A bridge glossary
Bridge terminology can be confusing, especially when you are getting started. Here are some of the terms we use. Comments on any of the definitions are welcome and we will take them into account with updates.
- 4 card majors A convention that an opening bid of 1 Heart or 1 Spade promises at least 4 cards in the suit.
- 5 card majors A convention that an opening bid of 1 Heart or 1 Spade promises at least 5 cards in the suit. This can mean being stuck for an opening bid when holding no 5 card major and a hand unsuitable for 1 or 2 no trumps, as there might not be any biddable suit with 4 cards or more - for example, playing a strong no trump and holding a hand with 12 points, 4 spades, 4 hearts, 3 diamonds and 2 clubs. In order to cope with such hands, most pairs use either "better minor" - where they bid the 3 card minor suit - or "short club", where they always bid clubs if there is no biddable 4-card suit.
- Acol A bidding system (collection of conventions) based on a weak no trump and 4-card majors. The strict meaning of Acol includes a lot of specific conventions but it tends to be used as shorthand for any system with a weak no trump and 4-card majors.
- Alert During the auction, a conventional bid (a bid that has a special meaning because of an agreement between the two players) is alerted so that the opposing pair is made aware that it has a special meaning. In a face to face game the partner of the person bidding shows an alert card. In online bridge, the person making the conventional bid makes the alert, which is seen by the opposing pair but not by the bidder's partner. The reason is that the partner is expected to understand the meaning of the bid without prompting, and an important principle of bridge is that you are not allowed to explain your bid to your partner.
- Auction The first phase of a bridge game, during which the players bid in clockwise rotation to win the contract. Each bid that is not a pass, double or redouble has to be higher than the bid before it - which means that it must be either the same level but in a senior suit, or a higher level. Bidding ends after three consecutive passes, with the last bid becoming the agree contract. If nobody bids then the game is not played but scored as "passed out."
- Balanced hand A hand with no singleton or void, and no more than one doubleton. An opening no trump bid at the 1 or 2 level normally shows, by convention, a balanced hand.
- Bid During the bidding or auction section of the game, each player makes a call in clockwise rotation. A call can be either a pass, or a potential contract, or double or redouble. All these last three are varieties of bid, but a pass is not.
- Board A set of 4 hands played by one or more pairs. Each board is numbered and a typical bridge session consists of around 24 boards, with quite a lot of variation. When bridge is played face to face, the cards are tucked into a physical holder when not in play, this holder is called a board, accounting for the name.
- Call During the bidding or auction section of the game, a pass, bid, double or redouble. All bids are calls, but not all calls are bids.
- Competitive auction An auction in which both pairs make at least one bid that is not a pass (a pass is not a bid but a double is).
- Contract A commitment by one pair to make a specified number of tricks with a specified suit as trumps, or in no trumps. If they succeed, they get a positive score; if they make fewer tricks they will suffer a penalty score awarded to their opponents.
- Convention An agreement between the two players in a pair concerning the meaning of a bid or play. For example, if it is agreed that an opening bid of 1 no trump shows a balanced hand with between 12 and 14 high card points, that is a convention. There are a couple of important things to note. Your opposition is always allowed to know the meaning of your conventions and may ask whenever it is their turn to bid or play. Conventions are not enforced by the laws of bridge so players may contravene their own conventions - for example, bidding 1 no trump with 15 high card points - but if they do, it must be equally a surprise to their partner as to the opposition. Otherwise it is a secret agreement which is not allowed. For example, to state that 1 no trump shows 12-14 points, but regularly bid 1 no trump with 15 points so that your partner comes to expect it, is against the rules.
- Deal Both a verb or a noun: the process or outcome of dividing a pack of 52 cards into 4 hands of 13 cards each. In traditional face to face bridge, one player shuffles the pack, which is then cut (divided into two at a random point and reassembled so the top half becomes the bottom half) just in case the shuffler managed to order the cards. Then another player deals the cards into four hands, usually clockwise and one a time. Most duplicate brige, and all online bridge, now features computer shuffling and dealing, which typically gives more random results than manual shuffling and dealing.
- Dealer The player who starts the auction with a bid or pass. In rubber bridge, this is the actual dealer, and the dealer rotates clockwise after each deal. In duplicate bridge, the hands are pre-dealt and the "dealer" is indicated by the board.
- Declarer When a pair wins the auction, the player who first bid the suit of the winning contract becomes the declarer. The declarer plays the cards both from their own hand and from their partner's hand, which is exposed on the table as the dummy.
