The Basics of Bridge

YMCA Bridge Lecture for BB1 Ch1 (March 2, 2017)

Our chapter for today — Audrey Grant’s Bridge Basics 1 Series, Ch. 1 — explains the vocabulary and mechanics of bridge. This chapter assumes you have played card games previously, perhaps Canasta, Hearts, Old Maid, or Poker. You may download this lesson in one of the two following formats:

  1. Paragraph: ag-bb1-ch1-para
  2. Outline: ag-bb1-ch1-note

Introduction

Everything you will learn in this course can be found in The Bidding Song. We will sing about key concepts such as Bid (call), Point count, Balanced hand, No Trumps, Suits, (5-card) Majors, Length points, and (convenient) Minors. Please join Carol as she leads us in this song (p. 194).

Let’s continue our bridge education by studying terminology. We will define terms for Ladders & Positions, Mechanics, Players, the Contract, Declarer vs Defenders, and Scoring. The terms below in italics include all definitions from BB1 Ch1.

If you want more definitions, please see the Glossary, pp. 195-202. If you want every term ever applied to bridge, go to Bridgeguys’ Glossary.

Cards, Ladders, and Seats

Please open a deck of cards. We want a touchy-feely introduction to the bridge terms that we find in Chapter 1.

—Cards

Any size, index, color, or material is adequate for bridge cards. True bridge cards are approximately 1/4″ narrower than poker cards. Local vendors sell poker-size cards rather than bridge-size cards. The cards you see today are from Sam’s Club. The price is ~$15.50/dozen of Bicycle-brand poker —decks. The font (index) may be Jumbo or Regular. Our cards are Jumbo. The backs of the cards are generally red or blue, as are these. The material might be plastic, cellulose, or, like Bicycle, 3-ply plastic-coated paper.

—Rank of Cards

Put 13 cards in order of AKQJT98765432. This is their rank. The Ace will “win” over any same-suited card to its right. A 2 will “lose” to any same-suited card to its left.

—Length

Why have a 2 if it always loses? With best play, a 2 does not always lose. A suit has an odd number of cards (13). If there are 4 people at the table, each playing 1 card per round, by the 4th round only one card or one player remains in the suit, and that card or their cards win even if the cards are the 432. Length in a suit matters. Any holding of 4c+ gives you the chance to win low-card tricks as you promote your lowest cards. In fact, when we value the strength of our hands with a point-count system, we give ourselves length points for our longer holdings.

—Color

Place the cards in two piles, one red and one black. Turn the piles face down. Move one pile away, leaving one pile in the center of the table. Let’s play one turn around the table (a trick). Let one person pick a card and turn it face up. Move around the table clockwise so that each person selects one card. Was there a problem? Did everyone play the same color, but some played a different suit (a strain)?

—Suits

You must be careful in how you sort the cards because there are four suits (Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs) but only two colors (red, black). If you carelessly play a heart on a diamond trick when in fact you have a diamond, you revoke. This angers everyone at the table. It also confuses the better players who count cards and expect you not to be out (void). You must follow suit if you can, discard (play any other strain) if you can’t.

—Rank of Suits

Let’s start over. Separate your two piles into four piles, now by suits. Alphabetize your four piles of 13 cards, proving there are 52 cards in a deck (ie, 4×13=52). Spades outrank the lower suits. Clubs do not outrank any other suits. If you want to steal a contract, and you hold strong spades, you can outbid your opponents. If you want a vague bid (“Partner, trust me, I have something”), you won’t find a lower suit than clubs to bid.

—Ladder

The rank of suits is analogous to a ladder. This ladder starts at 1§, then advances upward in alphabetical order to 1¨, 1©, 1ª. The top rung is 1 NT (notrump). Then the ladder repeats at the 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 levels. Using the cards A, 2, 3, plus the 4 suits, plus the K§=1NT, K¨=2NT, and K©=3NT, build a 3-level ladder at your table. When bidding, each new bid must be higher on the ladder than the previous bid. If not, the bid called is said to be insufficient, and can result in a penalty at tournaments.

—To Win a Trick

In this class, we play rubber bridge. In sports, a rubber is a match with an odd number of games, the champion being the team that wins a majority of the games. In the World Series, a rubber is a team’s first four wins in a series of 7 games. In bridge, it is a team’s first two wins in a series of 3 games.

All bridge cards are played to the middle of the table. The winner takes the entire pile of 4 cards and counts this as a trick. They put the trick in front of themselves or their Partner. But for the moment, let’s play duplicate bridge. You don’t play a card to the middle of the table, but simply place your card face up in front of you. One team wins the trick. Every player then places their card face down and points it at the winner, who will be North, East, South, or West.

