Bridge – Step 1 for Beginners
You can start playing bridge after just five lessons! Here are 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 recommendations on which card to lead once the bidding has stopped and the play of the cards has started and some help on how high to bid. Five lessons and you’re on your way!
Read the lesson, try the quiz and check the answers. You will soon see how well you understood the lesson so you can decide which bids you need to review. My readers love the quizzes!
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 when beginning to play bridge, it’s the bidding part that can stump new players. Before you can play, it is important to know something about how to bid! When our group first started, we played for several months without knowing any more than these five lessons. We progressed slowly as we learned together and we had lots of fun.
These lessons can also be used as a supplement to what you already know. Some beginners have told me that they learned the bidding rules much better after reading my lessons, even though they had been playing for awhile.
Once you know the basics of bidding, for additional weekly quizzes to test your knowledge and understanding, you may wish to visit my Facebook page and continue with your learning (click here).
Before starting the lessons, it helps to know some basic bridge terminology and the strategy when bidding.
This handy bidding chart shows the progression of the bids from the lowest opening bid of 1♣ to the highest of 7NT, as well as the number of tricks required to make each contract, the points needed for game levels and some other info:
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 in their hand. 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.
Lesson 1 covers the opening bids of 1♠, 1♥, 1♦ or 1♣ (1 of a suit):
To put your bidding into action, try the Bidding Practice Games for Lesson 1:
Bidding Practice Games
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 NT opening bid: One method I have dubbed the “Easy Way” and the other, more complicated method, I have dubbed “StayJac,” using the combination of the Stayman convention and Jacoby transfers. I recommend that beginners start with the Easy Way, but as soon as possible, try to add “StayJac” to their knowledge base.
“StayJac” — 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, some idea of why 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 incorporate “StayJac” into your bidding. Often, you will end up at the same contract, but not always. 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.
“The Courtship of Miss No Trump“
For more bidding practice on opening 1NT and responding, refer to Lesson 2 of the Bidding Practice Games.
Lesson 3 covers the two opening bids which show 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 points, a minimum of 6 cards in the suit with 2 of the top 3 honors (recommended). 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 in two parts. Part 1 gives recommendations for opening leads. If you have been playing, you will have made decisions on the opening lead, with or without any help. Sometimes it’s difficult to gauge the significance of the opening lead. If you have been using the Practice Games, you will already have been coached on opening leads and may have picked up some useful hints from that. Lesson 5 below consolidates that information. 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.
Part 2 will show you the importance of communication when bidding. Together, you and your partner are trying to determine if you have a fit in a suit or whether you should be in a NT contract. You are trying to calculate how many points your partnership has (based on HCP and distribution), so you can gauge how high to bid and whether you have enough points and strength to be able to bid and make a game level contract. In order to do that, you need to know which bids are forcing and which are not. When you know that you have enough points for game, but you haven’t found the best suit yet (or NT), you must continue to force your partner to bid and your partner must understand what you are doing. The practice games also give practical guidelines with analysis for the on-going bidding sequences to ensure reaching game level when you have the strength to do so.
Finally, here is a summary of the 20 opening bids on one sheet that serves as a handy reference sheet. Notice 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).
These 5 lessons should give you enough bidding information so you can start playing the game. Continue with 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 on this website (Step 1 and Step 2) is available in a handy booklet: “Pocket Guide for Beginner Bridge.” Click here for more info. Many of my readers have ordered this and benefited from it.
My beginner groups also found the placemats to be helpful. See link for Placemats on right-hand side.
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, if you wish. I play both systems and find they each have advantages and disadvantages. I have added three introductory beginner lessons on 2 Over 1 on my website (see links on the right-hand side) so you can get a sense of how it differs from Standard American Bridge! No matter which system you use, accurate communication between you and your partner and developing your skill in playing the cards will help you play better bridge.