How You Play a Contract
The specific goal in the second phase is to take tricks. The contract will state how many tricks you will attempt to make and what suit, if any, will be trump. If you succeed in the second phase of the game, the play of the hand, and make your contract, you will win points. If you do not succeed, the opponents will win points.
Sometimes, you deliberately overbid with the goal of losing fewer points than you would have if you didn't outbid the opponents. This is known as a “sacrifice” bid, which is a better strategy in duplicate bridge than it is in other forms of the game.
Making the Contract
Once the final contract is determined, the second stage of bridge begins: the play of the cards. Each partnership will try to win as many tricks as possible. To begin, the person to the left of the declarer will play any card, usually face down — in case that person is confused about whose lead it is. Once she is assured it is her lead, the opening leader faces her card on the table.
At that point, declarer's partner puts his hand down on the table for all to see. This is called the “dummy.” This is not a disparaging term, just bridge lingo. Declarer's partner arranges the cards in suits, usually alternating black and red cards. If declarer is playing a trump contract, the trump suit goes on declarer's far left, dummy's far right.
Touch and Go
Play proceeds in a clockwise rotation. In rubber or party bridge, declarer selects a card from dummy and waits for the next player — often referred to as “third hand” — to make his play. If everyone follows suit to the opening lead, the highest card played wins the trick. Whoever wins the trick takes those four cards and puts them together in front of him.
In a duplicate game, declarer calls for a card from dummy, and dummy plays that card. Declarer does not touch dummy's cards or the cards of the opponents. When a trick has been “quitted” — everyone has played to it — the side that won the trick places it, face down, vertically on the table in front of her. The side that lost the trick puts it down horizontally.
The lead comes from the hand that won the trick. If dummy won the trick, declarer chooses a card from dummy to lead to the next trick. Play continues in clockwise rotation until all thirteen tricks have been played.
Declarer and the defenders count their tricks at the end to see whether declarer made his contract.
Each player will try to win tricks for her side. If your partner is winning the trick, it would be wasteful to try to win it yourself, as when partner has led the king of a suit and you have the ace. You know the king is going to win. You would play the ace only in the most extreme and unusual circumstance. Of course, if the ace is the only card in the suit that you hold, you must play it, wasteful or not.
If declarer is playing a trump contract and leads a suit you are out of, you can win that trick with your lowest trump.
You and your partner do not have to win a trick. Your side can purposefully choose to lose a trick, which is a key strategy in certain situations.
If you make your contract, you win points. When you don't make your contract you “go down” or “go set” and you suffer a penalty, which is awarded to your opponents. The penalties are accrued through tricks. The shorter you fall in your attempt to fulfill your contract, the higher the penalty for failing. That's why it's sometimes attractive for your opponents to double you. If they assume you won't make a contract of 2 ♠, for example, they may double it to ensure you are penalized even more than you would be for simply not reaching your goal of winning eight tricks (book plus two).
Your First Bridge Hand
You and your partner are sitting across from each other at the table and your opponents are to your left and right. You have sorted your hand and you hold these cards.
In the diagram, the suits are ranked highest to lowest. You have five cards in the spade suit. The “Vul: None” notation at the top of the diagram refers to vulnerability. This will be discussed in detail in later chapters.
Right under the card symbols are the compass points, which refer to the positions at the table. You could potentially be sitting at any of the positions, but for the purposes of this book you will be South unless otherwise noted. As a result, your partner will usually be North (sitting opposite you), and your opponents would then be East and West.
Now, you ask, “Why is there a question mark under South?” Because, in this example, you (South), as the dealer, will have to decide whether or not to bid.
Your First Bid
As the dealer, you will have the opportunity to open the bidding or pass. Simply decide what you want to bid and say the words, in this case “one spade.” As the dealer, or the first person with an opportunity to open the auction, there is no restriction. If you choose not to bid, you will say the word “pass.” After someone bids rather than passing, ensuing bids must be higher in denomination or level.
