Terence Reese, a prolific author of bridge books, points out that there are only four ways of taking a trick by force, and two of these are very easy:
- playing a high card that no one else can beat
- trumping an opponent’s high card
- establishing long cards (the last cards in a suit will take tricks if the opponents don’t have the suit and are unable to trump)
- playing for the opponents’ high cards to be in a particular position (if their ace is in front of your king, your king may take a trick)
Nearly all trick-taking techniques in bridge can be reduced to one of these four methods.
The optimum play of the cards can require much thought and experience, and is too complicated to describe in a short article. However, some basic ideas of probability may be considered:
Some of the most important probabilities have to do with the position of high cards.
- The probability that a given opponent holds one particular card, e.g. the king: 50%
- The probability that a given opponent holds two particular cards, e.g. the king and the queen: approximately 25%
- The probability that a given opponent holds at least one of two particular cards, e.g. the king or the queen: approximately 75%
When developing long cards, it is important to know the likelihood that the opponents’ cards in the suit are evenly divided between them. Generally speaking, if they hold an even number of cards, they are unlikely to be exactly divided; if the opponents have an odd number in the suit, the cards will probably be divided as evenly as possible. For example, if declarer and dummy have eight trumps between them, the opponents’ trumps are probably (68% chance) divided 3-2 (one opponent with three trumps, the other with two) and trumps can be drawn in three rounds. If declarer is trying to play with a seven card trump suit, it is more likely that the outstanding trumps are divided 4-2 (48%) than that the cards are evenly divided 3-3 between the opponents (36%).
Basic techniques by declarer
- establishing long suits
- holdup (mostly at NT contracts)
- managing entries
- drawing trumps
Advanced techniques by declarer
- counting the hand (tracking the distribution of suits and high cards in the opponents’ hands using inferences from the bidding and play)
principle of restricted choice
Basic techniques by defenders
- opening lead
- when to lead trump
Advanced techniques by defenders
- avoiding an endplay or squeeze
- counting the hand (tracking the distribution of suits and high cards in the unseen hands using inferences from the bidding and play)
- false carding
- opening lead—using information from auction
The cards are dealt as in the diagram, and North is the dealer. As neither North nor East have sufficient high card strength to open the bidding, South opens with the bid of 1♥, which denotes a long suit and at least 12 high card points. West overcalls with 1♠, North supports partner’s suit with 2♥, and East also supports spades with 2♠. South inserts a game try of 3♣, inviting the partner to bid the game of 4♥ with good club support and overall values, and North complies, having extra values in form of ♦A, fourth trump, and doubleton Queen of clubs. The bidding was:
In bidding, North-South were trying to investigate if their cards are worthy for making a game, which yields bonus points if bid and made. East-West were competing with spades, hoping to play a contract in spades at a low level. 4♥ is the final contract, 10 tricks being required for N-S to make with hearts as trumps.
West (left of South, who is the declarer, having been first to bid hearts) has to make the opening lead and chooses the King of spades, playing it face down. After that, North lies his cards on the table and becomes dummy; West turns his leading card face up, and the declarer makes a plan of playing: the bottom line is, since he has to concede trump ace, a spade, and a diamond, he must not lose a trick in clubs.
After a while, the declarer dictates North to play a small spade. East plays low (small card) and South takes the ♠A, gaining the lead. He proceeds by drawing trumps, leading the ♥K. West takes his Ace and cashes the ♠Q. Since he may not continue spades for fear of a ruff and discard, he plays a diamond. Declarer ducks from the table, and East scores the ♦Q. Not having anything better to do, he returns the remaining trump, taken in South’s hand. South enters the dummy using ♦A, and leads ♣Q in an attempt to finesse East’s King. East covers with the King, South takes the Ace, and proceeds by cashing now high ♣J, then ruffs a small club with a dummy’s trump. He ruffs a diamond in hand for an entry back, and ruffs the last club in dummy. Finally, he claims the remaining tricks by showing his hand, as it now contains only high trumps and there’s no need to continue the play.
(The trick-by-trick notation can be also expressed using a table, but textual explanation is usually preferred, for reader’s convenience. Plays of small cards or discards are not explicated, unless they were important for the outcome).
North-South have scored the required 10 tricks, and their opponents took the remaining 3. The contract is fulfilled, and North enters +620 for his side (North-South are in charge for bookkeeping in duplicate tournaments) in the traveling sheet. Every player returns his own cards into the board, and the next deal is played.