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Techniques to develop tricks

(1) Promotion 
This turns middle-ranked cards into winners by driving out higher-ranked cards. It’s easy to spot when the cards are in the same hand.

Dummy    Declarer 
♥ 432       ♥ KQJ

The opponents hold ♥A, but declarer can make two tricks by leading either ♥K or ♥Q or ♥J and losing to ♥A. This promotes the two remaining high cards. When the high cards are not in the same hand, it’s more of a challenge. Two tricks can be promoted here too.

Dummy       Declarer
♦ Q62          ♦KJ5

Consider the Order of Play

For promotion to work, the opponents must win at least one trick. Keep your sure tricks in other suits to regain the lead. Losing tricks early is part of your plan. You’re doing it to make tricks later.

What Card Combinations Do You Need for Promotion?

You need to hold middle-ranking touching cards and be missing the top ones. eg, ♠KQJ54 or ♠QJ1054 or even ♠J10954.

(2) Length 
To establish tricks through length, look for suits where your side holds seven or more cards (the majority)

Dummy       Declarer
♦ 8652         ♦AK73

Declarer has two sure tricks: ♦A & ♦K. If the five missing diamonds are divided 3-2, declarer can develop a third trick through length, so win ♦A & ♦K and play another. This will lose but your last diamond will now be a winner. 

The number of tricks you’ll develop through length will depend on how the missing cards are divided. As a general guideline:

  • An odd number of missing cards will divide as evenly as possible. (3-2 will occur 67.8% of the time)
  • An even number of missing cards will divide slightly unevenly. (4-2 will occur more than 3-3, to be precise, 48% compared with 36%) 

(3) Finesse
Taking a successful finesse means winning a trick with a card (e.g. ♥Q), when the opponents still hold a higher card (e.g. ♥K). It ‘traps’ the opponents’ high cards, because of the way you play. Lead towards the card you hope will take a trick. You need some luck too. Here you’re missing ♥A but would like to take a trick with ♥K.

♥ K5

♥ 72

Don’t lead ♥K, as the defenders have ♥A and ♥Q, and you’ll lose to both. Also, don’t lead a low heart from the dummy as the defenders can win and still retain ♥A to capture ♥K.

Lead a low heart from your hand towards dummy and give yourself a 50% chance. When you lead ♥2, the opponent on your left must play before you.

In general, lead a high card only if you want the opponents to cover it. Otherwise, lead towards your high card. Consider the order of play so you can be in the correct hand to lead towards the card you hope will take a trick.

(4) Using the Trump Suit 
In suit contracts, trumping losers with dummy’s trumps will often give you extra tricks. Having shortages in dummy allows this to happen. Sometimes you should delay drawing trumps and do your trumping first. 

When you have seven or more cards in a side suit, the potential for making extra tricks increases. Trumping some cards in this suit will often turn the long cards into winners eventually.

(5). Discarding Losers on Winners 
For this to work you need a suit with a different number of cards between declarer and dummy. You also need winners to take care of losers in the other suit (e.g. ♠AK54 opposite ♠Q3).  If a card is a winner and you have none of that suit in partner’s hand, you don’t need to trump it, you can throw away a loser in the other hand instead.

To Draw or Not to Draw
In general, you want to draw the opponents’ trumps as soon as possible. However, if you have quick losers and will lose the lead when you draw trumps, dispose of your extra losers first. If you’re able to draw trumps without giving up the lead, do it first.

Combining Play Techniques
Often you need to combine one or more techniques. 
Promotion (No Trumps and Suits)
Length (No Trumps and Suits)
Finesse (No Trumps and Suits)
Trumping Losers (Suits only)
Discarding Losers (Suits only)

When you’ve made your plan, which may need to be changed as you discover more about the hand, you also have to remember to check for entries to allow you to reach the suit you’ve been working on.