Tactics in planning NT vs SUIT Contracts


by Dr. Sidney Lee

There is nothing revolutionary in this article. It aims at showing the difference between planning and play in No Trumps and suit contracts. Nothing recorded here is new; I have only tried to sort out some of the things that are,  or at least should be, subconscious game knowledge to all average players. » Would you rather play a hand in No Trumps or a suit? «

You hear questions like this more often than you would expect, and for, the moment you would think they are not very intelligent; but there is really something in it. The experienced player who is asked such a question will probably smile and certainly answer: «It makes no difference to me.» To him : it is simply a matter’of adjusting his tactics to the type of contract.

On the other hand we have heard people who have played for many years confess that they do not know how to tackle No Trumps contracts whilst others declare that they more often go wrong in suit contracts because of the great variety of ways in which such contracts can be played.

It may be of interest to find out why people have such different opinions on apparently simple issues. The answer is that even experienced players have too little theoretical knowledge of the game or none at all. The proof of this is evident in such hackneyed remarks as: «I never look at a Bridge book» or «I have never read a Bridge article.»

Soon after I had ‘taken up serious Bridge-in the early days of the war-I decided I must have expert help in the mathematics of the game. School arithmetic seldom contains problems on «figuring the odds,» but they play a vital part in the game. So I found an expert to advise me. Among many other useful things he told me there is one which I particularly remember: » Beginners should play No Trumps contracts with black cards with red and white pips to remind them that its quite different just as squash differs from tennis, though both are played with a racquet and ball.»

To simplify the issue, let us confine ourselves to game contracts in No Trumps and in major suits.


For our purpose the bidding that does not matter and we are assuming that the opponents have passed throughout.

When the opening lead is made and dummy exposed, the declarer should always pause and make a plan. When it is complete, he simple should proceed to play without further hesitation, unless and until something happens to cause him to change his tactics and choose a different plan.

It is painful to see a declarer play one of the first cards; put down by dummy instead of waiting to see what the rest of dummy’s hand contains, only to realise later that the play of a different card from dummy at trick 1 would have made sure of the contract. The first step the declarer must take before touching any of dummy’s cards is to count the number of tricks he could make immediately if he were to play off all his top tricks without giving away the lead once. These will
usually ‘add up to five, ‘six, seven or eight. Not much advice is required if there are more than eight tricks «on top,» but if the number is less than that, the second question he must ask . himself is: «Where can I get the missing tricks from ? «

To answer that question correctly he must examine the four suits in turn and choose the onc (or two) most suitable to produce the additiona l tricks required, . considering the risks involved. It is outside the scope of this article to explain all the methods that can be used with different hands, but onc example is enough to make the point quite clear.

 K Q 7 6  A Q J 9 7 5  9 8 2

A J 54  KJ5  10 4 A Q 10 3

West leads 4  and East plays Q. Declarer can now count 4 , 1 , 1 and 1 trick seven tricks altogether. Two more are needed and at first glance dummy’s Diamonds- appear the obvious choice and if the King finesse is right 12 tricks can be made; but if East happens to hold the K, he will return a Heart and the contract will be defeated if West holds five or six Hearts. So before embarking on this simple but dangerous manoeuvre the second suit that might provide the two missing tricks should be examined- Clubs.

It is true that the combined hands only lack the K and in Clubs both the King and the Jack, but on the other hand the K with East will defeat the contract (East returning a Heart through declarer’s J 5), whilst split Club Honours Or both Honours in East’s hand will allow declarer to collect three or four Club tricks to make his contract.

Dummy should therefore be entered with the Q at trick 2 to lead the 9; if East plays low, the 9 should be run ; if
West wins with the Jack, his best return is a Diamond. Declarer should put up dummy’s Ace and finesse the Clubs again. If West also holds the K, but not the K, nothing can stop him putting East in the lead with the K to lead a Heart and the contract cannot be made however declarer chooses to play.

The choice of the suit from which the extra tricks must come is usually easy and very little experience will teach the declarer to do the right thing if he bears these essential points in mind :

(1). To make his plan before touching one of dummy’s cards.
(2) To count the tricks he can play off  now without losing the lead.
(3) To consider where the missing tricks can come from.
(4) To stick to his plan without further hesitation unless and until something unforeseen happens.

