A winner is a sure trick that can be taken without allowing the opponents to gain the lead. The way to count winners when dummy goes down is to look first at your own hand, focusing on one suit at a time, and then check how dummy can help. Don’t count tricks that need to be developed later – it’s only the winners right now that you should consider at this point.
♥ A K 4
♥ Q J 6 2
You have four winners.
♥ K J 10 5
♥ Q 8 6 3
You have NO winners at the moment. You will develop three tricks here but you can't count them as winners yet.
It’s natural to be anxious about losing the lead, but if you don't have enough tricks for your contract, and you need to give up the lead to develop those extra tricks, do it early in the play, before you lose control in other suits.
It's harder to count losers than winners. In suit contracts, focus first on your losers, and later on winners. A loser is a trick that the defenders will win when they gain the lead. Count losers from your (declarer’s) hand to begin with. In each suit, look at the tricks you may have to lose – start with the A, K and Q – then check dummy to see if there are any high cards (or shortages) that will help reduce losers. Don’t anticipate how you plan to eliminate the loser/s (perhaps by trumping them in dummy, or discarding them on winner/s). This comes later.
Making a plan is everything. To make it simple, when you are declarer, and you see dummy for the first time, think of A, B, C (Thanks for this, Audrey Grant):
A = Assess your assets. Count your sure winners (and your losers in a suit contract), and decide how many tricks need to be developed.
B = Browse the checklist for developing extra tricks. In no trumps, this means (a) Promotion, (b) Length, and/or (c) the Finesse. In suit contracts, these three are available, plus two more (d) Using the Trump Suit to reduce losers and develop side suits, and (e) Discarding Losers on Winners.
C = Consider the order of play. Which hand do you need to be in? Do you have entries to reach your winners? Should you draw trumps first? These are some of the considerations for deciding which cards to play in which order.
Want more information? These books will help you learn about playing the hands as declarer.
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