Playing Duplicate Bridge –with Phil the Test Manager

Following on from learning about 5’ and 3’s from the estimable Coloniescross (One for Chips). I thought I would share my passion, which is Bridge.

Many will think this is a posh, stuck-up game played by lols (little old ladies) and retired generals.   Nothing could be further from the truth, apart from actually having some lols and retired generals!
Bridge is a game of cards where you play with a partner, against another pair, who are partners.  A good partner is one who is at the same standard, or slightly better than you.  When you find this person, they become just as valuable as a loving wife/husband.  Tip: you can learn to play with your husband/wife/girlfriend/mistress etc., but don’t, unless you want to tempt divorce.


After the usual pleasantries, hello, good evening, welcome, it then descends into WW3, though always being polite.  You do need to have that “killer instinct”, we all play for fun and enjoyment, but we want to win, but only in a fair and pleasant way.


With a teacher, you can probably learn the basics over a weekend.  Then, like games such as Chess, it takes a while to get better.
I only play Duplicate Bridge, not Rubber bridge.  Rubber bridge is often played in clubs and living rooms all over the world.  It is played either without stakes (money) or sometimes with very small stakes.  There are places you can play for high stakes.  Enough of Rubber Bridge though, way too much luck involved for my linking.  (Sorry Old Trout).


Duplicate bridge involves every pair in the room playing against all, or most, of every other pair, and all play the same quantity and the same hands.  This means the game is 95% skill and 5% luck.


So, we sit down, say hello to opponents.  We may be sitting North/South; they will be sitting East/West or vice-versa.  In front of us, usually in a plastic wallet we will have our hand of 13 cards.


You can only look at your own hand.  From this point the first stage of the game is the bidding.  Remember you are a pair.  Whoever the dealer is (marked on the wallet) opens the bidding.  Each player in turn is able to Pass (making no bid) or making a bid based on their hand.  Once the highest bid has been made which is followed by 3 passes, then that person become declarer (the one who will actually play the hand), and the contract they specified is the target.


When bidding there is a sequence of the lowest bid possible to the highest bid possible.  1 Club is the lowest bid, meaning you expect to take 7 of the thirteen tricks available (52/4), with Clubs as a trump suit.  1C, is the lowest, then, 1D (Diamond), 1H (Heart), 1S (Spade), then comes 1NT (No Trump), which is an expectation to make 7 tricks, without any trumps.


After 1NT, comes, 2C, 2D, 2H, 2S, 2NT, 3C etc. all the way up to 7NT, which is to try and make all 13 tricks, without any trumps.  Whatever you bid is that qty of tricks, plus 6.  Hence 4H is 4 + 6 = 10 tricks.  There is a bonus score for making a “Game Bid”, which is anything between 3NT and 5S, with bigger bonuses for bidding 6 (small slam making twelve tricks) and even bigger bonuses again for bidding a 7 contract (7 +6 = 13, so a grand slam, all 13 tricks).  You only make that contract score, if you make the quantity of tricks you contracted for, or more.  Any less and you lose lots of points.


NT is the highest, then the suits are ranks as Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs, hence 1D is higher than 1C.  When you bid you can only make a bid higher than the previous bid, but you can always Pass (No Bid).  After 3 people have passed in succession, that is the end of the auction.
I will give an example hand of which your hero does well:
Your hero, is sitting in the North Seat, Fred, is my partner South, Opps are Savarin West and Michael East.
♦ KJ2
♠ 86
♥ AQT965
♦ AT87
♣ A
♦ Q96543
♦ –
♣ Q986543


Dealer is North (your hero).  The bidding goes:


North   East     South   West


1♥        2♦        2♥        3♦
4♥        Pass     Pass     Pass


You can only see your hand during the bidding phase.  Evaluate your hand, giving 4 points for an Ace, 3 for a King, 2 for Queen and 1 for a Jack.  If you have say 11+ points, you should probably open the bidding with your best (longest) suit.  Usually opening at the one level to give partner a chance to say if they have anything.  If the combined total of your hand plus partners is in the regions of 25 points, then there is a reasonable chance of bidding a Game contract, of either 3NT, 4H or 4S, which gives the all-important bonus scores.


I have 14 points, so I am going to open.  My best suit (longest) is ♥ so I open 1♥, which announces to partner (and Opps), I have an opening hand (11+ points and at least a 4 card heart suit).


As it happens, my left hand opponent (LHO) who is next to bid, also has some values and bids his diamonds.  He has to bid at least 2, as 1♦ is less than 1♥ (all subsequent bids must be greater than the last bid, else they Pass).  This announces to all that they have an overcalling hand (may be an opening hand, maybe weaker) and has at least 5 Diamonds.


My partner sees a fit in Hearts, and believes we could make 8 tricks in total, if Hearts are trumps, so bids 2♥.  West likes his partners Diamond bid, so supports by increasing the bidding level to 3♦. Not to be outdone, your hero believes that if partner thinks we can make 8 tricks, I am pretty sure I can make 10.  So I bid 4♥ which is then passed out.


The contract is set, North, your hero, needs to make 10 tricks, with Hearts as trumps.  Whoever is Declarer (winner of the contract), then their LHO makes the opening lead.


At this stage, “Dummy goes down”.  This means, the partner of Declarer puts their hand down, face up, so everyone can see all their 13 cards.


The second part then begins, which is to play the hand.  Dummy (Partner of declarer), no longer takes any part in the play, indeed is forbidden from doing so.  Declarer will call for their partner who is Dummy to play specific cards.  Cards are not just thrown into the middle and jumbled up.  Each player simply puts the card in front of them, then turns it over after each person has played their card, turning it face down and upwards, if you won the trick, or face down and lengthways if you did not.  In this way you can see how many tricks are won or lost, and at the end you collect just your 13 cards and put them back in the wallet for the next people to play, the exact same cards.


So remember that when playing, everyone can see Dummy’s hand after the opening lead.  Not quite so easy to play the hand now!  Opponents cannot of course see any hand other than their own and Dummy.  Declarer can see only their hand and Dummy.


Your hero did indeed succeed in making the contract exactly, the opening lead was the 6♦.


If there is interest I will do an article on playing.


For those that are interested, there are some excellent articles and software to learn how to play, though I would always recommend attending regular classes.  The teacher will set you up with a partner for each session.  There may be a flat fee for the whole course, or each lesson will only be a couple of pounds.  The English Bridge Union website is excellent  they have an education page where you can find a teacher, or check your local papers to show when courses start.  Free learn to play software is here:


Warning – Duplicate Bridge is highly addictive, it is also very cheap, a game lasts around 3 hours and table money is usually around 2 or 3 pounds for the evening (Nearer 7 or 8 in London).  Many people learn to play when they retire, and they all say they had wished they had learned 30 years ago.  When I play in live clubs in the UK, I am fortunate to have a partner who I have played with for 30 years, we play with and against many younger than us, and people who are in their 90’ now. They play 2 or 3 times a week and are pretty good.  It gives them a reason to get out of bed in the morning, it keeps their brain active.  If you are retired, or about to, and have no hobbies or plans to do anything other than watching the telly, but you want to live another 40 or more years, then I would highly recommend this game.

Phil the test manager ©