Lesson 1A   Main

Learn To Play Bridge!

  by Richard Pavlicek

Bridge is by far the greatest card game of all, and it can provide immense challenge and enjoyment for the rest of your life. This lesson is intended for the complete beginner, one who knows nothing, or almost nothing, about bridge. If that is you, read on.

Where to begin? Bridge is more complicated than other card games, and beginners are sometimes discouraged by this. Relax! After this lesson you will understand the card play involved and be well on your way to becoming a bridge player. Take your time! There is no hurry. And have a deck of cards handy.

A Few Basics

The game of bridge has two main parts: the Bidding (also called the Auction) and the Play. You should learn the play first because it will give you a better sense of what the bidding means. In fact, learning the bidding first is a mistake and can be a turnoff to new players.

Bridge is a partnership game requiring four players. Each player sits opposite his partner at a card table (in this age of computers the concept could be a simulated).

Bridge is played with a standard deck of 52 playing cards. One of the players deals all of the cards, 13 to each player, in clockwise rotation, beginning with the player to the left of the dealer.

One way to determine the partnerships and first dealer is to draw cards. The two highest cards are partners against the two lowest, and the highest card deals. In the case of a tie (e.g., two aces) it is broken by the suit rank. Partnerships can be prearranged if desired and just draw to see who deals first.

In bridge there are four suits, and they are ranked: spades (highest), hearts, diamonds and clubs (lowest). The ranking is for bidding purposes only. In the play all suits are equal, unless one suit has been named as trumps, then it beats all the others. Suits are sometimes shown as symbols, or abbreviated: S H D C.

The cards of each suit are ranked from the ace (highest) through the two (lowest). The exact order using common abbreviations: A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2. Note that the ace is always high, unlike in some games such as poker or gin rummy, where it can be low.

Lesson 1A   MainTop   Learn To Play Bridge!

Winning of Tricks

The object in bridge play is to win tricks for your side. A trick consists of four cards, one from each player in turn, clockwise around the table. Hence, there are 13 tricks to be won on each deal. The first card played to each trick is called the lead.

If it is your turn to lead, you may play any card in your hand.

After the lead, however, the next three players have an obligation:

You must follow suit (play the same suit as the lead) if possible.

For example, if a spade is led and your hand contains any spades, you must play one of them (you can play any spade you want). If you have no spades, the obligation is gone.

If you cannot follow suit, you may play any card in your hand.

Except for the duty to follow suit, card play in bridge is a free choice. In some games, like pinochle, you must try to win each trick; not so in bridge. You play the cards anyway you want, which is one of the reasons bridge is a superior game.

After four cards have been played, the trick is complete. The rules for determining the winner of a trick are explained below, along with a few examples.

If a trick contains no trump card, it is won by the highest card of the suit led.

1. Lead2nd3rd4th
S 10S JS KS 6

Spades are led and the king is the highest spade played, so it wins the trick.

2. Lead2nd3rd4th
D 7D 8H 9H 10

Diamonds are led and the eight is the highest diamond played, so it wins the trick (assuming hearts are not trumps).

If a trick contains a trump card, it is won by the highest trump played.

3. Lead2nd3rd4th

If hearts are trumps, the heart two wins because it is the only trump played.

4. Lead2nd3rd4th
H 9C 6C 7H J

If clubs are trumps, the club seven wins because it is the highest trump played.

After each trick, one player of the side that wins it should collect the cards and arrange them neatly so the number of tricks won can be counted easily. Play continues this way for all 13 tricks.

Declarer and Dummy

The bidding determines who will be the declarer, which suit (if any) will be trumps, and the number of tricks declarer must win. (For now, take my word for it. You will learn about bidding in other lessons.)

Beginners often confuse the terms, dealer and declarer. The dealer is the one who deals the cards. Any of the players may become the declarer.

