Bridge Card Game

How to play bridge

Bridge is a partnership card game for four players. The players are commonly referred to as North and South playing against East and West.

The Auction - choosing a contract

There is an auction on every hand before any cards are played. During the auction, players make bids to tell their partner what suit they like best. Bridge players assign specific meanings to certain bids to show the length of their suits and overall strength of their hand to partner. All those different agreements put together make up what's known in bridge as a bidding system. There are many different bidding systems and it doesn't really matter which one you use as long as you and your partner are using the same one. For now, pick a suit you like and bid that - you'll do fine!

The terminology for bidding is always a number plus a suit. For example, 1 or 4♠.

auction in a game of bridge

Those hearts look pretty good so South bids 1.

Each bid must either be for a greater number of tricks or a higher ranking trump suit, so we need to know the rank of the suits.

rank of suits in bridge

After your 1 bid, if West wants to bid spades, he can bid 1♠ because spades rank higher than hearts but if he wanted to bid clubs he'd have to bid 2♣.

auction in the card game of bridge

West has made spades the trump suit.

Each player can either bid...

auction in a game of bridge

North likes hearts, too!

...or pass.

auction in a game of bridge

East has nothing to say.

Going, going , gone!

After three passes in a row the auction is over.

auction in a game of bridge

Going, going, gone. Auction over.

2 was the last bid so hearts is the trump suit and 2 is the contract. That's where the name contract bridge comes from.

Playing the cards

South bid the hearts first on this hand so South is the "declarer".

The opening lead

After the auction is finished, the person to the left of declarer makes the opening lead.

opening lead in bridge

West leads the ♠6.

Declarer and Dummy

Declarer's partner is called the dummy. Dummy's cards are placed face up on the table and declarer takes control of that hand.

declarer and dummy in bridge

North is the dummy on this hand.

Following suit

In clockwise rotation, each player plays a card and if possible must 'follow suit', which means playing a card of the same suit as the one led. If someone can't follow suit then that player can play any card.

following suit in bridge

North follows suit with the ♠3.

Winning Tricks

Each round of four cards is called a trick, won by the partnership who plays the best card to that trick.

winning tricks in bridge

South wins the trick with the ♠A.

The highest card of the suit led wins the trick unless any player plays a trump in which case the highest trump played wins the trick.

The player who won the trick plays the first card to the next trick.

Bidding Systems

Two of the most common bidding systems are 'Standard' and 'Acol'. You can play either one at Sky Bridge Club.

High Card Points

Whatever bidding system you use, you'll need a way to describe the strength of your hand and the most common method is to count points for each of your high cards.

Count 4 points for each ace in your hand, 3 points for each king, 2 points for each queen and 1 point for each jack.

counting points in bridge card game

Opening 1♣, 1, 1, 1♠

Opening the bidding with 1 of a suit shows 12 or more points.

In some bidding systems an opening bid of 1 or 1♠ needs to be a 5 card suit but an opening of 1♣ or 1 only needs to be a 3 card suit. That style of bidding is called '5-card majors'.

In other bidding systems any opening bid of 1 of a suit only needs to be a 4 card suit. That style of bidding is known as '4 card majors'

Responding to 1♣, 1, 1, 1♠

The opener's partner is called the responder. Responder only needs 6 points to bid after an opening bid of 1♣, 1, 1, 1♠

Opener's Rebids

A reverse means that partner has to bid to the 3 level in order to return to opener's first suit. A reverse shows a strong hand with the first bid suit always being longer than the second.

Opening 1NT

An opening bid of 1NT shows a balanced hand which means no singleton or void and no 6 card suit.

Some players open 1NT with 15-17 points. That's known as a strong notrump.

Some players open 1NT with 12-14 points. That's known as a weak notrump.

The strong NT is normally used by those playing the Standard bidding system. Acol players normally use the weak 1NT

2♣ is Stayman after a 1NT opening as is 3♣ after a 2NT opening and after the bidding sequence 2♣ - 2 - 2NT.
You can choose to play transfers. Check your bidding system. If you have selected transfers then they'll work in the same situations as Stayman - after a 1NT opening, after a 2NT opening and after the bidding sequence 2♣ - 2 - 2NT.
The Sky Bridge Club computer does not play Stayman or transfers after a 1NT overcall.
Stayman and transfers are off after any bid or double by the overcaller

Opening 2♣

An opening bid of 2♣ shows a strong hand. It doesn't say anything about your holding in clubs.

