Pirate Bridge

It turns out that in 1917, Aleister Crowley came up with an idea to improve the game of Auction Bridge:

“There are […] drawbacks to Auction Bridge. Here they are: 1. Mismated partners. You get a fiend for a partner and can’t shake him off. 2. Mismated hands, The two good heart hands never seem to come together. The good spade partners are opposed to each other, etc., etc. 3. The frequency with which bids are set. In actual practice only nine out of thirteen are successful at auction. […] but I worked hard at it, and suddenly the great idea dawned upon me: Choose your own partner!”

Well, Crowley was a contributor to Vanity Fair at the time, and he presented his crazy idea to Frank Crowninshield, its editor, who loved the idea, helped Crowley develop his ideas, and named it “pirate bridge”.  Soon, R. F. Foster, expert on card games, heard of it and worked with Crowley and Crowninshield to codify the laws of the game.

The game attained a level of fashionable popularity for a brief time in bridge circles but has pretty much been forgotten.  I’m an enthusiast of both card games and Crowley and here I am, nearly 43 before I encountered it.

Here’s the gist of how the game differs from Auction Bridge. (Contract Bridge, now the most widely played version, had not fully evolved yet; its rules were published in 1925.)

Our example table is, going clockwise, Alan, Connor, Gracie, and Mike.  (The compass directions are so boring.)

