Card Play: Developing Tricks in No Trumps

Lesson Notes 

Playing in No Trumps  
There are three ways to develop extra tricks in no trumps: Promotion, Length and the Finesse. The order of play is important.  You may need entries from one hand to the other, as well as retaining winners in other suits to stop the opponents taking too many tricks while developing yours. So there's a lot to think about. Making that plan is everything, and while it's terrifying to lose the lead, you often have to if you're going to develop extra tricks. 

Tips For Taking Tricks in No Trumps

• Take your tricks when you have enough (sure tricks) to make your contract. 
• Develop the tricks you need for your contract before taking sure tricks.
• Identify the longest combined suit and consider playing it first.
• Watch your entries to be sure you can reach the hand you need to be in, to lead to, or take tricks.

1. Promotion 
This turns middle-ranked cards into winners by driving out higher-ranked cards. It's easy to spot when the cards are in the same hand.

Dummy    Declarer
♥ 432       ♥ KQJ

The opponents hold ♥A, but declarer can make two tricks by leading either ♥K or ♥Q or ♥J and losing to ♥A. This promotes the two remaining high cards. When the high cards are not in the same hand, it’s more of a challenge. Two tricks can be promoted here too.

Dummy       Declarer
♦ Q62          ♦KJ5

Consider the Order of Play
For promotion to work, you need to lose the lead at least once, depending on what card combination you hold, e.g. if you have ♥KQJ10 you'll lose the lead once. With ♥QJ109 you'll lose the lead twice. With ♥J1094 you'll lose the lead three times. Keep your sure tricks in other suits to regain the lead. Losing tricks early is part of your plan. You’re doing it to make tricks later.

What Card Combinations Do You Need for Promotion?
You need to hold middle-ranking touching cards and be missing the top ones. eg, ♠KQJ54 or ♠QJ1054 or even ♠J10954.

2. Length
To establish tricks through length, look for suits where your side holds seven or more cards (the majority)

Dummy    Declarer
♦ 8652      ♦AK73

Declarer has two sure tricks: ♦A & ♦K. If the five missing diamonds are divided 3-2, declarer can develop a third trick through length, so win ♦A & ♦K and play another. This will lose but your last diamond will now be a winner. 
The number of tricks you'll develop through length will depend on how the missing cards are divided. As a general guideline:

  • An odd number of missing cards will divide as evenly as possible. (3-2 will occur 67.8% of the time)
  • An even number of missing cards will divide slightly unevenly. (4-2 will occur more than 3-3, to be precise, 48% compared with 36%) 

What Card Combinations Do You Need for Length?
More cards than the other side has, i.e. seven plus. How many tricks you take will depend on how the suit breaks against you, and what honours you hold in your long suit. eg, ♠K10954 in one hand and ♠A83 in the other will produce four tricks provided the suit divides 3/2. You should have one loser.

3. Finesse
Taking a successful finesse means winning a trick with a card (e.g. ♥Q), when the opponents still hold a higher card (e.g. ♥K). It ‘traps’ the opponents’ high cards, because of the way you play. Lead towards the card you hope will take a trick. You need some luck too. Here you're missing ♥A but would like to take a trick with ♥K.

Dummy Declarer
♥ K5      ♥ 72

Don't lead ♥K, as the defenders have ♥A and ♥Q, and you'll lose to both. Also, don't lead a low heart from the dummy as the defenders can win and still retain ♥A to capture ♥K. Lead a low heart from your hand towards dummy, and give yourself a 50% chance. When you lead ♥2, the opponent on your left must play before you. In general, lead a high card only if you want the opponents to cover it. Otherwise, lead towards your high card. Consider the order of play so you can be in the correct hand to lead towards the card you hope will take a trick.

What Card Combinations Do You Need for a Finesse?
You need to hold higher-ranked cards and one or more lower ranked ones, and be missing a middle honour. eg, ♠AQJ54 in one hand and  ♠1095 in the other. 


Resources

Want more information? These books will help you learn about playing the hands as declarer.

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