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Counting Losers in Bridge

Have you ever been playing as declarer in a game of bridge and found you are stuck in the wrong hand or the opponent you did not want on lead is indeed so or that the opponents cashed three top tricks in a side-suit because you failed to try and get rid of these losers before you drew trumps?

These are a few of the unpleasant things that can happen to a declarer who fails to plan the play of a hand before they play to dummy at trick 1. You know you should stop, thank partner and work out a brief plan, even if you are about to lose the first trick. A few seconds thought then could make all the difference, maybe even just deciding in which hand you will win the first trick.

So, what do you think about? Not about the good or bad cards partner gave you!

In no trumps, you want to count winners but in suit play, it is the losers or possible losers on which you should focus. Look at your hand and see how many losers you have and then decide what you can do about eliminating them.

Take the following deal. You are in 4♠ as South meaning you need at least 10 tricks to make your contract.

Counting Losers in Bridge

Contract 4♠, The lead is the 9.

It is normal to look at your own hand in conjunction with dummy's. Take each suit in turn.
Spades: no losers
Hearts : no losers
Diamonds: two losers
Clubs : one loser (the ace and because dummy has only two clubs, your other small clubs are not losers. Why? Because you can either trump one or both of them. )

You only have three top losers. That is promising as 3 losers means 10 winners and you can make your contract. Great.

Can you avoid losing any of those three losers? It looks like if you can draw trumps, you can play all your hearts, discarding the certain losers, your two diamonds.

So, you have a plan. You do what you do normally in a suit contract, draw trumps and then play your long suit, in this case hearts. Then you can lose a trick to the ♣A and you may even make 11, possibly 12 tricks.

Time to play to trick 1! Once you get into the practice of doing the above, it does not take too long. Something during the play of the hand may cause you to rethink. However, you are ready.

Have you decided in which hand you will win the first trick? It does not really matter in this first example but as you intend to play hearts after drawing trumps, win the trick with the honour in the hand with short hearts. It will be easier if you do that when you start to run the heart suit.

That was a lot of talking to yourself (do not let the opposition hear what you are saying!). Yet, that was quite a straightforward board. Try this one:

Counting Losers in Bridge
The contract is 4 by South with West leading ♠K.

So, look at the South hand:
Spades: 2 losers
Hearts: 0 losers
Diamonds: 2 losers
Clubs: 0 losers

That is 4 losers, one too many. If you draw trumps, you will eventually lose two diamonds and two spades, one down. You cannot do anything about the diamond losers but that singleton spade in dummy is really useful.

Before you draw trumps, ruff a spade, play a club to your ace and ruff another spade. Now draw trumps and eventually lose two diamonds. Off you go. You are ready to start.

Here is one further example. Let’s see all four hands, though, of course, you cannot do so at trick one.

Counting Losers in Bridge

4♠ by South. West leads ♣Q.

That’s not too bad a dummy!

Spades: one "maybe" loser (♠Q)
Hearts: 2 certain and one "maybe loser" depending on which defender holds the A.
Diamonds: 0 losers
Clubs: 0 losers as South's 3rd club can be ruffed in dummy.

So, here, the number of losers is between two and four. Four is one too many. We will only lose four tricks if East gains the lead with the ♠Q and plays a high heart like the queen meaning we lose three tricks in that suit. In that situation, we would hate West to hold the A.

What can we do? We can avoid giving East the lead even if they have the ♠Q. Have you noticed we have very good spade pips? We can take a finesse through either East or West. So, we will finesse East for the ♠Q as if West wins the ♠Q, and plays hearts, the K will soon score a trick. If West exits in either minor or with the last trump, then we can discard one of our hearts on the fourth round of diamonds.

Whatever happens, we will make at least 10 tricks. We counted our losers (or potential ones) and came up with a good plan to ensure we make at least 10 tricks.

Counting losers and planning! Each time you play a suit contract, that is what you do. The losers may not be definite losers as in our first two examples. Sometimes, they are potential losers as in our third example. Never rush into the play of a hand. Carry out this exercise and plan. It is amazing how it will often change your outlook about how you will play a hand.

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