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Contract bridge, usually known simply as bridge, is a trick-taking card game of skill, and partly of chance, for four players, who form two partnerships ("sides"). The partners sit opposite each other. The game consists of two main parts: bidding (or "auction") and play, after which the hand is scored.
The bidding ends with a "contract", which is a declaration by one partnership that their side shall take a stated quantity (or more) of tricks, with specified suit as trump or without trumps. The rules of play are rather simple and similar to other trick-taking games.
Two partnerships of two players each are needed to play bridge. The four players sit around a table with partners opposite one another. The compass directions are often used to refer to the four players, aligned with their seating pattern. Thus, South and North form one partnership and East and West form the other.
A session of bridge consists of many deals (also called "hands" or "boards"); the game play of each deal consists of four phases: the deal, the bidding (or auction) ending in the contract, the playing of the cards, and finally scoring.
The goal is to achieve as high a numerical score as possible with the dealt cards, by taking as much tricks as possible. The score is affected by two principal factors: the number of tricks bid in the auction, and the number of tricks taken during play. Broadly said, there is incentive to the players to accurately bid the number of tricks that their hands are capable of delivering, as the bonuses for bid tricks increase with the bid level (number of tricks). Thus, in the bidding stage, the pairs compete to see who proposes the highest number of tricks, and the side who wins the bidding must then fulfill that bargain by taking at least the contracted quantity of tricks in play to obtain a score. The number of tricks bid and the trump suit (or lack thereof) are referred to as a "contract". The trump suit, or its absence ("no trumps") is referred to as "denomination" or "strain". If the side who wins the auction then takes the contracted number of tricks (or more), it is said to have "fulfilled the contract" and is awarded a score; otherwise, the contract is said to be "defeated" and points are awarded to the defenders.
The game is played with a complete deck of 52 cards. One of the players is the "dealer."
In rubber bridge (or other non-duplicate games), the cards are shuffled and the dealer distributes all the cards clockwise one at a time, starting with his left-hand opponent and ending with himself, so each player receives a "hand" of thirteen cards. At the same time, for convenience, the dealer's partner usually shuffles a second deck, to be ready for use on the following deal. The deal rotates clockwise, so the dealer's left-hand opponent will deal next.
In duplicate bridge, the hands are shuffled only once, at the beginning of the tournament, and dealt clockwise one at a time (there are also special machines for pre-dealing on large tournaments), and placed into bridge boards. At each subsequent table, each player pulls his cards from the board and counts them to ensure that the deal has not been corrupted. Unlike in other trick-taking games, the players do not throw their cards to the middle of the table in each trick; instead, each player keeps his played cards before him, to allow the completed deal to be returned to the board unaltered.
The auction determines the declaring side and the final contract, which consists of the denomination and level (amount of tricks). Only one of partners of the declaring side, referred to as "declarer", will play the hand, while the other will become the "dummy" (i.e. doing nothing). In addition, if the final contract is doubled (by the opponents) or redoubled (by the contracting partnership) the scoring of the hand is increased, whether the contract is made or defeated.
During the auction, each player makes a "call" at his turn, which must be one of the following:
* "Bid" (stating a level and a denomination)
* "Double" (when the last call other than pass was a bid by an opponent)
* "Redouble" (when the last call other than pass was a double by an opponent)
* "Pass" (when unwilling to make one of the three preceding calls, i.e. "abstain")
(Note: although technically incorrect, the word "bid" is also often used informally in place of "call")
The auction starts with the dealer and proceeds clockwise with each player, having first evaluated their hands, making a call in order. The auction ends when 3 successive passes occur after a bid, double or redouble (or if all 4 players pass in the first round).
A "bid" specifies how many tricks the bidder believes that his partnership can take using his hand and his partner's hand, and with which strain as trump. Any bid starts with the assumption that the bidder can make at least six tricks, called "book", plus the stated number of additional tricks. So the bid includes a level (from one to seven, representing how many tricks beyond six the bidder proposes to make) and a denomination (also called "strain"), which is either a suit or "no trump". For instance, "3 hearts" asserts that his partnership can take nine tricks (book plus three) with hearts as the trump suit. There are 35 possible bids, which include all combinations of 5 denominations and 7 levels (7-13 tricks).
A player wishing to bid at his turn must make a bid that is higher than the preceding bid. A bid is higher if it specifies any denomination on a higher level, or a higher-ranked denomination on the same level. The denominations are ranked, from lowest to highest, as "clubs" (♣), "diamonds" (♦), "hearts" (♥), "spades" (♠), and "no trump" (NT). Thus, after a bid of 3♥, bids of 2♠ or 3♣ are not allowable, but 3♠ or 4♦ are. Thus, 1♣ is the lowest possible bid, followed by 1♦ etc, while 7NT is the highest possible bid.
A "double" can be made only after the opponents have made a bid. At its simplest, this states that the player is so confident that the opponents cannot make their bid during play that the player is willing to double their score if they do and the penalty if they do not. However, in modern bridge, the double is often used in conventional sense, to ask partner to bid or to pass information to partner. A "redouble" is a bid which can be made only following an opponents' "double"; it increases the points scored yet further. In practice the redouble can also be used systemically for other purposes. Double and redouble are in effect only until the next bid, i.e. any subsequent bid invalidates them.