In the first part of this article we dealt with simple tactics applicable to contracts in NoTrumps. The conclusions we
arrived at were:

1-. To Count your sure winners first and if the number was insufficient for your contract, to examine each suit in turn to see which one was most likely to provide the additional winners.
2. To look for the additional winners in the suit where there was least danger if you had to give up the lead to your opponents.
3. To make your plan as soon as dummy went down and before you played to the first trick.

The last of these injunctions is the most important one and applies with equal force to the planning of suit contracts. The fact that there is’ a trump suit, however, completely alters your tactics because a new factor has to be taken into account. The procedure in the case of suit contracts can be summarised as follows:

1. Count your losers in the combined hands as soon as dummy is exposed, and see if there are more losers than you can afford. Remember that for a game contract in a major suit, three losers only are permissible, and two only if the game contract is in a minor suit.
2. If you have more apparent losers than you can afford, look for ways and means of eliminating these excessive losers.

There are several ways in which this can be done, namely:

1. By discarding losers on winning cards already established.
2. By establishing winning cards in a suit to enable you to discard losers.
3. By taking advantage of the trump suit to ruff losers.
4. By finessing, when it is not possible to eliminate losers by discarding or ruffing.

Whether any or all of these methods can be applied ih a particular case depends, of course, on- the nature of the  combined holding and also on another most important factor, time, i.e., whether you can get rid of your apparent losers before they become actual losers.

Let us take a few typical examples:

Your hand   Dummy
K J 10 8 4
  Q 9 6 3
A 6 3
     10 7 5
A 2
  K Q 10
Q J 5
  K 8 7

You are declarer and the contract is 4. The K is led and as soon as dummy’s hand goes down you immediately start to count your losers – A, A and two Heart tricks. You have one loser too many which you must try to eliminate. A quick glance will show you that you have three Diamonds in dummy and only two in your own hand, giving you a chance to discard a losing Heart on dummy’s third winning diamond. The only question, is whether you have time to do it before your opponents get an opportunity to play Hearts again.

You therefore take the K with your Ace and immediately play three rounds of Diamonds, discarding a Heart from your hand on the third round. If either opponent has only two Diamonds and ruffs the third round you are unlucky, but in
that case there is no possible play for ten tricks.

The point you must notice is that if you start to draw trumps first, your opponents will win with the A and cash two heart tricks to defeat the contract.

In this example you have ready-made winners available for discards; in the next you have to establish winners before you can get the necessary discards.


Your hand   Dummy
A Q 10 6 4
  K 7 5
A 6 4 2
     7 5 3
7 6
  A K 10 8 2
K J   10 5

You are declarer and again your contract is 4. The K is led and as soon as dummy’s hand goes down you count your losses in each suit-apparently three in Hearts if they do not break three-three and one or two in Clubs, depending on the position of the A. You realise that you can discard some of your losers in Hearts if you can establish dummy’s long Diamonds and you plan your play accordingly.

You win the first trick with the A and play two rounds of trumps-the Ace and the Queen from your own hand, retaining the K in dummy. If both opponents follow to both rounds, you play the A and the K and ruff the third round of Diamonds in your hand. If the Diamonds break evenly, the remainig two Diamonds in dummy will be available for discards. You enter dummy with the K , at the same time drawing off opponent’s last trump, and discard two small
hearts from your own hand, on dummy’s last Diamonds, you have thus reduced your possible losers in Hearts to one. You can now try out the Clubs by leading a small one from dummy. Whether you win a trick in Clubs or not  will not matter, as the contract is assured with the maximum loss of one Heart and two Clubs.

Again you will observe that drawing three rounds of trumps at the start will spoil your plan as you will have no entry to
dummy to make use of the two established diamonds should each of your opponents hold three cards in that suit. The rule to draw trumps first has, like so many other rules in Bridge, its exceptions. In the above examples we have seen
that the drawing of trumps must be postponed in the first case to prevent opponents getting the lead prematurely and in the second, to retain an entry to dummy at the critical moment .