You’ve decided that you want to learn to play bridge. Every year thousands of people take up playing bridge – it’s fun, it’s sociable, it’s a challenge. But there are several different bridge systems. How do you decide which system to learn and what are the obvious differences?
There are two main systems that are played. Acol bridge and American Standard bridge. As a general rule, Acol is the system that is played in the UK, Ireland and Australia, whilst American Standard bridge is widely played around the world.
A wee aside – when I started learning I was convinced that Acol was an acronym and that each letter must mean something. It isn’t and they don’t! It’s named after the road in London where it’s originators used to meet and where they developed the system.
Many people learn to play bridge by attending classes. If you are going to join a class, then you probably won’t have a choice of which system to learn. If you then progress to joining a local bridge club, again you probably won’t have a choice and your club will play whichever system is widely used in your country.
It gets a little more complicated if you want to learn to play bridge online – and if you intend to join an online bridge playing community. Some sites offer a choice of systems. Some don’t. So it might be worth doing a little research and identifying the site where you want to play before signing up for your online lessons.
So what are the main differences?
The most obvious difference, lies in one part of the initial bidding. This makes it easy to decide which system is being played. It’s the point range required for an opening bid of 1NT (one No Trumps). In Acol bridge an opening bid of 1NT means you hold a balanced hand with 12 – 14 points. In American Standard bridge the same opening bid would mean your hands is balanced but contains 15 – 17 points.
The points are worked out in the same way. Before the bidding commences each player adds up the points in their hand. They count 4 points for each ace they hold, 3 points for each king, 2 points for each queen and 1 point for each jack.
The next difference comes if a player wants to make an opening bid of 1 of a major suit. There are four suits in a pack of cards, spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs. They are ranked in that order, with spades and hearts being the major suits and diamonds and clubs being the minor suits.
In Acol bridge a player will make an opening bid of 1 of a major suit if they hold 4 (or more) cards in that suit. So an opening bid of, say, 1 Heart, tells your partner than you hold at least 4 cards in that suit.
In American Standard bridge it is most common to play 5 card majors. In other words, an opening bid of 1 of a major suit tells your partner than you hold at least 5 cards in that suit. If a player only holds 4 cards in either major suit they will commonly make a minor suit opening bid – which just tells their partner that they don’t hold a 5 card major.
In AS bridge it is common to include length points when valuing your hand. This means adding one extra point for each card held above four in a suit. Acol bridge players rarely include length points. Both systems offer the opportunity to add shortage points (additional points for short or void suits) for some bids. AS players would then count shortage points instead of length points.