Once the auction ends, the last bid (together with any double or redouble that followed it) becomes the "contract," and the level of this bid determines the number of tricks required to achieve the contract and its denomination determines what suit, if any, will be trumps. The pair that did not win the contract is called the "defense." The pair that made the last bid is divided further: the player who first made a bid in the denomination of the final contract becomes the "declarer" and his or her partner becomes the "dummy." For example, suppose West is the dealer and the bidding was:
Then East and West would be the defenders, South would be the declarer (since South was the first to bid spades), North would be the dummy, and spades would be the trump suit; 10 tricks would be required by declarer (and dummy).
Bidding boxes, which allow the calls to be placed using cards rather than pronounced are often used.
The play of the hand
The play consists of thirteen tricks, each trick consisting of one card played from each of the four hands. Aces are high in bridge, followed by kings, queens, jacks, 10s, 9s ... down to 2s, the lowest card in each suit. The first card played in a trick is called the "lead," and players play a card clockwise around the table. Any card may be selected from a hand as the lead, but the remaining hands must "follow suit" (meaning, they must play a card in the same suit as the lead), unless they have no more cards of that suit. If a hand contains no cards of the led suit then any card may be played. The hand that plays the highest card in the suit of the lead wins the trick, unless any of the played cards are of the "trump suit", in which case the hand that plays the highest trump card wins the trick. The hand that wins each trick plays the lead card of the next trick, until all the cards are played.
The first lead, called the "opening lead," is made by the defender to the left of the declarer. After the opening lead is played, the dummy lays his/her hand face up on the table in four columns, one for each suit, with the column of the trump suit (if there is one) on the right as dummy looks at the table. The declarer is responsible for selecting cards to play from the dummy's hand and from own hand in turn. The defenders each choose the cards to play from their own hands. Dummy is allowed to prevent declarer from infringing the rules of play but otherwise must not interfere with the play; thus dummy may attempt to prevent declarer from revoking (by asking eg "No more spades partner?") but must not comment on opponents' actions or make suggestions as to play; even seemingly trivial comments such as "You won that trick partner" are not permitted. In casual bridge games the dummy often does nothing but in duplicate bridge dummy must play cards from the dummy hand at declarer's verbal instruction (eg "jack of hearts please partner"). This is a less ambiguous method of card selection than declarer leaning over the table and touching a card.
In the end, the goal for each pair is to make as high a score as possible. However, the level of the contract makes a specific target: the number (level) of the contract is the number of tricks the declarer must take beyond 6. Thus, the declarer always attempts to take at least a majority of the tricks. In the example above, the declarer must manage to take 10 tricks (the assumed "book" of 6, plus 4 as bid, with spades as trumps), to "make" the contract and get a score. Success in this goal is rewarded by points in the scoring phase for the declarer's side. If the declarer fails to make the contract, the defenders are said to have "set" or "defeated" the contract, and are rewarded points for doing so.
When the declarer makes the contract, the declarer's side receives points for:
* The contract bid and made
* Overtricks (tricks taken over the contract level)
* Other specific bonuses
When the declarer fails to make the contract, the defending pair receives points for "undertricks" – the number of tricks by which declarer fell short of the goal.
Most bidding revolves around efforts to bid and make a "game". Because of the structure of bonuses, certain bid levels have special significance. The most important level is "game," which is any contract whose bid trick value is 100 or more points. Game level varies by the suit, since different suits are worth different amounts in scoring. The game level for no trump is 3 (9 tricks), the game level for hearts or spades ("major suits") is 4 (10 tricks), and the game level for clubs or diamonds ("minor suits") is 5 (11 tricks). High bonuses are also awarded for bidding and making "small slam" (level 6) and "grand slam" (level 7, i.e. all the tricks).
The concept of "vulnerability" affects scoring and introduces a wider range of tactics in bidding and play. Every partnership is beforehand assigned one of two states: "vulnerable" or "non-vulnerable". When a pair is vulnerable, game and slam bonuses are higher, as well as penalties for failure to make the contract. Methods for assigning vulnerability differ for duplicate (see board (bridge)) and rubber bridge.
There are two important variations in bridge scoring: rubber scoring and duplicate scoring. They share most features, but differ how the total score is accumulated. In rubber bridge, points for each pair are tallied either "above the line" or "below the line". In duplicate bridge, all the points are accumulated and present a single score, expressed as a positive number (sum of trick points and bonus points) to the winning pair, and by implication, as a negative number to the opponents. "Chicago" bridge is a form of friendly game which uses duplicate scoring, that is, a set consists of four deals with different vulnerabilities (whether a team has already made game), and every deal is scored as a single number.
In duplicate bridge, the same hand is played unchanged across two or more tables and the results are compared using various methods. The differences are expressed in "matchpoints" or "IMP"s. They are summed for every pair for every board they play, and the pair with highest total score becomes the winner of the tournament. Thus, even with bad cards, a pair can win the tournament if it has bid better and played better than the other players who played the same set of cards.
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