Using Winning Trick Techniques at Notrump Play – Establishing Tricks with Lower Honor Cards

Winning at Bridge is a breeze if you always have enough sure tricks to make your contract. The sad news is that you seldom have enough. You must come up with other ways of taking tricks, ways that may mean temporarily giving up the lead to your opponents. In this chapter, we show you clever techniques to win those extra tricks that you may need to make your contract in notrump play. Specifically, we explain how to establish tricks with lower honor cards and take tricks with small cards.

Throughout this chapter, you may notice that many figures show cards in only one suit. Sometimes we want you to focus on one suit at a time, so in the following figures, you see suits that are ideal for creating extra tricks. Don’t forget: We always put you in the hot seat by making you South, where the action is! (Your partner is North, and your opponents are West and East.

Establishing Tricks with Lower Honor Cards

When you don’t have the ace in a suit, you’re in bad shape as far as sure tricks are concerned. Not to worry. Your new friend, establishing tricks, can see you through the tough times and help you win extra tricks you may need to make your contract. Check out the following sections for surefire techniques on establishing tricks.

Establishing tricks is about sacrificing one of your honor cards to drive out one of your opponents’ higher honor cards. You can then swoop in with your remaining honor cards and take a bundle of tricks.

In case you’re wondering, your opponents don’t just sit around and admire your dazzling technique of establishing tricks. No, they’re busy trying to establish tricks of their own. In Bridge, turnabout is fair play. Whatever you can do, your opponents can also do. Many a hand turns into a race for tricks. To win the race, you must establish your tricks earlier rather than later. Remembering this rule will keep you focused and help you edge out your opponents.

Driving the opponents’ ace out of its hole

The all-powerful ace wins a trick for you every time. But no matter how hard you pray for aces, sometimes you just don’t get any, and you can’t count any sure tricks in a suit with no aces. Sometimes you get tons of honor cards but no ace, and you still can’t count even one sure trick in that suit. Ah, the inhumanity!

Cheer up — you can still create winning tricks in such a suit. When you have a number of equal honors in a suit but not the ace, you can attack that suit early and drive out the ace from your opponent’s hand. Here’s what you do:

1. Leadthehighesthonorcardinthesuitinwhichyou’remissingthe ace.

To get rid of the ace when you have a number of equal honors, lead the highest honor. So if you have the KQJ6, lead the king to drive out the ace. If they don’t take the trick with the ace, play the queen. One way or another you must take two tricks with the KQJ. If you lead a low card, like the 6, 7, or 8, your opponents won’t have to play the ace to take the trick. They can simply take the trick with a lower card, such as the 9 or 10, and they still have the ace! Not good.

When you have equal honors in your hand (where they can’t be seen), such as the KQJ, and want to lead one, use the higher or highest equal to do your dirty work. It is more deceptive. Trust us.

If the equal honors are in the dummy where everyone can see them, you have the option of which one to play. It doesn’t matter, but to be uniform in this book, we have you play the lower or lowest equal.

  1. Continue playing the suit until your opponents play the ace and take the trick.
  2. After that ace is out of the way, you can count your remaining equal honor cards as sure tricks.

Driving out the ace is a great way of setting up extra tricks. The cards in Figure 3-1 provide an example of a suit you can attack to drive out the ace.


FIGURE 3-1: You can drive out an ace to create winning tricks.

In Figure 3-1, you can’t count a single sure spade trick because your opponent (East) has the ♠A. Yet the four spades in the dummy — ♠KQJ10 — are extremely powerful. (Any suit that contains four honor cards is considered powerful.)

Suppose that the lead is in your hand from the preceding trick, and you lead a low spade (the lowest spade you have — in this case, the ♠3). West, seeing the dummy has very strong spades, plays her lowest card, the ♠2; you play the ♠10 from the dummy; and East decides to win the trick with the ♠A. You may have lost the lead, but you have also driven out the ♠A. The dummy remains with the ♠KQJ, all winning tricks. You have established three sure spade tricks where none existed.

Suits with three or more equal honor cards in one hand are ideal for suit establishment. When you see the KQJ or the QJ10 in either your hand or the dummy, sure tricks in those suits can eventually be developed if you attack them early!

Surrendering the lead twice to the ace and the king

When you’re missing just the ace, you can establish the suit easily by just leading one equal honor after another until an opponent takes the ace. However, if you’re missing both the ace and the king, you will have to give up the lead twice to take later tricks.

