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Acol: The English Bidding System



The ancestry of bridge can be traced back to 1529 when it was referred to by Bishop Latimer in a published sermon. Playing cards became very popular and the mainstream game of Whist is still played. Contract bridge, which starts with an auction, was invented in 1925, during a cruise, by the American Harold S. Vanderbilt.

Bridge took off in a big way and was popularised by Culbertson and Goren, both American. The play of the cards was understood whilst Whist was the dominant game, but bidding methods had to be developed. In 1934 a group of strong London based players came up with a system that proved very successful. It rapidly spread to all parts of the UK and came to be known as Acol, the name of the road in which the originating bridge club was, and still is, located.

As is the way of things where lots of bright and dedicated people are involved, there have been lots of developments. By the turn of the century the Acol system had evolved, and there were many dialects, but all would still have been recognised by Acol's inventors. In contrast in the USA and most of the rest of the world had changed to systems that are usually described as Five Card Majors. Most of the bridge played on the web uses this type of bidding system.


Bridge differs from whist in two important ways. Over and above one of the sets of cards being exposed, the vital difference is the way in which the game starts with a bidding phase. The end point is that one partnership outbids the opponents. Play then starts. The objective of the wining side is to make sufficient tricks to at least guarantee the contract they entered into. The opponents try to prevent them making their contract.

If you have never played bridge the bidding appears to be a classic auction. Each bid must be higher than all previous bids. However to an expert it is a sequence of coded messages. So learning to play bridge involves learning what amounts to a specialised language!

The Acol System

Acol, which is based on opening with 4 card majors, is the system of choice for most bridge players in the UK. If your bridge experience is outside the UK, or if your bridge education was long ago, you may be more familiar with a 5 card major system.

Understanding the Acol system is vital to anyone playing bridge in the UK. Most of the people that you would like to be your partner will be Acol players, and even if you and your partner are playing a different system, you need to understand what the opposition are saying to each other!

Modern English Acol

Acol was invented in the 1930's. It is the surviving system from that era, but inevitably it has been refined over the years. To provide a sound foundation for teaching the EBU (The English Bridge Union) recently defined Modern English. The books are authored by world bridge champion , and bridge teacher, Sandra Landy. Below masterclass level this is the system that we teach.

All our courses for beginning and intermediate players keep to Standard English Acol as described in the Really Easy books published by The English Bridge Union (EBU). Standard English is a tidied up version of Acol. It is the bidding system that should be taught to beginners by all EBU qualified teachers.

The Distinctive Features of Acol

If one compares Acol to Five Card Majors these are the important features:

Beyond Basic Acol

If you are competitively inclined you will want to play in a bridge club. Then you will need to extend beyond Basic Acol, by adding conventions and special understandings.

Five Card Majors

Five Card Major systems, have much in common with Acol. Both are called natural systems because they are developments of what anyone would do if starting out from scratch. Most of the bids mean something that is similar to what the bid seems to mean. So the good news is that if you can play Acol to a sensible standard you could switch to Five Card Majors fairly quickly.

Anyone playing bridge competitively will find that the higher the level of competition, the higher the percentage of pairs playing some form of Five Card Majors. So even those pairs playing Acol will need to understand the system else they will not understand what the opponents are saying to each other.