Bridge Game Evolution

Where did the term "Bridge" come from? There is no definitive answer, although researchers may soon find the answer in recently discovered documents. Some believe the word was derived from the Russian card game of "Biritch." Others believe that it was derived from British soldiers who crossed the Galata Bridge in Istanbul during the Crimean War (1853-1856) to play cards in a coffeehouse. My guess is that they drank other than coffee. I conveniently ascribe to the view that the word bridge means to communicate or connect, effectively or not, with partner. It seems that the game of bridge may have evolved as described below.

Ruff and Honours - In 1522, a man by the name of Bernadine of Sienna gave a sermon on this trick-taking card game. Players cut for partners, with the two lows and the two highs usually playing as partners. Forty-eight cards were dealt, four at a time, to each players. The four remaining cards where put in what was called "The Stock." The top card on the stock was turned over and became the trump suit. Points where accumulated for tricks taken and for honour cards held in the trump suit. If the declarer had all four face cards in the trump suit, four points were added to that pair's score. If declarer had three trump suit honours, three points where added to that pair's score. If declarer only had two honour cards, the announcement "Can Ye" was made. If declarer's partner had one trump honour, three points where added and if the partner had two trump honour cards, four points where added. If a player ruffed in with the ace of trump, at any time, the four cards in the stock were added to that player's cards.

Whist - Some says auction bridge is the "Son of whist and the father of contract bridge." In 1742, Edmond Hoyle (1672-1769) described this trick-taking card game in a book entitled " A Short Treatise on Whist." There was no bidding and the deal rotated clockwise. Thirteen cards where dealt in rotation to each player, and the trump suit rotated through clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades and no trump. There were two partnerships and there was no dummy. Points where awarded for the number of tricks taken beyond six. The first pair to accumulate a pre-determined total won that particular game.

Auction Bridge - In about 1904, possibly, in England or India, this trick-taking game was created. It was sometimes called Bid Whist, because there was a bidding auction and the highest bidding pair declared the hand. After the opening lead was made, a dummy was put down. A game score was awarded if nine tricks where taken in a no trump contract, ten tricks in a heart or spade contract and eleven tricks in a club or diamond contract. The game score value was credited, whether a game level contract was bid to or not.

Contract Bridge - In 1925, Harold Sterling Vanderbilt developed a very logical scoring system for auction bridge and introduced the concept of vulnerability, doubles, redoubles and penalties for not making the bid contract. Also, to receive credit for the game bonus a pair had to bid to the game level. Within a few years, the term contract bridge became synonymous with the game of bridge.

In 1929, in New York City, the first National Championships for Teams and Open Pairs were held. The winners of the team-of-four event were awarded the Vanderbilt Cup, which was donated by Harold Vanderbilt in 1928. The winners of the Open Pairs event were awarded the Cavendish Trophy, which was donated by the Cavendish Club of New York City in 1928. Since 1963, the winners of the Edgar Kaplan Blue Ribbon Open Pairs have been awarded the Cavendish Trophy.

In 1937, the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) was created and replaced the American Auction Bridge League (AABL), which was created in 1927.

In 2012, the ACBL is celebrating its 75th anniversary. There are about 3200 clubs and 165,000 players in the ACBL, the largest bridge league in the world.

Prepared by Lyle Elmgren on February 25, 2012 and based on selected information assembled from the 2011 Official Encyclopedia of Bridge and various Wikipedia articles on trick-taking card games.