Welcome to the World of Duplicate: What to Expect at Your First Club Game

Your first club game is like your first day at a new school. You walk through the door and find that everyone knows one another. Don’t hesitate to tell others that you are a newcomer. You’ll find many players eager to show you the ropes.

Find the person selling entries — the cost for a club game varies but is usually about the same as a movie ticket. You’ll probably want an East-West entry so you don’t have to keep the official score (that’s the job for the player sitting North). The entry will show your direction and table number.

The Convention Card

Before you play, you and your partner need to fill out a convention card. A convention card is just that: a card that shows the conventions you use along with your general approach to bidding (aggressive, conservative, traditional, scientific, etc.) and goes into some detail about your offensive and defensive bidding methods. The card also includes sections about your defensive carding agreements – your opening leads and signals.

The card serves two purposes: One, it tells your opponents what you play. Your opponents are the only people allowed to look at your card during the game (though clubs are somewhat lenient about this rule for the new player.) Two, making out a card allows you and your partner to get your understandings straight. Many longtime partnerships have improved just on this alone.

At first sight, the convention card can be intimidating. Don’t worry about filling it out in detail. You’ll see that it already has common conventions such as Stayman and Blackwood used by many social players. Dozens of other conventions have been invented to describe various hands, and you’ll discover some you enjoy using.

Unusual conventions are shown in red on the card. Your opponents will “Alert” them by saying the word or using the “Alert” card in the bidding box. You may ask for an explanation when it is your turn to call.

Bids shown in blue require an “Announcement.” For example, when your partner opens 1NT, you “announce” to your opponents your agreed notrump range. Most pairs use 15-17 or 16-18 high-card points; some pairs use more unusual methods.

Another duplicate practice is the “skip bid warning,” which is used whenever a player jumps a level in the bidding. For example, you open a weak 2. Say, “Skip bid, please wait,” before you make your call, or use the red Stop card in the bidding box. This allows your left-hand opponent recover from the surprise of your jump and an opportunity to rethink a level higher. The warning obligates him to hesitate 10 seconds, minimizing any information that might be transmitted by an immediate call.

Bidding Boxes

Most games use bidding boxes filled with cards designating every possible call. The director or one of your opponents will show you how to use the box. The cards provide an instant review of the bidding and eliminate the possibility of mishearing an auction.

Shuffle, Deal & Play

You’ve found your table and greeted your opponents. The director will place duplicate boards on your table and ask you to shuffle and deal the cards. Instead of dealing them to a player, deal them in front of you and insert each hand into one of the slots in the boards. Cards are dealt for the first round only. No more shuffling!

To keep each deal intact for the next round, place each card face down in front of you on the table, pointing toward your partner if you win the trick, toward the opponents if you lose the trick.

As declarer, you will tell your partner which card to play instead of pulling the dummy yourself.

As more clubs and tournaments gain access to dealing machines, the boards are mechanically shuffled and dealt in advance. The director will distribute these boards saying, “Ready to play.” Do not reshuffle these boards. Just pick up your hand, noting from the board instructions who is dealer, and play bridge. If your club is using pre-dealt boards, hand records will generally be available after the game.

Get into the habit of making your opening lead face down. This helps prevent irregularities such as leading when it is not your turn to do so and allows questions about the auction and any Alerts to be answered.

Recording the Score

Many clubs have invested in electronic scoring devices. The devices look like oversized calculators. There is one on each table.

After the auction, North enters the contract and, when play of the hand is complete, enters the result and offers the device to one of the opponents to verify. After the opponent agrees the score, it is transmitted directly to the director’s computer. When the final score of the session is entered, the complete results are available for printout.

If your club scores manually, using pick-up slips or travelers, North enters the contract and the result and East-West approves it.

Move for the Next Round

You will play two to four boards at each table and a total of 20-28 for the entire session. To keep the game going smoothly, each round is timed. You are allowed an average of about seven and a half minutes for each board, so you will want to learn to use your time wisely.

When you have finished all of 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 “get older”—move to the next higher table—and the boards “get younger,”—move to the next lower table.

“Director, Please”

Duplicate bridge is a sport, and sports have rules. The rules ensure that the game is fair for everyone. You’re not expected to memorize the entire “Laws of Duplicate Contract Bridge,” but don’t hesitate to politely call the director to your table if you think there has been an irregularity. Never be intimidated when the director is called because of something you might have done. A good director will assess the situation and present a solution in a manner that doesn’t embarrass or offend anyone. Do players always agree with the director? Does LeBron James always agree with the referee? Accept rulings with grace.

How Did You Do?

You don’t have to hold a lot of aces to win in duplicate bridge. Your score is the result of a comparison between how well you did with the cards when you held them and how each of the other pairs did with those same cards.

Matchpoints are awarded for the results on each board. You receive one matchpoint for each pair whose result you beat and one-half a point for each pair whose result you tie.

When you add up all of your matchpoints, you will be able to see whether you did better or worse than average. You will also be able to see which boards you found troublesome. Don’t be afraid to ask one of the better players about one or two of your problem deals. Every club has experienced players eager to help newcomers sharpen their bidding and their play of the cards. Look for these friendly faces and seek their advice. You’ll meet a lot of interesting people this way.

Are You a Winner?

Play well and you will be awarded a prize: masterpoints, the coin of the duplicate bridge realm.

Masterpoints appeal to members because it allows them to track their growth in the game by achieving new ranks on their way to becoming a Life Master.

Thank You, Partner

Bridge is as friendly as the players, and it’s important to be a good partner and opponent. Introduce your partner and yourself to the opponents at the start of each round. Thank your partner when she puts down the dummy. Wish the opponents good luck before you start the game. Don’t get upset about a bad result — you get to start fresh with the next 13 cards. Successful partnerships will discuss difficult hands and situations where something went wrong after the session in private.

Bridge is a game. Have fun!