ACBL District 21

Let's Play Duplicate Bridge

Intro to Duplicate Bridge


(Information courtesy of the ACBL)

Welcome to Duplicate Bridge!

So you've decided to try duplicate bridge and want to know what to expect? Well, come on! We've been having parties and tournaments, making partnerships and meeting new friends, playing as much fascinating bridge as we want each week, all without having to clean the house, bake or look for a fourth! There are 200,000 of us, all ages and conditions, and we welcome new duplicate players every session. Here's what to expect!

 Where Can You Start?

Duplicate games are held daily (often both afternoons and evenings) in every big city in the U.S. and Canada. Even small towns and sites in Mexico and Bermuda have weekly or bi-weekly sessions. You may start in either an open or a novice game, at a club or at a tournament. A novice game (meaning new to duplicate, not necessarily new to bridge) is clearly preferable if your town has one.


Most novice games have a 20-minute mini-lesson prior to game time. Partners are often available. Here you will find time to brush up on your game and learn modern bidding strategy with other new-comers. You will make friends and find partners while you increase your playing speed and skills.


If you must begin in an open game (a mix of newer and experienced players), you may initially find the tempo of the game and the number of deals played exhausting. Duplicate bridge is a sport, and you are essentially coming in without warming up. However; if you and your partner stick it out for a few months, you will have no problem fitting right in and you will learn quickly.

Are You Good Enough To Play? Yes!  

The quality of play in any duplicate game varies widely. Some players think Stayman is a variety of apple while others are tournament champions aware of many conventions. The fact of the matter is: you don't get good to play duplicate; you play duplicate and then get good. And don't be surprised when your rubber bridge game improves dramatically!

 Arriving At Your First Game

Going out to play duplicate bridge is just like going to a movie, except you are in the show. You may go to a session whenever you wish, you pay when you enter and you take part in the action. You do not have to dress up. Attire is casual, and jeans are fine.


Upon entering, the first thing you do is look for the entryseller and get in line. Cost varies from about $3 to $5 a game. Your entry form will tell you where to sit and in which direction. Ask for an East-West entry your first time. If you need a partner come early and tell the director as soon as you come in.


Now pick up a convention card and a pencil. You can keep track of the actual contracts and scores inside the blank card you pick up at the club. Place it inside the convention card in this booklet that is all ready for you to use at the game.


That's it! Get yourself a cup of coffee and a cookie, sit down and meet your opponents.


How The Game Works

The director, who runs the game, will place duplicate boards on your table and ask you to shuffle (just for the first round!). You will play and then replace the cards in the pockets in order to keep the deals intact for the remainder of the game. You will notice each board has an imprint designating who is dealer and which side is vulnerable.


Count your cards before you look at them. If you don't have 13, call the director! Now, to keep the deal intact for the next round, you place each card face up in front of you on the table as you play -- until the trick is complete. If your side wins the trick, you turn your card face down (still in front of you) vertically so it points toward you and your partner. If you lose the trick, the card is turned horizontally so it points to your opponents. The played cards remain on the table in front of you. At any given time, you can see how many tricks each side has taken by looking at the position of the cards.


When the deal is complete, and both sides agree on a result, count your cards (to be sure none got mixed with an opponent's) and put them back into the board. Now you are ready to score.


Scoring Each Hand

Duplicate is scored like Chicago or party bridge. If your side makes a contract, you receive your trick score, plus a bonus of 50 points if you bid and made a partscore, 300 points if you bid and made a nonvulnerable game or 500 points if you bid and made a vulnerable game. Each deal stands alone, having no effect on any following deal. The North player at the table will enter the contract and result on the traveling score along with your pair number. He then puts the traveller back into the board so when it is played at other tables by different pairs in the subsequent rounds, they can enter and compare their scores.

The Game Continues..

Next Round. Depending on the size of the game, you will play between two and four boards at each table, and about 20 to 28 deals for the entire game. You will also be expected to play the deals in a reasonable amount of time, about 7-8 minutes each. This will keep the game moving well and make it enjoyable for all.

When you have finished all your boards at a given table, the director will call the round and direct the movement of the boards and players. Generally, North-South remain stationary while East-West move to the next higher table and the boards go to the next lower table. (In some smaller games, all the players, as well as the boards, will move.)


The Director

Most newcomers to duplicate do not realize the function of the director ("referee"). First, he usually sells the entries, makes the coffee and occasionally sweeps the floor. He is also responsible for setting up a workable movement for the game, depending on how many tables there are. His manner determines the tone of the game: friendly and peaceful, noisy and fractious, etc.


If an irregularity occurs at the table, the director is responsible for making a ruling (according to the Laws of Duplicate Contract Bridge) that is not only fair to both pairs involved but that will also protect the other pairs who will play the board ("the field"). And as a good director; he must do this in a manner that doesn't embarrass or upset anyone.


At the end of the game, he must do the scoring and award the masterpoints (the prizes for winning or placing). He must make sure the boards are put away properly and lock up the clubhouse.


It is true that many novices are afraid to call the director on a lead out of turn or a revoke or whatever. They think it makes the game unfriendly. This is wrong on two counts. The director will alleviate any strain there is or that may develop, actually making the game more fun. By calling him, you will ensure that the game is fair for everybody, not just you and your opponents. Duplicate bridge is a sport the director must put his hands on the ball to get it back into play

End of the Game: How Did You Do?

