This book is written for the intermediate bridge player. It covers Standard American Yellow Card (SAYC) and the more advanced Two Over One (2/1). Most intermediate players know the basics of SAYC, and have learned some other conventions. SAYC is the lingua franca for Internet bridge.
2/1 is a change to SAYC in a very limited area involving six opening sequences and the “1N Forcing” convention. However, most players of 2/1 also bring in a set of advanced (optional) conventions, and that combination makes it seem much more complicated. A modern school of thought is that one should learn the basic part of 2/1 from the very beginning.
The American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) issues a convention card called “Standard American Yellow Card” and instructions for using it. Go to http://acbl.org and look for it in the convention card section. However, few people play the system as written and it does not cover many aspects of bidding. In cases where the standard is sometimes or often ignored, I’ll try to point that out. Otherwise, the choices presented here are my choices. I will not mention all the possible choices.
The Resources chapter lists other sources of information. See pfdubois.com/publish for a complete list of the other books in this series.
How to Use This Book¶
Bridge has three big topics: bidding, declarer play, and defense. An expert friend who has read these bidding notes commented that the defensive part of your notes ought to be as big as the bidding section. Indeed, your side is on defense half of the time. Few of us measure up – for some reason, learning another convention that comes up twice a year is more compelling than the basics of carding that happens on every hand.
While I want to present the major conventions so you will know what your opponents are up to, do not take this as advice to master them, rather than spending equal time on the other two-thirds of bridge.
Here’s a guide to what follows:
By using the chapters on Notrump Openings, Major Openings, Minor Openings, Other Openings, Slam Bidding, Doubles, and Competitive Bidding, you have my version of Standard American bidding. The chapter on Conventions should be next.
As you get more advanced, you may wish to learn the “Two Over One Game Force” (2/1) system. This system really has two parts: the two-over-one and 1N-forcing bids and their followups; and a set of conventions almost all Two Over One players play:
There is no real connection between 2/1 and this set of conventions except that most players of 2/1 also play those conventions.
There is lately, more and more, a feeling that new players should learn Two Over One from the beginning, adding in the conventions just mentioned later. This has considerable merit. You have to learn the standard meanings as well, since they apply when opener is a passed hand or there is interference.
Finally, the chapter Resources should be consulted for further reading.
Every book should have an index, and this one does. It frustrates me no end that most bridge books do not. There is also a glossary of bridge terms. In electronic manifestations of this book, there are many operable links in the text.
This book is available as a PDF, as a book for electronic readers, and can be rendered into web pages.
Even a person with the most dedicated partner plays with someone else once in a while; this is especially true online. Therefore, you have to learn two things: your system, and the system you can count on a stranger to know. For casual face-to-face play, an intermediate pair who agrees on Standard American or 2/1 still needs to fill in some details as they fill out the card.
I like to be in a position to just say, “Let’s play your card”; armed with this book, you’ll know what most of their stuff means already. My philosophy is that this way, at most one person is confused: me.
Many online sites have a definition somewhere of one or more systems that you can expect people to use there – but frankly not many people bother to read them.
If you are learning to play using the robots at Bridge Base Online, be sure to check what the robot thinks bids mean, by mousing over them. The BBO robots decidedly do NOT play SAYC; it is 2/1 with Soloway Jump Shifts and more.
I encourage others to help me build a community resource by furnishing corrections and additions. The source for the book is written in “reStructuredText” and uses a system called “Sphinx” to render the book into web pages, e-books and PDF files.
Sphinx is the standard system used to document computer programs written in the popular Python computer language, so it is heavily used, is free, and has the advantage that the source is a simple, readable text file with a very natural markup system. When viewing the documents in a web browser, there is a link that will show you the original markup text for that page. (Tell your browser to use the UTF-8 encoding to see the suit symbols.)
Send corrections by indicating section and nearby content, rather than by page number, as the latter depends on the rendering device.
You can contribute additions such as examples and quizzes for chapters
by sending a plain text file. Extra points for using reStructuredText markup.