Opening 2 2 2♠

2 2 and 2♠ opening bids are weak showing a good 6 card suit and 6-10 points*

* You can play strong 2 bids if you prefer but make sure to change your bidding settings.

Suit quality is important. A good rule of thumb is that you should have 2 of the top 4 honours. Intermediate cards are also important. KQ10975 is better than KQ5432. Having opened a weak 2, you should not bid again unless partner makes a forcing bid. Partner has enough information to know what to do.

Opening 2NT

20-22 balanced

3♣ is Stayman after a 2NT opening.
If you have transfers selected in your bidding system then 3 is a transfer to hearts, 3 is a transfer to spades and 3♠ is minor suit Stayman
Stayman and transfers are off after any bid or double by the overcaller

Opening 3♣ 3 3 3♠

Preempts. 7 card suit, less than an opening hand.

Opening at the 4 and 5 level

Preempts with an 8 card suit.

Slam Bidding

Blackwood - 4NT

The Blackwood 4NT convention is used when you are thinking of bidding a slam and want to find out how many aces partner has.

4NT asking for aces
  • 5♣ = 0 Ace or 4 Aces
  • 5 = 1 Ace
  • 5 = 2 Aces
  • 5♠ = 3 Aces

Gerber 4♣ Asking for Aces

The Gerber 4♣ convention is used to ask for aces after a 1NT or 2NT bid from partner.

Responding to Gerber 4♣
  • 4 = 0 ace or 4 aces
  • 4 = 1 ace
  • 4♠ = 2 aces
  • 4NT = 3 aces

Quantitative 4NT

After partner's NT bid, a raise to 4NT is invitational, asking partner to bid 6NT or pass. It works in the same way that 1NT 2NT invites partner to 3NT only this time you're interested in bidding slam rather than bidding game.

Competitive Bidding

Simple overcall

An overcall is a bid made after the opposition have already opened the bidding. Whereas an opening bid can show a 3, 4 or 5 card suit depending on your bidding system, an overcall is always a 5 card suit.

Unlike an opening bid, you don't need to have 12 points for a simple overcall. A good 5-card suit is the key and good rule of thumb is two of the top four honours in the suit.


A double in bridge bidding can be either a takeout double, used to ask partner to bid, or a penalty double, used when a player thinks the opposition won't make their contract.

  • Doubles of low level suit contracts are takeout.
  • Doubles of high contracts and notrump bids are penalties.

Takeout Double

  • 12+ HCP
  • at least 3 cards in the unbid suits
  • shortage in the opener's suit
  • asks partner to choose the trump suit

Penalty Double

A double saying that you do not expect your opponents to make their contract is called a penalty double. It increases your score if the contract fails and also increases their score if the contract makes.

Doubles of notrump bids are almost always penalties. If your side has the majority of the points then doubling their 1NT contract can be more profitable than playing the hand in a contract your way.

Negative Double

A negative double is the name given to a double made by the responder. It shows support for the unbid suits and a hand where you don't have a natural bid to make. It means that you can take part in the auction safely even with quite a weak hand.

  • 1-level = 6-9 HCP
  • 2-level = 8-11 HCP

Unusual 2NT

A jump overcall of 2NT shows 5-5 in the two lowest unbid suits.

Michaels Cue Bids

  • 1♣ - 2♣ = 5 hearts and 5 spades
  • 1 - 2 = 5 hearts and 5 spades
  • 1 - 2 = 5 spades and 5 of a minor
  • 1♠ - 2♠ = 5 hearts and 5 of a minor

Bridge is a card game

Interested in playing bridge online at Sky Bridge Club?

We take it seriously because we all love the game and we're here to play and learn from each other. But we remember, too, that bridge is still just a game of cards.

drawing of three children playing cards - snap, go fish and contract bridge