—In Front of vs Behind

From the four piles of cards by suits, pick one suit. Move the other three piles aside into one large pile. From the one-suit pile, cards shuffled and face down, each player should select 3 cards. Put the 13th card in the large pile.

We will play your three cards in duplicate style. Let North play the first card (any card). Move clockwise with the play. Try to win the trick with a high card (your ranking card). The player with the highest card wins the trick and leads first on the next trick. Continue for three rounds. Remember how many tricks your partnership won. Pick up your cards and repeat, but let East play the first card. Repeat two more times, letting South and West be the opening leader.

Did your partnership win a different number of tricks each time? Were you ever on lead and felt either helpless or powerful? If so, it is because you are stronger if you play after (behind) a high card from your right-hand opponent (RHO) than if you must play before (in front of) a high card from your left-hand opponent (LHO). Your location or seat (1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th) has an impact on the value of your hand. If your RHO bids your longest and strongest suit, you can defend well. If your LHO bids your suit, you have almost no defensive strength.

Mechanics

There is a fair amount of activity at a bridge tables. The players must shuffle, cut, deal, lead, and score. These are the mechanics of a bridge table.

—Shuffle

When you sit down at a table, there should be two decks of contrasting colors. Shuffle these approximately 7x each. Science says that a hand shuffled 7x is nearly as random as possible. If you want a 9-minute, professorial video on shuffling and the probability of a random distribution, go to Adventures in Bridge.

—Cut

Spread one deck across the table, face down. The players each select a card. You are not allowed to choose one of the first four cards from either end. If you are drawing cards to select the first Dealer, the person drawing the card of the highest rank becomes the Dealer. With a tie, the Dealer is the player with the higher suit. The Dealer may pick the deck of cards that they prefer. The scorekeeper should record on the score sheet the name of the first Dealer.

—Deal

The RHO to the Dealer cuts the cards by moving the top portion of the deck towards the Dealer. The Dealer then places the bottom portion of the deck on top of the cut portion. The Dealer deals the deck of cards, beginning with LHO, moving clockwise, and ending with themselves. No one other than the Dealer touches the cards during the deal. At the end of the deal, each player picks up their cards facedown, counts them, and if finding 13, arranges the cards by suit and rank. The 13 cards are their hand.

—Opening Leader

The Dealer’s LHO chooses the first card of play. The Opening Leader should play this card facedown, asking Partner if there are any questions. This is Partner’s opportunity to say “no” or “You are NOT on lead.” Assuming the former, the Opener Leader faces the opening lead. The winner of each trick leads the first card of the next trick, until all 13 tricks are played.

—Second Deck

While the Dealer is dealing, the Dealer’s Partner shuffles the second deck. Other than the first hand, this will be the deck used in the previous hand. When shuffled, the Dealer’s Partner places the second deck to their right.

—Next Dealer

When one hand is finished, the player with a deck of cards to their left slides the deck to their right. There RHO, who was the previous Dealer, cuts the cards. Dealing, shuffling, and cutting continue in this manner for the remainder of the session.

—Scoring

Generally, two players — one from each team — record the scores. Each Scorer should check with the other scorer at the end of each hand on the score awarded, so that differences can be resolved.

—Summary

Get involved. Remember who is the next Dealer. Remember who is the Opening Leader. Remember the exact card that Opening Leader decided was their best opportunity to set the Declarer. Volunteer to keep score.

Players

You can play bridge without knowing the technical names of all players and the seats they occupy. However, it is difficult to read a bridge book without knowing these players and how they are situated at the table relative to each other.

—Partners

Bridge is a card game played by two partnerships. Like many ball games, one team has an advantage, either because in sports the team has physical possession, or in Bridge the Declarer has location (ie, plays 4th on the Opening Lead), choice of contract, and double dummy (ability to see both hands in the partnership).

—Opener

The Dealer can bid first (open). If the Dealer declines (passes), the LHO gets the next opportunity. The first player to bid is called the Opener. This player is important for at least two reasons. If their team wins the contract, the first person to bid the contract suit becomes the Declarer. Second, bidding systems assume the Opener is the stronger partner. The weaker partner somewhat counterintuitively becomes the bidding Captain. The Opener must bid accurately if the Opener expects the Captain to determine whether to place the team correctly in a partscore, game, or slam. Bidding stops after 3 consecutive players pass, not counting the Dealer’s first call.

