History of contract bridge

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The history of contract bridge may be dated from the early 16th-century invention of trick-taking games such as whist. Bridge departed from whist with the creation of Biritch (or "Russian Whist") in the 19th century, and evolved through the late 19th and early 20th centuries to form the present game.


According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word bridge is the English pronunciation of the game called "biritch". It followed on from whist, which initially was the dominant trick-playing game and enjoyed a loyal following for centuries. The oldest known reference to the rules of the game dates from 1886 and calls it "Biritch, or Russian Whist".[1] The game featured several significant developments from whist: dealer chose the trump suit, or nominated his partner to do so; there was a call of no trumps (biritch); and the dealer's partner's hand became dummy. There were other similarities to bridge: points were scored above and below the line; the score could be doubled and redoubled; scoring a game in one deal required 3 odd tricks in no trumps, 4 in hearts, or 5 in diamonds (although it could not be done at all, undoubled, in clubs or spades); and there were slam bonuses.

Despite the popularity of whist,[2] this game, and variants of it, bridge [3] and bridge-whist,[4] became popular in the United States and the UK in the 1890s.

In 1904 auction bridge, known for a time as royal auction bridge,[5] was developed where the players bid in a competitive auction to decide the contract and declarer. The object became to make at least as many tricks as were contracted for and penalties were introduced for failing to do so.

The modern game of contract bridge was the result of innovations to the scoring of auction bridge made by Harold Stirling Vanderbilt and others. The most significant change was that only the tricks contracted for were counted below the line towards game and slam. That made bidding much more challenging and interesting. Another innovation was the concept of vulnerability, a difference in the sizes of penalties incurred and bonuses won by partnerships that have or have not won one game. That discouraged sacrifice bidding to protect the lead in a rubber. Some other scores were adjusted to produce a more balanced game. Vanderbilt set out his rules in 1925, and within a few years contract bridge had so supplanted other forms of the game that "bridge" became synonymous with "contract bridge."

See also[edit]

History of the Laws of Contract Bridge


  1. ^ First Steps of Bridge in the West: Collinson's 'Biritch by Thierry Depaulis and Jac Fuchs in the Playing-Card Journal of the International Playing-Card Society, Volume 32, No. 2, Sept-Oct 2003. Collinson's rules are in a miniature bound book of 56 pages about 3 by 5 inches between plain brown hard covers; of the 56 pages, only 4 are printed on - the first 2 and the last 50 are blank. For the text, see wikisource:Biritch, or Russian Whist.
  2. ^ (Foster 1889)
  3. ^ (Elwell 1905 and Benedict 1900)
  4. ^ (Melrose 1901)
  5. ^ (Bergholt 1915)

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