Contract Law is one of the most important creations of our civilization. Contract Bridge centers about the contract in which a declarer promises to take a certain number of tricks in return for being able to name the trump suit. But in fact, the game is one giant series of contracts between partners when played correctly.

What goes into making a contract, in general? The key point is that it is an agreement between two parties with this special property:

  • Both sides have benefits
  • Both sides have responsibilities

If you have responsibilities but no benefits you’re a slave. If you have benefits but no responsibilities you are receiving a gift.

Say I overcall a suit at the one level, not vulnerable. I promise my partner 8-16 points and a decent suit (Qxxxx or better).

My responsibility to my partner is to have my bid as promised. Since we are a team we have a shared benefit:

  • Partner will know when it is safe to raise me or to compete.
  • Partner will know what suit to lead if he ends up on lead.

Partner’s responsibility is to act accordingly.

Suppose my RHO opens a club, and I bid a heart with 9 points, and five hearts to the Jack.

I’m not keeping my promise to have a Queen or better, and while I might get away with a hedge on that part if I had a near max on points, I am essentially minimal.

If my partner ends up on lead he’ll lead my suit. Meanwhile, the natural lead he would have made if I had just shut up doesn’t get made, and Declarer probably gets an extra trick in hearts.

Or, on another day, it gets passes around and the opener reopens with a double. His partner with AKQxx in hearts leaves it in. Chalk up a bottom. Or, the auction gets competitive and my partner raises, thinking that his four little hearts are a big asset. They double and we lose three heart tricks off the top on our way to the basement again.

One of the problems with learning bridge is that against beginners you will not get doubled for penalty enough. You will note the disruptive joy of making an overcall and start making them on garbage hands. When you get into this habit, you’ll soon be off to the school of hard knocks.

When you made an overcall, you were taking a risk. The benefit was partly to get the suit led when partner gets on lead. If your partner forgets the auction and just leads what looks good in his hand, that risk was for nothing. He doesn’t have to lead your suit, but he has to remember that you have it.

The other problem that arises if you do not have your bids, partner will misinterpret the play early on. He puts good cards in a suit in your hand, and that limits what he expects elsewhere.