Trump trick-taking techniques


Introduction

You are playing in trump, but you have too many losers. How can you reduce the number of losers to make your contract?


There are 3 primary methods:

  1. Drawing Trumps

  2. Ruffing losers in the short trump hand

  3. Discarding Losers


Drawing Trumps

Drawing trumps refers to playing trumps so that your opponents run out of trump cards. If we have enough tricks in the side suits to make our contract, then the only worry is the opponents trumping our winners. By drawing out their trumps, we can eliminate this threat.


When drawing trumps, you should only draw enough so that the enemies run out; any more will be just wasting the trumps from both the declarer and the dummy. To ensure this, count how many trumps your side has and keep track of how many the opponents have played.


Always draw trumps, unless you see a reason not to. (We will encounter reasons to not draw trumps soon).


Example:


Contract: 4♥

Opening Lead: small diamond

♠AQJ2 ♥Txx ♦Axx ♣xxx

♠K543 ♥AKQJx ♦x ♣JT9


We only have three club losers, and 10 tricks in the rest of the suits (5 trump tricks, 4 spade tricks, and one diamond trick).


Therefore, we want to win the ♦A, then play enough trumps so that the opponents have no more. Then, we can enjoy all of our spade winners.


If we do not draw trumps first but try to cash our spade tricks, the opponents could trump away our winner and then score 3 club tricks to set our contract.


Ruffing Losers in the Short Trump Hand

This is a good technique when we need to get rid of losers in a side suit from the master hand (longer trump hand).


Ruffing small cards only gains when you are ruffing in the hand with less/equal trump length. For example, suppose you have AKQJT facing 987 as your trump suit. If you play out your trumps, you will take 5 tricks. If you trump using a card from the longer trump suit (AKQJT) then play out your trumps, you will still only take 5 tricks (1 trick from ruffing and 4 tricks from the remaining suit). But if you trump using a card from the shorter trump suit then play out your trumps, you will take 6 tricks (1 trick from ruffing and 5 tricks from the remaining suit). Trumping with all 3 short trumps will give you a total of 8 tricks!


Note that if we want to ruff losers in the short trump hand, we usually cannot draw trumps first, since dummy will then have not enough trumps left to ruff with. This is one of the reasons for not drawing trumps immediately mentioned before (we will see some more in the future).


Example:


Contract: 7♠

Lead: small spade

♠xx ♥Axxxx ♦xx ♣xxxx

♠AKQJTx ♥x ♦AKx ♣AKQ


Our only loser is in the diamond suit. We can get rid of it by playing ♦AK, and then trumping the last diamond in dummy. Notice that we cannot afford to play any trumps beyond the first trick because then dummy will have no more trumps to take care of the small diamond. After ruffing the diamond in dummy, come back to our own hand with a club honor and draw trumps. Then, the contract is ensured.


Discarding Losers

You can get rid of losers by discarding them on winners.


Contract: 4♠

Opening Lead: West leads the ♦Q.

♠Qxx ♥xxx ♦AKxx ♣xxx

♠AKJ10x ♥KQJT ♦x ♣xxx


You have one heart loser and three club losers. That is one too many! However, you can play ♦AK, discarding one of your club losers. After you do that, you can draw trumps and then knock out the ♥A. Notice that discarding one of your hearts will not take away a loser, so be careful of what suit you pitch!



Examples:

1.


Contract: 7♠

Opening Lead: small diamond

♠AKQJ10 ♥AKQJ10 ♦A ♣AK

♠xxx ♥xx ♦xxxxx ♣xxx



Answer: We have 13 tricks. There is no reason to do anything but to draw trumps. We do not want to play hearts first and have them trumped by the opponents.




2.


Contract: 4♠

Opening Lead: ♠x

♠xxx ♥x ♦xxxx ♣xxxxx

♠AKQJx ♥Axx ♦AK ♣xxx


Answer: We have two heart losers and three club losers—two losers too many. We can get rid of the two heart losers by trumping them in dummy. Do not play anymore trumps beyond the first trick—dummy will then only have one trump left to take care of the two heart losers, which is impossible. Use the diamond honors to cross back to either repeat the heart ruff or to draw out trumps once both heart losers are taken care of.


3.


Contract: 7♠

Opening Lead: small heart

♠Qxx ♥AKQ ♦Axxxx ♣Ax

♠AKJ10xx ♥x ♦xxx ♣KQx


Answer:


We have two diamond losers. We can get rid of these losers by discarding them on dummy’s hearts. We should first draw trumps before we play our hearts to avoid the opponents ruffing one of the hearts.


Practice Quiz

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