The Mechanics of Bridge

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


Bridge is a partnership-based card game for four players. The purpose of the game is for two players (partners) to work together to beat the other two players (the other pair, or pair of partners). By doing so, the winning pair is rewarded with something, which could be anything from the other pair’s money to masterpoints to a trophy to just the pure joy of knowing you beat the pants off the other guys. (I suppose that could actually happen in strip bridge, but someone would have to invent that version.)

The best way to show you this game is to walk you through it. We will use the Cavendish four-deal style of Contract Bridge. The other types are somewhat similar and can be learned quickly if necessary. You will need three other people, a sq;uare table about three feet per side (but we are not picky about this, any surface around which four people can comfortably sit with enough room for the cards to be played will do). You will need four chairs, at least one but preferably two decks of regular playing cards, some paper and pencils for keeping score, and your favorite beverages. If you will be playing outside in the wind you will need something to keep the cards on the table from blowing away. A polished rock will do nicely.

Getting Situated

Take the jokers etc. out of the deck of cards, leaving 52 cards of four suits (ranked from highest to lowest spades (black, pointy), hearts (red, rounded), diamonds (red, pointy), and clubs (black, rounded “puppy paws”). Note that they are in alphabetical order, S being higher than H, etc. with each suit having 13 cards (in order from highest ranking to lowest: ace, king, queen, jack (also called knave), 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. Mix the cards face down. Each player pull out (draw) a card. The person drawing the highest ranking card will be the dealer. Dealer chooses a seat and sits. The person with the second highest card sits opposite the dealer and is his partner. The other two players sit in the two remaining seats, hopefully not taking an hour to figure out who sits where. They are partners for this round of four deals. In the event of a tie, say two aces, the highest ranking suit wins (the ace of spades beats the ace of hearts, etc.)

Dealing the Cards

Now you are ready to play bridge. In our form, you will play four deals or hands with your partner, then switch, play four deals, switch one last time, then play four deals. That completes a round called a “Chukker” which is a term we borrowed from Polo. If there is time, you will play one more chukker. Completion of two chukkers is a Rubber. At the conclusion of a rubber everyone settles up (losers pay winners) and new people can enter the game by selecting cards like you did when you started the chukker. This is known as “Cutting In.”

So let’s start our chukker. Dealer, pick up a deck of cards and mix ’em up really good, face down (shuffle). When you are satisfied that they are mixed present the deck face down to the player on your right to cut. That player takes a portion of the deck, off the top and places it on the table between you and the remaining portion of the deck. You then reach for the remaining portion and cover the portion closest to you, thus completing the cut. If it is always done this way there is no danger of the deck being put back to its original pre-cut condition. Now begin to give each person a card from the top, beginning with the player on your left and continuing to distribute (deal) the cards clockwise until all 52 cards are dealt. If you have done this correctly you should get the last card and everyone should have 13 cards.

NOTE: In games with experienced players there are two decks at the table. While the dealer is shuffling and dealing the live deck, the dealer’s partner is shuffling but NOT dealing the deck used in the preceding hand. Instead, when the second deck is shuffled the dealer’s partner places the deck on the table to his right, giving the deck a slight cut (putting a top portion at about a 45 degree angle from the rest of the deck). If you are in a windy environment place “the rock” on top of this deck to secure it. This deck is now ready for the next dealer. In the event players forget whose deal it is, just look to see where the Ready Deck is positioned. It will be on the next dealer’s left, shuffled and ready to be presented to the player on the new dealer’s right for a cut.


Ok, now everyone should have 13 cards. Dealer opens the auction by making a bid. Then all players continue bidding in turn, clockwise, until the bidding stops because no one wants to bid any more. This ends the auction component. At the conclusion of the auction we know what suit, if any, will be trump (outranking all other suits for this hand), and how many tricks the side which made the highest bid must take to “make the contract.” If that number of tricks or more are taken, great. If not, the other pair, the defenders, get to celebrate and chalk up some points for their side. For now, we are going to skip the auction, because it requires some special training you’ll get a bit later in this book. For now, I’m going to arbitrarily assume that no trump suit was selected, and therefore we will play this hand in what is called “notrump” mode.


