LESSON 3: Introduction to Declarer's Play

### Sure Tricks at Notrump

The game of bridge revolves around the bidding for and the taking of tricks. Here we are not worried about the bidding, just the taking.

The most important single move that you must make before playing out a hand is to count your tricks. That seems easy enough, doesn't it?

Lets take a simple example:

 DUMMY ♠ A 4 3 YOU ♠ K 5 2

Whenever you play a bridge hand as declarer, you get to see all of your partner's cards before you play. Your partner's hand is called the dummy, and that term has nothing to do with the way he may have bid his hand.

So what you do after the opponent on your left makes an opening lead is to look at one suit at a time; look, for example, at your spades and at dummy's spades and count the number of sure tricks you have in that suit. Then you go through the same process in each suit and come up with a figure. That is a very important figure. It tells you how many tricks you can take at a moment's notice. Remember that term, sure tricks, because we are going to work with it for a while.

Now let's go back to our example. In dummy we have the A 4 3 of spades, and in our own hand we have the K 5 2. The ace will take one trick and the king will take another, so we have the two sure spade tricks. This may seem elementary, but you will never learn to play a hand unless you do this.

Counting tricks has its hazards. Let's try this one:

 DUMMY ♠ K Q YOU ♠ A 2

Now how many sure tricks do you have in spades? This answer is two, not three. You see, when you play a card from your hand, you must also take a card from the dummy. Let's say you play the ace; then the queen must be played from dummy. That leaves you with the two in your hand and the king in dummy. In other words, you have two tricks, not three.

The important thing to see is that you can never take more tricks in a suit than there are cards in the longer of the two hands. Look:

 DUMMY ♠ A K Q YOU ♠ J 10

Between you and your dummy you have the ace, king, queen, jack, and ten. But you can only take three tricks. That is because the dummy, which is the longer hand in spades, has only three cards.

Practice counting sure tricks with these examples:

(a)

 DUMMY ♠ K Q 3 YOU ♠ A 5 2

(b)

 DUMMY ♠ A Q J 8 YOU ♠ K 7

(c)

 DUMMY ♠ A J 3 YOU ♠ K Q 5 4

(d)

 DUMMY ♠ Q J 10 5 4 YOU ♠ A K 3

Solutions

(a) Three tricks. You can take them in any order you like. You could play the king, then the queen, and then the three to your ace; or you could play the ace, and then a little one to the king, and then the queen. Or you could play the king, then the three to your ace, and then a little one back to your queen. You see, when you have the same number of cards in both hands (e.g., three cards on each side), you have quite a bit of flexibility. You would have to see all 26 cards before you knew which hand you wanted to end up in. I am merely showing you that you don't always have to play the ace first when taking tricks.
(b) Four tricks. Now this situation and the following ones are a little different because you do not have the same number of cards on both sides. In this case the dummy has four and you only have two. As a general rule, whenever you have a bunch of good tricks in a suit that is unevenly divided, you should play the high card(s) from the short side first. This means playing the king, which will take the eight from dummy, and then leading your seven over to the ace, queen, and jack in dummy. When cards are high it does not matter which one you play first. In this case, when you have played the king and are about to lead the seven over to the dummy, it doesn't matter if you play the jack, queen, or ace; they are all the same. In this little game we are playing, we are always assuming that the opponents have led some other suit and we have taken the trick. Now we are about to play our suit. Sometimes the trick we have taken will have been in dummy. Therefore, if the lead is in the dummy, we must play the eight of spades over to our king and then the seven back to the dummy. But in either case we are playing the high card from the short side first.
(c) Four tricks. If the lead is in the dummy (from the prior play), we should first play the ace, then the jack, and then the three over to our king and queen. Notice that we played the high cards from the short side first. Things would be exactly the same if the lead were in our hand. We would play the four over to the ace (or jack), then the jack, and then the three over to our king and queen. It is conceivable that the opponents might lead this suit themselves, in which case we would still play it the same way.
(d) Five tricks. This time we would play the king and ace (or the ace and king) from our hand and then lead the three over to the queen, jack, and ten in the dummy. Playing the high card or high cards from the short side first allows us to end up on the long side, where we can take the maximum number of tricks.

Now let's practice counting our sure tricks in an entire deal:

 DUMMY ♠ A 4 3 ♥ K 4 ♦ 10 8 7 5 ♣ A K Q 3 YOU ♠ 7 5 2 ♥ A Q 3 ♦ A 4 3 2 ♣ J 4 2

Let's pretend the final contract was three notrump and West, your left-hand opponent, led the king of spades. How many sure tricks do you have altogether?

You should have come up with nine sure tricks. You have one in spades, three in hearts, one in diamonds, and four in clubs.

Sometimes counting tricks and taking them are two different things. But if you remember about the high card(s) from the short hand, you will not have any trouble. In clubs, you would play the jack first from your own hand and then play a little one over to the ace, king, and queen in dummy. In hearts, you would play the king first and then the four over to the ace and queen in your own hand.

