What is in a name?
So how did the game come to be called Bridge? It seems that everybody has
a theory. There are two general contenders:
The British invented the game
We all know that the British have invented all of the best sports: football,
rugby, cricket, motor racing, golf, etc. Surely we invented Bridge as well.
It seems that British soldiers in the Crimean war, 1854-1856, had nothing
better to do on occasion than to invent the game. They named it Bridge after
the Galata Bridge, a bridge that spans the Golden Horn and links the old and
new parts of Istanbul, where they crossed the river each day to go to the
coffee house and play.
Ok, nice easy explanation for the name, but does not explain how it took
another thirty years for it to reach Great Britain. Unless you believe the
unlikely theory that all of the British soldiers, who knew the game, died in
the war, but the game lived on in Istanbul.
The British had nothing to do with it
The game has a Russian origin and came to Istanbul in about 1860-65 where it
changed its name to something like Britsh, Britch, or Biritch. When the
English speaking nations got hold of the game that changed it to a word that
they new: Bridge (folk etymology, apparently).
What is the origin of the game?
I suppose the first port of call when looking at the roots of the game, so to
speak, is on cruise ship Finlandia in 1925. On this ship was a man called
Harold S. Vanderbilt. He had been playing variations of the game up to this
point, but thought that it could do with some refinement. He created the
scorecard that we know today (apart from no trumps scoring 35 points each),
whereby only the contract bid counts towards game, other points and penalties
scoring "above the line". He also created the idea of vulnerability (he called
it game-in but was not happy with it. It was a young lady on board who
suggested the word vulnerability). He called this version of the game Contract
Bridge, and it soon spread throughout the world as the definitive variation of
the game of bridge.
Before that was the French game, Plafond (meaning ceiling), where each
partnership had to bid to its highest, or ceiling, bid. This was around 1918.
Going back to the turn of the twentieth century the actually idea of a bidding
auction was introduced. This was probably by the British, in England, or India.
It was at this time that an open dummy hand was first used, following the
precedent of Dummy Whist. According to folklore this was first played in India
by three isolated British soldiers unable to find a forth.
As I have already said, Bridge was played in the Middle East in the middle to
late nineteenth century. It was also played in Cairo. At this time it was
partnership game of Whist.
If you go back in time any further than that then you are looking at the history
of Whist. So, to be brief, Duplicate Whist was first played in London in 1857.
Lord Henry Bentinck invented the first signal in 1934. The first book on Whist
appeared in 1742: Edmond Hoyle’s "Short Treatise on Whist". And the first
reference to Whist was in a published sermon by Bishop Latimer in 1529.