A Short Glossary of Bridge Terms

Advancer: overcaller's partner

Albatross: 8410 shape. See: "swan".

Artificial: A bid that means something other than what it sounds like. A convention.

Balanced Hand: one with 4-3-3-3, 4-4-3-2, or 5-3-3-2 pattern.

BAM: Board-a-match. A type of scoring in which one's score is always 0, 1, or one half, representing your team's doing worse, better, or exactly equal to the other team. This is not the same as the scores your teammates produce at Victory Points when you sit out, but it seems that way.

Beaver: redouble. In backgammon, to beaver is to redouble and maintain control of the cube, an optional rule.

Beer Card: the D:7. In some circles, taking the 13th trick with the D:7 is worth a beer from partner. See also: scotch.

Bid: One of: 1C:, 1D:, 1H:, 1S:, 1NT, 2C:, ... , 7C:, ..., 7NT.

Biff: Ruff

Blow it up: ruff

Call: A bid, double, redouble, or pass.

Canape: the bidding of one's second-longest suit first. This was probably invented in France in the 1940s and is part of some of the very successful Italian systems of the 1960s. It is still used successfully by some system designers.

Cat: the dummy. From "kitty."

Chernoff Defense: Using the truth of the allegation as an excuse for saying something inappropriate. "But he IS a moron!" (See "Moron.")

CHO: Center-Hand-Opponent. Partner.

Coffehouse: unethical behavior such as hesitating without a key card in order to convince an opponent that you have it.

Convention: A bid whose meaning is not closely related to the strain bid or the level bid.

Coup: one of a number of technical plays, most often used to refer to the "trump coup" in which a finesse in trumps is taken by leading a non-trump because one hand has no more trumps.

Cue Bid: Cue bid has two different meanings:

  1. to bid the opponents' suit
  2. to bid a suit in which you have an ace (or possibly other feature) to assist getting to slam.

Dealer: The designated player to deal, maybe not the one who really did it. Dealer gets to bid first.

Declarer: Plays the cards for the offense. Is chosen by virtue of having first named the strain that eventually determined trumps.

Defender: All those who are not on declarer's side. After the bidding is over.

Distribution: an allocation of cards into suits. Most often, "distribution" means hand pattern, that is, the number of cards in each suit in the hand. For example, 4-3-3-3 is a distribution. Sometimes, it means the distribution of one suit within two unseen hands. E.g., "The spades were distributed 3-2."

Double: Loosely translated as "Bonus if you make it!"

Double-Dummy: With all cards exposed. In double-dummy problems, one gets to see all the cards.

Doubleton: Suit with only two cards in it in a player's hand.

Dummy: Declarer's partner. The boring seat.

Duplicate Bridge: A type of tournament bridge wherein many players play the same hands over the course of an evening (typically) of play. It is very common in the United States.

Eldest Hand: The defender to the left of the declarer.

Endplay: put a player on lead when he's forced to give up a trick. Short for "strip and endplay." Also: throw-in.

Entry: A winner in one of the partnership's hands that can be used to get the lead into that hand.

Fert: short for "fertilizer," a fert bid is part of a forcing pass system, one in which many good hands must "open" with pass. As a result, most very bad hands must open something else. That's the fert bid. It creates a lot of randomness sometimes.

Finesse: One of the simplest non-trivial card plays in bridge. The simple finesse looks like this:
Declarer leads the 3 of the suit and if the next player does not play the King, declarer plays the Queen from dummy. If the player on declarer's left has the King, the Queen will take a trick.

Fish: A weak player. An excellent opponent. Especially for money.

Forcing: a forcing bid is one that by logic or agreement is made with the expectation that partner will bid or suffer your ire.

Game: 100 points below the line. Given no part scores, a contract of 3NT (Notrump) or 4H: or more.

Hartman's Law: 4D: doubled always makes.

HCP: High Card Points. Usually refers to the Work Point Count, where an Ace is evaluated as 4 points, a King 3, a Queen 2, and a Jack 1.

Hit it: Ruff.

Hook: finesse

IMP: International Match Point. Most team events are scored by IMPs. The IMP scale is a non-linear translation of raw score into much smaller numbers (4000 goes to 24) so that (a) bridge matches have scores that don't take very long to add, and (b) matches are not decided by just one or two hands.

Lead: the first card of a trick. The "Opening lead" is the first in the whole hand.

Level: one through seven. There is no eight.

LHO: Left Hand Opponent

Limit Bid: a bid that defines a hand to within a narrow range of strength and distributions.

Long Hand: The hand with the most trumps. Usually declarer.

Major suit: Hearts or spades. Because they are worth 30 points below the line.

Matchpoints: A common form of scoring for pairs contests in which one gets one point for each pair whose score you beat, and one-half point for each pair whose score you tie, regardless of by how much one beats a score.

Minor suit: Clubs or diamonds. So called because they are only worth 20 points below the line.

Moron: other person.

