The History of Bridge


I started playing Bridge about 2 years ago. I have A LOT to learn-it is clear! I was curious about the origin of bridge as a game and this is what I found out:

The origin of playing cards was in China, where paper was invented, dates back to around the year 1120. Originally, cards were used for fortune telling and gambling. Cards were introduced into Italy and Spain around 1370, probably coming from Egypt. Tarot cards, used for fortune telling, were introduced in Italy in 1440.

In 1432, Saint Bernardo warned the “Faithful” that cards were invented by the Devil, later picked up by the English Puritans — often regarded a “The Devil’s Picture Book”. By 1495, Henry VII issued a Decree forbidding his servants from playing cards except during the Christmas Holiday.

Later, Elizabeth the First levied a tax on the manufacture of playing cards, which generated significant revenues for the Crown. By the era of Queen Anne, card playing was in full swing. Men preferred Piquet, women loved Ombre, while the Clergy and Country Squires played Whist. Have you ever wondered why the Ace of Spades looks so distinctive? Well, it was the official stamp of certification to indicate that the proper English tax was paid on that deck of cards (the Stamp Office kept the only stock of pre-stamped Aces of Spades) — the card manufacturers were forbidden to produce that Ace. This tax hung around all the way onto 1960, yet the unique look of the Ace of Spades still is found on most decks.

By 1860, Europeans as well as Americans accepted card rank naming convention, markings on the faces that declared their values.

Some believe that the 12 Honors of the deck refer to the 12 signs of the Zodiac or the 12 months of the year. They say the two colors (Red and Black) refer to the Solstice and Equinox phases. They see the four Suits as the four Seasons, the entire pack of 52 cards representing the 52 weeks of the year, and the 13 cards in each Suit being the same as the weeks in each quarter of the year (Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall).

Bridge was derived from Russian Whist, called was called Biritch, meaning an announcer (players “announce or herald” their auction). Books on Whist date back to the mid-1700’s. The first book was written by none other than Edmond Hoyle, titled Short Treatise.

Eventually, the French began using ordinary stencils, which could be cheaply produced. Thus, the cost-effective French cards were widely used in England and the United States. For some time, the designations on the “face cards” varied, but when the French accepted Napoleon as their leader, they reinstated the notion of the King and Queen. However, Napoleon didn’t care for their medieval look, believing they should be “archaeologically correct”. So an artist was assigned to design authentic costumes on the cards. But Napoleon’s cards weren’t liked by the masses so the medieval cards resurfaced.

The first President of the United States, George Washington, enjoyed Bridge. In fact, he enjoyed small wagers on the game, apparently to make it more exciting.

In 1857, the English began playing Whist in a “duplicate” method to eliminate most of the luck associated with the deal of the cards. In 1883, American’s began playing inner-club matches.

In 1891, a duplicate tray was invented, used to hold the cards separately so players could replay the identical cards. The idea was to eliminate chance and provide a true test of skill. The boards were originally called the Kalamazoo tray.

Early accounts indicate that in 1903, some of the British civil servants stationed in India created a method of bidding the trump suit, coined “auction bridge.” A later account dates auction bridge back to 1894, with Turkish or Russian origin from Plevna during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878.

By 1893, Bridge was introduced in New York, using formal rules that were recently printed by Henry Barbey.

Then in 1925, the American multi-millionaire Harold Vanderbilt, introduced exciting scoring bonuses in Bridge (while on a cruise ship). With this change, auction Bridge became known as “contract bridge”.

In 1931, Ely Culbertson wrote the number one and two book seller of any book, titled “The Culbertson Summary and the Blue Book”.

By the late 1400’s, Suits began to appear on cards (the Suits — Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs are know as the French National Suits) — the first three Suits are presumably adapted from the German Leaves, Hearts and Hawk Bells. Over the next 200 years, the Suits became standardized. Due to the intricate designs on the “face” cards, the cost to purchase playing cards was originally quite expensive (due to the hand painting) although that didn’t keep the “commoners” from using them. Demand by the populous led to mass production using a technique using the woodcut. The card designs were carved on woodblocks, then inked and printed on paper. These papers were then glued to blank card stock. Around the mid-1400’s, the French incorporated suit signs and flat silhouettes in only black and red colors.

Incidentally, a regular deck of playing cards are 8.9cm long x 6.3cm wide. But since Bridge players hold 13 cards, the Bridge deck is 8.8cm long x 5.7cm wide.

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