Better Bridge

Audrey Grant is a noted bridge author and teacher. She is a member of the ACBL and Canadian Bridge Federation Hall of Fame.

Declarer Play

When dummy comes down, it is important for declarer to make a plan before playing to the first trick. Use the ABCs of declarer play to help you.
The first step is to Assess the Situation — count the number of winners or losers you have and compare the total to the number of winners you need or losers you can afford. When you need to establish extra winners or eliminate losers, move to the second step, Browse Declarer’s Checklist, for the various techniques. The final step is to Consider the Order, deciding how to put it all together. In this step, there are several considerations, including: drawing trump, managing entries, watching out for the opponents, taking losses early, and combining chances.
As declarer (South), take a look at the following deal and apply the principles.

North (Dummy)
♠ A 4
J 7
K Q J 9 3
♣ A 6 5 2
South (You)
♠ Q 10 5
A 8 4 3
10 5 2
♣ K Q 8
West North (Partner) East South (You)
1 Pass 1(1)
Pass 2♣ Pass 2NT(2)
Pass 3NT All Pass

1. Four-card heart suit and 6+ high-card points
2. Shows invitational values, 11-12 high-card points

Make a Plan

West leads the ♠2 against your 3NT contract. You will need to take nine tricks. What’s your plan?
In a notrump contract, begin by counting sure winners. You start with one sure spade winner, one sure heart winner, three sure club winners, and no sure diamond winners because the opponents hold the A. That’s a total of five sure winners, and you need four more.
Where could the additional tricks be developed?

  1. The opening spade lead presents an additional potential trick in the suit. If West holds the ♠K, you can win with the ♠Q in hand. If East holds the ♠K, your ♠Q will be promoted to a winner.
  2. There is a potential for a fourth club trick if the opponents’ six clubs divide 3-3.
  3. Four tricks can be established in the diamond suit. You can promote the suit by driving out the A.

With several options to promote tricks, this looks pretty straightforward. In fact, you might take 10 or 11 tricks on this deal. Let’s consider the possible play.
West has led the ♠2. Let’s suppose you decide to establish a second spade trick by playing low from dummy. You play the ♠4. East wins the ♠K, establishing the ♠Q as a winner.
However, this leaves you open to a dangerous shift to the K by East. Your lack of sufficient strength in the heart suit would allow the opponents to take three or more heart tricks plus the A! In fact, that’s what happened.
After winning the ♠K, East shifted to the K allowing E-W to take three heart tricks and the A — a total of five tricks — leaving declarer down one.
It looked there were more than enough tricks. What went wrong?

Consider the Dangers

There are enough potential winners to make the contract —but only if you watch out for the opponents. You must avoid the danger of letting the opponents establish and take five winners before taking your nine.
Hearts is your weak suit. Without enough length and strength in the suit, once you’re forced to play the A, the opponents can establish heart winners and defeat the contract.
How can you make sure the opponents cannot switch to hearts effectively?
Win the ♠A at trick one!
By winning the first trick, you can avoid the danger of a heart shift by opponents. However, doing so might allow the opponents to take spade tricks. After the ♠A is gone, you only have the ♠Q 10. If East holds the A, a further spade lead would trap your ♠Q-10 and result in losing several spade tricks if West has the ♠K-J.
However, the heart suit is the greater danger. If East wins the ♠K and switches to hearts, you might lose five or more tricks.
If you win the first trick with the ♠A, the opponents should be able to take at most three spade tricks plus the A. How can you be sure?

Use the Clue

The clue is in the opening lead. Assuming West’s lead is fourth-highest, the ♠2 is the lowest spade, West presumably started with exactly four spades.
Eight spades are missing. If West has four, East also has four. After the ♠A is taken, the opponents will be able to take no more than three spade tricks plus the A.
You can afford to lose four tricks, so the contract should be secure if you win the ♠A at trick one.

Recommended Play

With this strategy in mind, plan the play. West leads the ♠2.
Win the opening lead with the ♠A. Next, develop the diamond suit by playing a low diamond from dummy to the 10. When East wins the A, he then leads a spade through your ♠Q-10. As you expected, West wins three spade tricks.
After that, it doesn’t matter what West leads. You have the A, three club winners, and the diamond tricks. Your 3NT contract is safe!
The full deal:

♠ A 4
J 7
K Q J 9 3
♣ A 6 5 2
♠ J 9 8 2
6 5 2
8 4
♣ J 9 7 4
♠ K 7 6 3
K Q 10 9
A 7 6
♣ 10 3
♠ Q 10 5
A 8 4 3
10 5 2
♣ K Q 8


Often, you can guarantee an extra trick or two in the suit of the opening lead by giving the opponents the chance to win the first trick. However, it is not always safe to do so. You must consider the dangers.
On this deal, playing low from dummy ensured a second trick in spades but put the contract at risk. East could win the first trick and shift to hearts.
Sometimes, it is safer to take the first trick, even if it might sacrifice a trick in the suit. In this deal, it was safer to lose spade tricks than heart tricks.
Analyzing the opening lead is the key. West’s ♠2 lead meant the opponents could take at most three spade tricks. In contrast, playing low from dummy risked losing the ♠K, A, and three or more heart tricks.
Next time you are declarer, make a plan and follow the ABCs of declarer play. You will be rewarded with your careful considerations.

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