- Drop A play technique which aims to defeat a missing honour by playing out high cards. For example, if you hold AK in a suit and an opponent holds Q2 (a doubleton) then playing the AK will defeat the Q. The chances of the drop succeeding are highest when you hold a lot of cards in a suit. For example, if you hold 9 cards in a suit with AKJ and the Q is missing, the odds slightly favour the drop. But if you hold 8 cards in the suit, the odds favour the finesse. If you hold AQ, missing the K, then you would need 11 cards in the suit before the odds favour the drop (playing for a singleton K). Sometimes other factors affect the odds though.
- Double A bid which increases both the score for making a contract, and the
penalty if it does down. A
double applies to the bid currently winning the auction and is not applicable if anyone bids over it. Only an
opponent's contract can be doubled. Because a double does not require a bid at a higher level, it is often used
as a convenient way to ask your partner to bid or to inform your partner about some aspect of your hand. Doubles
therefore fall into three categories:
- Take-out: A double which is primarily intended to ask your partner to bid.
- Penalty: A double which is primarily intended to get a higher score on the assumption the opponent's contract goes down.
- Optional: A double where your partner decides whether to pass in hope of a good penalty, or to bid again.
- Doubleton A hand containing only two cards in a particular suit is said to have a doubleton in that suit.
- Dummy After the first lead to a game of bridge, the partner of the declarer puts their hand on the table face up. This hand is called the dummy and the cards are played by the declarer.
- Duplicate bridge In duplicate bridge, the same board is played twice or more by different pairs. The scores are compared and pairs are rewarded for how well they did compared to others. Duplicate bridge eliminates some but not all of the luck factor in bridge. Bridge is a game of skill and whether it is duplicate or rubber, the luck factor evens out over the long term.
- East The player sitting east during a game. See North.
- Finesse A play technique which aims to prevent an opponent from making a high card by leading through it. For example, if North holds the AQ of hearts, and West holds the K, South can execute a Finesse by leading a heart. If West plays the K, the A is played from North. If West plays a low heart, North wins the trick by playing the Q. It may be necessary to lead through the high card more than once to prevent it from making.
- Fit A reference to the way the two hands of a partnership fit together. There are 13 cards in each suit, so having 8 or more of those cards between the two hands is a fit in that suit. Having 7 is a marginal fit, especially if the split of the remaining 6 cards held by the opposing players is uneven. If players complain about a misfit, they usually mean that there is no suit with a strong fit or that there are matching losers.
- Forcing bid A bid which, by convention, requires your partner to bid, unless there is an intervening bid which lets them off the hook. For example, an opening bid of 2 clubs is generally forcing as it usually shows a strong hand but with no information about
- Game This is potentially confusing since if we say "a game of bridge" we just mean playing bridge. However a "Game" also has a special meaning which affects the score. If the points scored by tricks bid and made are 100 or more, then it is called a game contract and receives a large bonus. The bonus is 300 points for a non-vulnerable game, or 500 points for a vulnerable game.
- Grand slam A contract to make all 13 tricks. See slam for more details.
- Honour The Ace, King Queen and Jack are sometimes called honour cards. The ten is also sometimes considered an honour card. Some scoring methods for rubber bridge award a bonus for holding all the honours in the trump suit, but this is now uncommon.
- Jump bid During the auction, a bid which is one level higher than required. Examples would be an opening bid of 2 or more, or an overcall of 2 where 1 would have been sufficient, such as bidding 2 hearts over 1 club. A pair should agree whether their jump bids are weak or strong and the opposition is allowed to know the agreement. Jump bids are sometimes called Stop bids because the next person to bid may need to stop and think.
- Lead The first card played in a trick. Since it is the first card played, the player with the lead can choose from any of their cards, there is no suit to follow. The suit of lead card becomes the suit of the trick, and other players have to play the same suit ("follow suit") if they can. The lead is given to the player whose card won the previous trick. The first lead in a game is made by the player to the left of the declarer.
- Major suit Hearts and/or Spades, the two senior suits which score more than any contract other than no trumps. Often just called "the majors".
- Matching losers If the both hands of a partnership have two or three small cards in the same suit, and no high cards, these are called matching losers. The reason is that the opponents cannot be stopped from making several tricks in the suit if they lead their high cards.
- Minor suit Clubs and/or Diamonds, the two junior suits which score least. Often just called "the minors".
- North In a bridge session face to face, one direction is designated North (it might not be the real North). Each player is allocated a seat during a round which is North, South East or West. North and South form a pair, and East and West form a pair. A North/South pair may become an East/West pair on a different round.
- Opening bid In the auction, a bid which is the first bid by either pair that is not a pass.
- Overcall In the auction, a bid which is the first bid for your pair but not the first bid in the auction (a pass does not count as a bid). In other words, it overcalls a bid made by the opposing pair. An overcall is a competitive bid and can be made on weaker hands than opening bids. In almost all cases, a suit overcall shows at least 5 cards in that suit.
