The Auction

By Chris Hasney

This is an excerpt adapted from my book Simplicity Bridge. You can find the full text of Simplicity Bridge as an ebook at

The Auction

The defenders have been a patient lot. Dealer and dealer’s partner have been having all the fun choosing the trump suit or perhaps no trump at all. Ah, but now the defenders get their revenge, because we are going to fight about who gets to be declarer with which suit as trump. What you need to know here is that the possibilities are ranked in order, with clubs being lowest, then diamonds, then hearts, then spades, and finally notrump as the highest-ranked possibility. Don’t worry, now comes the example which will clear things up for you. Cut for partners and let’s start another chukker.

This time, both pairs look at their cards and then exchange them with partner. Did you forget to memorize your cards before you gave them away? Too bad, so sad, once they are gone they are gone. So take a good look at your hand when you sort it, and remember how many cards were in each suit. Also remember if you had some nice big cards like aces and kings in the hand, and if they were in the long suits. Those things are important when choosing a trump suit or notrump.

Dealer gets to act first, and either passes or suggests a trump suit (or notrump). Dealer’s left hand opponent (LHO) acts next, and may pass or make another suggestion, but it must be higher-ranked than what dealer suggested. For example, if dealer passed then LHO may start the “bidding” with clubs. On the other hand, if dealer suggested hearts, then LHO’s only options are spades, notrump, or pass. This same restriction applies all around the table, and for now we go around only once. So if dealer suggests notrump the auction is over and dealer becomes declarer. (Please note that it is bad form to do this just to hog the deal.) The auction ends when someone says notrump or when dealer’s right hand opponent (RHO) has had a chance to bid or pass. It is possible that an auction could look like:

Hearts — Pass — Pass — Spades

That would complete the bidding, all four players having had their say, and the person who mentioned spades would be declarer and play the hand. In that case the original dealer would be the person on opening lead, and his LHO would be the dummy.

Play a chukker in the manner just described.

I’ll bet it still wasn’t very satisfying, although certainly it’s been the most fun you’ve had thus far. The problem is that whoever mentions the top suit or notrump controls the play, right? Ah ha, we have a fix for that, too. Now we can introduce levels of bidding to our auction, and to make things really exciting we’ll penalize you if you don’t make the bid you contracted to make during the auction. Fifty lashes!!! No? Well, we’ll think of something.

There are thirteen cards in each suit, and thirteen cards dealt to each player. So, even if one player had all thirteen spades and named spades as trump, the most tricks he could take are thirteen, right? So we say that there are thirteen tricks available to be had in each deal. I suppose we could bid thirteen spades, but whichever pair wins the bidding war will take at least half of the available tricks, so we just assume that the first six tricks are part of the package in a bid. Thus a bid of one of something is really a statement that you expect to take seven tricks ? one plus the assumed six, which, by the way, someone way back when gave the name “book.” So, the bidding levels are one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven. If you bid seven you are boasting that you expect to take all thirteen available tricks, which is quite a feat! In fact that even has a name; it’s called a “grand slam,” and with the money you win for making it you could eat at Denny’s!

In the previous chukker you only had one chance to bid or pass, and you had to make the best of it. This time we start again with the dealer but we continue around and around the table until there has been a bid followed by three passes, which ends the auction. What happens if all four players pass? In that case the cards are tossed in and the original dealer re-shuffles and re-deals, then things continue normally. Now it’s time for a new chukker with a full auction.

Dealer calls out first, and may say “pass” or make a bid for a contract. Once a bid is made all subsequent bids must be higher. For example, if I make a bid on eBay of $50 for your car, someone has to bid $50.01 to outbid me. Same goes in a bridge auction. In bridge, the bids are a combination of a number (of tricks over book) and a denomination (a suit like spades or notrump). So, dealer might start the proceedings with a cry of “one club” which we write as 1C or 1 in bridge notation. (Being the basically lazy bums we are why use seven strokes when we can use only two?)

Assume the dealer called one heart (1H, 1). Dealer’s LHO must bid at least one spade (1S, 1), or pass. Let’s assume it was 1. Now dealer’s partner may bid or pass, but if he bids the bid must be higher than 1 . Let’s say he bids one notrump (1NT). Now the auction is over to dealer’s RHO (let’s call him “Righty”). What can Righty do? There is no suit that outranks notrump. “Oh no, Mr. Bill? Nooooooo!” Oh, wait, there is a way to keep bidding. Go up a level. Righty can bid at the two level in any suit he wants to mention, including the one bid by his partner. Cool, huh? Anyway, this continues until there are three passes or someone bids 7NT. There’s also double and redouble, which are calls which say, “No way Jose” but we’ll save those until we do the scoring stuff. Ok, do your thing, play a chukker like this.

Hey, now we’re having fun, yes? Hopefully after a few hands you resisted the temptation to just keep bidding until no one could bid any more. That’s no fun. You want to try to hit a contract you can make but not without working at it. So I’m going to have you play another chukker, but this time I’ll give you some guidelines to help you decide what to bid and how high to bid.

  • If, between your hand and partner’s, you have a suit with eight or more cards, you can safely bid to the two level provided that your hands contain appropriate high card values.
  • With a nine card suit (maybe four in one hand and five in the other, etc.) you are safe at the three level.
  • A ten card suit rates a bid at the four level.
  • Beyond that, you’ll need another long suit as well.

Remember that high cards, long suits, and trumps take tricks. The more high cards (aces through tens, called “honor cards”) held by a partnership the better, especially if the high cards are in the long suits. Some honor cards have special values. These are the ace, king and queen, which are cards which can win tricks right away, or quickly. For that reason these cards or combinations thereof have “quick tricks” value. Some folks call these “defensive tricks” or “honor tricks” but to keep things simple let’s agree to call them quick tricks. Here are the quick trick values:

AK — 2
AQ — 1-1/2
A — 1
KQ — 1 (but some experts count it as only 1/2; it’s really position dependent)
K — 1/2 (this is a king unsupported by an ace or queen in the same suit)
  • If you have 2-1/2 quick tricks in the partnership and a suit which, when the two hands are combined, has at least eight cards you can be pretty confident that you’ll make a one level contract in that suit, especially if the quick tricks are in the suit you bid.
  • With that quality of suit and 3-4 quick tricks you are pretty safe at the two level, especially if the suit is a bit longer, nine combined cards.
  • With 4-1/2 to 6 quick tricks and a nine+ card suit you should be safe at the three level.
  • With even more you can go to the four and higher levels and expect to make your contract most of the time.

As you bid and play the next chukker, pay attention to the combined quick trick and long suit counts and see what happens.

Chris Hansey is the co-author, with Jerry Pottier, of The Basic American Bidding System: (Vol. I of the American Bridge Series).

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