RULES   OF   BRIDGE
An article by Grant Baze.   Follow it, and Enjoy!
I believe the only inviolate rules of bridge relate to decorum and ethics. In fact, my
objection to the word "rules," in a bridge context, is so strong that I prefer to use the
word "guides." Guides are of a technical nature and are tools with which you
approach the logic of a particular hand. Judgment, in particular, is not the selection
of an appropriate guide; judgment is a synthesis of applicable guides modified by
logic, common sense, experience, and intuition.
Choose to ignore some guides rarely. One guide relative to specific auctions is "Do
not give an immediate raise of partner's second suit without four trumps." In my
experience, violation of this guide invariably leads to disaster. Here is a selection of
six important general guides, as opposed to specific guides.
1. Your partner is your best friend.
2. Trumps speak.
3. With 6-5, come alive.
4. Three notrump ends all auctions.
5. The 5-level belongs to the opponents.
6. Aces, spaces, and his majesty's faces.
- Your partner is your best friend. When you sit down to begin a session of bridge,
be comfortable with yourself and your environment. Relax. View the entire playing
area and meld yourself into it. Regard your partner with respect, affection, and
tenderness. Remind yourself that for the duration of the session your partner is your
best friend and that part of your responsibility is to make his life and his decisions as
easy as possible.
Always root for your partner to do the right thing. If he misplays or misguesses,
sympathize and console; he hurts worse than you. This not only makes the game
more pleasant, it makes it more rewarding in a personal and practical way. Your
partner will play better, you will play better, your results will be better, and you will
more closely approach harmony with life and bridge. Although bridge is basically an
exercise in straight line logic, the great players have a metaphysical, almost mystical,
relationship with the game and, in my opinion, appreciate it more for that reason.
Do not misunderstand this as a "Pollyanna" guide; if anything, it is "Machiavellian."
The scorekeeper does not appear at the end of the session and say: "Grant, you played
great. You get a 70% game. Your partner played badly; he gets a 40% game." At
the end of a session, one score appears, and it reflects how you and your partner
performed as a pair.
- Trumps speak. If you have good trumps, especially unexpectedly good trumps,
you should strive to bid in any auction. Should I bid the game or slam? Should I
take the push? Should I take the save? Should I open the bidding? Should I
overcall? In close decisions, when you own good trumps, the answer is "Yes."
Good trumps often tip close decisions into trivial ones. The reasons are several.
First, good trumps are disaster insurance. Normally, the opponents can not destroy
you if they can not gain trump control. Second, it is difficult for the opponents to
know when they should be doubling if they do not have trump power. Third, the
opponents will be much more inclined to take a push if they do not have trump cards.
Fourth, the guide of total trumps, the principle of concentration, and (to a lesser
extent) the principle of in-and-out evaluation are particularly valid in these situations.
The guide of total trumps applies (in this case) to competitive auctions in which the
high card strength is relatively even between the two pairs. "Relatively even" is not
defined anywhere, but I guess it as within an 18 - 22 high card point range. The guide
tells us we should bid to a level equal to the total number of trumps we have between
the two hands (e.g., with nine trumps in the partnership, we bid to the three-level).
This guide pertains to trump length in the combined partnership hands.
The principle of concentration applies to hands that have the same distribution. This
principle tells us that high cards concentrated in your long suits makes your hand
stronger than high cards distributed at random amongst your suits, and much stronger
than a hand where your high cards are concentrated in your short suits. As an
example, AKxxx, Kxxx, xx, xx is a much better hand than xxxxx, xxxx, Ax, AK.
This principle pertains to the importance of trump quality.
The principle of in-and-out evaluation says secondary cards in partner's suit and
primary cards in outside suits is a better hand than primary cards in partner's suit and
secondary cards in outside suits. Secondary cards (Queens and Jacks) not in partner's
suit may be valueless, but if they are in partner's suit they are almost certainly
valuable. Primary cards (Aces and Kings) are likely to be useful whether they are in
the trump suit or not. In other words, Qxx in partner's suit with an outside Ace is
better than Axx in partner's suit with an outside Queen. The second derivative of this
principle is that secondary cards in trumps are better than secondary cards in outside
suits. This principle pertains to the importance of trump quality, as does the principle
- With 6 - 5, come alive. I once said, "with 6 - 5, keep bidding until somebody
doubles. Either they double you, or your partner doubles them." I meant this as an
exaggeration, of course, to stress the point that with huge distributional hands you bid
Balanced hands are defensive in nature. The offensive potential of a 4333 hand is
basically just a function of its power. This power is just as useful, often more useful,
on defense. If the power is split between the partnerships, and all hands are balanced,
the first pair to get to the three level loses (Providing the other pair has the common
sense to defend). The law of total tricks clearly explains this concept.
Distributional hands, however, are offensively orientated. If you are 6 - 5, add an ace
to the high card point total of your hand. Add another ace if you have twelve cards in
two suits, and add a third ace if you have thirteen cards in two suits. Even then, your
hand is stronger than the adjustment indicates.
Also, with distributional hands, there is a much greater chance of a double game
swing if you defend. Here is another specific guide: "At IMP's or total points, never
risk a double game swing." If you go down one when they were going down one, it is
no big deal. This does not mean you randomly overrule partner's decision; if he is
aware your hand is distributional and doubles the opponents anyway, you need a very
good reason to pull his double.
