contract bridge

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bridge, card game derived from whist, played with 52 cards by four players in two partnerships.

Basic Rules

The cards in contract bridge rank from ace down to two; in bidding, suits rank spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs. After all cards are dealt, so that each player holds 13 cards, the dealer begins the auction, which proceeds in rotation to the left. Each player must bid, pass, double (increase the value of the previously stated contract), or redouble (only after a double, further increasing the point value of the contract). A bid is an offer to win a stated number (over six) of tricks with a named suit as trump or with no trump. The lowest bid is one, the highest seven. Each bid, i.e., “one diamond,” “one no-trump,” “four hearts,” must be higher than the preceding bid, with no-trump ranking above spades. Artificial bids are those that convey certain information to a partner and are not meant to be taken literally. The highest bid of the auction becomes the contract after three consecutive passes end the bidding. The player who first named the suit (or no-trump) specified in the winning bid becomes the declarer. The player to the left of the declarer leads any card face up, and the next hand, that of the declarer's partner, is placed face up on the table, grouped in suits. This is known as the dummy, and the declarer selects the cards to be played from this hand. The object of the game for both partnerships is to win as many tricks as possible, a trick being the three cards played in rotation after the lead. Suits must be followed, but a player who has no cards in the suit led may play any card. Highest trump or, if no trump card is played, highest card of the suit led wins. Points are awarded for the number of tricks won. Numerous conventions—generally accepted forms of bidding—are used in bridge, but the four standard ones are Blackwood, Gerber, Stayman, and grand-slam force.

Competitive Bridge

Duplicate bridge, in which the same prearranged hands are played by individuals, pairs, or teams of four, is the main form of competitive bridge. The laws of contract bridge are promulgated in the Western Hemisphere by the American Contract Bridge League, which holds various bridge tournaments. In international contract bridge matches the Bermuda bowl, the trophy for victory, is the emblem of the world championship. In Olympic years an olympiad championship is held by the World Bridge Federation and replaces the team tournament for the Bermuda bowl.


Bridge probably originated in the Middle East in the 19th cent. Auction bridge, one form of the game, was developed by the British in India and later was popular in England and the United States. It is still played but has largely been supplanted by contract bridge, which achieved popularity after important innovations were made in 1925 by Harold S. Vanderbilt. Its phenomenal popularity owed much to the activities of Ely Culbertson. The craze subsided but was later revived; books, tournaments, and newspaper columns on bridge abound. Culbertson devised the honor count system to evaluate a hand for bidding. The point count (or standard American) system introduced by Charles H. Goren in the 1940s has generally replaced honor count.


See C. H. Goren, Bridge Complete (rev. ed. 1971); T. Reese and A. Dormer, The Complete Book of Bridge (1974).

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contract bridge

the most common variety of bridge, in which the declarer receives points counting towards game and rubber only for tricks he bids as well as makes, any overtricks receiving bonus points
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005