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I'm an avid card player, and I have a particular love for trick-taking games (above all, Hearts and Spades). I've wanted to learn to play bridge for a long time, and I've bought two different books on the subject, but neither really launched me into playing. For experienced players, what is the best way to learn to play bridge, for someone who is already experienced and comfortable in four-person trick-taking games?

Should I just master the most basic rules and then try playing? I find this works well for Hearts and Spades, but I'm not sure that the complexity of Bridge will be as easily acquired.

Thanks!

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3 Answers 3

Assuming your goal is to play good bridge, you need to do both: reading and playing.

Reading will make you familiar with the distilled thoughts of experts, card play techniques, bidding issues etc, which they arrived at, after having had years of experience. It is unlikely that one single individual will ever gain that through his/her own playing experience.

While in theory this is all fine, to play good, winning bridge, you need to be focused at the table, and be able to do: Counting.

Being able to count the hand (high cards, distribution) is the single most important ability which separates the good players from the average player, and for most this only comes from playing. Not counting vs counting is compared to driving blind vs looking where you are going.

If you want to learn things quickly: do some reading, play some hands and do a post-mortem of the hands you played with a better player who knows the stuff. Rinse, Repeat.

The best way to learn and improve is to actively look for your mistakes (which can only happen if you actually play), ideally by doing a post-mortem along with a player who is good enough to figure them out.

I would highly recommend you read this blog post from Justin Lall (who won the silver medal in the recent world championship: Bermuda Bowl): http://justinlall.wordpress.com/2006/04/26/how-to-improve-your-game/

Good luck!

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There are two aspects of bridge: bidding, and playing.

For bidding, you HAVE to read. Basically, you have to learn about point count, distribution, and at least the "standard" bidding conventions. There's no way around it, but it's not a heavy burden.

Fortunately for you, the time spent in bridge is about one-third (or less) bidding, and the rest playing. In the latter part, you have a natural advantage over other beginners, with your other playing experience. There are a few standard playing techniques, and quite a few "tricks," most of which you can pick up as you go along.

Back to bidding: In some beginners' classes, the teacher will examine each hand in turn and tell people how to bid. But "reading" is still the best way to learn bidding, certainly without a teacher.

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Actually, for a casual player, learning any one of the standard bidding systems IS a heavy burden, let alone all of the 2-3 more common variants. –  aramis Aug 19 '11 at 19:19
    
@aramis: It's hard to learn a bidding system WELL. But this will get our friend started with Standard American: home.comcast.net/~kwbridge/basics.htm. –  Tom Au Aug 20 '11 at 1:18
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I think you'd be hard-pushed to learn Bridge just by reading about it. There are many, many excellent books out there, but until you're sitting down at an actual table it will be hard to visualise what it actually feels like, having only partial information, trying urgently to communicate your hand to your partner despite your opponent continually getting in your way.

Equally, I think it'd be a slow process learning Bridge just by playing it. Sure, you'll get better and better as the fundamental concepts begin to dawn on you; but Bridge is an immensely subtle and sophisticated game and some of the finest game-playing minds of this and last century have thought about it for millions of hours. Reading some of the greatest writers on the subject will be a short-cut to ideas and epiphanies that would take you years or decades to stumble across in the course of playing with just the basics under your belt.

So to answer your question, yes I would "just master the most basic rules and then try playing"; but I'd make sure to keep reading more, then playing more, then reading more again! Bridge is an incredibly deep game, perhaps unequalled in depth by any other game - you could easily spend your life playing it, mastering it, assimilating the ideas of others who have tried to master it. It's well worth it though - I envy you your journey!

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Great answer - thanks so much! Got any recommendations for books to accompany me on my journey? :) –  ella evans Aug 18 '11 at 15:43
    
Unfortunately I personally have read only a tiny subset of the great books that have been written abut Bridge - but there are some good lists here that should cater to all levels: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_bridge_books. I do recommend Victor Mollo's "Bridge in the Menagerie", just because it's full of very funny sketches of Bridge players of all different temperaments, presented as anthropomorphic animals. Other books can teach you how to PLAY Bridge, but that one makes it very easy to learn to LOVE it :) –  thesunneversets Aug 18 '11 at 16:02
    
@ella evans: If you think this, or any other answer is great, you should "upvote" it. I just did. –  Tom Au Aug 18 '11 at 20:48
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