Here are some additional practice deals. Count your sure tricks and see what you come up with:

(a)

 DUMMY ♠ A 4 3 ♥ K Q ♦ A J 4 ♣ A J 7 6 5 YOU ♠ K Q 7 ♥ A 7 ♦ K Q 10 3 2 ♣ K 3 2

(b)

 DUMMY ♠ K Q J ♥ Q J 10 9 ♦ J 10 9 ♣ K Q J YOU ♠ 10 9 8 ♥ K 8 7 6 ♦ K Q 8 7 ♣ 10 9

Solutions

(a) You should have come up with twelve tricks: three in spades, two in hearts (make sure you see why), five in diamonds (playing the ace and jack first), and two in clubs.
(b) You have zero sure tricks. That's right, not one. In order to take tricks in any one of these suits, you must first get rid of the opponent's ace. Until you get rid of that ace, you do not have a sure trick. The definition of a sure trick is a trick that you can take without giving up the lead. When you must give up the lead to take a trick, you are establishing tricks, which leads us to a new topic.

Summary: Key Pointers About Sure Tricks

(1) The first step in playing a bridge hand as declarer is to count your sure tricks.
(2) A sure trick is a trick that can be taken without giving up the lead.
(3) You can never take more tricks in a suit than there are cards in the longer hand. (If both you and your dummy have two cards in one suit, the most tricks you can take in that suit is two.)
(4) When taking sure tricks, play the high cards(s) from the short side first. This will allow you to end up on the long side, where you can cash the rest of the tricks in the suit.

### Establishing Tricks

In most of the deals that you play, you never seem to have enough sure tricks to make your contract. Let's say you are playing three notrump. You need nine tricks to fulfill your contract, and you usually count up only five or six sure tricks. What are you going to do? Well, there is another method of getting tricks, but it involves a little work. You have to establish, or make, tricks for yourself. Study this diagram:

 DUMMY ♠ K Q J YOU ♠ 4 3 2

If this is your spade suit, you do not have a sure trick in spades. But if you were to play the king (or the queen or jack) from dummy and drive out the ace, you could establish two spade tricks for yourself. This method of establishing tricks, driving out the opponents' aces and kings, is the most common method of obtaining tricks in bridge.

You may be wondering what would happen if the opponents did not take their ace; actually, it would tum out the same. Let's say you lead the king and everyone plays low. Well, you've taken one trick already. Now you lead the queen. If everyone plays low again, you have taken two tricks in the suit, and that is all you ever had coming in the first place.

When it comes to establishing tricks, you follow the same general rule that you did when you were taking your sure tricks. Play the high card(s) from the short side first. For example:

 DUMMY ♠ Q J 10 3 YOU ♠ K 2

Let's say you wish to establish some spade tricks for yourself. You should lead the king from your own hand. If the opponent takes it with the ace, you will still have the deuce, and the next time it is your lead you can take the queen, jack, and ten. In other words, you should get three tricks from this suit.

Now let's practice counting tricks in suits that we must establish. How many tricks can you establish in each of the following suits, and which card do you play first?

(a)

 DUMMY ♠ K Q 7 YOU ♠ J 3

(b)

 DUMMY ♠ Q 5 YOU ♠ K J 10 9 3

(c)

 DUMMY ♠ 4 3 2 YOU ♠ Q J 10

(d)

 DUMMY ♠ A 3 YOU ♠ Q J 10 9

Solutions
(a) Two tricks. You should play the jack first. If the lead is in the North hand, lead the seven to the jack.
(b) Four tricks. You should play the queen first. If the lead is in the South hand, you should lead the three to the queen.
(c) One trick. You can lead from either hand because you have the same number of cards on both sides. The queen will drive out the king, the jack will drive out the ace, and the ten will be an established trick.
(d) Three tricks. You should lead the ace and then the three. If you live right, the king might fall under the ace, and then you will get four tricks--but don't count on it. They have too many cards in the suit.

You are now ready to make a little progress. Your next step in planning the play of a contract is to count the sure tricks you have and see how many more tricks you can establish.

The important thing to remember is to keep the two counts separate until you have actually established some tricks. Once you establish some tricks, you can add the tricks you have established to your sure trick count. Take a look at this layout:

 DUMMY ♠ A 4 3 ♥ K Q J 10 ♦ K 5 2 ♣ 9 8 7 YOU ♠ K 5 ♥ 5 4 3 2 ♦ A Q J 9 ♣ A K Q

Let's say you are playing a contract of six notrump. You must always ask yourself how many tricks you need to make your contract. In this case you need twelve (six plus your bid). The opponents lead the queen of spades. Now, after realizing how many tricks you need, which is really the first step, you must add up your sure tricks. So let's do that. You have two in spades, four in diamonds, and three in clubs. A total of nine. Notice that you did not count even one sure trick in hearts, simply because you cannot take a trick in that suit until you drive out the ace.

Well, you have nine sure tricks and you must establish at least three more tricks in hearts to make your contract. That's easy enough. You simply win the spade with your king and lead a heart. Let's assume that the opponents take it with their ace. Your sure trick count has just changed. You now have twelve sure tricks instead of nine, because you can add those extra three heart tricks to your total once the ace has been removed.