Everyone sort your cards into suits so you can follow suit easier. It doesn’t matter which suit is where, except that it may be easier for you to alternate red and black colors. Now we are ready to go. The person to the dealer’s left makes the first play of a card (leads out, or leads). Choose any card and put it face up on the table. Good cards to lead are:

  • Top of a sequence (the king from KQJ)
  • 4th one down from your longest decent suit (the 7 from KJ8742)
  • Second card in a broken sequence (the queen from AQJ10)

Now the next person to the left of the opening leader places all of his cards face up on the table so everyone can see them. This person will not have anything to do but watch (or maybe go get everyone a beer) for the rest of the hand. His official title is “the dummy” and the hand he places down is the “dummy.” The hand is placed in front of the player with the suits in descending order, each suit lined up next to another and pointed towards dummy’s partner, who is called the “declarer” and who will play both his cards and the dummy’s cards. To save space, cards in each row partially cover one another with the highest ranking card and all other cards covering until the lowest ranking card is completely exposed. It will look something like this, but shmushed together:

Hearts Spades Diamonds Clubs

If there were a trump suit it would be on the dummy’s right hand side, and from declarer’s perspective across the table it would be on his left. Since this is notrump it doesn’t matter, but it is wise once again to lay it out red-black-red- black or black-red-black-red just to keep things from getting too confusing. (Yeah, like THAT could happen.)

Ok, now that dummy is on the table declarer plays one of dummy’s cards to what will be this collection of a card from every player, four total, constituting what we call one “trick.” Which card should declarer play to this trick from dummy’s hand? Declarer play is an art, perfected over a lifetime, but it starts with some simple rules.

  • Follow suit if you can.
  • If you can’t follow suit then throw away (discard) a card you think won’t have any trick taking or transportation value in this hand.
  • High cards win tricks.
  • Long suit cards win tricks.
  • The lead must come from the hand which wins the trick, so if you win the trick in dummy you must lead to the next trick from dummy.
  • It is generally good to play high cards from the short side first, so that you don’t get caught in the wrong hand and strand good cards in the other hand. For example, suppose it looks like this.

Dummy’s hand has a suit containing A K 4 and in your hand are the Q J T 9 8 7 6 5 3 2 of that suit. If you play the four first and then the ace and king from dummy you will strand ten potential winners in your hand, being unable to play them unless you have a side-suit entry to your hand. So get in the habit of playing the ace, then the king, and having the four as a way to get to the other good cards. We call this transportation. High cards in other suits can also be transportation. Always pay attention.

To play a card from dummy, declarer reaches across the table and grabs it, then puts it face up in the middle of the table next to the card played by the person who made the opening lead. Now the person to the declarer’s right plays a card, following suit if possible. Which card should that person play? He has a partner. The card he plays depends on the card played by his partner and the one played from the dummy. It’s usually wrong to play an ace on your partner’s king. It’s usually wrong to play a low card if you can beat the card played from the dummy hand and your partner’s card can’t beat it. Beyond that, fake it for now. We’ll get into better and best plays later when we cover card play technique.

There should be three cards face up in the center of the table. It’s declarer’s turn to play now. If he can win the trick he might choose to do so. If not, follow suit. At any rate, he puts the fourth card in the center of the table, face up. This set of four cards constitutes one trick, in this case the first trick. Whoever contributed the highest card wins the trick, picks it up like it’s a mini-deck and places it face down on the table in front of him. Once a trick has been collected in this fashion players can’t look at the cards again. So be sure you see all the cards and remember them before the trick is turned.

We have twelve more tricks to go. Play continues by the player who won the trick leading to the next trick. Someone wins, collects that trick, and leads to the next one. As a matter of form, once one defender has collected a trick he collects all of those won by his side so the tricks are all together. Declarer, of course, collects all the tricks won by himself or dummy since he is playing the dummy’s hand. It’s best to offset each trick in some fashion so that it’s easy to count how many tricks you have collected. Most players stand the first trick with the long axis tall, then the next trick laying on it’s side, then tall, etc.

Play to this hand ends when all 13 tricks have been completed. The hand is then scored based on how many tricks each side took versus how many the declarer was contracted to take. We’ll save scoring for later.

That was deal number one of this chukker. Deal number two starts by the player to the left of the person who just dealt giving the cards to that player for a cut, then the cards are distributed, the opening lead is made by the person to the new dealer’s left, dummy comes down and off we go. We do this four times, until each person has been dealer. Then we change partners and do it again, another four hands.

To change partners, the original dealer remains seated. Everyone else plays musical chairs, moving one seat to the left. If there is room, courtesy demands that the person to the right of the player who doesn’t move proceeds around the back of that player, facilitating the quick and simple movement by all.

At the end of the second set of four deals we do the musical chairs thing one more time, then play four more hands. When that is done each player will have played four hands with each other player, and we will have completed a “Chukker.” Start over, play one more chukker, and that completes a “Rubber” of bridge. Now the losers pay the winners at whatever stakes were agreed. At this point players can quit, new players can enter, or the game can end. Whew!

Now go forth and get three other people together and play a chukker. Don’t worry about scoring or bidding or any such thing, just play 12 hands of no trump and see what happens. Get a feel for the movement.

Stay tuned for the second installment of “Why Not Try a Different Aproach: Playing with a Trump Suit.”

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