When you are playing a suit contract, whether slam, game, or part-score, you look for the losers in your hand and see how you can eliminate them. In no-trumps, at the sight of dummy, you look for winning tricks and gauge how best you might achieve the number you require for your contract. The losing cards may remain after you have scored a certain number of tricks. Alternatively, you may be able to discard them on the run of a long suit. Although there may be dangers of which you may need to be aware, your primary aim is to score the number of tricks needed for your contract.
The contract is 3NT by South. West led ♥K. As declarer, after thanking partner, you must study dummy and your hand and look for sources of tricks. It is quite simple on the above hand. Look by suit:Spades: one, the ace, possibly a second with the queen Hearts: one, the ace Diamonds: six since we do not have to worry about any trump suit Clubs: two (AK)
We can count up to 10 certain tricks, without any finesses, without losing the lead. The plan we formulate will be simple. Win the lead and take our 6 diamond winners after which we can certainly cash the ♣AK and ♠A. We would have to judge later in the play whether it would be safe to take the spade finesse. We must never endanger our contract by taking an unnecessary finesse. If South could score three or four heart tricks as well as winning the ♠K, we must not finesse. We have 10 tricks already.
Our contract is so secure that we might even to decide to duck the opening lead. Although unlikely, West might decide to switch to a spade at trick 2. Nothing lost as we were never aiming for all 13 tricks. Ducking the opening lead could be included in our plan. Of course, it is not always as easy as in the above deal. Yet, no matter how easy or hard, the same principle should be applied.
South reached 3NT after opening and rebidding hearts. West led the ♠K. It was time for South to do a bit of counting: Spades: one trick, the ace Hearts: four tricks almost certainly once we have lost to the ace Diamonds: two tricks, AK, possibly a third if the opponents had three diamonds each Clubs: two tricks, AK, with the possibility of two more if each opponent had three clubs.
We have only five certain top tricks (♠A, DAK, CAK) which means we need to develop more tricks. Lose the lead to gain some. While all the other three suits apart from spades offer opportunities for extra tricks, we need four more tricks after we lose one. Diamonds will only gain us one more trick, maybe. Clubs might gain us two extra tricks. Only hearts will gain us the four we require by losing the lead once.
Therefore, we have decided we must play on hearts, lose to the ace and then cash our four heart winners. That is our plan.
Yet, wait. It is fine to win and play on hearts. What if a defender can take four spade tricks along with the ♥A? That means we will fail in our contract. We must look for the dangers in our plan. The above situation is very real. We have no better source of tricks than hearts. We must realise that one of three things will happen when we lose the lead:a. spades break 4-4 in the opponents' hands so that they only have 3 winners in that suit along with the ♥A. b. the player with the ♥A has at least a 5 card spade suit. c. the player with the ♥A has three spades or less.
If a. or b. occurs, it does not matter whether we win the first spade or not. With a., we will make our contract. With b., we will be at least one down. However, we need to realise if c. occurs, we are able to secure our contract by ducking the first two rounds of spades. We have to win the third round but when say East wins the ♥A, they have no spade left to play and the contract has made.
Therefore, our complete plan must be to duck the first two rounds of spades, win the ace and play on hearts. That thought process took a few seconds. The play would proceed relatively quickly after that.
The Winners: The Dangers: The Plan
Winners are not always certain winners. We must go for what is the most likely source of tricks:
Playing in a part-score, here 1NT, there is often far more uncertainty. West led the ♦K. "Thanks, partner" and start counting and planning: Spades: one certain trick (A) and one or two more depending on where the ♠K and ♠Q are. Hearts: one eventually, as long as we can get the opponents to play the suit for us. Diamonds: one for certain (A) with some chance we might score ♦J. Clubs: two (AK) and maybe one more if we give up a trick and each opponent has three cards in the suit.
That's 4 certain tricks, two maybes in spades, one in each other suit. That is a long way from our target of seven, with only four certain tricks. That is often the reality in the part-score zone.
We said we do not want to touch hearts. Since spades offers us more chance of more extra tricks than clubs, we should try that suit. To play that suit, we must take a couple of finesses and we are very likely to lose the lead to East..and we know what will happen if we win the opening lead. Back comes a diamond and gone is the chance of a second trick in that suit.
The danger diamonds.
Can we do anything there? Yes. If we play low to the first trick, letting the ♦K win the trick, West has to switch to avoid giving us two diamond tricks.
So we have tried to count winners, highlighted a danger and formed our plan.
Look at all four hands and see how it worked out:
South ducked the ♦K smoothly. West should have switched but carried on with the ♦Q. As South, you won and played ♠9, playing low from dummy, losing to East's queen. You won the diamond return with your jack and played ♠8 to dummy's ♠T which won the trick. A club to your king was followed by two more rounds of spades and you had already scored six tricks and had one more certain trick to come with the ♣A. In fact, the chances are you would end up with an overtrick.
You did not deviate from your plan which you established before trick 1 was played.
Count winners, real or potential. Look for dangers and plan accordingly. Every time you play a no-trump contract.
Check out the video to see @graeme and @bajir discussing counting winners after a brief diversion into their old theme music jokes. Sigh.
Right, let's play the hand.