- Panic redouble A redouble made in the belief that playing in the currrent doubled contract would be a disaster and asking partner to bid.
- Pass The same as "no bid"; a call in the auction that declines the opportunity to bid. After three passes, the contract is settled. If an auction begins with four passes, the board is not played and it is called "passed out".
- Passed out A board that is not played because nobody bid.
- Points or high card points A method of evaluating a hand, where an Ace counts 4 points, a King 3, a Queen 2, and a Jack 1. There are 40 points in the pack, so a hand with 11 or more points is above average, 10 points is average, and fewer than 10, below average. Points are only one aspect of a hand's value, and may be a poor guide, particularly if the hand includes voids and/or long suits of six or more cards.
- Pre-empt or pre-emptive bid During the auction, a bid of a weak hand with a long suit. It is called pre-emptive as it makes it more difficult for the opposition to bid and reduces their bidding space. Typically an opening bid at the three level shows a weak hand with maximum 9 high card points and 7 or more cards in the suit bid. Many pairs play a weak two opening bid, often just in the major suits, showing up to 9 or so high card points but with a six card suit.
- Psyche A bid that is very inaccurate considering the player's cards and conventions, such as making an opening bid with just 1 high card point when it would generally shows 11 points or more. Generally made in an attempt to mislead the opposition. Psyches are allowed but they must be equally surprising to your partner as to the opposition; otherwise it may be a secret agreement which is not allowed. If a player's partner appears to bid in a way that takes account of the possible psyche, that is called fielding a psyche and is not allowed.
- Redouble A bid which further increases the score for making a contract, and the penalty if it does down, over and above that for a doubled contract. A redouble applies only if the bid currently winning the auction is already doubled and is not applicable if anyone bids over it. Only your own pair's contract can be redoubled. Because a redouble does not require a bid at a higher level, it can be used as a convenient way to ask your partner to bid or to inform your partner about some aspect of your hand. Redoubles are more often used for takeout than as a bid that is intended to stand. See also "panic redouble".
- Response or responding bid During the auction, a bid made after your partner has made either the opening bid or the first bid (or double) for the partnership. A response may be made on weaker hands than those needed for opening bids. Typically a response at the one level shows 4 or more points, and a response at the two level, 9 or more points.
- Round In duplicate bridge, boards are played in rounds of usually 2, 3 or 4 boards, with 3 boards the most common. During a round, your pair plays against the same oppposition pair. At the end of the round, there is a move and you play against a different pair for the next round. When playing face to face, pairs move physically to a new table, but online the change is automatic.
- Rubber bridge In rubber bridge, just four people play in a session, one pair against another, and each deal is played only once. A "rubber" is won by the first pair to score two games, each game being 100 points or more bid and made. Unlike duplicate bridge, these points do not need to be made on just one contract but can be accumulated over several consecutive contracts. Rubber bridge is great for social play with friends and is sometimes played for money. Rubber bridge online is rather rare though.
- Ruff To play a trump card. See Trump.
- Sacrifice A contract bid in the expectation that it will go down, but in the hope that the penalty score will be less than the opposition would have made. For example, if the opposition bid a vulnerable game that is likely to make, they will score at least 600 points. A non-vulnerable competing pair could go down by three tricks doubled and still profit, as the penalty would be only 500 points. Therefore they might bid 5 clubs as a sacrifice over the opposition's bid of 4 spades.
- Score After a game is complete, it is scored, with points awarded to the declarer
pair if the contract is
made, or to the defending pair if the contract has gone down. The score is based on the tricks made, plus any
bonuses for making game and slam. Simply making a contract wins a bonus of 50 points, if it is not game or slam.
In duplicate bridge, the score on the board is compared to the score achieved by other pairs on the same board.
In MP (Match Point) pairs scoring (the most commmon), if nobody else got a score the same or better than you,
you would score 100%. If nobody else got a score the same or lower than you, you would score 0%. If everybody
got the same score, it would be 50%, and so on.
There are other kinds of scoring in duplicate bridge. IMP (International Match Point) scoring is generally used in team matches and is based on the difference between your score and that of others on the same board. A small difference wins a small number of IMPs and a large difference, a large number. IMP scoring rewards players for achieving big scores, such as with a slam, whereas pairs scoring rewards players highly for getting one more trick than others, even if it was just an overtrick.
- Singleton A hand containing only one card in a particular suit is said to have a singleton in that suit.
- Sit-out A round of a duplicate bridge session where a pair has no opposition so has nothing to do. The boards in a sit-out are scored as not played. When sitting out, a pair can relax, get a drink or chat, though when face to face it is polite to leave the room if possible in order not to distract others, or else talk very quietly.
