Bridge is played by four people with a normal 52-card deck. Each player has a partner who sits opposite him. Each player gets a hand of 13 cards. He plays one of them per trick. A trick has four cards in it -- one from each player.

Each bridge hand is divided into two phases: the bidding and the play.

Bidding is estimating. Players bid until one pair has outbid the other. The final bid is that pair's estimate of how many tricks their two hands can combine to take.

The play is a test of the final bid. If two partners take as many tricks as their final bid promised, or more, they get a certain number of points. But if they fail, their opponents get points for defeating them.

Players bid in turn, beginning with the dealer. Each player can bid as much, or as many times, as he likes. The bidding stops once any three players pass in succession.

The final bid, or contract, always has two parts: a number and a trump suit.

The number ranges from one to seven. Add six to it, and that will indicate the number of tricks that two partners expect to take. For example, partners who reach a final contract of "five clubs" say they expect to take five plus six (or 11) tricks, with clubs as the trump suit.

The value of trumps, and trump suits, is linked directly to a key rule of play: You have to follow suit if you can. But if you can't follow suit, you are permitted to win a trick by playing a trump.

Thus, if clubs are trumps, an opponent can bang down his ace of spades with great expectations. But if you don't have any spades, you can win the trick by playing your lowly deuce of clubs. Obviously, therefore, two partners will tend to choose as trumps a suit in which they have the majority of the cards.

But along with spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs, it is possible to reach a final contract of between one and seven "no-trump."

No-trump means what it says: there is not such thing as a trump. The mechanics of a no-trump hand are the same as any other, and as always, players follow suit if they can. But in no-trump, if one of them has no more cards in a suit, he cannot win a lead of that suit by trumping. He must simply discard. Thus, to own a long, strong suit in no-trump is to be in the driver's seat.

For a gaudy example, assume your hand consists of all 13 spades. If the trump suit is spades, you will take all the tricks. But if you play the hand in no-trump, and the opponents have the lead, you will never win a single trick.