The History of Contract Bridge Peter Farley
Bridge can be traced back to the early 16th century when a game called whist was played in England. Originally a strictly upper-class pastime, during Dickensian times it became the game of the so-called working classes. Every form of whist had a trump suit. There was no competitive bidding but doubling and redoubling were allowed.
In the late 1850’s duplicate whist began to be played in London. This eliminated much of the luck involved in the dealing of the cards. It was the forerunner of modern duplicate bridge.
The best evidence on the beginning of bridge supports the theory that it was first played in diplomatic circles in the Middle East (Constantinople and Cairo in particular) in the 1880s. The word "bridge" comes from a Russian version of whist, called “biritch,” meaning announcer or herald (bridge players “announce” their contract bids) and which was introduced to Constantinople in the 1880s. Instead of turning up a card for trumps, the dealer had the option of declaring a trump suit or – another innovation - no trumps. If declarer decided on no trumps, he called “biritch!”
The earliest appearance of bridge under that name in the United Kingdom was probably among the Greek colony in Manchester around 1880. It was played also at the St. George’s Club, Hanover Square, London, and in the winter of 1892 the Club set aside a special table for bridge.
Then in 1894, in the most famous of all card clubs, the Portland, the game of bridge was introduced by Lord Brougham, who had played it in India with some Indian Army Officers. It differed radically from the parent game in that the dealer or, on his refusal, his partner, named the trump suit. Stake points could be doubled or re-doubled ad infinitum, no trumps could be announced, and most radical of all, the declarer’s partner’s hand was exposed after the first lead. This was known as the dummy hand.
In 1903 British civil servants in India developed the practice of bidding for the privilege of calling the trump suit, thus introducing “auction bridge.” Auction bridge gave the right of every player at the table to bid until the other three players had passed. The last bid suit became trumps, and the innovation “no trumps” was retained. Only the partnership which had won the auction could score points towards the game. Their opponents could only score penalties for defeating them. There were bonus points for honour card holdings, making small and grand slams, and the rubber bonus which went to the side first making two games.
In France after the end of WW1 they played a form of bridge which they called Plafond. Each side had to bid its “plafond” or ceiling and only tricks bid and made counted towards game. This became the standard form in France, similar to auction bridge but with the innovation that a premium for making a game could only be scored if a game had been bid. Only such number of tricks as the final bidder had announced he would win could count towards the game, and so towards the rubber bonus. Auction demanded no such accuracy.
Harold S. Vanderbilt in the US developed a new form of bridge in 1925 incorporating many of the most popular principles including the Plafond principle and introducing the concept of vulnerability. These revised rules turned auction bridge into contract bridge.
In 1958 Charles Goren appeared on the cover of Time magazine and was dubbed “The King of Aces.” Other well known bridge players include Deng Xiao Ping, Margaret Thatcher, Ghandi, Bill Gates, Eisenhower, Omar Sharif, Radiohead and Snoopy. How did they find the time while doing everything they did to become famous?