Bridge History and Etymology

Bridge can trace its beginning back to the early 16th century in a game called Whist that was played in England.  The word ‘bridge’ comes from the Russian word for Whist, “biritch” which means announcer.  In bridge, the players announce their bids leading to a final contract.

Bridge first grew in popularity throughout Europe and appeared in the United States in the 1890’s.  During the next 30 years the rules of the game underwent many changes.  Harold Vanderbilt did much to perfect the game and set many of the rules and standards that we know today while on a cruise in 1925.  He suggested that only the bid and tricks made count toward the game, and the extra tricks made count as bonus points.  It was he who devised the scoring table.  His rules became so popular that it was adopted by the majority of players at that time and hence set the standards for contract bridge.

In 1931 The Culbertson Summary and Culbertson’s Blue Book were top selling books, beating out Believe it or Not and Crossword Puzzles! in sales.

President Eisenhower (1953-1961) was an excellent bridge player and played regularly on Saturday nights with top experts.  He would also attend bridge tournaments whenever possible.

In 1958 Charles Goreen appeared on the cover of Time Magazine and was dubbed “The King of Aces”.  He is considered one of the great bridge players of all time.  The inside story explained the basics of playing bridge and proclaimed bridge to be the “United States’ No. 1 card game”.

Today bridge is played around the world.   In the United States there are over 4200 bridge clubs and more than 1,000 American bridge tournaments each year.

There are many other pioneers of bridge, too numerous to mention. But there is one more that I feel is worth mentioning – Mr. John Bennett of Kansas City.  In 1931, Mr. Bennett was playing with his wife against another couple.  The Bennett’s had some communication problems that day which ended in some rude remarks about the bidding and playing.  Then came the fateful hand when Mr. Bennett bid 1 Spade, the opponent countered with 2 Diamonds and Mrs. Bennett responded with 4 Spades.  Mr. Bennett did not make the contract and Mrs. Bennett could not hold her tongue.  Mr. Bennett reached across the table and slapped his wife several times.  Mrs. Bennett left the table, went into their bedroom, retrieved the family rifle, then came back and pointed it at Mr. Bennett.  He quickly left the table and locked himself in the bathroom.  Mrs. Bennett fired two shots through the bathroom door.

People who play bridge take it seriously, but hopefully not as seriously as the Bennett’s.

So follow these basic guidelines and conventions described in this book and you will be playing bridge before you know it.

Are you interested to know more about bridge? Let me know by leaving a comment below. You can also connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.


James Frazee

Author, Beginning Bridge by the Numbers

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