Use Bridge Books in the subject and mail to me at
Thank you to my long-time teacher, Mike Moss, who taught me almost everything I know. I have also received help from teachers and expert players including Howard Schutzman, Oliver Clarke, Alex Martelli, and Jim and Pat Leary; and encouragement from my fellow learners and partners, especially David Silberman, Julia Beatty, Ally Whiteneck, and Ben Franz.
Some of the sources of my own learning include the web pages at OKBridge, Bridge Base Online, and other online sources, and the dozens of bridge books I own. I list some of my favorites in Resources.
Notation and Nomenclature¶
LHO means “left hand opponent”, that is, the person bidding and playing after the one we’re talking about, usually you. LHO`s partner is RHO, the “right hand opponent”. The partner of the opening bidder (the “opener”) is called the “responder”. If the opener’s bid is overcalled, that bidder is the “overcaller” or “intervenor”, and his partner is the “advancer”.
In writing bids, we write a level number from 1 to 7, followed by either a suit symbol or:
- M meaning a major, either hearts or spades
- m meaning a minor, either diamonds or clubs
- W meaning the “other” major after one has been mentioned
- w meaning the “other” minor after one has been mentioned
It might help to remember the W and w if you think of these letters upside down.
Bids by a partnership without interference are separated by dash, as in 1N - 2♥ - 2♠ or just 1N 2♥ 2♠. If a bid is alerted, it is followed by an exclamation point and a suggested explanation, as in
1N - 3♥!(both majors, game force)
where the suggested alert is either in parentheses, or immediately follows, or has just been explained. When opponents intervene, their bids are shown in parentheses, as in
1♦ (2♥) 2♠ - 4♠
which shows a 2♥ overcall of an opening 1♦, followed by a bid of 2♠ by the responder, and the opener going to game with 4♠.
The adjectives “weak”, “competitive”, “invitational” (abbreviated inv), and “game-forcing” (abbreviated gf), are descriptions of hand strength. We use these descriptions often rather than point counts so that they make sense in varied contexts. We say “Responder is competitive” as a shorthand for, “Responder’s hand has competitive strength”, i.e., good enough to cause trouble but not good enough to invite game.
In showing hand shapes, hyphens (or mere conjunction) show shapes without assuming precise suit order, as in 4-3-3-3 or 4333 meaning a flat hand, the four cards being in an arbitrary suit. Equal signs show an exact spades = hearts = diamonds = clubs count, as in 4=4=4=1, showing a singleton club. Parenthesis show an exact order outside them and an arbitrary order within, such as (45)22 meaning 4=5=2=2 or 5=4=2=2.
A good suit is a 5+ card suit with 2 of the top 3 honors or 3 of the top 5 (but some say not QJT).
Since it is boring to repeatedly have to say “shows four or more spades” and the like, we will say “four spades” to mean this, and “exactly four spades” when we mean that. When we say someone is 5-4 in two suits, we mean either five of the first and four or five of the other, or vice-versa, unless we are explicit about which one is the longer. Note that it is rare to treat a 6-4 hand the same way you would treat a 5-4 hand, so when we say 5-4 we do not mean longer than 5; but when we just say “5 cards” in some suit, it could be longer.
When we speak of a control bid we refer to a bid of a side suit to show features in that suit that prevent fast losers. These bids used to be called “cue bids” but the term is easily confused with bids in the opponent’s suit, which are called “cue bids”, so we use the modern term. Control bids are explained in the chapter on Slam Bidding.
“Controls” as a noun usually refers to Aces and Kings. When a number of controls is referred to, we are counting Aces as two and Kings as one, so that “a hand with four controls” would include hands with two Aces, or an Ace and two Kings.
The Captain Concept¶
The Captain of a hand means the partner who becomes in charge of guiding the partnership to a good spot to play. When one player has shown the strength and nature of his hand (generally called limiting his hand, because it refers to having shown limits on the hand’s strength), the other partner becomes Captain. For example, after a no-trump opener, opener’s strength is known to within three points, and the responder is the Captain.
When partner is Captain, go to your cabin, look out the porthole, and enjoy the view. Your partner may go to game or tell you to stop; obey the Captain. Otherwise, just answer his questions or show something new about your hand if his bid was forcing, if you can. The Captain may put control back into your hands by making an invitational bid.