Updated: Sep 4, 2020
A standard deck of 52 cards is dealt face down to the 4 players (13 cards each). Within a suit, the A is ranked highest, followed by the K, Q, J, 10, … , 3, 2. The four players are denoted by the 4 cardinal directions, North, East, South, and West (abbreviated as N, E, S, W, respectively). North and South form a partnership, while East and West form the other partnership, as shown in the diagram.
(Fig 1: The relationships between the players are shown)
Trick: a trick is played when each player plays one card. You can think of it as a “round of 4 cards”. Usually, the highest-ranked card in the suit that is initially led wins the trick.
Trumps: the trump suit is determined during the bidding. A card from the trump suit always beats a card from another suit, even if the trump card is ranked lower.
Contract: a combination of a number between 1 and 7 and one of the denominations (Notrump, Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, or Clubs). The contract is determined by the bidding, and it dictates the trump suit and how many tricks each pair must win to gain points.
The purpose of the bidding is to determine the contract: how many tricks a partnership has to take with which suit as trump. Players make bids to try and advocate for a contract.
A bid consists of 2 parts: a number between 1 and 7, and a “suit” (Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, Spades, and No-trump [abbreviated as C, D, H, S, and NT]). The former indicates how many tricks one must win in the playing phase of the game. Add 6 to the number to get the required number of tricks one needs to win to complete the contract. The latter indicates what the trump suit will be (or the lack thereof). Examples of bids: 1H, 3C, 5NT. Naturally, bidding can be competitive when the two partnerships, or even the two players within a partnership, want different suits as trump. The “ranking” of bids now comes into play. One bid is considered higher than another if 1) it has a higher number or 2) it has the same number, but the suit has a higher ranking. In the context of bidding, the ranking of the suits goes NT>S>H>D>C. For example, if one person bids 2♠ , then a player would have to bid at the 3-level (or above) in order to bid hearts since spades rank higher than hearts.
In a sense, the bidding is called the auction because players “auction” for the right to decide the trump suit by taking on the burden of having to take more tricks.
Starting with the player who dealt the hand, each player can pass — but can still enter the bidding later — or make a bid that is higher than all previous ones, and then the next player clockwise does the same. The auction ends when 3 consecutive passes are made. The final bid becomes the contract. The rules surrounding double and redouble will be explained in another article.
(Fig 2: This is part of a bidding box, showing all 35 bids. The lowest bid, 1C, is on the top right and the highest bid, 7NT, is on the bottom left)
After the auction, the player who first bid the suit between the pair that won the final contract becomes the declarer. The partner of the declarer is called the dummy. The other two players, in a partnership, are the defenders. The left-hand opponent (LHO) of the declarer is the first one to lead a card. After the lead is made, the dummy reveals all of his or her cards on the table, and for the remainder of this deal, the declarer controls which cards the dummy plays each round (aka trick). Play proceeds clockwise, with each player required to match the suit of the leader if possible (“follow suit”). If a player is unable to follow suit, this player can decide to play a trump card (called “trumping” or “ruffing”), or play a card from another suit (called “discarding”). The highest-ranking trump card — or in the case that no trump cards are played, the highest-ranking card from the led suit — wins the trick. After all 4 players have played a card, a round, or a trick, is completed. The player who won the previous trick decides what card to lead for the next one. The partnership that wins the trick flips their cards over and places them vertically, while the partnership that loses places them horizontally, as shown in the following figure:
(Fig 3: this player’s partnership lost tricks #3, 7, 9 and won trick #1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13)
After all 13 tricks are played, the declaring side counts how many tricks they have taken and compares it with the required number indicated by the contract. If the declarer won fewer tricks than required, the contract is said to “go down,” resulting in a negative score for the declaring score and an equivalent positive score for the defending side. Every trick the declaring side falls short of the contract is an undertrick. If the declarer won at least the number of tricks required, the contract is said to have “made,” resulting in a positive score for the declaring score and the equivalent negative score for the defending side. Excess tricks won by the declaring side over the goal are called overtricks. The specifics of scoring will be explained in another article.
After a deal is completed and scored, a new hand is dealt and the whole process repeats.