—Overcaller

While we won’t see competition (both teams bidding to become Declarer) in Bridge Basics 1, we will see it in Bridge Basics 2. An Opponent may bid even if the other team is also bidding. A player who overcalls (bids) first for the non-opening team is the Overcaller. You must know how to score to be an effective Overcaller. Your goal is to find a good contract, but short of that, your goal is to go down fewer points than the Opponents would have scored if they had bid a contract without your interference.

—Responder

The partner of the Opener is the Responder.

—Advancer

The partner of the Overcaller is the Advancer.

—Declarer

The first person to bid the suit that became the contract suit.

—Dummy

The cards held by the Declarer’s partner. The term Dummy refers to the hand and the way it is played. A duplicate-bridge partner performs as a puppeteer, playing the cards from Dummy’s hand as instructed by Declarer. In social bridge, the Declarer generally plays both hands while the partner does other chores, such as remembering which hand won the last trick.

The Contract

Contract Bridge is all about the contract. Each team attempts to determine their point count, strength, length, shortness, and fit. With this information from the bidding, the set the contract as high as they expect to make.

—Trumps

Cards and Strains have a natural rank, which in cards is AKQJT98765432 and in Strains is alphabetical order. You can affect both. Want your KQ to take a trick? Play the K to drive out the defenders’ A, and your Q is promoted to the ranking card. It is easier in strains. Want your suit to be a bully? Declare the contract in your suit, and this suit becomes the trumps. These trumps can ruff (win) a trick in any other strain, assuming the person doing the ruffing is not revoking.

—Trump Fit

If you are selecting the suit that your partnership wants to be trumps, you should choose your longest and strongest suit. You will want your strong trumps to pull all the Defenders’ low trumps as soon as possible, so the Defenders can’t use their low trumps to capture your side-suit honor cards (AKQJT). Say you and your partner have a 7c fit (a Moysian fit), and Defenders have the remaining 6 cards. Unless their cards are divided in a 3-3 shape or distribution, so your 4c+ hand can void the Defenders’ trumps, the Defense might overwhelm your trumps. Change this to an 8c trump fit, Defenders with a likely 3-2 shape, and Declarer’s control is probable. Change this to a 9c fit, Defenders with a 3-1 or 2-2 shape, and Declarer overwhelms the Defenders.

—Golden Fit

If the Declarer’s partnership holds a minimum 8c fit in the combined hands, they are said to have a trump fit or Golden Fit. Modern bidding seeks to find this Golden Fit in the team’s longest suit.

—Valuation Points

Both partnerships will evaluate their hands for strength and length. We have seen that length points are derived by players having long 5c+ suits. Strength points are derived by players having honor cards, as honor cards tend to win tricks. Strength points are known as High Card Points (HCP). Total valuation points are based on the sum of factors such as HCP, length points, and voids.

—NoTrumps

In many cases, a partnership will have strength but can’t find a Golden Fit. They can declare their contract in NoTrumps, meaning none of the suits will be trumps. Typically, such bidders have distributions of 5-3-3-2, 4-4-3-2, or 4-3-3-3. Playing and defending in notrumps are skills, generally a race, in which both teams race to cash in their high-card tricks before the other team can develop or promote their low-card tricks.

Declarer vs Defenders

Bridge has some characteristics of sports. In fact, Mr. George Plimpton penned an article about US-champion Mr. Harold Vanderbilt, entitled “House of Cards,” for Sports Illustrated, November 5, 1956.

—Sport Analogies

Declarer is said to be the offense. Defenders are said to be the defense. While a footballer might score a touchdown, a bridge player is trying to make a contract. A footballer who fails would have a turnover, while a bridge player would have undertricks, scored for the Defenders.

—Some Plays aren’t Equal

A footballer could call for a 7-point touchdown, a 3-point field goal, or a 1-point PAT. A bridge player can contract to take a few tricks (partscore), enough tricks to score game (3NT, 4M, or 5m), or enough to score a slam (6 odd for a small slam, 7 odd for a grand slam). A Declarer who fails to win sufficient tricks to make their contract is defeated.

Scoring

The SI article “House of Cards” said, “As for undertricks, Vanderbilt foresaw the necessity of protecting the underdog — the side that had lost the first game. He therefore kept that side’s undertrick penalties low enough to enable it on occasion to save the rubber or a slam at a not too excessive cost by outbidding the opponents.” Bridge is interesting partly because the scoring is so complex.

—We vs They

A bridge score pad has two columns, one called we and one called they. These columns are for the two partnerships, not necessarily for Declarer vs Defenders or offense vs defense. The person doing the scorekeeping is on the “we” team, while the opponents are on the “they” team. If there are two scorekeepers (one for each team), their score pads should be mirror images.

