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.