NB: This lesson is an extension of an earlier Card Play lesson on Developing Tricks in Suits. Here's the video from that lesson for you to review.
Managing Suit Play - Counting Losers
When you make your plan for developing extra tricks in suit contracts, you need to be even more flexible than in no trumps. because there are two more techniques at your disposal. Not only do you have (1) Promotion (2) Length and/ or the (3) Finesse, which are used to develop trucks in no trumps but you have that wonderful trump suit to work on too, and that gives you even more possibilities. This is also the reason why your plan in suit contracts may be more complicated than in no trumps. So the extra two ways to develop tricks in suits are
(4) Using the trump suit to reduce losers, and (5) Discarding losers on winners.
In a trump contract, because of the power of the trump suit, we tend to focus on losers rather than winners, but you need to consider where your winners are coming from too. There are two types of losers; quick losers and slow losers. Quick losers are those the defenders can take if they get the lead, and slow losers are those which will eventually be lost if declarer doesn't do anything about them. Slow losers of course are harder to spot than quick losers.
Counting losers is not as precise as counting winners, and you can't always be sure if a card will be a loser or not. The key to knowing how to count losers is to count them from YOUR (i.e. declarer's) hand first . Then look across to see how dummy can help you.
Here's an example:
The contract is 2♠ and the lead is the ♦J.
So, you can afford five losers, so count them as soon as dummy comes down.
There's one sure spade loser, the ♠A. If the spades in the defenders' hands divide 3-2, as expected, or even 4-1, there's still only one loser, because you have the ♠KQJ10xxxx between the two hands. If they happen to divide 5-0 you might have a second spade loser (depending on who holds the five spades), and you'll wish you were in another contract! You can't know at the outset how many losers there are, but if you play one round, and a defender shows out, you will need to rethink your loser count.
There are two small hearts in declarer's hand, and dummy doesn't have the ♥A, so there are potentially two heart losers. If the defender on declarer's left has the ♥A, and declarer plays towards the ♥K, this will reduce one loser, but for now, count two losers.
Declarer also has two diamonds. Having the ♦K in one hand and the ♦Q in the dummy leaves only one loser. That's providing nothing unexpected happens. If the ♦J is singleton, the first trick might be won with the ♦A, and the return might get trumped. All of a sudden, one loser has turned into two. This is not going to happen on most hands. Count one loser, as you can expect a reasonable division of the outstanding cards.
In clubs, declarer has two losers. If the defenders' cards in the suit are divided 3-2 one of the losers could turn into a winner through length after playing the suit three times.
So the total is six losers. Declarer can afford five losers. One loser must be eliminated. There are five ways too do this (refer to the checklist). Promotion, length, finesse, trumping losers, discarding losers.
In spades, winners can be promoted after a trick is lost to the ♠A, so there's nothing that can be done about that loser. In hearts, a trick might be won with the ♥K using the finesse. you would plan to lead towards the ♥K. Even if the finesse is successful you will still have one heart loser.
In clubs there is the potential for establishing tricks through length. Plan to play clubs three times and hope that by the fourth round the defenders will have no clubs (if they break 3-2). If trumps have been drawn this card would be a winner. You still have to lose one trick in clubs. If the suit breaks 4-1 you won't be able to establish a trick through length, and will only make the ♣A and ♣K.
What can you do to develop extra tricks with the trump suit? The first is trumping losers in the dummy, the second is establishing a side suit by trumping it out, and all the time you can use the trump suit for entries to cross from one hand to the other. You also have the technique of discarding losers in one hand on winners in the other. It's really exciting what you can do when using your trump suit wisely!
And...it's NOT all about drawing trumps straight away...often you need to delay the drawing of trumps until you've reduced losers in other suits. Making an initial plan at the outset will help you know when to do this.
Looking for more information? These books will help you learn the basic skills required to play bridge.
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