Two partnerships of two players each are needed to play bridge. The four players sit around a table with partners opposite one another. The compass directions are often used to refer to the four players, aligned with their seating pattern. Thus, South and North form one partnership and East and West form the other.
A session of bridge consists of many deals (also called hands or boards); the game play of each deal consists of four phases: the deal, the bidding (or auction), the play of the cards, and scoring.
The goal is to achieve as high a numerical score as possible with the dealt cards. The score is affected by two principal factors: the number of tricks bid in the auction, and the number of tricks taken during play. Broadly said, there is incentive to the players to accurately bid the number of tricks that their hands are capable of delivering, as the bonuses for bid tricks increase with the bid level (number of tricks). Thus, in the bidding stage, the pairs compete to see who proposes the highest number of tricks, and the side who wins the bidding must then fulfill that bargain by taking at least the contracted quantity of tricks in play to obtain a score. The number of tricks bid and the trump suit (or lack thereof) are referred to as a contract. The trump suit, or its absence (no trumps) is referred to as denomination or strain. If the side who wins the auction then takes the contracted number of tricks (or more), it is said to have fulfilled the contract and is awarded a score; otherwise, the contract is said to be defeated and points are awarded to the defenders.
The game is played with a complete deck of 52 cards. One of the players is the dealer. In rubber bridge (or other “friendly” games), the cards are shuffled and the dealer distributes all the cards clockwise one at a time, starting with his left-hand opponent and ending with himself, so each player receives a hand of thirteen cards. At the same time, for convenience, the dealer’s partner usually shuffles a second deck, to be ready for use on the following deal. The deal rotates clockwise, so the dealer’s left-hand opponent will deal next.
In duplicate bridge, the hands are shuffled only once, at the beginning of the tournament, and dealt clockwise one at a time (there are also special machines for pre-dealing on large tournaments), and placed into bridge boards. At each subsequent table, each player pulls his cards from the board and counts them to ensure that the deal has not been corrupted. Unlike in other trick-taking games, the players do not throw their cards to the middle of the table in each trick; instead, each player keeps his played cards before him, to allow the completed deal to be returned to the board unaltered.
Laws of Duplicate Contract Bridge
Rules of contract bridge are standardized by World Bridge Federation and published in the book “Laws of Duplicate Contract Bridge”. The last edition is issued in 1997 and consists of 93 laws (articles). All duplicate bridge sponsoring organizations on lower levels must apply those rules. A large portion of the laws, though, is devoted to dealing with various irregular situations, and as such it is mostly used by tournament directors (referees) as the reference book. They are, of course, not binding for rubber and other “friendly game” players, and, instead, simpler rules for dealing with irregularities are often applied by the players themselves.