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.
Note: Lessons, quizzes, and other documents from this website can be printed, copied and distributed, provided that credit is given to ATeacherFirst.com. The website source should always be visible on the documents.
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. It can be helpful for now as a reference as you read the lessons, but it is not important to memorize it. Eventually, you will get to be quite familiar with the point requirement for each level of bidding.
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 straight forward, based on some simple rules. Responding to a 1NT opening bid is somewhat more complicated. Most players use special bids (Stayman and Jacoby transfers) for responding . For beginners, I have prepared a very easy way to respond so you can move forward with the next lessons and learn more bids, before getting too bogged down with conventions. I recommend that beginners start with the Easy Way, but as soon as possible, try to add Stayman and Jacoby transfers to their knowledge base.
The Easy Way should be used temporarily — using Stayman and Jacoby are much more accurate ways to bid after a 1NT opening, but if they are introduced too soon, bridge can become very complicated and discouraging for someone who is just starting to learn bridge.
Using Stayman and Jacoby Transfers can be a stumbling block for beginners. When you have played for a while and feel confident enough, you should be ready to switch from the “Easy Way” and incorporate Stayman and transfers into your bidding. Often, you will end up at the same contract, but not always. Besides being more accurate, the most important 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 1NT 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 more difficult than the “Easy Way” above.
In 2021, ACBL changed the announcement for transfers. When Opener bids 1NT and Responder uses a transfer, Opener should announce “hearts” in response to 2D or “spades” in response to 2H. If Responder uses 2S to transfer to clubs, Opener announces “clubs.” If Responder uses 2S for either minor, then Opener should Alert it. Here is part of the article from the ACBL Bridge Bulletin. No doubt, it will take some time for players to convert to the new announcements and alerts. Some of this is beyond the scope of my basic teaching, but useful to read. (Click to enlarge it for easier reading.)
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 when you have a long suit. 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.
Lessons 1-4 covered all the opening bids. That’s enough to get started. It will take you a bit longer to figure out what to bid next.
Here’s a handy flowchart to assist you.
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).
Lesson 5 is in two parts. Part 1 gives recommendations for opening leads and some suggestions on what to lead later, once the dummy hand is on the table. If you have been playing, you will have made decisions on the opening lead, with or without any help. If you have been using the Practice Games, you have already been given some standard rules to use when you are “on lead.” 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 is optional, but worth reading through now. I recommend that you refer back to it later, and often, as you progress in your knowledge and ability. I would never expect a beginner to understand it all at this stage. As you play more, it will make more sense. These strategies are also incorporated into the Practice Games which give an analysis for the on-going bidding sequences to ensure reaching game level when you have the cards and the strength to do so. It cannot be emphasized enough: Bridge is a partnership game. 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 also trying to calculate how many points your partnership has (based on HCP and distribution), so you can gauge how high to bid and when to stop bidding. In order to do that, you and your partner need to know which bids are forcing and which are not. Good communication between partners is a key element in the ability to reach the best contract and play a competitive bridge game.
These 5 lessons should give you enough bidding information so you can open the bidding and start playing the game. Don’t expect to bid everything perfectly or play the hand without making any mistakes. 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 bridge placemats to be helpful.
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 is used, accurate communication between partners, and the ability to play out the hand, whether as declarer or on defence, are keys to success in bridge.