Bridge is a game of giving up the lead to get tricks back. Don’t fear giving up the lead. Your high honor cards in the other suits protect you by allowing you to eventually regain the lead and pursue your goal of establishing tricks.

Figure 3-2 shows a suit where you have to swallow your pride twice before you can establish your lower honor cards.


FIGURE 3-2: Flushing out the ace and the king.

Notice that the dummy in Figure 3-2 has a sequence of cards headed by three equal honors — the ♠QJ10. The ♠9, though not considered an honor card, is equal to the ♠QJ10 and has the same value. When you have a sequence of equals, all the cards have equal power to take tricks — or to drive out opposing honor cards. For example, you can use the ♠9 or the ♠Q to drive out your opponent’s ♠K or ♠A.

In Figure 3-2, your opponents hold the ♠AK. To compensate, you have the ♠QJ109, four equals headed by three honors — a very good sign. You lead a low spade, the ♠2; West plays the ♠5; you play the ♠9 from the dummy; and East takes the trick with the ♠K. You’ve driven out one spade honor. One more to go. Your spades still aren’t established, but you’re halfway home! The next time you have the lead, lead a low spade, the ♠3, and then play the ♠10 from the dummy, driving out the ♠A. Guess what? You started with zero sure spade tricks, but now you have two: the ♠Q and ♠J.

Playing the high honors from the short side first

Never forget this simple and ever-so-important rule: When attacking an unequally divided suit, where either your hand or the dummy holds more cards than the other in that suit, play the high equal honors from the shorter side first. Doing so enables you to end up with the lead on the long side (the dummy), where the remainder of the winning spades are. If you remember to play your equal honors from the short side first, your partner will kneel down and declare you Ruler of the Universe.


FIGURE 3-3: The partner with fewer honor cards should lead the highest or equal honor cards.

Liberation time! As you see in Figure 3-3, the short hand (your hand) has two equal honor cards, the ♠KQ. Start by playing the ♠K, the higher honor on the short side, and a low spade from the dummy, the ♠5. As it happens, East must take the trick with the ♠A because she doesn’t have any other spades.

You’ve established your spades because the ♠A is gone, but you still need to remember the five-star tip of playing the high remaining equal honor from the short side next. When you or dummy next regains the lead in another suit, play the ♠Q, which takes the trick, and then lead the ♠4. The dummy remains with the ♠J109, all winning tricks. You have established four spade tricks by playing the high card from the short side twice.

Using length to your advantage with no high honor in sight

In this section, you hit the jackpot — we show you how to establish tricks in a suit where you have the J1098 but you’re missing the ace, king, and queen!

If you don’t have any of the three top dogs but you have four or more cards in the suit, you can still scrape a trick or two out of the suit. When you have length (usually four or more cards of the same suit), you know that even after your opponents win tricks with the ace, king, and queen, you still hold smaller cards in that suit, which become — voilà! — winners.

Perhaps you’re wondering why you’d ever want to squeeze some juice out of a suit in which you lack the ace, king, and queen. The answer: You may need tricks from an anemic suit like this to make your contract. Sometimes you just get the raw end of the deal, and you need to pick up tricks wherever you can eek them out.

When you look at the dummy and see a suit such as the one in Figure 3-4, try not to shriek in horror.


FIGURE 3-4: You can establish tricks even if you don’t have the ace, king, and queen.

True, the spades in Figure 3-4 don’t look like the most appetizing suit you’ll ever have to deal with, but don’t judge a book by its cover. You can get some tricks out of this suit because you have the advantage of length: You have a total of eight spades between the two hands. The strength you get from numbers helps you after you drive out the ace, king, and queen.

Suppose you need to develop two tricks from this hopeless-looking, forsaken suit. You start with a low spade, the ♠2, which is taken by West’s ♠Q (the dummy and East each play their lowest spade, the ♠7 and ♠5, respectively). After you regain the lead in some other suit, lead another low spade, the ♠3, which is taken by West’s ♠K (the dummy plays the ♠8, and East plays her last spade, the ♠6). After you gain the lead again in another suit, lead your last spade, the ♠4, which loses to West’s ♠A (the dummy plays the ♠9). You have lost the lead again, but you have accomplished your ultimate goal: The dummy now holds two winning spades — the ♠J10. Nobody at the table holds any more spades; if the dummy can win a trick in another suit, you can go right ahead and cash those two spade tricks. You had to work, but you did it!

