The Facts and Fiction and History of Bridge

Believe me, there was a time in the past when there were no computers, television sets, telephones, fax machines or cars, but people still came together and played card games. They would play in taverns, inns, at countryside homes, in royal palaces, in the mansions of the rich, in the private rooms of the clergy. Every nation, kingdom and state would have card players battling each other in the afternoons and evenings on every night of the week. It was a pastime, a way of filling the evening with fun and games.

Nobody remembers who invented the first deck of cards. Nobody remembers who named the suits and designed the graphics. And today we have all kinds of cards: trading cards, credit cards, greeting cards, baseball cards, tarot cards. Bridge cards, of course, have a history as does the game itself. It was not always called Bridge, and many still believe that it is an ancient game. But, in comparison, Bridge is a relatively new game derived from an older version. The refinement came about in the early 1900's and has continued to this day. Following are some historical moments in Bridge.

We are able to trace the beginnings of Bridge back to the early 16th century, although at that time it was called Whist and was played by the Brits. The first book devoted to Whist appeared in the year 1742, called Edmond Hoyle's Short Treatise, and, according to all players of the time, became a best seller. The first game of duplicate Whist was played in London in the year of our Lord 1857, and the systems used eliminated much of he luck involved in which card each player was dealt. If you would like to learn more about this early variation, click on the sites below:

Bid Whist Homepage - You can learn about the game, the rules, and trumps of the game

Bid Whist Online - The official website for Bid Whist players.

Ultimate Bridge Whist - This website offers the electronic version of playing Whist online. The full version allows you to team with a computer partner against two computer opponents at Novice or Expert level.

Whist - This website describes the classic game of Whist which was played widely in the 18th and 19th centuries. Whist was derived from the older game Ruff and Honours, and in the twentieth century, bridge has displaced whist as the most popular card game internationally among serious card players. Nevertheless, whist continues to be played in Britain, often in local tournaments called "whist drives".

 

In the following centuries, Whist went through stages of evolution and actually became popular with all classes. With the migration towards the New World, sailors and immigrants took along their card games and they became very popular to pass the time. Around the 1890's the game of Bridge was introduced to the United States. The rules of the game underwent many changes made by its players, who have in the time since become the pioneers and forerunners of the game of Bridge. Mr. Harold Vanderbilt did much to perfect a system in 1925. He introduced rules, principles, treatments and even a scoring table. His established rules became so popular that his game of Contract Bridge was adopted by the majority of players.

How did the card game come to be called Bridge? An interesting question, because no one seems to be able to answer it. Many seem to attach value to the Russian word biritch or britch, which apparently meant an announcer or heralder of some news or event. However, when you ask an etymologist, you could receive an answer like the following from a renowned expert on the subject.

The truth, alas, is that no one knows precisely where the name bridge for the card game came from, although it is fairly certain that it has nothing to do with other senses of the word bridge. The invention of bridge in the 19th century was, evidently, based on a card game long popular in the Near East and known at that time as Russian whist. The word whist itself, by the way, is an old British equivalent of shhh!, and is a natural name for a game that demands silence from its players. Russian whist was also known as biritch or britch, both of which do sound Russian although neither of them seems to be an actual Russian word. In any case, once the British took up the game, britch became bridge through a process known as folk etymology, which is a fancy way of saying that people often substitute a word they do know for one they don't, even when the substitution makes no sense. So the answer is that the name bridge is almost entirely random and does not mean a thing, or, as we say at my house, Go Fish.

 

England continued to colonize the world and the Commonwealth grew. In the early 1900's British civil servants, who always follow any Army took along the developed systems of this evolving game and actually developed the Bidding System. In this manner, a Trump Suit was introduced to the game. They introduced the term Auction Bridge. A selection of outstanding dates in the history is listed below:

1742: The first book devoted to Whist appeared, Edmond Hoyle's Short Treatise, which became a best seller.

1857: The first game of duplicate Whist was played in London; this eliminated much of he luck involved in which card each player was dealt. It was the forerunner of modern duplicate bridge.

1903: British civil servants in remote India developed the practice of bidding for the privilege of calling the trump suit, thus introducing "auction bridge."

1925: Harold S. Vanderbilt, American multi-millionaire and three-time America's Cup winner, changed the course of bridge while on a cruise. He suggested that only tricks bid and made count toward game, with extra tricks counted as bonuses. These revised rules turned auction bridge into contract bridge.

1931: The Culbertson Summary and Culbertson's Blue Book topped all book sales for the year, outselling such popular titles as Believe It or Not and Crossword Puzzles! "The Battle of the Century" was held in New York City. The team captained by Ely Culbertson won by 8980 points.

1953: President Eisenhower played bridge regularly on Saturday night with top experts. He attended national bridge tournaments when possible. He enjoyed bridge as much as golf and he was considered an excellent player.

1958: Charles Goren appeared on the cover of Time magazine and was dubbed "The King of Aces." The inside story explained the basic rules of bridge and proclaimed it the "United States' No. 1 Card Game."

 

But, back in North America, there was Mr. Harold Vanderbilt, who changed the course of Bridge while taking a cruise .... no pun intended. You know, Captain on the Bridge. A highly intelligent gentleman, Mr. Vanderbilt recommended that only the tricks bid and made would count toward making a game. Overtricks would count as a bonus. His recommendation became popular and out of Auction Bridge, we suddenly had Contract Bridge. If you track Mr. Vanderbilt through the Internet, you will discover that he was a multi-faceted and multi-talented man.

Several years later, Mr. Ely Culbertson wrote a book called the Culbertson Summary and Culbertson's Blue Book was published and instantly became a best seller. Mr. Ely Culbertson possessed a colorful imagination and achieved many of his goals. He wandered the world from Russia to America, was a pioneer, an educated man, a rich man, a poor man. He founded the magazine The Bridge World, developed bridge principles and treatments such as Jump Bids and New-Suit Forcing. When the Hall of Fame was inaugurated in 1964, Mr. Ely Culbertson was the first person to be elected. By this time, his tombstone was nine years old.

There were many other pioneers in the development of the game of bridge. They are too numerous to mention here. However, we should mention one more person. His name is Mr. John S. Bennett. In Kansas City, Kansas, in the year 1931, Mr. Bennett was playing with his wife as his partner against Mr. and Mrs. Hoffmann. The couple had had some serious communication problems that day and they were uttering some rude remarks in public about the bidding and playing abilities of each other in derogatory words. Then came the fateful hand when Mr. Bennett bid a Spade, the Left Hand Opponent overcalled with Two Diamonds, and Mrs. Bennett raised to Four Spades. Mr. Bennett did not fulfill the Contract, and Mrs. Bennett could not hold her tongue. She became so enraged that she seemed hysterical. Mr. Bennett reached across the table, slapped her several times, as witnesses reported. Mrs. Bennett went into her mother's bedroom, retrieved the family automatic weapon, returned to the game room, and pointed the weapon at her husband. Mr. Bennett raced toward the bathroom and slammed the door behind him. But Mrs. Bennett fired two shots which went through the wooden door, and killed Mr. Bennett.

It seems that Mr. Bennett could have made the contract of 4 Spades after all, according to Mr. Ely Culbertson, who later analyzed the cards.

 

See also: History of Bridge by ACBL

See also: History of Bridge as contributed by Mr. Fred Fairbanks

 

 


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