History and Forms of the Game:
A number of card games similar to whist can be traced all the way back to the early 16th century. They were all trick-taking games with a variety of minor variations. Whist became the dominant form, and enjoyed a loyal following for centuries.
The first game known as bridge was created by the twin innovations of exposing one hand during play and allowing the dealer to choose a trump suit. (According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word bridge is the English pronunciation of biritch, an older name of the game of unknown Middle Eastern origin; the oldest known rule book, from 1886, calls it "Biritch, or Russian Whist". The Official Encyclopedia of Bridge (OED) reports speculation that the word may come from a Turkish term bir-üç, or "one-three", supposedly referring to the one exposed and three concealed hands.) This game, known today by the retronyms bridge-whist and straight bridge, became popular in the United States and the UK in the 1890s.
In 1904, the practice caught hold of using an auction phase to determine which player would designate the trump suit and have the privilege of playing with his partner's hand exposed. This variation was known as auction bridge.
The modern game of contract bridge was the result of innovations to auction bridge made by Harold Stirling Vanderbilt and others. Vanderbilt wrote down his rules in 1925, and within a few years contract bridge had become the dominant form of the game. It has supplanted all other forms of the game, including auction bridge, so that "bridge" is now synonymous with "contract bridge".
The basic form of contract bridge retains from its predecessor games, all the way back to whist, the fact that four players compete, two against two, until one side has won two games. The resulting unit is called a rubber and hence this form of play is commonly known by the retronym "rubber bridge". For those who dislike its indefinite duration, there is also a variant called four-deal bridge or Chicago.
In duplicate bridge, on the other hand, eight or more players compete at a time (most often in pairs, sometimes in teams of four or as individuals), normally playing a pre-set number of deals. In duplicate, the same deals are played more than once, and players win by outscoring their competitors with the same cards. This is implemented by placing the played cards in a container with four compartments, called a board, and passing it on to the next table. Computer-dealt hands may be used, allowing the same deal to be played at many tables, even at multiple locations.
While there is no reliable data on the number of people who play rubber bridge at home, it is generally accepted that most serious players play duplicate. It is the only form of the game at bridge tournaments and the usual form at bridge clubs. In recent years, duplicate bridge on the Internet has also become significant. Individuals can join a game from their home (or workplace!) and need not even be in the same country as their partner or opponents.
- The Official Encyclopedia of Bridge, 6th Edition, American Contract Bridge League (Memphis, USA), 2001.