A good declarer relies on a variety of skills, strategies and techniques to help him make his contracts. One of the most basic is knowing how to handle common card combinations. You also need some knowledge of how long suits are likely to divide in the opponents' hands, and you need to learn how to detect and use clues from the opponents' bidding and play.
The most important of all declarer-play skills, though, is the ability to look at the entire hand -- all 13 tricks -- and develop an overall plan for making your contract. You should never just cash tricks randomly and hope you'll know what to do later -- ideally, you want to have a reason for every lead and play. Here are some basic guidelines for how to form your plan for suit and notrump contracts:
2) Make a plan for which of these plays you will use to develop extra tricks in each suit.
3) Decide which suits you'll attack, and in what order. On many (but not all) hands, you'll want to exploit your advantage in the trump suit by leading trumps first -- your plan will be to take all the opponents' trumps away and still have trumps remaining in your and/or dummy's hands to handle your losers. To be sure that this will be the right plan, count your losers first, then try counting winners (honors and potential long-suit tricks) in your outside suits. Add these winners to your tricks in the trump suit to determine whether or not you have enough "natural" tricks to make your contract.
Always count the opponents' trumps as you lead the suit to keep track of how many they still have after each trick. One easy counting technique is to mentally start with the number of trumps in your two hands, then count "up" as you see each trump from an opponent's hand. For example, if you have an 8-card fit, you start with the number 8 -- if both opponents follow to your first trump lead, you mentally count 9-10. When you get to 13, you have all their trumps and you should stop leading them. For more tips on how to keep track of outstanding cards in a suit, see Developing Your Counting Skills.
Think about how many trumps the opponents started with and try to estimate in advance how many times you'll have to lead the suit to draw all their cards. If you have an 8-card fit, you'll have to lead trumps at least three times (if the opponents' cards break 3-2). If you have a 9-card fit, you'll need only two leads if the missing cards break 2-2, or three leads if they break 3-1.
For example, if you have 5 trumps in your hand and dummy has 3, it will take at least three leads to collect all the opponents' trumps. If you need to use dummy's trumps to take care of one or more of your hand's losers, you must set that up before you lead trumps. This may involve giving up a trick or two so you can run dummy out of the suit you need to trump. When you've finished using dummy's trumps in this way, you can then lead trumps.
| You're in a 2H contract and the opening lead is the spade
queen. You have only three obvious losers (two spades and one heart). When you count
actual winners, though, you have only six -- three natural trump tricks and
the three aces. None of the outside suits offers a chance to develop quick natural
winners, so you'll have to find extra tricks from the trump suit.
Since you need to score trumps separately, don't lead hearts. Instead, play a cross-ruff. Win the spade ace, cash dummy's diamond ace, and lead a small diamond, trumping it in your hand. Now cash your club ace and trump a club in dummy. Continue trumping diamonds in your hand and clubs in dummy. Eventually, an opponent will be able to over-ruff with the heart ace and lead another heart to stop the cross-ruff. By then, though, you'll have scored the extra trump tricks you needed, and you should finish with at least 8 tricks.
4) After you've made best use of your trumps -- by trumping losers and/or drawing trumps -- plan to attack your longest side-suit fit next. This is usually the suit that offers the greatest number of natural tricks. As you lead the suit, count the opponents' cards so you'll know when your small cards in the suit become winners.
5) If you have shorter suits with top tricks that can be taken at any time, plan to use these tricks as entries to get back and forth between your hand and dummy's. If you don't need them for entries, then plan to cash these tricks last.
In general, don't be afraid to lose tricks and give the opponents the lead. You'll often set up extra tricks for yourself by forcing the opponents to win their tricks early in the hand.
1) Count your winners as soon as dummy puts his hand down. Don't play a card until you've formed a plan for making your contract.
Before you lead the suit, make a plan for how you'll set up and cash its tricks. Decide which hand you want to lead from first, how you will "unblock" your honors, and whether or not you may be able to trap missing honors with one or more finesses (see the lessons on Establishing and Cashing Tricks and The Finesse).
4) Cash winners in your short suits last. Don't set up the opponents' small cards in these suits by cashing your tricks too early.
In general, be cautious about leading the suit the opponents chose for the opening lead. At least one opponent has length in that suit, so don't set up his winners for him. They opponents will usually attack that suit again when they get the lead.
Copyright © Karen Walker