  1. Bids must gain acceptance to count.
    • When someone declares a bid, before anyone gets to double or bid higher, all three other players have, in order from bidder’s left, the chance to accept the bid, or to pass.
    • If all three pass, the bid was not accepted.
    • If anyone accepts, that person has just become the partner of the bidder, and (if that bid is the winning bid) will be the dummy.
    • Example 1:
      1. Alan bids 1♠.
      2. Connor accepts.  Connor is now provisionally Alan’s partner.
  2. You can accept someone else and ditch your own bid.
    • You can accept someone’s bid even if you already have one of your own, if you think you’ll score bigger by doing so.
    • Example 2, continued from above:
      1. After Connor accepted, it’s now Gracie’s turn to bid if she wants.  She bids 2♣.
      2. Mike passes.
      3. Alan might change his mind and accept Gracie’s bid, becoming her dummy, deciding that working with her on a 2♣ contract will score bigger than his own 1♠ contract.
  3. You cannot, however, overbid your own acceptance.
    • Everyone to the left of the acceptor can now overcall or double, but if no one doubles and no overcall is accepted, by the time it comes round to the acceptor it’s over.
    • Example 3:
      1. After Connor accepted, each other player has a chance to double or overcall.
      2. Gracie overcalls, and no one accepts her bid, which is as if she had passed.
      3. Mike and Alan pass.
      4. Connor cannot now overcall Alan’s bid which he originally accepted.  If he was going to overcall Alan, he should have declined to accept Alan’s bid in the first place, then made his own bid when he had a turn.
  4. Bids must be higher than accepted bids, but can be lower than unaccepted ones.
    • If a bid is accepted, the next actual bid (as opposed to a double or redouble) must be higher, as it would be in Auction/Contract.
    • If a bid was not accepted, the next bid may be lower than the unaccepted bid, but still must be higher than previously accepted bids.
    • Example 4:
      1. Alan bids 1♠.
      2. Connor accepts.
      3. Gracie bids 3NT.
      4. Mike, Connor, and Alan all pass.
      5. It is now Mike’s turn to bid (since he is next after Gracie, whose bid was not accepted).  He does not have to bid higher than Gracie’s rejected 3NT; he only has to bid 1NT, higher than Alan’s accepted 1♠.
  5. Doubles and redoubles don’t get acceptance.
    • Once a bid has been accepted, either opponent may Double; this does not require acceptance.
    • After a Double, either the bidder who has been doubled, or the acceptor of the doubled bid, may Redouble; this also does not require acceptance.
    • Example 5:
      1. Alan bids 1♠.
      2. Connor accepts.
      3. Gracie says “Double”. No acceptance is needed.
      4. Mike, who is provisionally Gracie’s partner in defending against Alan’s bid (since Connor is Alan’s partner), can say nothing more about Alan’s bid, but he could choose to make a bid of his own.  He simply passes.
      5. Alan, not overly confident in his original bid, passes.
      6. But Connor, being very confident in his support of Alan’s 1♠, says “Redouble.”
      7. Nothing more can possibly be said about the 1♠ bid; all Gracie, Mike, or Alan can do is now bid a new contract higher than 1♠, or all pass and allow the 1♠ to be the contract for the hand.
  6. You can overcall yourself.
    • You can overbid your own bid in an attempt to rid yourself of an partner you don’t want, or indeed, for any other reason.
    • Example 6:
      1. Alan bids 1♠.
      2. Connor accepts.
      3. Gracie doubles.
      4. Mike passes.
      5. Alan knows just how many points Connor has, and doesn’t want him to get more, so he bids 2♣, hoping Connor will choose not to accept that bid.
      6. However, if all of Connor, Gracie, and Mike choose to reject Alan’s new 2♣, he’s stuck with his original 1♠ being the bid.
      7. Then Connor would be next to bid since Alan’s 2♣ was rejected; Connor may now bid a new contract of his own, or may just pass or even Redouble, remaining Alan’s partner.
  7. Everyone keeps points separately.
    • Points are scored in four separate columns.
    • If a contract is won, the declarer gets the game points for the contract scored below the line, and all the bonus points (slams, overtricks, double bonus, and honors) above the line.  This is the way Auction/Contract is usually scored.
    • But the acceptor gets all those points above the line.  So the acceptor gets “bonus” points for helping make the contract, but it does not count towards winning a game for herself.
    • Example 7:
      1. In the First Hand, Alan bids 1♠ and Connor is his partner; they win with eight tricks in all.
      2. Since the game uses Auction Bridge scoring, they get 2 (two tricks above book) times 9 (spades were trump) = 18 points.
      3. Alan scores those below the line, counting towards him winning one game.
      4. Connor scores them above the line, as bonus points only.  The scores towards winning a game of the rubber are now: Alan 18, everyone else 0.
  8. Bonus points for winning a game go to both the declarer and their last acceptor.
    • Bonus points are awarded to the declarer for winning a game within the rubber. (The number of points given is 50, in keeping with the Auction Bridge scale where 30 points of contract tricks wins a game.)
    • Those points are also awarded to the acceptor of the hand that won the game (but not any previous hands which were needed to win the game).
    • Example 8, continued from example 7:
      1. In the Second Hand, Alan bids 2♡ and gets Gracie for a partner.
      2. Again, Alan’s side makes eight tricks.  Two tricks above book with Hearts as trump = 2 x 8 = 16 points.
      3. Alan again scores those below the line, since he declared it.
      4. Gracie scores above the line, since she was acceptor.
      5. Alan now has a total of 18 + 16 = 34 points below the line, and has thus just won a game (by reaching 30 points below the line).
      6. He therefore gets a bonus of 50 points above the line, and so does Gracie (since she helped him on the winning hand), but Connor (who was Alan’s partner in the first hand) does not.
      7. The scores are now: Alan has 50 above and 34 below; Connor has 18 above and 0 below; Gracie has 50 + 16 = 64 above and 0 below; Mike has 0.
  9. Bonus points for the rubber go only to the rubber winner.
    • When a person has won two games, they have won the rubber; they get an additional 50 points above the line (in addition to the 50 they got for the second game itself), and their acceptor does not share in that.
    • Example 9:
      1. Alan wins a second game of the rubber, with Mike as his acceptor.
      2. Alan scores 100 points (50 for the game, 50 for the rubber) above the line.
      3. Mike scores 50 points (for helping Alan win that game only) above the line.
  10. And finally … nullo bids.
    • These are optional, to be used only if everyone likes the idea.
    • A bid of nullos is a bid to force that many tricks (beyond book) upon your opponent, with no cards as trump.
    • In bidding,  nullo outranks that number of spades but is outranked by no-trump.
    • It scores equal to no-trump (10 per trick over book).
    • The great thing about nullo bids in Pirate Bridge is that no one’s going to accept the bid unless their hand “sucks” sufficiently well to help you achieve the nullo, so there’s no real harm in making the bid (assuming competent other players): anyone with an ace in a short suit is not going to accept, so you shouldn’t get stuck with a nullo that’s just hopeless.
    • Example 10:
      1. Alan bids 3♠ (that is, expecting to take at least nine tricks with spades as trump).
      2. Connor accepts.
      3. Gracie bids 3 Nullo (that is, expecting to compel her opponents to take at least nine tricks with no trumps, despite their best efforts not to).
      4. Mike accepts.  The contract is now 3 Nullo.
      5. Alan and Connor are now going to try to not take nine or more tricks; that is, they need to take at most eight, which means they need to throw away at least five.
      6. If Alan and Connor take eight tricks or fewer, Gracie and Mike have been set.
      7. If Alan and Connor take nine or more tricks, Gracie and Mike score 10 points for every trick above book that Alan and Connor do take. So if they take ten tricks, Gracie gets 40 points below the line for declaring the nullo, and Mike gets 40 points above it for accepting.

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