The player to the left of declarer makes the first lead, which is called the opening lead. The hand held by declarer’s partner is then displayed face up for all to see. This is called the dummy, and the player who held it does not participate in the play. Declarer must play both the dummy and his own hand, although each in proper turn.

After the opening lead, the hand that wins each trick must lead to the next trick.

Partner, I believe you’re the dummy.

Oh, yeah? You’re not so smart either, moron!

This concept of exposing one of the hands for all to see is the hallmark of bridge. It adds an element of skill that would never be possible with all four hands hidden, yet there is more than enough mystery about the unseen hands to make the play challenging.

The dummy should be arranged neatly, separated into suits. The cards in each suit should be in order of rank and overlapped, with the rank of each card clearly visible. If there is a trump suit, it is placed on dummy’s right (viewed by declarer, trumps are on the left).

Lesson 1A13   MainTop   Get Out the Cards!

Let’s Play Bridge!

Lay out a deck of cards to match the diagram below, and play it card by card as shown. You are South and declarer. There are no trumps, and your goal is to win 9 tricks.

5. S 3 2TrickLead2nd3rd4th
H 5 4 31 WS Q24K
D A 4 3 22 SC 42JA
C K Q J 73 ES 5A83
S Q J 10 9 8TableS 7 6 5 44 SC 510Q3
H J 7 6H 10 9 85 NC K86D 9
D K J 9D Q 106 NH 38Q6
C 10 2C A 9 8 37 SH K749
S A K8 SH AJ510
H A K Q 29 SH 2S 9D 2S 6
NotrumpD 8 7 6 510 SD 5JA10
win 9C 6 5 4Lose the rest

West leads a spade because it is usually best to lead a long suit when there are no trumps, and you win the king. You next lead a club and play dummy’s jack, which East wins with the ace. East wisely leads another spade and you win the ace.

You now lead a club and win dummy’s queen, and next win the club king. West has no more clubs and discards a diamond. Note that the club seven is not good (East still holds the club nine).

Next you lead a heart to your queen, and continue with the heart king and ace. When all follow suit to your top hearts, you lead your last heart which is good! Note that the lowly two wins the trick because no one else has a heart.

Finally, lead a diamond and win the ace in dummy. Rather than play out the last three tricks, all your cards are losers so you concede the rest to save time.

Now let’s have some fun with a trump suit. On the next deal hearts will be trumps and your goal is to win 10 tricks. As you play it, note the great power of the trump suit in winning tricks by trumping a high card played by an opponent.

6. S 10 7 4TrickLead2nd3rd4th
H J 10 8 61 WS K42J
D 5 22 WS A73H 5
C A 6 3 23 SH K264
S A K Q 9 6TableS 8 5 3 24 SH A387
H 3 2H 7 45 SD K723
D Q J 7D 10 9 8 36 SD AJ58
C Q 10 8C K J 57 SD 4QH 109
S J8 NS 105H 96
H A K Q 9 59 SD 6S 9H J10
H trumpD A K 6 410 NC A548
win 10C 9 7 4Lose 2 more tricks

West leads the spade king which wins, then the spade ace hoping to win that as well. But you trump it with the heart five. The five of hearts beats the ace of spades. Wow! Then you lead the heart king and ace, which removes all of the trumps held by the opponents. This process of drawing trumps eliminates any chance of an opponent winning a trump trick.

Next you win the diamond king and ace. If there were no trump suit, you could not win another diamond trick; but dummy’s trumps are a beautiful sight. Lead the diamond four and trump it with the heart 10. Now lead a spade and trump it in your hand then lead your last diamond and trump it with the heart jack. Isn’t this fun!

Finally, you win the club ace and may as well just concede two club tricks to save time. Note that your last trump is sure to win a trick at the end.

What next?

Guess what? You’re in luck! Bookmark this link: Bridge Basics by Richard Pavlicek

Visit at your leisure to continue learning the greatest card game on Earth!


© 1999 Richard Pavlicek