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Tabletop Game / Bridge

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Death: Did you say humans play it for fun?
Twoflower: Some of them get very good at it, yes. I'm only an amateur, I'm afraid.
Death: But they only live eighty or ninety years!

Bridge (or more accurately "contract bridge," to distinguish it from its now-forgotten predecessor "auction bridge") is a Trick-Taking Card Game played by two pairs of players. On each round, each player plays one card, and the pair who plays the best card wins the trick. The game takes place in two phases — an auction, to determine which partnership will choose the trump (if any) and how many tricks they intend to take, and the actual play of the cards.

One interesting feature of bridge is that, after the first card is played, one player on the partnership who won the auction (the dummy, with all attendant joking) lays his or her cards on the table, and his partner (the declarer) plays both hands. (The dummy traditionally goes to the kitchen and gets snacks for everyone; it's also common in social settings to play staggered hands of bridge with seven people — four bid at one table while three play at the other, with the dummy switching tables when the bidding finishes.) When a hand is published, the declarer is often retroactively assigned the position of South, with the other three hands accordingly designated West, North and East.

Its most basic form, rubber bridge, is a best two games out of three match (called, unsurprisingly, a rubber) among four players. Whoever has the most points at the end wins (it is possible to win a rubber without winning even one game). Duplicate bridge — where each partnership plays the same hands, and pairs who score better on them get more points — is used at most competitions.

Bridge is generally an intellectual's game, as to be effective, a player must be able to communicate the contents of their hand (and determine the other three hands) with just fifteen words (numbers 17, the suits, no-trump, pass, double and redouble) and remember the cards which have been playednote . Most players use a number of artificial bids (conventions) to describe their hands during auctions, and some players use extremely complex systems where few bids describe a hand with strength in the suit named. However, at least one world champion (Charles Goren) became a top player despite actively resisting such complications.

Bridge reached the height of its popularity in the 1960s. As its players aged without new players replacing them, it came to be seen as a game for the elderly. The game is seeing a resurgence, mostly on college campuses. Many newspapers have a bridge hand (showing the cards and suggesting the optimal play) as a regular feature, usually near the crossword puzzle. Paul Allen, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett play bridge regularly, as did Deng Xiaoping (whose only title upon his death in 1997 was Honorary Chairman of the China Bridge Association). Omar Sharif was at one time ranked in the top 50 players in the world, and worked on a syndicated newspaper column about it along with lending his name to a long-running computer version of the game.

Not to be confused with the Scandinavian Detective Drama The Bridge.

Tropes common to bridge include:

  • Bad Luck Mitigation Mechanic: Available in duplicate bridge, where all groups of players play the same hand. The objective is for the teams is to score better than other teams that also hold the same set of cards, as opposed to simply winning against the opponent in the current hand.
  • Metagame: A big part of the game.
  • Never My Fault: It's always your partner's fault
  • Not the Intended Use: The double was originally intended to increase the penalty on the opponents if they do not make their contract. However, players realized fairly early that doubling low-level contracts was unlikely to be useful, and now an early double is almost certainly used to tell your partner to pick one of the other suits ("takeout").
    • This trope would fit almost any "conventional" bid, especially those that don't show length in the named suit.
  • Obvious Rule Patch: Banned conventions. There are a number of bidding conventions that were legal under the Laws of Contract Bridge at first, until abuse of these conventions caused havoc at official tournaments and led to bans. One of the most prominent is the ACBL having a rule that requires a one-level bid promising at least 8 high-card points (with aces worth 4 high-card points, kings worth 3, and so on). Note that different countries have different ban lists, and the highest levels of play sometimes lack these ban lists (with the caveat that the players capable of playing at that level can generally run roughshod over such techniques).
  • Player Archetypes: Most players are Hearts or hybrid Diamonds/Clubs, according to the Bartle article.
  • The Plan: And all its cousins, except perhaps Roulette
  • Serious Business: Do not mess with anyone at an ACBL event. Just don't.
    • Perhaps the epitome of this is the Bennett Murder, in which a woman killed her husband in the aftermath of him blowing a hand (although the fact that he repeatedly beat her was the real culprit, the bridge hand in question was catalyst for the murder itself).
  • Tournament Play
  • Trick-Taking Card Game: Usually played in pairs, players bid on a trump suit and the number of cards they will take as a pair, before playing 13 tricks. Partnerships are rewarded for making their bids and penalized for falling short.
  • Xanatos Gambit: If executed properly, this is the purpose of a squeeze - the opponent is forced to discard an important card, which determines what the player then holds onto in order to take enough tricks. If it works, it doesn't matter what the opponent chooses, as the one initiating the squeeze can then react to take the appropriate subsequent tricks. Generally done by the declarer (since they can see both their cards and their partner's), but defensive squeezes exist.

