Yes, you can play bridge with three players. The most popular method involves dealing four hands, with one nominated as dummy. Some or none of the dummy’s cards are turned face up (depending on the variant played) and the three players bid to compete for the auction. The player that wins the auction sits opposite the dummy and attempts to make their contract.
The rules are simple; read on to find out more…
How To Play 3-Player Bridge
If you already know how to play bridge you won’t have any problem with the 3-player variant.
A dealer is chosen (players take it in turn to deal as normal) and four 13-card hands are dealt. Each player takes a hand with the 4th hand belonging to dummy. Depending on the variant, anywhere from zero to eight cards in dummies hand are turned face-up so that all players can see them. In one variant I’ve played, it is dealer’s choice how many are shown.
Players bid as in bridge, each in turn bidding as if the dummy were their partner. The player that wins the auction moves to sit opposite the dummy and their LHO leads. At this point the rest of dummies cards are turned face-up and arranged as normal. The play then proceeds as it would in a normal game of bridge.
Doubles and Redoubles
Aside from there being three competing players, the one other difference in the auction is that doubles and redoubles are on a one-to-one basis. If Player 1 bids 4♥ and Player 2 doubles that bid, that double does not automatically follow-through for Player 3 (even though he or she will defend as a partnership with Player 2). Instead Player 2 also has to double if they believe that Player 1 will go down. Player 1 then has the opportunity to redouble if they choose.
Scores are recorded as in bridge except that there are three individuals competing, rather than two pairs. In practice, there are a couple of ways to interpret this. My favourite is to score it as two different contracts. This means that in the case that one opponent doubles and one does not, the three scores will be different. The way I’ve played it, if the contract makes the declarer receives the appropriate points for making against each player (score for both and add) and the other players receive a negative for the contract they played.
If the contract goes down, the declarer loses for undertricks to both players, and they both gain. It is easiest to explain with a couple of quick examples:
In this hand, Player 1 bids 3♠, Player 2 doubles, and Player 3 passes. Player 1 makes 10 tricks; 3♠+1 against each opponent (doubled vs Player 2) . The scores are recorded as follows:
|Player 1||Player 2||Player 3|
Player 1 has scored 3♠+1 doubled against Player 2 for 240, and 3♠+1 against Player 3 for 120, for a total of 360. The other two players receive negatives for the same amounts.
In the next hand, Player 2 bids 4♥ and only makes eight tricks. The scores are now as follows:
|Player 1||Player 2||Player 3|
At the end of the game the scores are added up and the winner revealed. Play as many or as few hands as you like. If you are competing seriously (or as seriously as 3-player bridge can get) you should ensure each player is dealer an equal number of times.
Since most of dummies cards are hidden, there is a distinct random element to each hand. Dummy can easily have hidden points (or a lack of them) and significant surprises in its shape. However, the revealed cards do give quite a lot of information. Not only can you see some of what is in dummy’s hand but you can also use this information to infer what your opponent’s bids mean. For example, if LHO bids hearts, and dummy’s six shown cards don’t contain a heart, you can assume it’s likely LHO has more than just a 4-card suit.
Additionally, it is worth bearing in mind the “average” hand when looking at dummy. The average hand will have ten high-card points and a balanced shape. If for example, you can see six of dummy’s cards and they show nine high-card points you can conclude it likely that dummy has an above average hand, since the remaining cards will take it above ten – probably to 13 or 14 on average.
3-player bridge is a fun diversion which I’ve found can pass the time well when it is impossible to make a full table. Playing for money can add an extra edge, but be warned, if you score as I suggested there can be some big swings!
If you know of any other variants I’d love to hear about them – let me know in the comments!