The successful team, such as a Declarer who makes or Defenders who set, put all scores resulting from a hand in their respective column. There are no negative scores in rubber bridge. Duplicate bridge awards the defeated team the same absolute score as the successful team, but with a negative sign.

There is one concept called honors where even the defeated team can score in rubber bridge but not in duplicate bridge. This concept is like holding royal flushes or four of a kind in poker. Either team can earn up to 150 points for being dealt 4+ high-card trumps (AKQJT) in a trump contract or all 4 Aces (AAAA) in a notrump contract. Honors are rare.

—History

Bridge traces its origins to trick-taking card games first mentioned in 1529. Since then, there has been Whist in which there is no bidding and no Dummy, Auction Bridge with some rudimentary bidding, Russian Bridge with a Dummy, and Contract Bridge with exact bidding and a Dummy. In Contract Bridge, a team does best if it predicts in the bidding the number of tricks that it will take. See the English Bridge Union’s Origins and History of Bridge.

—Partscore

A team earns points for every odd trick it takes, or loses points for every even or odd trick it goes down. Since bridge assumes the Declarer will take more than half of all tricks, Declarer’s scoring does not begin until the 7th trick. The first 6 tricks are even tricks, also called book. The next seven tricks are the odd tricks.

The points earned for tricks vary by whether the contract is in a major suit (spades and hearts), a minor suit (diamonds and clubs), or notrumps. Beginning students should know that major-suit contracts are “major” because these two suits score 30 points per trick, minor-suit contracts are “minor” because these two suits score only 20 points per trick, and notrumps are neither major nor minor, scoring 40 points for the first trick and 30 points for each additional trick.

—Valuation Points

The approximate relationship between points and contracts is 21+ points for a 1-level partscore, 23+ for a 2-level partscore, 25+ for a 3NT game, 26+ for a 4M game, 29+ for a 5m game, 33+ for a 6-trick small slam, and 37+ for a 7-trick grand slam.

—Game

A rubber consists of winning two games. A team that has not won a game in the current rubber is called nonvulnerable. A team that has won one game in the current rubber is called vulnerable. If a vulnerable team wins two games before the other partnership wins a game, the team earns 700 points for a “two-game” rubber. If one vulnerable team wins a second game while the other partnership is vulnerable too, the winning team earns only 500 points for a “three-game” rubber.

Game and rubber bonuses are significant compared to earning trick values of 40, 30, or 20 points for notrump, major, and minor tricks. A team wins a game whenever they accumulate 100 points, such as by winning five contracts of 1¨ each or one contract of 5¨. After a team wins its second game of a rubber, the scorekeeper draws a double line at the bottom of the scoresheet, and begins a new rubber with each team reset to 0.

Your goal in bridge should be to declare every hand in a game contract worth 100+ trick points.

—Slam

A slam bonus is independent of a game bonus. The team gets this bonus whenever they bid and make more than 6 odd tricks. The bonus ranges from 500 to 1500 points depending on whether the team contracts for a small slam (6 tricks) or grand slam (7 tricks), and whether the team is vulnerable or non-vulnerable. If the team is vulnerable and makes the contract, they earn a rubber bonus with their slam bonus. Many teams prefer to avoid grand slams even with very large HCP, because teams don’t want to risk losing two bonuses for a small slam and a game whenever a single trick goes awry.

Hand Valuation

Computers do not bid as well as humans. There are too many subjective factors to consider, such as HCP, stoppers (ranking cards in all suits), and fit.

—Science of Bidding

Two teachers have excellent supplementary information on valuations:

  1. Marty Bergen: One of the best books on the complexity of valuation is Marty Bergen, Hand Evaluation: Points, Schmoints! Be aware that Marty Bergen is teaching to advanced players, not beginners or intermediates. (Marty Bergen is a 10x national champion.)
  2. Robert Todd: A great free source of valuation is Adventures in Bridge, Lessons 54-61. Lesson 54 begins forebodingly, “Hand evaluation is one of the most difficult and complicated parts of bridge.” Robert’s free lessons will tell you approximately the same information as Marty Bergen’s, plus Robert uses much simpler guidelines in how to include his subjective factors in your valuations. (Robert Todd is a professional player and teacher who advises Audrey Grant.)

—Partnership Valuation Points (PVP)

There are so many ways to evaluate your point count, such as HCP, length, shortage, Quick Tricks, Probable Tricks, and Losing Trick Count. I like to combine all my points in one category, to make this category dependent on my fit with Partner, and to call my total “PVP.” Your term for your total points may vary.

