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Suit Planning Technique

  by Richard Pavlicek

Last Sunday I discussed the process of planning the play at notrump and emphasized the importance of counting top tricks. The strategy at a suit contract is very similar, although complicated somewhat by the presence of the trump suit.

Some teachers suggest counting “losers” rather than winners; but this is not as dependable and occasionally results in misanalysis (after all, losers don’t win tricks). Today’s deal (another from my lesson program) illustrates the proper way to plan the play.

4 S South
Both Vul
S 8 4 2
H 7 6 2
D A K 6 5 4
C K 5


2 D
2 S
1 S
2 H
4 S
S Q 5
H A 10 5
D 10 7 3
C Q 10 9 6 3
TableS J 10 6
H Q J 9
D Q J 9 8
C J 7 2

Lead: C 10
S A K 9 7 3
H K 8 4 3
D 2
C A 8 4

After a standard auction to four spades, West leads the unbid suit. It is simple to count declarer’s top tricks in the side suits: the aces and kings of both minor suits. But what about the trump suit? Of course the ace-king of spades is two tricks; but this is not a fair appraisal. Declarer should count all the trump tricks to which he is entitled, assuming a normal trump break. In this case, with a normal three-two break declarer will win four out of his five trumps. (If trumps break badly, declarer must make amends later.) Therefore, an initial analysis gives declarer eight top tricks — four spades, two diamonds and two clubs.

The next step is to look for ways to win additional tricks. This deal contains three chances: (1) ruff a club in the dummy, (2) lead a heart toward the king, and don’t overlook (3) establish the fifth diamond. Finally, develop a plan that encompasses all of your chances (or the best ones if you can’t try them all).

The correct play of today’s deal takes advantage of all the chances: Win the club ace (preserving dummy’s king as an entry); ace-king of trumps; diamond ace; diamond king (discard a heart); diamond ruff; club king; diamond ruff; club ruff. The remaining diamond is good so lead it and discard another heart. Chances 1 and 3 came through to give you two additional tricks — and your contract.

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© 1986 Richard Pavlicek