It is not necessary to hold lots of aces to win in duplicate bridge. Winning is done by comparing how well you did with the cards when you held them as opposed to how the others did with those same cards.


So when all the boards have been played, the travellers will go to the director; who compares the results by matchpointing. He ranks each pair according to how well they did in comparison to the other pairs who played the board. You will receive one point (called a match point) for each pair whose result you have beaten and one-half a matchpoint for each pair you have tied.


Example: If a board was played five times, and you scored 420 in a 4H contract, while two others scored 450 (Making five! Where did I lose that overtrick?), one went down 1 (-50) and one forgot to bid game (scoring only 170), you will get two match-points for beating two pairs. The pair who went down will get a zero, a bottom on the board. The folks who made 450 will share a top on the board, getting three and one-half matchpoints (they beat three pairs and tied one). The most matchpoints that were available on that board were four; since it was played five times and the opportunity existed to beat only four other pairs.


An average result on a board would be two matchpoints, so if 20 boards were played in the game, an average score for the entire game would be 40. When you add up all your matchpoints, you will be able to see whether you did better or worse than the average players in that game. You will also be able to see which boards you found troublesome and take the opportunity to discuss them with some nice former opponents. Lasting friendships and partnerships (and sometimes marriages) are made this way!


Are You A Winner?

If you placed in the top third of your section in this game, you will be awarded a prize! In duplicate bridge this comes in the form of masterpoints (or fractions thereof, called club masterpoints). The larger the game and the higher you placed, the more masterpoints you will receive. Most newcomers play for a month or two before they win, so don't buy an adding machine yet!


Your ranking in the bridge world is easily (if not always totally accurately) described by bragging to your friends about how many masterpoints you have!


The Postmortem: What Was That Again?

Since duplicate bridge involves comparison among many tables and is played more as a competitive sport than as a social game, it is imperative to ensure the greatest possible degree of fairness. Consequently, you may encounter some new situations at your first duplicate game, particularly if you are playing in an open game.


Home bridge players mostly know and play the basic conventions: Blackwood, Stayman, Gerber; takeout doubles. However; many modern players in duplicate bridge have added some other conventions to their game. Remember; a convention is an artificial bid used to describe your hand or to ask or answer a specific question. For example, a 4 NT bid usually has nothing to do with playing notrump; it asks partner how many aces he has (the Black-wood convention).

Since his opponents may be unaware that certain bids are artificial, the partner of the player employing the convention may be asked or required to say "ALERT" The player next to bid may now inquire what the ALERT signifies if he wishes. (You are entitled to know what your opponents' bids mean and the "Alert" gives you the opportunity to ask.) This is only fair. But you probably will not hear many of these "Alerts" in a Novice game.


Another duplicate novelty is the SKIP BID WARNING. Obviously, when you preempt, you are trying to give your opponents a problem. Unfortunately the next player to bid often overrides you by making a fast pass or a slow overcall or a loud, firm double. In duplicate, before you make ANY jump bid, you say: "I am about to make a skip bid; please wait 10 seconds before bidding. Three hearts." Or you may use the short form: "Skip bid, three hearts." After 10 seconds, your opponent will make his call in a calm, uninflected tone of voice, and unauthorized information will be kept to a minimum. Fairness. (We'll, of course, do the same for him.)


Lastly, in duplicate bridge you must make your opening lead face down on the table, and say, "Any questions, partner?" The question that most often results is, "Why are you leading when it is not your turn?" Now you can put your card back in your hand without a big fuss and let the proper hand lead. This adds a little class to your game.


Do's and Don'ts

A few of the customs of home rubber bridge are inappropriate at duplicate bridge.


For instance, do not go around the table and look at declarer's hand. As dummy in duplicate, you are an active participant at the table charged with turning cards for your partner and preventing him from revoking or leading from the wrong hand.


Please do not write down the contract in your convention card until there have been three passes! Writing it down prematurely is tantamount to telling your partner you want him to pass.


And most importantly, do not engage in extraneous conversation or verbiage at the table once you have taken your cards from the board. There are only 16 words in bridge, and "I bid one club" contains two too many. "I guess I'll have to pass" is five words heavy. Slow passes, fast doubles, loud overcalls, etc., are also treated with some justifiable lack of humor in duplicate. This does not mean duplicate bridge is an unfriendly game; it is just a FAIR game or sport.


When the hand is over; by all means say what is necessary and proper; but within realistic time limits. Don't become the bore who drones on and on at his partner; holding up the game and irritating everybody. Partner will not play better immediately if you tell him how he misplayed or missed in front of others; in fact, he probably will not be your partner for very long.


You will notice as you become experienced that the popular player is the one who bids evenly in tempo and tone and is courteous to all, even when he has cause for rage or meanness. This is one of the hardest lessons bridge teaches us. It takes a person of quality to play bridge not only well, but with character.


This last fact tends to make duplicate players the most interesting group it will be your pleasure to meet. They are people who constantly put their skill, courage, psychology and learning capacity on the line and attempt to do it with class! Not bad, eh?


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Last modified: 06/11/09