Bridge – Step 1 for Beginners
Start playing bridge after just five lessons! Here are five simplified lessons for beginners. Just the basics — enough to get started but not so much to confuse the learner. The first four lessons cover the 20 opening bids and the fifth lesson will give you some hints on which card to lead once the bidding has stopped and the play of the cards has started. Five lessons and you’re on your way!
These lessons are based on the idea that you have played a little bit of bridge or at least watched a few games to see how it goes. It is difficult to explain the mechanics of the game from a printed lesson. If you have a group that is starting out and someone in the group knows how the game is played, then you should be able to incorporate these lessons into your learning. Most card games can be learned quite quickly, but with bridge, it’s the bidding part that stumps new players. Without knowing how to bid, you cannot even start! These lessons concentrate mostly on the bidding process. Our group played for several months without knowing any more than these five lessons. Did we bid and make slam? No. Did we have fun? Yes. Did we learn as we went along? You bet we did! We realized we could make game with fewer points if the Dummy had voids and singletons, so we added the Dummy Point lesson. We realized that we could bid game and then we made slam, so we decided we should learn how to bid slam. But all of those lessons came later when we were ready for them. That’s Step 2.
Beginners have told me that they struggled to learn how to bid, but once they used my lessons, bidding became much easier for them to understand. So these lessons can also be used as a supplement to what you already know.
The quizzes are designed to test your understanding and indicate which bids still need some review. My readers love the quizzes! Some readers have told me that they have found these lessons and quizzes helpful to learn privately, so that when they are ready to play with a group, they have more confidence and do not embarrass themselves quite so much!
*New* Once you know the basics of bidding, for additional quizzes to test your knowledge and understanding (and perhaps generate discussion), go to my Facebook page (A Teacher First). The answers are posted on this website under “Quizzes from Facebook Page” on the right. For those who do not use Facebook, I have compiled the questions and answers into PDF files in groups of ten each.
Before starting the lessons, it is necessary to know some basic bridge terminology.
This bidding chart shows the progression of the bids from the lowest opening bid of 1 Club to the highest of 7 No Trump, as well as the points needed for game levels:
Lessons 1 to 4 explain all the opening bids with simple responses. After reading each lesson, use the quiz to test your knowledge. Answers are given with explanations. Notice that the quizzes and examples show the card hands as a player would actually see them. Not only is this more realistic, but this makes it easier for visual learners, especially beginners, to visualize their cards and assess them more easily and quickly. It takes one more step for the mind to translate such notations as ♠ A J 5 into what the actual cards look like.
Lesson 1 covers the opening bids of 1 Spade, 1 Heart, 1 Diamond or 1 Club
(1 of a suit):
Lesson 2 covers the opening bid of 1 No Trump.
Learning when to open 1NT is relatively easy. Responding to a 1NT opening bid is not quite so easy. I have prepared two different ways of responding to a No Trump opening bid: One method I have dubbed the “Easy Way” and the other, more complicated method, I have called the “S & J Way” (using Stayman and Jacoby Transfers). I recommend that beginners start with the Easy Way. Before you move to Step 2 on this website, you should try to incorporate the “S & J Way” into your bidding.
The “S & J Way,” using Stayman and Jacoby Transfers, is somewhat more complicated and I have found it can be a stumbling block for beginners. When you have played for a while and have an understanding of how the bidding affects the final contract and when it is better to be in a NT contract compared to a suit contract (and vice versa), then you should be ready to switch from the “Easy Way” and adopt the “S & J Way.” Often, you will end up at the same contract. The difference is that the Declarer will usually be the same player who opened 1NT, which may give your side an advantage by keeping the stronger hand hidden. Stayman and Jacoby transfers require the use of “codes” (bids that have special meanings). Both you and your partner must remember these codes and what they mean — that’s why this method is slightly more difficult than the “Easy Way” above.
Note: For your amusement, I recommend that you read the story, The Courtship of Miss No Trump, which I created to help teach Stayman and Jacoby in a humorous and hopefully memorable way. My students liked it! The article was published in the ACBL Bridge Bulletin, May 2014 edition.
Lesson 3 covers the two opening bids that indicate a very strong hand.
Lesson 4 covers opening with a weak hand. An opening bid at the 2 Level or higher (except for the two bids mentioned in Lesson 3) indicates fewer than 12 HCPs, a minimum of 6 cards in the suit with 2 of the top 3 honors. It is also acceptable to open weak with 3 of the top 5 cards in that suit, but I have found that very rarely ever ends up with a good result, so I personally like to have 2 of the top 3. Also, if my partner has 1 of the top 3, s/he knows for sure that we have all top 3 cards in that suit and can judge more easily whether to raise the bid or not. I think it’s better for beginners to be more cautious and prudent and only open weak with 2 of the top 3 cards in that suit. Also, be aware that experienced players may take risks and bend these rules considerably, but it’s best to stay with the basic, solid rules when you are a beginner.
Lesson 5 is about opening leads. Once the contract has been established, the player seated on the left-hand side of the Declarer must lead the first card. Often the lead can make a difference in the final outcome of the game; therefore, it requires some thought and strategy.
Finally, here is a summary of the 20 opening bids on one sheet that serves as a handy reference sheet. You can see that the opening bidding requirements may change slightly, based on where you sit in the bidding order (e.g., 3rd seat can open “light” after 2 passes and fewer than 12 pts). As a beginner player, you may prefer to apply the same rules for opening bids all around the table for now. You can always incorporate more strategies later.
These 5 lessons should give you enough bidding information so you can start playing the game. If you have never played cards before at all, then you will need more lessons than this. When learning bridge, the difficulty tends to be with bidding and communicating with a partner — that’s the part that makes bridge quite different from other card games. Refer to Step 2 on this website to add to your bridge knowledge and expertise. Good luck!
Do you have a bridge group to play with? If not, here are some suggestions on how to start a group:
A summary of all 10 beginner lessons, Step 1 and Step 2, on this website is available as a booklet: “Pocket Guide for Beginner Bridge.”
Here are some practice hands with coaching tips:
Please note that my lessons follow a 5-card major bidding system (ACBL), commonly used by bridge players today, but simplified for a beginner. There are many variations in the rules, so be aware that other players may use slightly different and more complex bids and conventions. What is most important is that you and your partner use the same rules in order to communicate accurately with each other. Also, as you acquire more knowledge, your bidding will likely become more complex, but these bids will give you a good, solid base for bidding at a beginner level.
The bidding system called “2 Over 1″ is now being used and taught quite extensively. It is my opinion that it is easier for beginners to learn the Standard American Bridge rules to start as there are not quite so many things to remember all at once, and then add the 2 Over 1 system afterwards. I have added three introductory beginner lessons on 2 Over 1 on my website (see links on the right-hand side) for those who want to start to venture into that great abyss! No matter which system you use, accurate communication between you and your partner will help you play better bridge.