Moysian Fit: A 4-3 fit, named after Sonny Moyse, a big proponent of them. For those of us who need a bigger challenge, there's the "mini Moysian," the 4-2 fit, and the "micro Moysian," the 3-3 fit.

No Trump: The highest of the five possible strains. No trumps are used if a no trump contract is played. It is also the situation that I always seem to be in while defending slams.

Odd trick: related to level. One odd trick is seven tricks. Two odd tricks is eight tricks. It's linear. The term comes from whist, which awarded points to the side taking more tricks than the other. The first six tricks to each side were not decisive; the odd trick was.

Opener: the first person to make a bid (not a pass).

Overberry: doubled overtrick

Overcall: to bid over an opponent's opening bid.

Overruff: To ruff higher than someone else has done on this trick.

Overtricks: If you bid 3 and make 5, you got 2 overtricks.

Palooka: A weak, usually clueless player. A woodpusher. Also: fish.

Partner: A cross we all must bear.

Part Score: A contract below game. Sometimes it refers to an already existing part score, in which case, it is often said "leg" or "we have a leg on," or "we have a 20 leg."

Pinochle Deck: A deck that seems to have many more high cards than normal. When one is around, someone (or many) is doing some overbidding.

Preempt: Preemptive bidding is getting to your contract fast (in few bids) when you think the opponents can make a higher contract. You hope that the lack of bidding room will make finding the best contract very difficult for the opponents.

Psych: A gross and deliberate misdescription of one's hand, usually in the bidding, sometimes in the post-mortem.

Responder: opener's partner

Reverse: Rebidding a higher ranking suit at a higher level than one's previous bid of a lower ranking suit, forcing partner to prefer the first one (if he has to, which is common) at yet a higher level. As a result, this shows extra strength. The bidding sequence:
is a reverse. If one cannot pass or rebid one's first suit at the current level, then bidding a higher-ranking suit need not show extra values. For example,
1C: 1S: 2D: Pass
is not a reverse.

Revoke: to fail to follow suit when required. Also, "renege."

RHO: Right Hand Opponent

Rubber: Best two out of three games.

Ruff: To play a trump onto a trick, usually in order to try to win the trick.

Sacrifice: If the opponents can make a game or a slam, sometimes a doubled contract by you will give them fewer points. This is particularly likely if you are not vulnerable and they are. Also: "sac."

Schneider: zero. "Getting off the sneider" or "schneid" is to score one's first points. Finally.

Scotch: In some contexts, to be "scotched" means to be beaten badly, but some players agree that if a defender takes the last trick with the deuce of trumps and defeats the contract, his partner owes him a bottle of scotch.

Shape: distribution

Single Dummy: Normal order of business, only the dummy's hand is exposed.

Singleton: Suit with only one card in it.

Slam: six bids are small slams; seven bids are grand slams.

Sluff: to discard a card that is not trumps. This card cannot win the trick.

Squeeze: a technical play in which a player is forced to give up a trick regardless of what he discards.

Sticks: handicap points. One either gives or gets sticks unless each team has the same handicap.

Sticks and Wheels: 1100. From an article by Joey Silver.

Stiff: a singleton

Strain: Either a suit or notrump.

Striped-Tailed Ape: A Striped-Tailed Ape Double is a tactic used in high-level competitive auctions. A player who is sure that the opponents have a slam doubles them in game (or at the five-level), hoping they settle for the lesser score. If they redouble, he runs (as a striped-tailed ape) to his side's suit, hoping the sacrifice is cheap enough.

Suit: Either Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, or Spades.

Swan: 7411 shape. Ely Culbertson once said hands with this shape have the grace of swans. See: "albatross".

System: A structure of treatments and conventions geared to be able to bid most hands comfortably.

Treatment: A "natural" bid that, more or less, means what it sounds like. Note that both "limit" and "forcing" raises are treatments, but they are different.

Trick: four cards, one by each player, played clockwise. (Never widdershins.)

Undertricks: If you bid 5 and made 3, you got 2 undertricks.

Victory Points: Some events convert IMP scores to Victory Points in order to add up results of multiple matches. Several dfferent VP scales are common. In the ACBL, most matches are scored by the 20-VP scale. The reasons to use VPs are (1) so that a single loss will not eliminate a team from contention for the day, (2) so that beating someone soundly is worth more than squeaking by them, and (3) so that there is a limit on how much a team can get from each participant, that is, so that the results of a single match would not dominate the event, as could happen if IMPs were added directly.

Void or Void Suit: Suit with no cards in it.

Win-Loss: A common scoring method for Swiss Team games. The team gets 1 point for a win by 3 IMPs or more, 0 for a loss of 3 IMPs or less. An exact tie produces 1/2 point for each team. A win/loss by 1 or 2 IMPs produces a 3/4-1/4 split score.


