You are improving your Bridge game. You've read my other articles in the series which demonstrate evaluating a deal, bidding principles and partnership understanding. Now we are ready to play the hand as the Declarer. The opening lead (from your left) is placed on the table and your partner shows his hand as the "Dummy."
Contract Bridge is not a random exercise featuring 52 cards; it is a challenge and test of skill, as you and your opponents match wits during the course of a game or session. The bidding often yields clues which will map a road for you to follow. The cards played by the defense are another important factor-however, you must gather all of this information before you venture forth. Impulsive and hasty play will surely result in disappointment. Take your time and make the cards work for you! Here is how.
ANALYZE THE OPENING LEAD
Look at the card which has been played by your left-hand opponent. A good defender will always have a reason for his play, especially his opening lead. You MUST ask yourself these questions:
A. Does it look like a singleton (suit with only one card)? B. Is it the top of an Honor card sequence? (Queen from Q-J-10) C. Could it be a neutral lead from a short suit of spot cards? D. Might it be the lead from a long suit?
Study the clues!
Take time to review (in your mind) the bidding. I am sure you focused on your partner's bids during the auction. Hopefully you were listening to the OPPONENTS' bids as well. Consider these questions:
A. Were the opponents silent during the entire auction? B. Did either opponent bid and show a particular suit? C. Did either opponent double (for takeout or penalties)? D. Are the opponents using conventions to show a lead preference?
COUNTING THE HAND/SUIT CONTRACTS
If you are playing a suit contract you must calculate your POSSIBLE losers. Look at your hand, and then the Dummy hand. Determine the number of trump losers, and then ANALYZE the side suits. Is there a way to ruff (trump) an off-suit loser? Maybe you can establish a long side-suit winner for a key discard. Sometimes it is correct to extract trump and then cash out winners. Other times you must DELAY drawing trump to avoid spot card losers. As you become more proficient, the right approach will become easier.
COUNTING THE HAND/NO TRUMP CONTRACTS
When playing a hand, a No Trump (3 NT) is a very popular contract, except the approach is different. Here you determine your sure WINNERS and a game plan to develop or promote cards to win vital tricks. No Trump hands are often a race between Declarer and the defense to see who will reach the requisite number of tricks to make or break a contract! The use of finesses and ducking plays can be critical; sometimes running a long suit will often "squeeze" the defense and could result in forced errors.
MEMORY AND COUNTING
The hallmark of a good Declarer is remembering ALL of the cards! On occasion a little deuce will become a key card! Anyone can play a hand of top-card winners, which is "ice cold" for 10 tricks or a 12-trick Slam. However, this is not always the case; if you are in a suit contract and there are enough potential losers to set your bid, you must manufacture tricks in any way you can. Count the number of trump which have been played. Make an effort to remember if a certain card is a winner. If you are in a No Trump contract, don't try to establish a seemingly attractive suit if it allows the opponents to set up their own suit. Try to keep the dangerous opponent on the right of lead if it means that he will lead through an unprotected King or Queen in your hand. The reverse applies if the Dummy has an unprotected honor card.
* Most important of all: THINK BEFORE YOU ACT-it may save your bid!