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Declarer play in bridge

When you are learning how to play bridge it can be tempting to grab all your quick tricks as soon as possible but there's normally a better way to play the hand. Let's look at some common declarer play techniques.

Drawing Trumps

In a suit contract, you'll probababy need to draw trumps quickly, which means taking the trumps out of the opposition hands to stop them ruffing ( trumping ) your tricks.

Try playing the hand yourself and let us know how you get on.

Declarer Play in Bridge

Winning Extra Tricks

You also need to find a way to win extra tricks, not just your obvious winners. There are really only three ways to win extra tricks as declarer - you can ruff something if you're in a suit contract, you can establish a long suit in either notrumps or a suit contract and you can finesse.

Try playing the hand yourself and let us know how you get on.

Declarer Play in Bridge


Ruffing in the hand with the most number of trumps is usually fruitless. Those trumps will make tricks anyway.

ruffing in bridge

North is in 4 with the ♠K lead.

You are a trick short. You have five hearts, one spade, and three clubs once you have taken the losing finesse in clubs. Where can you find that extra trick?

If you draw trumps you will make five tricks in hearts. If you ruff a diamond in the North hand, you will still make five tricks in hearts!

But, if you ruff spades with dummy's trumps, you will make six or seven trump tricks depending on the number of spades you ruff. If you ruff two spades, you will make an overtrick instead of going one down. Obviously, you should not draw trumps until you have used dummy's trumps to ruff spades.

Generally, it is only possible to score extra tricks in the trump suit by ruffing in the hand with the least number of trumps - which is usually dummy. The key is to look for a shortage in dummy. If there is a singleton or void, you might be able to use dummy's trumps for ruffing.

We have a pretty nice hand. After seeing dummy and counting our sure winners, we realize we are two tricks short.

south hand and auction

Contract is 4 - South Declarer

Look for where two more tricks might come from. We counted five heart winners. Can you take advantage of dummy's spade shortage to turn them into seven heart tricks?

Establishing a suit

Establishing a long suit in notrumps is an easy way to win extra tricks. Choose the suit you have most of between your hand and dummy then just keep playing it!

In this surprising hand, South is declarer in a contract of 3NT and must play clubs at every opportunity in order to establish a 9th trick.

establishing a suit


A finesse in bridge is a card play technique that can sometimes allow you to win a trick with a card that is not the highest one remaining in the suit. A finesse normally works by leading a low card from one hand, waiting to see what card second hand plays and then playing a high but, not the highest, card from the third hand hoping that fourth hand can't beat that card.

In all the following examples you are in a 6NT slam contract but finessing is technique that works in suit contracts or notrumps.

Simple Finesse

finesse in bridge

You are North and East leads a diamond against your contract of 6NT. You can count four sure club tricks, three diamond tricks and three heart tricks and therefore need two spade tricks to make the contract.

Play a low spade from the North hand and wait to see what East plays. If East plays low you play the ♠Q. West can't beat that card and you still have the ♠A for your 12th trick.

How do you know that East has the ♠K? You don't! You just have to hope. But if West has the ♠K then there's almost no way to make your contract so a winning finesse is all you can hope for.

There's a 50% chance that East started with the ♠K but only a very small chance West started with the singleton ♠K. A finesse doesn't guarantee and extra trick but it's often your best chance.

Low to an honour

low to an honour in bridge

This time you are South in a contract of 6NT and West leads a diamond. This time you have four sure club tricks, three diamond tricks and four heart tricks. You need one spade trick.

Now you need to hope that East has the ♠A. Lead a low spade from the North hand. If East plays low you can play your ♠K and win the trick. If East plays the ♠A you play low from the South hand and your ♠K will take a trick later.

Running Finesse

running finesse

Again you are South in 6NT and West leads a diamond. You can count four club winners, three in dimaonds, three in heart so you need three spade tricks to make your contract.

This time you have the QJT sequence in spades so you can take a running finesse. Play the ♠Q from the South hand. If West plays low you also play low from the North hand. West's ♠K is trapped!

Not a finessse!

cover an honour

In our final example you are North in 6NT and this time you will need two spade tricks to make your contract.

Be careful with this one! Many players will try a running finesse in this situation by playing the ♠Q and hoping the West has the ♠K.

However, if East has the ♠K your ♠Q will lose and if West has the ♠Q he will simply cover the ♠Q, covering an honour with an honour, with the ♠K forcing you to use your ♠A. Either way you will only make 1 spade trick unless West makes the mistake of not covering your ♠Q.

To win two spade tricks this time you need to play a low spade from the North hand, hoping that East has the ♠K. If East plays low, you play the ♠Q. If East plays the ♠K your ♠Q will make a trick later.

Double finesse

Imagine you hold this spade suit as declarer.

double finesse in bridge

You've always got 1 trick in the suit and you'll never make 3. How do you give yourself the best chance to make 2 tricks?

Play a low spade towards dummy and try the T. If that loses, as you expect, when you regain the lead you can play a low spade to the J. If left hand opponent has at least one spade honour your double finesse will result in two tricks for your side. You'll only be disappointed if right hand opponent has both missing honours.

Advanced Card Play

Entries to dummy

3NT seems promising at first glance. However, there's one problem - dummy is very weak and only has one entry! What can be done?

Take a stab at the hand and see if you can figure out how to make nine tricks. If you get stuck, don't worry--Tina explains the correct line of play in the video. This one might be a bit surprising!

entries to dummy

Avoidance Play

Tina again finds herself in everyone's favourite contract, 3NT, but she's going to have to make an avoidance play to make her contract. As luck would have it, the opponents lead our weakest suit, and we've only got one stopper before they can have their way with the hand. How are we going to make nine tricks? See if you can pull this one off, keeping in mind what can go wrong. As always, careful play gets the job done!

As luck would have it, the opponents lead our weakest suit, and we've only got one stopper before they can have their way with the hand. How are we going to make nine tricks?

avoidance play

Discarding losers

Not a great hand, but having a six card major is always a good thing.

It is a shame that partner doesn't have better heart support. That means we are likely to lose three heart tricks. We also have two spade losers.

After winning the first trick, if we play a trump, whoever wins it can simply take two spade tricks and we'll stand to go two down. Try to spot the solution.

south hand and auction

Contract is 4 - South Declarer

Related Hands

Finessing - thinking about it the right way
Overtricks - they're important!


Great information. Hope I can remember it when I go to the club.
My sentiments exactly ktrafferty
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