Planning the Play in Trumps

Planning how you are going to play your hand is an essential part of playing the game well. If you start to play a hand without taking the time to plan you will often find yourself stuck in the wrong hand, without stops in the suits you need or falling into one of the many other pitfalls hidden in a bridge hand.

You should plan your play AS SOON AS DUMMY GOES DOWN. Before you play a single card take the time to evaluate your hands. There will be time when the card you play to the first trick will determine whether or not you make the contract. If you wait to think about strategy it will be too late!

Don’t worry about taking the time to plan. If you take a minute at the beginning it will speed up the rest of your play and (hopefully!) avoid long thinking periods halfway through the hand. 

Counting Losers

In a trump contract your first move should be to count how many losers you have in your hand. The intention is to make you aware of any actions that need taking or dangers you face.

People often find counting losers more difficult than counting winners so we will look at it in some detail.

When you are counting losers you should only count them in your own hand. You can take account of the honours in partners hand, but it is the shape of yours which will ultimately govern the number of losers.  

It is easiest to see this with some examples. Imagine this hand is playing in 4 spades by south (I know its not the right shape but go with it for illustration purposes). Let’s look suit by suit.

Here you have AKQ10 between the two hands. The AKQ are winners but the 10 might lose to the Jack. So you have 1 potential loser in the spade suit.

In hearts you have AQJ10. You might lose 1 to the king, but even if that happens the rest will be set up. So 1 loser in hearts.

In the diamond suit you have AQ10 but are missing the king and jack. If the king takes the queen and the jack takes the 10 you may be left with only the ace to win. This suit then has 3 potential losers.

This club suit has no honours but only has a singleton in south. Since south is the hand we are counting this means there can only be 1 club loser.

This hand has a total of 6 potential losers. 

Getting Rid of Losers

Once you know how many losers you have you can work out how many you need to get rid of. In a trump contract you should be looking for the following features for opportunities to get rid of losers from your hand.

Trumping Opportunities

The greatest advantage of playing in a trump suit is that you can trump losers in your hand. Remember though that you are only getting extra tricks if your trumps are the same length in both hands (e.g. 4-4) or if you trump in the shorter suit.

Suits with an opportunity for trumping are longer in one hand than the other but remember to work out if you can afford to lose however many tricks it takes to get into trumping position.

Be careful if you are planning on trumping. Did the opposition do anything to indicate that they might be short in the suit you are trumping. If so you risk being overtrumped. To protect yourself trump as high as you can afford.

If you can see no opportunity for trumping or if you can see the tricks you need somewhere else then you should draw trumps. The only time you should not draw is if you know that you need to make your trumps separately.

Throw Losers Away On Winners in Dummy

The other way we can get rid of losers is to throw them away on winning cards in dummy. Setting up winners in dummy uses the same techniques as in no trumps.

  • Long suits
  • Finesses
  • Setting up honours.

Once you have identified a potential opportunity to throw away you must make sure that that method will not result in too many losers. If you have QJ109 in a suit then you will need to lose the lead twice to promote your cards. If you can only afford to lose 1 trick then look for another possibility.

Make sure to think about entries! Can you get to your winners on the table. Can you get to your hand enough times to execute the finesses you have planned?

Final Thoughts

  • If there is work to be done do it as soon as possible, especially if it might mean losing the lead. Do it while you still have stops in other suits.
  • If you are playing in a trump contract then draw trumps unless you have a good reason not too.
  • Sometimes you will have to take a risk. It might be that whether or not a contract will make hinges on a finesse. If it is your only chance then be brave!

Example Hands

Here are a few hands with commentary to help you learn the sorts of things you should be thinking about. 

North is playing this hand in 6♠. They have no spade losers, 1 heart loser, no club losers and 3 diamond losers. North can only afford to lose 1 trick, so they must find a way of getting rid of 3 of their losers. 

North can throw a diamond away on the king of hearts, but this still leaves 2 losers to deal with.

The only option is to trump 2 diamonds in the south hand before they draw trumps. Note that they have all the top spades so don’t need to worry about being over-trumped.

There is not too much danger in this hand, North just needs to make sure that they can get to the K of clubs to win it.

North is playing this hand in 4♥. They have 1 spade loser, 1 heart loser, 1 club loser and 1 diamond loser. So North only needs to get rid of 1 loser. 

There is no opportunity to trump in the shorter suit so North’s first move will be to draw trumps. The opportunity to make an extra trick can only come from either the heart or club finesse. Since hearts are trumps North should start drawing with the Q and hope to catch the K.

The heart finesse must be led from the North hand, but the club finesse can be taken in either direction. If the heart finesse fails then North will need to try the clubs. During the bidding East bid a weak jump overcall in spades. This means that most of their points should be in spades. The queen of clubs is therefor more likely to be in the west hand. North should win the Ace of clubs first and then lead small towards the KJ.

Since the chances of a finesse working are 50/50, if North tries both available finesses they should find the 1 extra trick they needed.