How to Learn the Basics of Bridge (Lesson 1)

By Joe Andrews
The Magic of Cards !

Bridge is an American pastime, evolving from Whist in the early 1900's. One of its pioneers, Charles Goren (1901 to 1991), was a Philadelphia lawyer and learned Bridge in the early 1930's. He is still considered one of the most influential writers and influences on the game. His book, "Winning Bridge Made Easy" was the foundation for his now famous Point Count Bidding System. At one time, Mr. Goren wrote for "Sports Illustrated" and hosted a TV show about Bridge from 1959 to 1964. His accomplishments/awards in the game are too numerous to list here. However, his greatest accomplishment was introducing the game of Bridge to millions of players. This is a wonderful game to learn and to enjoy! In this article we will explore his bidding system.

Point Count Bidding System

Introduction ----

Bridge is a partnership game, and is kindred to Spades and Whist. In order to communicate effectively, there is a bidding "language" which is understood by both members of the partnership (and for that measure, the opponents). Unlike the game of Spades, Bridge has multiple rounds of bidding with mention of suits (or "Notrump"). Other bids are "Pass" and Double". The mechanics of the game (shuffling/dealing of cards) and play of the hand are similar to Spades and Whist. Thirteen cards are dealt to each player, and the bidding proceeds. Now we will look at evaluating a hand, the first part of learning the game.

Point Count Bidding System ----

The "Honor" cards are the Ace, King, Queen and Jack. Here are the point values of each of these cards:

Ace=4; King=3; Queen=2; Jack=1. The total of the deck is 40 points. Although there are more than 600 million possible hands, the principles are the same. You and your partner will explore if you have enough points to make a partial score, a game or a "slam" (more to come on this later). There are rewards for "part" scores and for setting the opponents' bids. Note - Modern experts value the Ace as 5 points; the King as 3 points, and the Queens, Jacks and tens as one - half point less than their traditional values!

More on Points and Bidding ----

The average number of points for a given hand is 10. If you are dealt more points it increases your opportunity to participate in the bidding. If you are dealt less than 10 points you may be forced to pass in many instances. In Bridge, suits are ranked in this order: Spades, Hearts (called "major suits"), Diamonds and Clubs (called "minor suits"). Notrump ranks above Spades on any given level. There are seven bidding levels from 1 Club (the lowest possible bid) to 7 Notrump (the highest possible bid). The use of the "Double", and the term "Vulnerability" will be discussed in future installments.

Features ----

Hands without an Ace lose value. Hands with singleton Kings, Queens or Jacks are also weakened. Futhermore, a Queen or Jack with only a small (accompanying) card is also a liability. In other articles we will go into much more detail regarding suits (and suit "fits" between partners). Conventions (bidding or lead agreements) between partners will be reviewed in Lessons # 14 and # 15.

Game Requirements ----

Because of space restrictions here, I suggest that the newcomer player review the scoring system used in Bridge. This can easily be found on the Internet via any of the search engines. The following is a summary in a nutshell (note: the numbers refer to COMBINED high card points often called "HCP" in the two hands of the partnership).

a. 25 HCP points usually produces GAME in a Notrump contract. b. 26 HCP points usually produces GAME in a major suit (Spades/Hearts). c. 28 HCP points usually produces GAME in a minor suit (Diamonds/Clubs). d. 33 HCP points usually produces SLAM in a major suit or in Notrump).

("Game" is 3 Notrump, 4 of a major suit or 5 of a minor suit. A "Small Slam" is 6 of any suit or 6 Notrump. A "Grand Slam" is 7 of anything and requires at least 37 high card points between the partners.)

Shape of Hand ----

Distribution is another factor in bidding. This is separate from high card points. If you are dealt a VOID (none of a suit), a SINGLETON (one card in a suit) or a DOUBLETON (two cards in a suit) you add value to your hand as follows:

a. VOID=Three Points b. SINGLETON=Two Points c. DOUBLETON=One Point

A void or a singleton in your partner's trump suit is worthless. And distribution does not apply to Notrump bidding.

Opening Hands ----

In order to "OPEN" the bidding in first seat (or second seat after a "Pass") you should have a minimum of 13 HCP points. Of course, distribution values apply when you are bidding suits. For example, suppose you held this hand: ("X" is small, "spot" card lower than a Jack)

Spades-A x x x Hearts-K Q x x Diamonds-x
Clubs-A x x x

You would bid one club. Your hand has 13 HCP and a singleton diamond, bringing your count up to 15 points. (We will explore more about suit bidding in another article.)