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
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
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:
KQJ 432 --
This combination is one loser and two winners. To actually cash your two
tricks, though, you have to get the ace out of the way. The opponents won't
usually be anxious to help. You'll have to lead this suit yourself and
force them to take their ace.
J10984 7653 -- This suit has at least
two potential winners, but to score them, you must be willing to give up
the lead three times. Note that you'll win three tricks if
the missing cards divide 2-2.
Developing Long-Suit Winners
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.
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
AKQ32 654 -- This suit will provide
five tricks if all the opponents' cards drop under the AKQ. The missing
cards must be divided 3-2 for you to win five tricks. What if the cards
divide 4-1? If this is a side suit in a trump contract, you can trump the
2 to draw the last outstanding card and make your 3 a winner. If you're
in notrump, you may want to give the opponents the fourth trick so you
can win the fifth.
AK876 54 -- In notrump, this
suit can provide three or four tricks, but only if you let the opponents win
a trick or two. If the missing cards break 3-3, you can cash AK and lead
the 6, letting the opponents win the trick. This will establish dummy's 87 for
two more tricks. If the missing cards instead break 4-2, you'll have to lose two tricks to establish the 8.
If this is a side suit in a trump contract,
you may be able to set up three or four tricks without losing any. Cash
the ace-king, then trump dummy's 6. If the suit divides 3-3, you've created
two more tricks. If the suit divides 4-2, you'll have to trump two
of dummy's small cards to set up the third.
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.
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