In Bridge Basics 1, value your hand by assigning HCP of A=4, K=3, Q=2, J=1. Give yourself one length point for each card beyond 4 in a suit. Combine your HCP and Length Points. If you have 13+ points, open the bidding (again, Robert Todd introduces complexity to this simple guideline). We will study Responder’s point valuation in Chapter 2. We will study competitive bidding by the Overcaller and Advancer in BB2.

—Why 13 to Open

For mental simplicity, bridge assigns 10 HCP to an average hand and 40 HCP to the deck. We have seen that a 2-level contract requires about 23 points. If you open, your Responder is likely to push you up the ladder to at least the 2 level. Assume your Responder holds an average hand (10 PVP). The historic guideline from early bridge is that to open you should hold a K better than average (10+3=13 PVP). The extra K provides your team sufficient points to stop safely at the 2 level.

Tests of Comprehension

  1. Mechanics: For a test on bridge terminology and mechanics, go to Quiz 1 (p. 22).
  2. Valuation: For a test on hand valuation, go to Quiz 2 (p. 24).
  3. QT: For a test on Quick Tricks, go to Quiz 3 (p. 26).

Hands to Play, from BB1 = “An Introduction” (206p)

Note that we have not studied bidding yet, so please accept the bidding recommended in the hints. If you finish the four hands early, please use the remaining time for MiniBridge hands (see Hint E).

Deck Hands Declarer Dealer Bid Lead Hints
BB1 P. 28 #1 N N 1 K A
BB1 P. 30 #2 E E 1NT Q B
BB1 P. 32 #3 W S 2 3 C
BB1 P. 34 #4 E W 2 J D

Hints

A: N=18 PVP. S=5 PVP. North (N) opens their 5cM (see Ch. 3) with a call of 1. South (S) is a near bust, so passes. East leads the top of a 3c honor sequence from a suit not bid by Opponents. Declarer has 9 QT, needing nothing more than the lead to run all 9+ tricks. Defenders take the first 4 tricks. Declarer pulls trumps, then plays . Plus 2.

B: E=17 PVP. W=7 PVP. East (E) has a 4-3-3-3 distribution with 15-17 HCP, so opens 1NT (see Ch. 2). West ( W ) needs either a 5cM or 8-9 HCP to respond. Lacking both, W passes. S leads the top of a 3c honor sequence from a long suit not bid by Opponents. Declarer has 7 QT, sufficient for the contract. With 4c and suits, Declarer has a chance to develop one extra low-card trick. Given the lead, Declarer tries . Plus 1.

C: E=9 PVP. W=13 PVP. S opens a 5cM. W requires less strength than an opening hand to overcall (see BB2), but in fact is strong with 13 PVP. Both N and E support their partners at the lowest levels of the ladder, showing no interest in game or slam. Everyone passes. N knows their correct opening lead is their partner’s bid suit, so N leads their 4th best card in the suit, showing support without a sequence. Declarer has 8 QT with no hope for developing additional tricks. Claim.

D: N=8 PVP. S=~12 PVP. S in the pass-out seat has a preemptive bid of 2 (see BB3), but there is no one to preempt. Instead, S opens an excellent suit. N with more than 6 points, no GF for partner, and a 4c+ major, bids the major at the lowest level. S is uninterested in , so rebids at the lowest level to show a minimum hand with a 6c holding (a rebid suit promises one additional card). N with a GF, a proven honor in the J (ie, now that S has bid the suit, there is little risk that the J will be a wasted value), and insufficient points for a game, passes. W leads the top of a 3c honor sequence from a long suit not bid by Opponents. Declarer has 8 QT plus the possibility of developing 2 additional low-card tricks. Defenders take the first 2-5 tricks, eventually regain the lead to take all the tricks that Defenders deserve. With best offense, Declarer makes an overtrick. Plus 1.

E MiniBridge: Shuffle and deal a regular bridge hand. Starting with the Dealer, let each player announce their HCP. The team with more than 20 HCP will be Declarers. The Declarer-side player with the least points is the Dummy. The Dummy announces their distribution, in a S-H-D-C format such as 2-5-3-3. Based on Dummy’s HCP and distribution, the Declarer announces the desired contract, such as 3. LHO makes the opening lead. The remainder of the hand is played as regular bridge.

Student Notes: (nb: The latest version of YMCA@Spr17Ch1 may be downloaded at BetterBridge.blog.)

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