Now for the most important point in the whole lesson. When playing a bridge hand that does not have enough sure tricks, you must establish extra tricks. Establishing extra tricks should be the first thing you do. You establish the extra tricks you need before you take your sure tricks. Then, when you have established enough tricks to make your contract, you take all of your tricks at once.

Rules are not much good unless you know their reasons. So we are going to go back to our six notrump contract. For the first time we are going to look at all four hands.

 DUMMY ♠ A 4 3 ♥ K Q J 10 ♦ K 5 2 ♣ 9 8 7 WEST ♠ Q J 10 ♥ A ♦ 10 8 7 6 4 ♣ J 4 3 2 EAST ♠ 9 8 7 6 2 ♥ 9 8 7 6 ♦ 3 ♣ 10 6 5 YOU ♠ K 5 ♥ 5 4 3 2 ♦ A Q J 9 ♣ A K Q

For the time being don't worry about why West led the queen of spades. Presently you are worried about taking twelve tricks.

Notice that after you take the first trick with the king of spades, you still have control (that is, you can take the next trick) in all suits except hearts, where you will soon be establishing your tricks.

What if you were to take your club tricks before knocking out the ace of hearts? Watch closely what would happen so that you never make this error--in fact, this is the most common error beginners make--of taking sure tricks too quickly.

If you were to take your three club tricks before playing hearts, West would still have the jack of clubs. It would be the only club left. Then, when you led a heart, West would take it with his ace and then would be able to take the next trick with his jack of clubs because you had surrendered control of the club suit by taking your sure tricks too quickly.

The same thing would happen in diamonds. If, after winning the first trick with the king of spades, you were to take four tricks in diamonds, West would still have one diamond. Then, when you played a heart, West would take that trick with the ace of hearts and the next trick with the ten of diamonds. In neither case would you make your contract, because you would have lost two tricks, while you can afford to lose only one in a contract of six.

Therefore, it is important that you see that by taking your sure tricks too quickly, you give up control in the suit, and--even worse--you establish tricks for your opponents.

Establish first: Take your sure tricks after you have established.

Now you are going to practice counting your sure tricks, seeing if you have tricks that can be established (and, if so, how many), and, finally, determining which suit you should play first.

(a)

 DUMMY ♠ K Q 10 3 ♥ A 4 3 ♦ 7 6 5 ♣ K Q 2 YOU ♠ J 5 ♥ K 5 2 ♦ A 8 4 3 ♣ A J 10 9

Contract: Three notrump

(b)

 DUMMY ♠ A K 5 ♥ 3 2 ♦ A 7 6 5 ♣ 5 4 3 2 YOU ♠ Q 7 ♥ Q J 10 9 ♦ K 4 3 2 ♣ A K 6

Contract: Three notrump

In each exercise: How many sure tricks do you count? How many more can you establish? Which suit should you play first? Which card should you play in that suit?

Solutions
(a) You have seven sure tricks and you can establish three more in spades. You should play spades first (after taking the first trick with the king of hearts) and you should lead the jack. If it takes the trick, you continue with spades until one of your opponents plays the ace. You will eventually wind up with ten tricks. Once you have driven out the ace of spades, you will have established enough tricks to make your contract. Then you can take all of your tricks at once.
(b) You have seven sure tricks and you can establish two more in hearts. Therefore, you should play hearts first. After taking the first trick in your hand (high card from the short side), you can begin by playing any heart For concealment, declarer usually plays his highest equal, or highest in a sequence, first. So you would first lead the queen of hearts. In this case you must give up the lead twice in hearts in order to establish two tricks of your own in the suit. Assume that the queen loses to the king or ace and that a spade is returned. You take this in the dummy and lead another heart, establishing your hearts before taking any of your sure tricks.

Summary: Key Pointers About Establishing Tricks

(1) When playing a hand as declarer, know how many tricks you must take to fulfill your contract.
(2) Count your sure tricks and, if you do not have enough, look for suits that can be established (usually suits that are missing the ace or the king). Once you lose a trick to the high card, the rest of your cards in that suit will be good.
(3) Do your establishing early. Establish first and then take your sure tricks.
(4) If you take your sure tricks too soon, you may find that when you start establishing, the opponents will by that time have good tricks established in the suits in which you hastily cashed your sure tricks.
(5) Don't be afraid to give up the lead. On most hands you must give up the lead two or three times.
(6) When playing equal cards (such as the jack, ten, and nine), declarer should usually play his highest equal first. This applies to both establishing and taking. By doing this, you make it harder for the opponents to know what is going on. If you have the ace, king, and queen of spades and you play the queen, naturally it will take the trick, but your opponents will know that you still have the king and ace. However, if you play the ace first, the opponents will not know who has the king and queen.
When playing equal cards from the dummy, it doesn't matter which one you play first, because the opponents can see the dummy. However, just to stay in practice, you should take the highest equal from dummy also.