Using Winning Trick Techniques at Notrump Play – Turning low cards into winners by driving out high honors

Sometimes you have to drive out an opponent’s high honor card (could be an ace, a king, or a queen) before you can turn your frogs into princes (or turn your deuces into tricks). Figure 3-10 shows you how (with a little luck) you can turn a deuce into a winner.

FIGURE 3-10: Drive out your opponents’ high cards to use your low cards successfully.

With the cards shown in Figure 3-10, your plan is to develop (or establish) as many spade tricks as possible, keeping a wary eye on turning that ♠2 in the dummy into a winner. Suppose you begin by leading a low spade, the ♠3, and West follows with a low spade, the ♠4. You play the ♠J from the dummy, which loses to East’s ♠A. At this point, you note the following points:

The ♠KQ in the dummy are now both winning tricks because your opponents’ ♠A is gone.

Your opponents started with six spades. By counting cards, you know that your opponents now have only four spades left. Four is your new key number.

After regaining the lead by winning a trick in another suit, lead another low spade, the ♠5, to the ♠Q in the dummy (with both opponents following suit). Your opponents now have two spades left between them. When you continue with the ♠K, both opponents follow suit again. They now have zero spades left — triumph! The ♠2 in the dummy is now a sure trick. Deuces love to take tricks — doing so makes them feel wanted.

Make sure you count the cards in the suit you’re attacking. You’re in a pretty sad state if you have to leave a low card in your hand or the dummy untouched because you don’t know (or aren’t sure) whether it’s a winner.

Losing a trick early by making a ducking play

Suits that have seven or eight cards between your hand and the dummy, including the ace and the king, lend themselves to taking extra tricks with lower cards, even though you have to lose a trick in the suit. Why do you have to lose a trick in the suit? Because the opponents have the queen, the jack, and the 10 between them. After you play the ace and the king, the opponent with the queen is looking at a winning trick.

When you know you have to lose at least one trick in a suit that includes the ace and king, face the inevitable and lose that trick early by playing low cards from both your hand and the dummy. Taking this dive early on is called ducking a trick. It only hurts for a little while.

Ducking a trick is a necessary evil when playing Bridge. A ducking play in a suit that has an inevitable loser allows you to keep your controlling cards (the ace and the king) so you can use them in a late rush of tricks.

When you duck a trick and then play the ace and king, you wind up in the hand where the small cards are — just where you want to be. In the following sections, we present two situations in which you can duck a trick successfully.

When you have seven cards between the two hands

The cards in Figure 3-11 show how successful ducking a trick can be. You have seven cards between the two hands with ♠AK in the dummy — a perfect setup for ducking a trick. You can only hope that your opponents’ six cards are divided 3-3 so they’ll run out of spades before you do. To find out, you have to play the suit three times.

FIGURE 3-11: Ducking a trick leaves you in control of the suit.

You know you have to lose at least one spade trick because your opponents hold ♠QJ10 between them. Because you have to lose at least one spade trick, your best bet is to lose the trick right away, keeping control (the high cards) of the suit for later.

Play a low spade from both hands! No, you aren’t giving out presents; actually, you’re making a very clever ducking play by letting your opponents have a trick they’re entitled to anyway.

After you concede the trick with the ♠2 from your hand and the ♠4 from the dummy, you can come roaring back with your big guns, the ♠K and the ♠A, when you regain the lead. Notice that because your opponents’ spades are divided 3-3, that little ♠6 in the dummy takes a third trick in the suit — neither opponent has any more spades.

When you have eight cards between the two hands

If the dummy has a five-card suit headed by the ace and the king facing three small cards, you can usually take two extra tricks with a ducking play. See Figure 3-12, where you make a ducking play, and then watch the tricks come rolling in.

FIGURE 3-12: Setting up an avalanche of tricks via a ducking play.

In Figure 3-12, the opponents have five spades between the two hands, including the ♠QJ1098. You have to lose a spade trick no matter what, so lose it right away by making one of your patented ducking plays. Lead the ♠2. West plays the ♠9, you play the ♠3 from the dummy, and East plays the ♠8. West wins the trick. Not to worry — you’ll soon show them who’s boss!

The next time either you or the dummy regains the lead, play the ♠K and ♠A, removing all of your opponents’ remaining spades. The lead is in the dummy, and the dummy remains with ♠64, both winning tricks.

When you have five cards in one hand and three in the other, including the ace and the king, you have a chance to take four tricks by playing a low card from both hands at your first opportunity. This ducking play allows you to save the highest cards in the suit, intending to come swooping in later to take the remaining tricks.

Finding heaven with seven small cards

Having any seven cards between the two hands may mean an extra trick for you — if your opponents’ cards are divided 3-3. The hand in Figure 3-13 shows you how any small card(s) can morph into a winner when your opponents’ cards are split evenly. You have seven cards between your hand and the dummy, the signal that something good may happen for your small cards. Of course, you’d be a little happier if you had some higher cards in the suit (such as an honor or two), but beggars can’t be choosers.

FIGURE 3-13: You hold no honor cards, but you have length in one hand to help you win tricks.

Remember Cinderella and how her stepsisters dressed her up to look ugly even though she was beautiful? Well, those five tiny spades in the South hand are like Cinderella — you just have to cast off the rags to see the beauty underneath.

Suppose you lead the ♠2, and West takes the trick with the ♠J. Later, you lead the ♠3, and West takes that trick with the ♠Q. You’ve played spades twice, and because you’ve been counting those spades, you know that your opponents have two spades left.

After you regain the lead, you again lead a rag (low card) — in this case, the ♠5. Crash, bang! West plays the ♠A, and East plays the ♠K. Now they have no more spades, and the two remaining spades in your hand, the ♠7 and ♠6, are winning tricks. You conceded three spade tricks (tricks they had coming anyway) but established two tricks of your own by sheer persistence.

Avoiding the tragedy of blocking a suit

Even when length is on your side, you need to play the high honor cards from the short side first. Doing so ensures that the lead ends up in the hand with the length — and therefore the winning tricks. If you don’t play the high honor(s) from the short side first, you run the risk of blocking a suit. You block a suit when you have winning cards stranded in one hand and no way to enter that hand in order to play those winning cards. It hurts to even talk about it.

Figure 3-14 shows you a suit that’s blocked from the very start. It’s a Bridge tragedy: seeing the dummy come down with a strong suit, only to realize that it’s blocked and you can’t use it. You have five spade tricks but may be able to take only two. After you play ♠AK, you’re fresh out of spades, and the dummy remains with the ♠QJ10. Without an entry to the dummy, the ♠QJ10 are stranded never to be used. Yes, it’s very sad.

FIGURE 3-14: Some suits are born blocked.

If you don’t have an entry (a winning card) in another suit to get the lead over to the dummy (called a dummy entry), dummy’s three winning spades will die on the vine. A side-suit ace is a certain dummy entry, and a side-suit king or queen may turn out to be a dummy entry.

The more poignant tragedy is when you accidentally block a suit by failing to play the high card(s) from the short side first. Then you wind up in the wrong hand, instead of winding up in the long hand where the winning tricks are. Instead, you wind up in the short hand that has no more cards in the suit. The long hand may not have a side-suit entry to enter the hand with the winning tricks. It hurts.

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