Bridge Card Game Rules

I think of the rules of bridge as being broken down into three different areas.  The rules governing how the game is actually played.  The laws governing how bids are used and how a director should handle a situation in the event of cards being misplayed. The rules governing the play of duplicate bridge.

First, let’s look at the basic rules.  How the game is played.

Rules For Playing Bridge

Bridge is a game for four players, who play as two pairs.  Players in a team sit opposite each other and for ease of reference the four players are identified by the points of the compass – north, south, east and west.  N & S are one pair and sit opposite each other.  E & W are the other pair.

At the start of a session, players decide which player will be dealer for the first game.  This is usually done by picking cards, with the person picking the highest card becoming the dealer..  If you are playing duplicate bridge in a club session, cards will be pre-dealt, but if you are playing for fun or at home, the dealer deals the cards.

Each player is dealt 13 cards (the jokers aren’t used).  Each player sorts the cards into their suits.

The suits are ranked in order, with Spades being the highest ranked, then hearts, then diamonds and then clubs.  Spades and Hearts are the major suits, diamonds and clubs are the minor suits.

Each players adds up the number of points in their hand, counting 4 points for each Ace, 3 for each King, 2 for each Queen and 1 for each Jack.

Who opens the bidding in bridge? The bidding begins with the dealer.  As a general rule, a player will open the bidding if their hand contains a minimum of 12 points.  If their hand doesn’t contain enough points they pass and the next player, moving clockwise around the table, has the opportunity to open or pass.

If no player holds enough points (there are 40 points between all the players) then the game is passed and the cards shuffled and re-dealt.

The bidding continues clockwise around the table until the contract has been reached and all 4 players have passed on making a further bid.

The player who first bids the suit (or NT) that makes the final contract becomes the Declarer.  Declarer’s partner becomes Dummy and takes no further part in the play for that hand.  (Often an unlooked for opportunity to go and put the kettle on!)

The player to the left of the Declarer makes the opening lead.

The aim of the game is to take “tricks” either by playing the highest card or by playing a trump if the contract is in a trump suit.

A player must follow suit if they hold a card in the suit lead for each trick.  If they don’t hold a card in that suit they can play any other card from their hand.

At the end of a round of 13 tricks (a game) the score is worked out.  You can read more on our page about scoring in bridge.

After each round of bridge, the next dealer is the player sitting on the left of the current dealer – ie play moves clockwise around the table.

Announcing and Alerting In Bridge

There are basic rules of bidding that apply, depending on which system you are playing.  In a particular bidding system each bid is generally taken to have a specific meaning.  For example in Acol bridge and opening bid of 1NT indicates that the player holds a balanced hand with between 12 and 14 points.

However, partners can change the meaning of bids if they have agree this before play starts.  If a player makes a non standard bid then this must be “alerted” and it’s meaning declared, so that the opposing partnership have the information they need to inform their own bidding.

You can see a list of bids that should be alerted in Acol bridge on the EBU(English bridge union)website, here

You can see the alert chart for the ACBL (American contract bridge league) here.

The Laws of Bridge 

Sometimes players make mistakes.  We’re all human.  What happens if a player doesn’t follow suit when they could have done?  What happens if a player drops cards so other players can see them?  Accidents and mistakes happens.  In a match or club situation there are rules and laws that the Director can call on to help decide what course of action to take.

(I said earlier that Dummy, in a friendly game in someone’s house might like to go and put the kettle on.  Be careful – making tea might lead to an accident with the cards that can lead to restricted bidding!!  Take a look at this

The EBU has a Laws and Ethics committee who make an annual review.  You can read about the laws and ethics in depth on the EBU website

The ACBL has a Laws Commission and you can read about the laws of ethics of American bridge on the ACBL website

Duplicate Bridge Rules

Duplicate bridge is the same game as regular contract bridge, except that it involves several teams of players playing a series of pre-dealt hands, so that several teams each play the same hand.  This means that teams can rank their performance against other teams.

Your performance in a particular hand is given a percentage rating – this compares your partnership’s performance with other partnerships who have played the same hand.

You can read more about Duplicate Bridge Percentage Scoring.