How long does a bridge game last?

How long does a bridge game last?

by Jude Goodwin

We get asked this question a lot and the answer is: it depends! If you’re playing a game of bridge at home, you can play as few or as many hands as you like. If you’re playing at a club or tournament game, the time depends on the kind of event and the number of ‘hands’ you’ll be playing.

The short answer is, a single hand of bridge can take from 5 – 15 minutes.

Home games

We used to refer to these bridge games as ‘kitchen bridge’ because that’s where many of us learned the game. I spent many hilarious hours in my 20s with friends around the kitchen table playing bridge. With home games, you can basically play until someone doesn’t want to play anymore and there is no one else in the room to take their seat!

But, even playing at home, there’s usually a score pad and the scoring will determine when the game is technically over. Most home games use either Chicago or Rubber scoring. With Chicago the game is ‘over’ after 4 hands. Of course, players can opt to continue with another four hands, and then another. With Rubber, the game is ‘over’ when one partnership has won two ‘games’ – a level in the bidding that gives bonus points. This would complete the ‘rubber.’ A rubber could theoretically be completed in as few as two hands if one side makes a game in each, but more typically, it will take several hands to complete a rubber. An average might be anywhere from three to eight hands, but this is a rough estimate and can vary widely in actual play.

We’ll not go into scoring in this article (watch for it later in this series) so don’t worry about that for now. Now lets look at the time factor.

A typical bridge hand can take from 5 – 15 minutes to play.

First, there’s the deal, people sort their hands into suits, and then Dealer opens the bidding. This can take a minute or so. Then there’s the bidding auction itself – sometimes this can take a while as players think about what to bid, how to communicate their hand’s values, etc. And finally, once the bidding is over, the player on Lead takes a bit do decide on their lead, the Dummy is placed on the table, the next person thinks about how to follow, and Declarer (the player who won the auction) is also thinking. There is usually a lot of thinking during this phase. Best to count tricks and plan the play and defense now before playing to the very first trick. Once this is over and Declarer has started to call cards and tricks are being played, things will move a little more quickly.

Home games are notorious for distractions – kids, dogs, drinks, snacks can all interrupt a game of cards. And then everything needs to be reviewed when the players pick their hands up again. I would suggest a home game with players who are new-to-bridge would require about 15 minutes per hand. Four hands, then, will take an hour. Especially if you’re lucky enough to have a ‘bridge mentor’ helping you all play and learn the game.

Club and Tournament Games

Bridge at these levels is a timed event.

In club games, which are the most relaxed form of Duplicate Bridge, there are ’rounds’ of typically 3 hands. A round can range from 21 to 24 minutes, averaging about 7 to 8 minutes per hand. Some hands will take longer, some hands less time. At the end of the round, the person managing the game (called the Director) tells everyone to move to the next table. More on Duplicate Bridge later.  If you’re not finished playing, it’s usually acceptable to carry on and finish the hand, but within reason.

Clubs generally allow around 7 to 15 minutes for each board to be played. This includes the time for dealing (if not using pre-dealt hands), bidding, playing the hand, and scoring. A typical club session might include 24 to 28 boards, leading to an overall duration of 3 to 4 hours.

Playing bridge in a tournament is a little more demanding. Slow play is treated seriously and at high level tournaments, teams and partnerships can be penalized by slow play. According to the World Bridge Federation rules, the typical procedure for dealing with slow play involves issuing warnings, penalties, and score adjustments to discourage delays and ensure the tournament proceeds on schedule.

Penalties for slow play can vary depending on the severity and frequency of the infractions. Initially, a pair or team might receive a warning from the tournament director. If slow play continues, the director has the discretion to impose penalties.

As a new player, you’ll not have to worry about ‘slow play’ for quite a while. Home bridge, bridge lessons, and newcomer bridge play at clubs will welcome you regardless of how long it takes you to decide on a bid, lead or card to play.

Playing Online

Games with no time limit

Playing bridge online at one of the online bridge platforms can be a very relaxing and timeless experience. Most online platforms have options for ‘practice’ where you can play without worrying about a time limit. The Challenge hands offered by BBO, for example, can give you a few days to complete. Fun Bridge has mini tournaments called Series Tournaments that give you plenty of time. IntoBridge has a kind of bridge game called Ranked Games where each round is a single hand and you either win lose or draw that hand. This could be a really stress free way to practice your skills. And of course, there are lots of places where  you can just play bridge online – no one watching except the robots!  Click here for more information about playing bridge online.  

Regular online tournaments

There are many kinds of mini-tournaments available through online platforms such as Bridge Base Online. The time allocated per hand in these games usually ranges from 7 to 10 minutes. This allows players a more comfortable pace for thinking and decision-making compared to the Fast Games. Regular tournaments on BBO aim to mimic the timing of live bridge tournaments, providing a balance between efficient play and giving players sufficient time to consider their strategies.

Best to set up and play these games in a room away from distractions from your household. 10 minutes should be plenty of time.

Fast online games

This is a kind of online bridge game that specifically requires players to complete hands within 5-7 minutes. This faster pace is designed to accommodate players looking for a brisker game and players are expected to make their bids and play their cards within this shorter timeframe, which demands quick decision-making and efficient play. Players that are slow can be bumped from the game and replaced by robots.

Private Online Tables

BBO, and other online bridge platforms, generally enforces time limits on hands across most of its games and tournaments to ensure smooth and timely progress. However, you and some friends can set up a private table where the time per hand can be more flexible. In these private settings, while the software may not explicitly enforce a no time limit rule, players can agree among themselves to play without strict time constraints. This is a fun way to play with friends who are not able to come over and play at your kitchen table!