line), the partnership is said to have scored a game, and all scores below the line are turned into scores above the line. Thus making game takes five tricks in a minor suit, four in a major suit, or three in No Trump (or some combination of partial scores).

The first partnership that wins two games wins the rubber. They score a 700 point bonus if they won in two games, or 500 points if their opponents also made a game.

Vulnerability and slam bonus


A partnership that has already made a game is called vulnerable, which is of importance for the slam bonus and for the downtricks.

If a player bids and makes a contract of 6 in something (i.e. wins all but one trick), he is said to have made a small slam. This gives a bonus (above the line) of 500 points when not vulnerable, and 750 points when vulnerable. If a player bids and makes a contract of 7 in something (thus scoring all the tricks), he is said to have made a grand slam. This gives a bonus of 1000 points when not vulnerable, and 1500 points when vulnerable.



If a pair fails to achieve their contract, they 'go down'. In such cases, their opponents score points above the line. If the pair is not vulnerable, their opponents get 50 points per undertrick, if it is vulnerable 100 points per undertrick.



If a pair is doubled, and makes their contract, they get double points for all tricks bid (below the line), while overtricks score extra - 100 points per overtrick if not vulnerable, 200 points if vulnerable (above the line). Furthermore, the pair gets 50 points bonus (above the line) 'for the insult'. All these values are doubled again if the contract was redoubled. The slam bonuses are not influenced by a double, nor are the rubber bonuses - although the latter are of course influenced by the fact that there are more scores below the line, and thus games are reached faster.

If a pair is doubled and goes down, the penalty (points to the other pair) are as follows:

  • If the pair is not vulnerable, 100 for the first downtrick, 200 for the second and third, and 300 for each subsequent downtrick.
  • If the pair is vulnerable, 200 for the first downtrick, and 300 for each following one.

These scores are also doubled again if the contract was redoubled.

Footnote - Recent scoring changes


If you read old Bridge books, you may notice some differences in the scoring rules.

The undertrick penalty when doubled, not vulnerable, used to be 100 for the first undertrick and 200 for each subsequent. This was changed because it was too easy to sacrifice against a grand slam. A vulnerable grand slam is worth 1500 (slam bonus) + 500 (game bonus) + 210 (major suit trick score) = 2210. Down 11, doubled not vulnerable, used to be 2100, a profitable sacrifice.

Also, the "insult bonus" for making a redoubled contract used to be only 50. This was changed to 100, so that playing 5 of a minor, redoubled, making an overtrick, is always worth more than an undoubled small slam.

Scoring - Duplicate Bridge


In duplicate bridge, which is what is normally played in a club or tournament, each hand is scored by itself, and not as part of a rubber. This changes (and simplifies) the scoring as described above.

In duplicate bridge, if the required number of tricks for the contract has been made, the pair gets a number of points for the tricks bid and the overtricks as described above (20 per trick above the book of six tricks in clubs/diamonds, 30 per trick in hearts/spades, 30 per trick plus 10 bonus in No Trump, possibly doubled or redoubled). If the number actually bid is enough to score 100 points or more, a game has been made, which scores 300 when not vulnerable and 500 when vulnerable. If it is lower, the score is not carried over to the next hand, but there is a 'part score' bonus of 50 points.

The bonus for slam, the bonus 'for the insult' and the scores for downtricks and doubled overtricks are the same as described above.

In duplicate bridge, in every series of four deals, the vulnerabilities of 'all vulnerable', 'none vulnerable', 'vulnerable against not vulnerable' and 'not vulnerable against vulnerable' will all occur once, in a predetermined order.

  • Bidding boxes and bidding screens
  • Bidding box
  • Enlarge
  • Bidding box

In tournaments, "bidding boxes" are frequently used. A bidding box is a box of cards, each bearing the name of one of the legal calls in bridge. A player wishing to make a call displays the appropriate card from the box, rather than making a verbal declaration. This prevents unauthorized information from being conveyed via voice inflection. In top national and international events, "bidding screens" are used. These are diagonal screens which are placed across the table, preventing a player from seeing his partner during the game.