1. Preliminaries

Click Copyright to go to a chapter at the end of the book on how to read this book as web pages, a PDF, or an e-book. The book is free and redistributable to anyone, as described in its open-source license.

How I Came To Write This Book

As I retired in 2005, I began playing bridge online. The players were no longer using the Goren system of bidding that I had read about as a child. Although I had played a small amount of party bridge as an adult I had avoided bridge after seeing the cream of my class of mathematicians at U.C. Berkeley flunk out when they played bridge at the Student Union all day and night. So then, about to retire, I found myself with only a bare-bones document on OKBridge to explain this mysterious “Standard American Yellow Card” (SAYC) and the more advanced extension of it, “Two Over One Game Force”, not to mention the seemingly endless collection of conventions, bids that did not mean what they appeared to mean.

I set out to remedy the situation for myself. I soon realized others were in the same boat, especially people in other countries for whom bridge books were expensive. So I made it my goal to provide an Open Source book that helps a bridge player get from intermediate to advanced. I have constantly revised my set of explanations as my own understanding has grown. This book puts all my efforts in one volume again.

The first part of this book presents the Two Over One Game Force (2/1) system that is popular in North America. The more basic Standard American Yellow Card (SAYC)is subsumed in that system, since when responder is a passed hand 2/1 reverts to SAYC’s rules.

Few people play even basic SAYC as written. There are many aspects of bidding, including the vital areas of competing for part scores and making game tries, that are not explicitly in the systems at all. In cases where the standard is sometimes or often ignored, I’ll try to point that out.

Until we get to the Advanced chapters, I will not present many alternative ways of doing things. I didn’t like, when I was learning, books that said I could do this or that, when I had no basis in experience to make an informed choice.

The Resources chapter lists other sources of information.

How to Use This Book

You can use this book for initial learning, or as a reference. For that reason it has an index. It frustrates me no end that most bridge books do not. There is also a glossary of bridge terms. In electronic manifestations of this book, there are many operable links in the text. What this book lacks is the kind of things that are in good books written by professionals: extensive examples, and quizzes. I list some of my favorite sources in Resources.

Bridge has three big topics: bidding, declarer play, and defense. An expert friend who has read my notes commented that the defensive part of your notes ought to be as big as the bidding section. Indeed, your side is on defense half of the time. Few of us measure up – for some reason, learning another convention that comes up twice a year is more compelling than the basics of carding that happens on every hand.

While I want to present the major conventions so you will know what your opponents are up to, do not take this as advice to master them, rather than spending equal time on the other two-thirds of bridge.

Here’s a guide to what follows. First we cover 2/1’s key bids, competitive bidding, and basic slam bidding. The 2/1 part of the system really has two parts: the two-over-one and 1N-forcing bids and their followups; and this set of expected conventions:

There is no real connection between 2/1 and this set of conventions except that most players of 2/1 also play those conventions. As you are learning you’ll need to tell potential partners which of these conventions you haven’t mastered yet. Fourth Suit Forcing and New Minor Forcing are so close in spirit that you should learn them at the same time. Roman Keycard Blackwood is likely to be high on the want list from your partner.


Do not agree to play a convention unless you have a solid knowledge of it, including not just the initial bids but the followups, including what to do if the opponents interfere. Everyone fails to recognize that a bid is conventional now and then, both when they make it and when partner makes it, but each such error cancels out a year’s worth of benefits from playing it.

I believe that new players should learn 2/1 from the beginning, adding in the conventions just mentioned ASAP. You have to learn the SAYC meanings as well, since they apply when opener is a passed hand or there is interference. That’s the approach we’re taking here.

Casual Partners

Even a person with the most dedicated partner plays with someone else once in a while; this is especially true online. Therefore, you have to learn two things: your system, and the system you can count on a stranger to know. For casual face-to-face play, an intermediate pair who agrees on SAYC or 2/1 still needs to fill in some details as they fill out the card.

I like to be in a position to say, “Let’s play your card”; armed with this book, you’ll know what most of their stuff means already. My philosophy is that this way, at most one person is confused: me.

Many online sites have a definition somewhere of one or more systems that you can expect people to use there – but frankly not many people bother to read them.

If you are learning to play using robots online, be sure to check what the robot thinks bids mean. None of the various robots play vanilla systems.


I encourage others to help me build a community resource by furnishing corrections and additions. The source for the book is written in “reStructuredText” and uses a system called “Sphinx” to render the book into web pages, e-books and PDF files.

Sphinx is the standard system used to document computer programs written in the popular Python computer language, so it is heavily used, is free, and has the advantage that the source is a simple, readable text file with a very natural markup system.

Send corrections by indicating section and nearby content, rather than by page number, as the latter depends on the rendering device, unless using the PDF.

You can contribute additions such as examples and quizzes for chapters by sending a plain text file. Extra points for using reStructuredText markup. Use Bridge Books in the subject and mail to me at pfdubois@gmail.com.


Thank you to my long-time teacher, Mike Moss, who taught me almost everything I know. I have also received help from teachers and expert players including Howard Schutzman, Oliver Clarke, Alex Martelli, and Jim and Pat Leary; and encouragement from my fellow learners and partners, especially David Silberman, Julia Beatty, Ally Whiteneck, and John Engstrom.

More recently I have taken lessons from Marc Smith, and purchased the video lessons of Marty Bergen, Rob Barrington and Gavin Wolpert. I am definitely a #Gavinista.

About The Author

I am a retired mathematician and computational scientist. I founded the first successful system for computational steering in 1984, which has become the main way scientific computation is done now. My professional biography is available, along with this book, at https://pfdubois.com.