Do you have to bid?
No, you may pass if you choose as long as the auction remains open (there have not been three consecutive passes). If you pass, this conveys information to partner that you do not have a hand that is appropriate for bidding at this time.
Let's say you bid 1 ♠. If anyone else wanted to bid, he would have to make a bid that appears higher on the chart, perhaps 1NT or 3 ♣ or 4 ♦. He cannot bid anything that appears lower on the chart, such as 1 ♥ or 1 ♦. As the auction progresses this is still true. You may not make a bid that is lower than the current bid.
One of the irregularities discussed previously is an “insufficient bid.” For example, your right-hand opponent opens 1 ♠ and you bid 1 ♦. That is an insufficient bid — it is not higher in rank or in level. If you are playing in a tournament, it's time to call the director. In a home game, the other players will probably just let you bid 2 ♦ and get on with the game.
So, how long does the auction last? The auction begins with the dealer. The dealer can pass or bid. Then the next person to the left has an opportunity to bid or pass (or double — more on that later). The opportunity to bid continues around the table until each person has a turn. If all four players pass, the cards are shuffled again and a new deal starts. But if any of the four players makes a bid at his or her first turn, the auction is open. The auction then stays open until three players in a row pass.
Each time it is your turn, you may bid, pass, double, or redouble (if an opponent has doubled). If you pass on your turn, it does not prohibit you from bidding at your next turn or any later turn.
Follow Your Instincts
Always follow your instincts when playing bridge. Your instinct is to make a bid with the hand. Okay, say the words “one spade.” What you have essentially said is “if the next three players pass, I have proposed a contract for me and my partner to win seven of the thirteen possible tricks with spades as trumps.”
Remember the list of the fifteen words of bridge; you have used two of those words to offer a contract of “one spade.” The biggest factor in a bridge auction is determining how much your hand is worth in the auction.
The integrity of the game requires that you make all your bids with the same cadence and inflection. The proper expression of a bid of 1 ♣ would simply be “one club.” If you were to hesitate or express reluctance and say something like, “Oh, well, I think I will bid one club,” then improper information might be conveyed to your partner. This is a big no-no.
Playing the Dummy
Here is your hand from the previous discussion, this time accompanied by the dummy.
The auction is over because you opened the bidding, followed by three passes. West makes the opening lead of a low club. Now the spotlight turns to you.
Everyone has a minute or so to look at the dummy. The play of the cards continues clockwise around the table. The next card will be played from dummy, and you, as declarer, will decide what card to play from dummy. When you decide, you pick a card or tell dummy what card to play. Your right-hand opponent will play a card to the trick and then you will follow.
A club was led and you do have a club in dummy, so you must play a club. You will play the ♣ 3 from dummy and your right-hand opponent will play a club, almost certainly a face card. You, as declarer, will play last to this trick. You will play the ♣ A. You have won the trick from your hand, so you are required to lead the first card to the next trick from your hand. If you had won the trick with a card you played from the dummy's hand, you would play the first card from dummy in the next trick.
Before you lead, think for just a moment. Look at just the spades in the two hands combined. This is the trump suit, and because of that, you will want to take control of the suit. The reason is simple. You have five spades in your hand and three in the dummy. That is a total of eight of the thirteen spades in the suit.
Make a Plan
Let's imagine your opponents have only five spades between them. Now look at your spade suit from your perspective as declarer and count the number of tricks you can win in that suit. When you pull all the trumps out of the opponents' hands, you alone will have trumps remaining.
Whenever you are playing a hand, either as declarer or as one of the defenders, take some time before you play a card to the first trick. Look at your hand and dummy and give some thought to the auction. It is important to make a plan. Remember, even a plan that fails is better than no plan at all.
On your first bridge hand, you can absolutely make seven tricks and succeed at your contract. You will win five spade tricks, the ace of clubs, and the ace of diamonds for a total of seven tricks. You will make your contract.