Aces: The world championships in the 60's were dominated by a team from Italy (the Blue Team). To try to wrest back the world title, Ira Corn of Dallas formed a team that he called the Aces. The team composition varied, but usually included Bob Hamman, Bobby Wolff, Mike Lawrence, Bobby Goldman, Jim Jacoby, and Billy Eisenberg. They were successful; they won world championships in 1970 and 1971.

Blue Team: The Squadra Azzura, a team from Italy, won nearly every world championship from 1956 to 1969. They were radical system developers, creating such methods as the Neapolitan Club, the Roman Club, the Blue Team Club, and many others. Pietro Forquet, a member during the entire reign of the team, was considered the best technical card player in the world for awhile. Garrozzo, Georgio Belladonna, and Walter Avarelli were some of the bigger stars on the team.

Crane, Barry: The best matchpoint player who ever lived. A television producer who frequently could only play tournaments on weekends, he dominated American regionals in the 1960s through 1980s. Resided in the Los Angeles area until his murder a few years ago.

Culbertson, Ely: founded The Bridge World, the foremost bridge publication in the world. He was the first serious publicist of bridge and earned a great deal of money with the game during the Depression. His publicity scheme was chock-full of double entendres. His system was called the "approach-forcing" system. He was one of the finest players of his era and is almost certainly the best American player ever who is not an ACBL Life Master. Married to Josephine Culbertson, another strong player.

Garrozzo, Benito: Probably the best player in the world in the 1960s. Famous for his extraordinary bidding judgement and spectacular technical card play. Currently is retired and lives in Florida.

Goren, Charles: A lawyer who rose to prominence in bridge in the 1940s. He was the dominant tournament player in the US in the 1940s. He publicized the Work Point Count, the 4-3-2-1 honor point count, still used today. He is perhaps the most famous bridge author ever.

Hamman, Bob: The number 1 ranked player by the World Bridge Federation, Hamman has won many world and national championships. He was considered the best player in the world in the 1980s and is arguably the best today.

Kaplan, Edgar: Possibly the best player ever who was never a world champion, Kaplan was a force in international tournaments for over 40 years. He was the publisher of The Bridge World, the chair of the National Laws Commission, the co-inventor of the Kaplan-Sheinwold system (which is still played today,) the most prominent American in World Bridge administration, and the most knowledgable person about the laws of bridge in the world. He lived in New York City until his death in 1997.

Jacoby, Oswald: One of the best card players ever, Jacoby played from the very beginning of Contract. He died a few years ago, but won a national championship when he was over 80. He was the inventor of Jacoby transfer bids and Sidney Lenz' partner for part of the Bridge Match of the Century against the Culbertsons.

Martel, Chip: Professor of Computer Science at UC Davis, Martel is a multiple-time World Champion. He was recently coach of the US World Junior Team and is involved in computer bridge and other youth bridge activities.

Meckwell: Jeff Meckstroth and Eric Rodwell's partnership of about 20 years' standing has won many world championships. They are generally considered to be the world's #1 pair.

Reese, Terence: Possibly the best non-Italian player of the 1960s, Reese is best-known as the most prolific writer of good bridge books ever. He pioneered the "over my shoulder" writing style in which the reader shares the seat of an expert during the narrative. Reese's career as an international competitor was besmirched in 1967 when he and partner Boris Schapiro were accused of cheating by exchanging finger signals. Reese and Schapiro were acquitted by a British inquiry, but the world of bridge has never been sure. Until his death, the World Bridge Federation declined to allow his participation in their events. Reese was a good enough writer to pen several novels, but his writings on bridge are what is really worth reading.

Reese's concentration was legendary. A story is told that while Reese was declarer on a complex hand, a nude woman walked into the card room, circled the table, and left. After the hand, Reese was asked if he noticed anything out of the ordinary. He replied, "yes. The spade suit was fascinating."

Roth, Al: Scion of the New York bridge scene in the 1950s and 1960s. Promulgated a very conservative sound style which reached its peak with the publication of the Roth-Stone system. While Roth is and was a great theorist (he invented the negative double, unusual notrump and many more conventions,) his style is currently not used by many internationalists.

Schenken, Howard: Several times voted by experts to be the best player of all time. Schenken won numerous National and World championships. He invented the Schenken Club system, the weak two-bid (perhaps,) the forcing two-over one, and numerous other bidding methods, many of which are in common use today.

Sobel, Helen: the most successful female bridge player in history. She and partner Charles Goren won constantly. When asked, "Mrs. Sobel, how does it feel to play with an expert," she replied, pointing to Goren, "ask him."

Vanderbilt, Harold: invented Contract Bridge in 1925. He was also the inventor of the first artificial system, the Vanderbilt Club, a strong club system.

Zia: Zia Mahmood carried a cindarella Pakistani team into the semi-finals of the world championships in 1981. After that feat, he moved to London, and then the United States and is generally considered the best player in the world right now. He is noted for his flair and imagination.

Jeff Goldsmith, jeff@tintin.jpl.nasa.gov, Oct. 1, 1997