Beginners Guide to Play

Beginners Guide to Play

The ability to play a bridge hand well is vital to success at the game. This is a skill which can improve indefinitely, and even the grand masters are still learning.

As a beginner dont worry about playing every hand perfectly. It is more important to learn a few key tips and techniques which will apply to many hands you play.

Planning how to play a hand is a slightly different skill depending on whether you are playing a contract in trumps or no trumps. For this reason we will look at the two seperately.

Planning the Play in No Trumps

When you are learning to play it is best to first try and get a handle on how to play a no trump contract. Many of the skills required to make extra tricks in no trumps will transfer to a trump contract.

Counting Winners

As soon as dummy goes down on the table you should make your plan. In no trumps the first step of this plan is to count how many winners you have at the start. You should include any honours that partner has in their hand.

Only count cards which are definitely winners straight away. AKQ74 is 3 winners, AQJ64 is only 1. 

Making Extra Tricks

Once you have counted your winners you can work out how many more you need to establish in order to make your contract. Remember that a 1 level contract is 7 tricks (a part-score contract in mini-bridge). A game level contract is 9 tricks in NT, 10 in a major and 11 in a minor.

There are 3 main features of a hand which you should look for to make extra tricks.

  1. Setting up a sequence

If you have something like KQJ5 in a suit then you can make 2 tricks once the ace has been forced out. The benefit of this is that you will definitely make 2 tricks if you force the ace. The drawback is that you will have to lose the lead in order to establish the sequence.

2. Long Suits

If you have more than 7 cards in a suit between your 2 hands then that means the opponents can only have 6. If you are lucky they will have 3 each and your 4th card will be a winner if you can lead it. The more cards you have in a suit the better your chances to make more tricks. 

3. Finesses

Finesses are an attemt to make an uncertain trick by playing for a missing honour in a suit to be in a specific opponents hand. It usually means leading towards the gap in a suit. Finessing is large topic in its own right. For more information have a look at our finessing guide.

If you have a choice of plans then try to pick the most certain. For example if you have KQJ4 in spades and AQ84 in hearts then your choice depends on if you can afford to lose the lead. If you can then establishing the spades will yield 2 definite tricks. If you cannot afford to lose the lead then the heart finesse will give you a 50% chance of making 1 more trick without losing the lead. 

Danger!

There are many pitfalls in playing a bridge hand. The 2 most common are getting stuck leading from the wrong hand and running out of stops in suits.

If you have a plan which might require losing the lead then you should take whatever risks you need to as soon as possible. Do it before you win your big cards in other suits or you will have nothing to stop opposition when they get in.

When you make your plan make sure that you can actually get to any cards you have set up. This may require you to preserve entries in other suits.

Planning the Play in Trumps

Counting Losers

When you play a hand in trumps you should count losers instead of winners. This is slightly different. Say you have AQJ10 in a suit. This is only 1 winner. It is also 1 loser! If the suit is played out then the king may take the Q/J/10 but the remaining cards will be good.

Only count losers from your own hand. You can take account of partners honours but you must count ALL potential losers in your own hand.

Count any cards which MIGHT be losers. Be pessimistic when it comes to suit splits and the location of missing honours.

Getting Rid of Losers

Rather than trying to set up more winners, in trumps we are trying to get rid of losers. The difference in tactics is due to the extra option of trumping. There are 3 things that you can do with losers in your hand.

  1. Lose them – sometimes it is unavoidable
  2. Trump them in the short suit
  3. Throw them away on winners in the dummy hand – you will often have to establish these winners first

Establishing winners in dummy uses the same techniques as establishing winners in no trumps. 

If you plan to do anything other than trump in the short suit then you should draw trumps first.

Danger!

In addition to worrying about entries you need to watch out for bad trump splits. 

If your plan requires you to hold off on drawing trumps then you should watch what opponents are playing and trump as high as you can afford to avoid them over trumping.

Final Note

Think about what else you know. The more you learn the more you will see that there is information everywhere. This includes – the bidding (or point count if playing mini bridge), the opening lead and the cards opponents throw away.