- Slam A slam is a contract to make either 12 tricks (a small slam) or all 13 tricks (a grand slam). Because the first 6 tricks do not count, a bid of 6 is a small slam and a bid of 7 is a grand slam. Slams receive a big bonus when bid and made. A small slam scores 500 points non-vulnerable or 750 vulnerable, in addition to the game bonus. A grand slam 1000 points non-vulnerable or 1500 points vulnerable. For example, making 6 clubs non-vulnerable scores 120 for the tricks, 300 for the game, and 500 for the small slam, making 920 altogether. Making 7 no trumps vulnerable, a grand slam, scores 220 for the tricks, 500 for the game and 1500 for the grand slam, total 2220.
- Small Slam A contract to make 12 tricks. See slam for more details.
- South The player sitting south during a game. See North.
- Stayman convention A bidding convention where, in response to one or two no trumps, a player bids clubs at the lowest possible level. This does not show clubs, but asks the opener to bid their lowest 4-card major if they have one, or diamonds if they do not. Some people play promissory Stayman, meaning that the club bid guarantees that they have at least one 4-card major. Others play non-promissory Stayman, meaning that they might not have a 4-card major but simply want to know more about the shape of their partner's hand.
- Strong no trump A convention that an opening bid of 1 no trump shows 15-17 high card points, or occasionally a variation such as 14-16. Most pairs playing a strong no trump system also play 5-card majors.
- Suit A pack contains 52 cards, formed of 4 sets of 13 cards where each set is a different suit. The four suits, in order of seniority, are Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts and Spades. "No trumps" is not really a suit but is treated like a suit for the purpose of bidding and scoring, and is senior to the other four. The "seniority" of a suit affects the score and the bidding.
- Table In a duplicate bridge session face to face, pairs sit at tables to play. Each table is numbered, and when pairs move at the end of a round they will be instructed, for example, to go to table 1 East/West. Online there are no real tables but it can still be convenient to think of the bridge session as divided into tables.
- Tenace A broken sequence of honours in a suit, such as AQ or KJ. The word is from from a French word meaning "tongs" so one can think of pincers around the missing card. A tenace of some kind means a finesse may be possible.
- Transfer bid A bid which by convention shows length not in the suit bid, but in a higher ranking suit, usually the next suit up. For example, a lot of players, in response to a one or two no trump opening bid, bid diamonds to show at least 5 cards in hearts, and hearts to show at least 5 cards in spades. The opener is forced to bid the suit to which the bid transfers.
- Trick In a game of bridge, the cards are played in groups of four, one from each player, played in clockwise order. Each group of four cards is a trick. The suit of the trick is determined by the first card played, also called the lead. Players must play cards in the same suit as the trick ("follow suit"), unless they have run out of cards in that suit, in which case they can trump or discard. The trick won by the highest card in the suit, or by a trump if there is one, or by the highest trump card if there is more then one. There are thirteen tricks in a game but for scoring purposes only tricks after the first six are counted - unless you fail to make your contract in which case they all count!
- Trump In a game of bridge, a suit may be designated as trumps, in which case it will win any trick if it is the only card in that suit (trump), or the highest card in that suit. A trump card may only be played if the player is unable to follow suit. The trump suit is determined by the winning bid in the auction. A contract may also be designated No trumps, in which case there is no trump suit. "Trump" is both a noun (a trump card) and a verb (to play a trump card). Trumping is also sometimes calls ruffing.
- Unbalanced hand A hand that is not balanced.
- Void When a hand has no cards at all in a particular suit, that is a void in that suit. Hands with a void are fairly rare but several are likely to come up in the course of a bridge session. Hands with two voids are very rare and unlikely to come up in a bridge session. A hand with three voids (ie. all the cards are in one suit) is almost certainly fixed and not the result of a fair deal.
- Vulnerable In each board, one or both pairs may be designated as vulnerable, affecting the scoring. A vulnerable pair gets a bigger game or slam bonus, but the penalty for going down is higher, 100 points per trick instead of 50 points. The term originates from rubber bridge, where a pair that has scored one game in a rubber is vulnerable. Vulnerability makes a big difference to the likelihood of a succesful sacrifice - bidding a contract that is likely to go down in order to prevent a higher scoring contract from being made by the opposition.
- Weak jump overcall A jump bid which overcalls the oppositions bid, showing a weak hand but with at least six cards in the suit bid. Intended as a kind of pre-emptive bid, though not strictly pre-emptive as the opposition has already bid.
- Weak no trump A convention that a 1 no trump opening bid shows 12-14 points. Variations include 11-14 or 11-13. Most people who play a weak no trump also play 4-card majors.
- Weak take out A responding bid that shows a weak hand but with a long suit, at least 5 cards.
- West The player sitting west during a game. See North.