After the deal you'll participate in a round of bidding to determine who will be the “declarer,” or the player with the highest bid who gets to declare the trump suit. The player to the dealer's left starts the bidding by either passing or making a bid containing a number and the suit he wishes to have as trump. The number in the bid represents the number of tricks that you believe you can win in excess of six tricks — for example, you bid two, and this means you will win at least eight (six plus two) tricks. When bidding, the suits are ranked from high to low as no trump, spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs.
When it's your turn, you may choose to bid, pass, double, or redouble. If you bid, your bid must be higher than the previous bid. You can do this by betting a higher number than the previous number bid, or by bidding the same number with a higher suit than the previous suit bid. The lowest bid is a one club, and the highest bid is a seven no trump.
If all four players pass on their first turn around the table, the hand is “passed out.” The cards are thrown on the table, and it's the next dealer's turn to deal.
Within the bidding process, you may double a bid by the opponent's team or redouble the opponent's double. This increases the score or penalty for that bid. If you double or redouble, and another player bids a number or suit higher than the previous bid, your double or redouble is canceled out.
After a player bids and the other three players pass, the bidding stops. The last bid becomes the contract that the bidding team must try to make. The player who made the high bid becomes the declarer, and his goal is to complete the contract. The declarer's partner is the “dummy.”
Am I out of the game if I pass?
No. If you pass, you are not out of the game. If bidding continues around the table to you again, you can pass again, or now you can bid, double your opponent's bid, or redouble your opponent's double.
The bidding can get relatively complicated, so you'll want to make sure you understand the rules before participating in a game. The best way to learn is to watch a couple of rounds of bridge before playing yourself. The following is an illustration of bidding, with North as the dealer.
East becomes the declarer, and West becomes the dummy for this hand. The contract is two hearts, meaning that the trump suit is hearts and the declarer must win eight tricks (the number bid plus six) in order to complete the contract. The contract is also doubled, which has implications on the way the hand is scored, as described below.