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In this tutorial, I will discuss techniques for maximizing the number of tricks you take in a particular suit.

There are basically 3 techniques for taking tricks (to simplify the discussion, assume for the moment that you are playing a no trump contract):

### 1) High Cards

An ace will always take a trick. Similarly, if your suit is AKQJ, you will obviously take 4 tricks. Finally, you can establish your high cards by knocking out the opponent’s high cards. For example, if your suit is KQJ10, you will take 3 tricks by knocking out the opponent’s ace.

### 2) Finesses

Some of your lower high cards may take tricks if the opponent’s high cards are favorably positioned. For example, if your suit is AQ, by leading towards the AQ («finessing» against the K), you will take two tricks any time your opponents’ K is to the left of the Q. In general, there is a 50% chance that a particular opponent has a specific card, so half the time you will take one trick,and half the time you will take 2 tricks.

Another way to finesse is to lead a high card from one hand towards a higher card in the other hand. Thus, if your holding is QJ opposite Ax, you can finesse against the K by leading the Q from your hand. Again, half the time you will take one trick, and half the time you will take 2 tricks. However, it is usually preferable to lead towards a high card, rather than leading a high card from your hand. This is because if your opponent covers, you are using 2 of your high cards to knock out one of your opponent’s.

For example, if your suit holding is xxx opposite AQJ, you will take 3 tricks half the time. However, if your suit holding is QJx opposite Axx, you will almost always take only 2 tricks regardless of which opponent has the K (even though your combined resources are the same as in the previous example). Imagine what will occur. You lead the Q, your opponent plays the K, and you play the A. Your J will take a trick, but your opponent’s 10 will take the last trick.

By the way, this is why it is generally correct to cover an opponent’s honor with your honor — it may establish a lower card in your partner’s hand.

Another example of this principle is if your holding is Qxx opposite AJx. You should lead low towards the J, rather than leading the Q. This will sometimes result in 3 tricks if the K happens to be doubleton and to the left of the AJx. However, if you lead the Q, you will never be able to take 3 tricks (against proper defense!).

### 3) Length

Once the opponents are out of a suit, your low cards in that suit will take tricks. In order to use this technique, you should understand the most likely distribution of your opponents’ cards in your long suits. The general rule is that if the opponents have an odd number of cards in your suit, the suit will break as evenly as possible (e.g. if you have an eight card suit, it is most likely that one opponent will hold 3 of that suit and the other will have 2). If the opponents have an even number of cards in your suit, it is most likely they will not be split evenly.

Some specific examples:

- A 7 card fit will split 4-2 about 1/2 of the time, and 3-3 about 1/3 of the time.
- An 8 card fit will split 3-2 about 2/3 of the time.
- A nine card fit will split 3-1 about 1/2 the time, and 2-2 about 40% of the time.
- You can assume a 10 card fit will split 2-1 most of the time.
- It is equally likely an 11 card fit will split 1-1 or 2-0.

You need not memorize these values (in fact, I’m not 100% sure they are precisely accurate). Rather, simply remember the general principle that an odd number of cards tends to split as evenly as possible, whereas an even number of cards does not tend to split evenly.

In the problems presented below, assume you are playing a no trump contract and have unlimited entries to either hand.

For each problem,

- Determine the best way to play the suit to maximize the number of tricks you take on average.
- Determine the most likely number of winning tricks
- Similarly, determine the most likely number of losing tricks.

1) xxxx opposite AKJx Play the ace; if the Q doesn’t drop, return to your hand and finesse with the J. You expect to take 3 tricks, and 4 tricks half the time.

2) xxxx opposite AKJxx Play the A then K. You should expect to take 4 tricks, 5 tricks half the time.

3) xxxx opposite AQ10x Finesse with the 10. If it wins; finesse with the Q. If it loses to the J, finesse with the Q. If the 10 forces the K, cash the A Q. You should expect to take 3 tricks most of the time. It is important to finesse the 10 first, in case both honors are on-side.

4) xxxx opposite AQ10xx Cash the A. If the J drops force out the K. If the K drops offside, finesse with the 10. If neither drops, go back to your hand and lead towards the Q. You should expect to take 4 tricks most of the time.

5) QJxx opposite Axxx Lead the A, then lead toward the QJ. You should expect to take 3 tricks most of the time. Leading the Q is a «practice finesse», because even if it wins, you will still only take 3 tricks, losing to the 10 instead.

6) QJxx opposite Axxxx Finesse with the Q. You should expect to take 4 tricks, but will take 5 when K doubleton is on-side.

7) xxx opposite AKQx Cash the AKQ. You will take 4 tricks when the suit breaks 3-3 (about 1/3 of the time).

8) xxx opposite AKQ10 Cash the AKQ. You will take 4 tricks when the suit breaks 3-3 or the J is doubleton (about half the time).

9) Qxxx opposite Axxx Lead the A, then lead towards the Q. You expect to take 2 tricks, 3 tricks 1/2 the time.

10) Qxxx opposite Axxxx Lead the A, then lead toward the Q. You should expect to take 4 tricks most of the time, but should only count on 3 sure tricks.

11) Kxxx opposite Qxxx Decide who to play for doubleton A. Say it is your left hand opponent (LHO). Lead toward the Q. If that wins, play a low card from both hands on the next trick. You should expect to take 2 tricks most of the time.

12) Kxxx opposite Qxxxx Decide who to play for the A. Say it is your right hand opponent (RHO). Lead towards the K, ducking if the A appears. If the A doesn’t appear, play a low card form both hands on the next trick. You will take 4 tricks most of the time, but can only count on 3 sure tricks.

13) xxx opposite QJx Lead towards the QJ. When that loses to an honor, return to your hand and lead towards the remaining honor. You will take 1 trick 3/4 of the time.

14) Q109x opposite Axxx Lead the Q. If covered by the K, take the A and force out the J with the 10. If the Q loses, return to your hand and play the 10, taking the A if the J appears. You should expect to take 3 tricks most of the time.

15) Q109x opposite Axxxx Cash the A. If the J drops force out the K. If the K drops on your left, finesse with the 10. If neither drops, lead towards the Q. You should expect to take 4 tricks most of the time.

16) xxx opposite KJx Lead toward the J. If it loses the the Q, return to your hand and lead toward the K. You should expect to take 1 trick. You will take 0 tricks 1/4 of the time, and 2 tricks (when both honors are on-side) 1/4 of the time.

17) J109 opposite Axx Lead the J, covering with the A if an honor appears. If your RHO wins an honor, return to your hand and lead the 10. You will take 2 tricks 3/4 of the time.