Sometimes a friendly opponent (in this case West) will help you out by taking spades tricks early, leaving you with good spades in the dummy without your having to do any work!

Practicing establishment

Practice makes perfect, they say, so we want you to practice making your contract by establishing tricks. In this section, you hold the entire hand shown in Figure 3-5. Your final contract is for 12 tricks. West leads the ♠J. Now you need to do your thing and establish some tricks.


FIGURE 3-5: Establish the three extra tricks you need from that powerful diamond suit.

Before you even think of playing a card from the dummy, count your sure tricks:

Spades: You have three sure tricks — ♠AKQ.

Hearts: You have another three sure tricks — ♥AKQ. (Don’t count the ♥J; you have three hearts in each hand, so you can’t take more than three tricks.)

Diamonds: No ace = no sure tricks. Sad. Clubs: You have three sure tricks — ♣AKQ.

You have nine sure tricks, but you need 12 tricks to make your contract. You must establish three more tricks. Look no further than the dummy’s magnificent diamond suit. If you drive out the ♦A, you can establish three diamond tricks and have 12 just like that. Piece of cake.

When you need to establish extra tricks, pick the suit you plan to work with and start establishing immediately. Do not take your sure tricks in other suits until you establish your extra needed tricks. Then take all your tricks in one giant cascade. Please reread this tip!

First you need to deal with West’s opening lead, the ♠J. You have a choice: You can win the trick in either your hand with the ♠A or in the dummy with the ♠Q. In general, with equal length on both sides, you want to leave a high spade in each hand. Leaving the king in the dummy and the ace in your hand gives you an easier time going back and forth if necessary. However, on this hand it really doesn’t matter where you win the trick; you have three spade tricks regardless. But to keep in practice, say you take it with the queen.

Remember, your objective is to establish tricks in your target suit: diamonds. Following your game plan, you lead the ♦K from the dummy. West takes the trick with the ♦A and then leads the ♠10. Presto — your three remaining diamonds in the dummy, ♦QJ10, have just become three sure tricks because you successfully drove out the ace. Your sure-trick count has just ballooned to 12. Don’t look now, but you have the rest of the tricks and have just made your contract.

Next comes the best part: the mop-up, taking your winning tricks. You capture West’s return of the ♠10 with the ♠K. Then you take your three established diamonds, your three winning hearts, your three winning clubs, and finally your ♠A. You now have 12 tricks, three in each suit. Ah, the thrill of victory.

Steering clear of taking tricks before establishing tricks

Establishing extra needed tricks is all about giving up the lead. Sometimes you need to drive out an ace, a king, or an ace and a king. Giving up the lead to establish tricks can be painful for a beginner, but you must steel yourself to do it.

You may hate to give up the lead for fear that something terrible may happen. Something terrible is going to happen — if you’re afraid to give up the lead to establish a suit. Most of the time, beginners fail to make their contracts because they don’t establish extra tricks soon enough. Very often, beginners fall into the trap of taking their sure tricks before establishing tricks.

We know you’d never commit such a grievous error as taking sure tricks before you establish other needed tricks. But just for the fun of it, take a look at Figure 3-6 to see what happens when you make this mistake. This isn’t going to be pretty, so clear out the children.


FIGURE 3-6: Beware of taking sure tricks before establishing needed tricks.

In this hand (showing all the cards from the hand in Figure 3-5), the opening lead is the ♠J, and you need to take 12 tricks. Suppose you take the first three spade tricks with the ♠AKQ, and then the next three heart tricks with the ♥AKQ, and finally the next three club tricks with the ♣AKQ. Figure 3-7 shows what’s left after you take the first nine tricks. (Remember: You need to take 12 tricks.)


FIGURE 3-7: You can’t win the three extra tricks you need after taking your sure tricks first

You lead a low diamond. But guess what — West takes the trick with the ♦A. The hairs standing up on the back of your neck may tell you what I’m going to say next: West has all the rest of the tricks! West remains with a winning spade, a winning heart, and a winning club. Nobody else at the table has any of those suits, so all the other players are forced to discard. West’s three cards are all winning tricks, and those great diamonds in the dummy are nothing but dead weight, totally worthless.

A word to the wise: Nothing good can happen to you if you take sure tricks before establishing extra needed tricks.

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