Bridge has appeared in the following media:

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  • In Carry On Regardless, Sam Twist is sent on a job that he thinks involves a spying mission to meet at the Fourth Bridge, when in fact he was hired to play as a fourth in a game of Bridge. He never made it to the game because he jumped off the train for his "mission".


  • Cards on the Table features a murder committed during a game by one of the players (and expects the reader to understand the game to figure out the clues).
  • Moonraker (the novel, not the film), where James Bond deals a deliberately rigged hand (specifically, this case study) to make Hugo Drax think he's going to win handily, but actually sets up an unbreakable combo that leads to Bond winning all thirteen tricks and robbing Hugo blind.
  • As shown in the page quote, The Light Fantastic has Twoflower trying to teach it to the Four Horsemen. It's never actually named, though; Twoflower just says, "In your language it's a thing that goes across a river, I think," leading Rincewind to suggest "Dam", "Weir", "Aqueduct" and "Fishing rod".
  • A Roald Dahl story involving a young couple of Card Sharps.
  • Frequently mentioned and even somewhat plot-important in Farnham's Freehold, by Robert A. Heinlein.
  • Robert F. MacKinnon has written two books about bridge in quasi-historical settings, Samurai Bridge and Richelieu Plays Bridge (both of which take place prior to the invention of the game). Contract Bridge (the type played today) was invented in 1925, as a modified form of Auction Bridge (1904) — which was in turn derived from Russian Whist (1880s) and ultimately from the 17th C. game of Whist.
  • A bridge game is used to show, if somewhat indirectly, several of the main characters being distracted by other things (like, say, the preludes to an ultimately non-nuclear World War III), in the Tom Clancy novel Red Storm Rising.
  • Used repeatedly in scenes in the Harry Turtledove Nazi victory novel In the Presence of Mine Enemies.
  • Harriet the Spy. The novel, anyway. There is no movie.
  • The Cardturner by Louis Sachar (of Holes fame) is about a teenager who has to help his blind uncle play his bridge games (doing exactly as he says) and grows a fondness for the game over time.
  • Bridge in the Menagerie, a series of humorous bridge books (originally magazine articles) by Victor Mollo.

    Live-Action Television 

  • Cluedo: In one episode, the murder victim was a bridge hustler. The murder weapon was a bridge trophy.
  • How I Met Your Mother: Parodied with Lily imagining her, Marshall and Ted playing bridge in the future, saying things that make no sense. After her fantasy is over they ask her if she knows how to play the game, to which she admits she doesn't.
  • Sapphire and Steel: Sapphire is invited to join a game at the dinner party in Assignment 5, and gets so caught up in it that Steel fears she's been got at somehow.
  • The Adventures of Shirley Holmes had the game mentioned in "The Case of the Maestro's Ghost": The reason Molly Hardy's parents didn't show up for her piano recital (thus prompting Molly to enact her latest scheme in hopes of getting them to come) was because her mother was busy with a Bridge tournament overseas.
  • Northern Exposure: Holling and Maurice play a game of bridge against two strangers. As a result, a bar brawl ensues.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Peanuts occasionally showed Snoopy playing bridge, generally with Woodstock and friends.
    • Charles Schulz was a fan of the game; his other, short-lived comic It's Just A Game featured more bridge jokes than any other game.