Bridge will reward you early on — but the first few hours are utterly disorienting. Using a combination of apps, books and computer players who won’t berate you for mistakes is the easiest way to power through that vicious learning curve into the fun part.
There are three hilariously complex things to learn about bridge:
>> It’s a card-playing game in which you and your partner, who sits opposite you, silently plot to take as many tricks as possible. Most 8-year-olds can handle this part.
>> But it’s also a bidding game in which you and your partner conspire.
>> It’s also a game in which scoring values dictate how much risk you should take. Worry about this part much later — or never.
First, learn any trick-taking card game
The best way to master the card-playing part of bridge is to learn any four-person card game in which each person plays a single card in turn and the best card wins. The most popular trick-taking game is Spades (a great game in itself). Nearly any of the Spades apps for iPhone or Android let you learn this kind of cardplay against computer opponents, where there’s no one to shame you.
TricksterCards.com is great too; you can play both Spades and Bridge without human opponents.
Now, the weird stuff
You need to learn how to “bid.” In bridge, the two partnerships compete to decide how many tricks the winning team will take and what the trump suit will be. Do you know what kind of learner you are?
>> If you do well by book-learnin’, fire up Libby, the reading app that connects to your library card, and virtually check out “The ABCs of Bridge,” “Bridge for Dummies,” or, if you’re feeling very lost, “Bridge for Children.” The American Contract Bridge League site (acbl.org) also has clear, brisk instructions.
>> Some people learn best by making a mess and finding their way. The Funbridge app will let you play alone against software and will give you descriptions of what specific bids might mean. After mucking about harmlessly, you can graduate to baffling real people later.
Turns out bridge is best at home
The best way to play bridge with real (human) friends at the moment is a combination of TricksterCards for cardplay plus Zoom for video and audio. You’ll never need to get four people in the same place again. But once you’ve learned the game, how do you make three bridge-playing friends? Sadly, technology has not yet solved that.