The corollary to this guide is "with 6 - 4, bid more." In short, appreciate the power of
distribution in competitive and constructive auctions. Temper with common sense
and, in competitive auctions, with vulnerability. Please do not ignore that last
sentence. Do not blame me if you go for 1700 because you kept bidding "until
somebody doubled," when you have 6 - 5 distribution and no high cards, especially
now that the powers that be have (inadviseably) changed the scoring rules.
- Three notrump ends all auctions. In a decision auction, when one player bids
3NT, he is saying his hand is more suitable for NT than for suit play. He has
secondary values, a double stop in some worrisome suit, no fit but much power, or
Additionally, 3NT is usually a good choice of contract. It requires only nine tricks, it
is not susceptible to a bad trump split, and more than other game contracts, it will
make in practice more often than it should make in theory. If the contest is
matchpoints, there is another advantage to 3NT; 430 versus 420 will often be worth
half a board to your score.
I want to reiterate an important point about the bid of 3NT. It is a slam depressant for
suit play. In slam going auctions, a 3NT bid is trying to slow the auction down. The
message it conveys is that the 3NT bidder has slow cards and no redeeming fit.
I will give what must be a good example, since I saw a very good player miss the
solution at the table. Your hand is Jx, Axxxx, Axx, KJx. You deal, the opponents
never bid, the vulnerability does not matter. 1H - 1S - 1NT - 2C (New Minor
Forcing) - 2D - 3C - your bid. You have no spade fit, no club fit, non-rebiddable
hearts, and a diamond stopper. 3NT seems the right choice, doesn't it? Well, it is not.
In fact, 3NT is a terrible bid.
You have serious doubt about the final contract. You have only a single diamond
stop, good suit cards, what may be an acceptable fit in both partner's suits, and
enough bidding space that you do not have to make a commitment.
In this sequence, Jack and one spade is an acceptable spade fit. I would rather bid 3S
than 3NT, but the best bid is 3D. I will become hopelessly sidetracked if I pursue the
auction of this hand further. I do want to note that if partner had bid 3D instead of
3C, 3NT by you would become a reasonable choice because it would describe your
- The 5-level belongs to the opponents. Be very slow to jeopardize the possible plus
position you create when you push the opponents to the five level. If the decision is
close whether to push on, double them, or pass, then you should pass. If you push on
and go for too much, or it is a phantom, or you double them and they make it, you
have a terrible result. If you double them and beat them one, you may have gained
little or nothing. If you pass, in most cases the worst that will happen to you is that
you break even. This is almost analogous to a statement made by Daryl Royal: "If the
(foot)ball is in the air, only three things can happen, and two of them are bad."
- Aces, spaces, and his Majesty's faces. The standard 4-3-2-1 point count is wrong.
It underestimates Aces, overemphasizes everything else, and does not factor in spot
cards. Let us play rubber bridge. I will deal myself three Aces and a deuce, deal you
four Kings, and deal the rest of the cards at random. You will go broke in a hurry.
Same with two Aces versus four Queens, or one Ace versus four Jacks. The point is,
the ace is the most important card in the deck by an enormous factor, much more than
is reflected by the point count system. I will digress for a moment to discuss the
value of the picture cards.
An ace represents power; not just trick-taking power, but control power, tempo
power, and conjunctive power. Depending upon how many cards you have in the
Ace-suit, you can take the Ace whenever you want. An Ace stands alone in its
power; it does not need a companion card or care about position.
A King has control power, tempo power, and conjunctive power. Each of these
powers, of course, is less than the power of an ace. The trick-taking power of a King,
however, may be worth nothing. Without a companion card, the trick-taking power
of a King may be strictly positional, and depend upon the location of the Ace.
Queens and Jacks have no tempo power and at best third or fourth round control
power. Their primary power is conjunctive and, to a lesser extent, positional.
O.K., back to my theme. Voids and singletons are next in importance. I will limit
this discussion to singletons; you can extrapolate the information to voids. The
opponents can not lead a Queen through your singleton. If you had the King instead
of a singleton, the power of the King would be positional, and there would be no
control left once the King was gone. The singleton retains power until that hand runs
out of trumps; not only does the singleton retain power, it may be a source of several
tricks, which is even beyond the power of an Ace.
Furthermore, partner's knowledge of the location of your singleton will help him in
determining how the two hands mesh. I think singleton showing bids are the biggest
advance in bidding theory since I have been playing bridge. A singleton opposite my
KQ10 -- how many NT can we play? A singleton opposite my three little -- what
suit and how high can we fly?
Next in importance are Kings. They lead a suit, you win the Ace and lose a trick
somewhere, and they run their suit or at least cash a trick or two. They can not do
that if you own the King as well. The King is not only a trick, it has real power as a
Aces, singletons, and Kings are suit cards, indicating you should make a serious effort
to play the hand in a suit. It is in suit contracts that the standard point count is most
ineffective. I strongly suggest you adjust the way you evaluate your high card points.
Add a half point for every Ace. If it is clear the contract is going to be in a suit, add a
full point for every Ace, and give negative weight to Queens and Jacks. Give positive
weight to good spot cards, particularly for notrump contracts.
Choices of suit or notrump and selection of level are matters of judgment --
evaluation of the trick-taking potential and control power of a hand. In suit contracts
and high level notrump contracts, tricks and controls are the true measures of the
worth of the combined hands of a partnership.