Declarer Play II -- Establishing and Cashing Tricks

Your first step as declarer is deciding on an overall plan for making your contract (see the declarer-play lesson on  Forming a Plan).  To develop and carry out that plan, you need some basic knowledge about the different techniques that can be used to establish tricks.  One play you'll need to use frequently is the finesse, which involves trapping the opponents' honors (see the lesson on The Finesse).  Other techniques include building your natural honor tricks and setting up your long suits. Here's a basic overview of these declarer-play techniques and some tips on how to cash the tricks you set up:

Building Natural Tricks

One of your main sources of tricks is in suits where you have honors. Some holdings -- aces, or AK and AKQ combinations -- provide sure tricks that can be cashed without giving up the lead. On most hands, though, you'll also need tricks from suits that don't have all the top honors. To turn these suits' potential tricks into sure tricks, you have to do some work.
One of the most common ways to build tricks through power is to drive out the opponents' aces and kings (and sometimes queens). When you form your plan, identify which honor combinations and suits offer the greatest number of potential tricks. Decide how and when you'll lead these suits, and don't be afraid to lose the lead. Here are some simple examples:

Developing Long-Suit Winners

Another way to establish tricks is by setting up your long suits. Small cards in a long suit will often become winners when the opponents have no more cards in that suit. The chance that a long suit will provide extra winners will often depend on how the opponents' cards are divided. For example:
When you try to count winners in a long suit, you won't always know exactly how many tricks it will provide. You can make a good guess, though, if you know how the missing cards are likely to divide in the opponents' hands. See Declarer Play: Simple Odds for a summary of the probabilities of various suit breaks. 

When leading long suits, be sure you count the opponents' cards as they play to each trick. You'll need to keep track of how many cards are outstanding to determine whether or not your cards are winners.  For tips on how to count cards, see Developing Your Counting Skills.  

Unblocking plays

With some combinations, you must plan your plays so that once you establish your suit, the lead will be in the correct hand. The order of your leads can be critical if one hand has more cards in the suit than the other. Whether you're building natural honor tricks or trying to establish a long suit, you will often need to plan to unblock the suit to be sure you can cash all the tricks you set up.
If you're leading a suit that's unevenly divided between your hand and dummy's, play the high cards from the short suit first. Stated another way, plan your leads so the hand with the long suit is winning the trick when you are playing the last card from the hand with the short suit. Here are some examples:

Copyright © Karen Walker