The card game of “bridge” or “bridge whist” was popularized by the whist players of New York City as early as 1893. The game’s origins remain a mystery.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
a. A card-game based upon whist. In the original form of the game the dealer or his partner (dummy) named trumps, dummy’s hand was exposed after the lead, and the odd tricks varied in value according to the suit named as trumps. Now = auction or contract bridge.
The game is said to have been played in Constantinople and the Near East about 1870. Formerly also called Bridge Whist (see sense c below). The sense in quot. 1843 is uncertain; biritch in quots. 1886 is applied to the call of ‘no trumps’.
[1843 J. PAGET Let. 18 Apr. in Mem. & Lett. (1901) I. vi. 144 We improved our minds in the intellectual games of Bagatelle and Bridge.] 1886 Biritch, or Russian Whist 2 The one declaring may, instead of declaring trumps, say ‘Biritch’, which means that the hands shall be played without trumps. Ibid. 3 The odd tricks count as follows:If ‘Biritch’ is declared each [odd trick counts] 10 points. Ibid. 4 There are four honours if ‘Biritch’ is declared, which are the four aces. 1898 ‘BOAZ’ (title) The Pocket Guide to Bridge. 1898 Nat. Rev. Aug. 809 At a game of wint or bridge. 1901 ‘SLAM’ Mod. Bridge Introd., ‘Bridge’, known in Turkey as ‘Britch’. 1963 G. F. HERVEY Handbk. Card Games 131 The modern game of Bridge, more correctly Contract Bridge, to distinguish it from its now-defunct predecessors, was developed by Harold S. Vanderbilt.
10 December 1893, New York Times, “COULDN’T STAND BRIDGE WHIST: A New Club Organized Where the Stakes Are Very Small,” pg. 3:
The introduction of bridge whist in the New York Whist Club has led to the withdrawal of a number of members and the formation of a new whist club.
27 October 1894, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, pg. 2:
For more than a hundred years the Portland club of London was the home of whist. A feeling of respect and reverence comes to every American when its name is mentioned, and the spirit of James Clay is supposed lovingly and protectingly to hover over it. Tempora mutantur. There is no whist at the Portland club. Bridge whist has invaded its card room and the greatest, grandest and most scientific of all card games has been ignominiously abandoned. Bridge whist broke up the New York Whist club. Its effect upon the Portland club remains to be seen.
25 April 1897, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, pg. 11:
Mr. (Clarence A.—ed.) Henriques believes that his long service as a trustee of the New York and Brooklyn bridge has made “Bridge” a necessity, and so he is now going into “Bridge” whist. He has written a book called “The Laws of Bridge and the Etiquette of the Game,” together with hints for playing, which the Eagle’s job department has now in press and will shortly issue.
“So far as I know this is the first book published on ‘Bridge’ whist and should prove of great value to lovers of that game. The laws have been approved and adopted by the Whist club of New York and the innate honesty and integrity of the author are clearly shown in the book in what he says regarding the etiquette of the game.
12 March 1899, Chicago Daily Tribune, “BRIDGE WHIST THE LAST FAD: Card Game Which Originated in Constantinople,” pg. 50:
The most popular variation of whist, as it is found today, embraces both of these modifications, a dummy hand and an announced trump. We call it bridge, and in spite of its novelty no one knows its origin. Some persons claim it originated in Constantinople and was taken to the French clubs in the Riviera under the name of Khedive, afterward passing to Paris, where it received its present name, bridge. Strange to say, it did not go thence to England, but came first to America, being taken from New York to London in 1894. The game was introduced to this country through the Whist club of New York, which is now located at 11 West Thirty-sixth street. One of the members, who does not care to have his name mentioned, had learned the game in Paris and was so strongly impressed with its possibilities as an exercise for the intellectual faculties that he became its apostle in the new world.
4 October 1899, Daily Iowa State Press (Iowa City, Iowa), pg. ?, col. 6:
London society during the last season took up a new game, which is called bridge. It has certainly been a great rage, and was a source of amusement to a great many during the long winter evenings, between 6 and 7. It is a species of whist, and is played by four people, but one hand is laid on the table for every one to see, so it can quite easily be played by three, and it is pronounced better than dummy whist. The game is called bridge because, owing to certain rules and complications which occur in the game, it is possible to “bridge” or pass over when it is one’s turn to play. It is a great gambling game, and a great deal may be won or lost in one night, as the bets can be doubled at will, and the points are generally high.
17 March 1901, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, pg. 8:
The mania for bridge whist, or “bridge,” as the game is known to its votaries, is rapidly becoming epidemic in the Eastern states, and especially in the City of New York.
2 February 1907, Oakland (CA) Tribune, pg. 7, col. 5:
ORIGIN OF BRIDGE.
The origin of bridge is somewhat shrouded in mystery. The game is said to have originated in Russia, but there is no satisfactory proof of this statement. It was first known under the title of “Biritch or Russian Whist,” and this no doubt gave rise to the idea that it was of Russian origin, although as a matter of fact, the word “Biritch” is not to be found in any Russian dictionary. In the late seventies it was played in Constantinople by the Russian colony. In the sixties there was a game of whist played in Germany and Austria called “Cayenne” and it is believed that bridge, as we play it, combines certain features of cayenne or biritch—Town Talk.
30 January 1977, Nevada State Journal (Reno, NV), pg. 31, col. 1:
Our learned friends laughed at this, saying that there was no such word as biritch in the Russian language, as though that proved the case one way or the other.
The latest research indicates that the word biritch is chronicled in Russian histories from the 10th through the 17th centuries. It meant, among other things, the town crier whose official duty it was to announce government edicts. It appears as “biritch” (accented on the second syllable) in dictionaries of Imperial days.
Apparently, the game of biritch had been played in Turkey and Egypt ever since the early 1860’s and was of Turkish or Russian origin.