Suit Combinations Tutorial
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In this tutorial, I will discuss techniques for maximizing the number
of tricks you take in a particular suit.
There are basically 3 techniques for taking tricks (to simplify
the discussion, assume for the moment that you are playing a
no trump contract):
1) High Cards
An ace will always take a trick. Similarly, if your suit is AKQJ, you
will obviously take 4 tricks. Finally, you can establish your high cards
by knocking out the opponent's high cards. For example, if your suit
is KQJ10, you will take 3 tricks by knocking out the opponent's ace.
2) Finesses
Some of your lower high cards may take tricks if the opponent's high
cards are favorably positioned. For example, if your suit is AQ, by
leading towards the AQ ("finessing" against the K), you will take two tricks any time your
opponents' K is to the left of the Q. In general, there is a 50% chance that a
particular opponent has a specific card, so half the time you will take one trick,
and half the time you will take 2 tricks.
Another way to finesse is to lead a high card from one hand towards
a higher card in the other hand. Thus, if your holding is QJ opposite
Ax, you can finesse against the K by leading the Q from your hand. Again,
half the time you will take one trick, and half the time you will take 2 tricks..
However, it is usually preferable to lead towards a high card, rather
than leading a high card from your hand. This is because if your
opponent covers, you are using 2 of your high cards to knock out one
of your opponent's. For example, if your suit holding is xxx opposite
AQJ, you will take 3 tricks half the time. However, if your suit
holding is QJx opposite Axx, you will almost always take only 2 tricks
regardless of which opponent has the K (even though your combined
resources are the same as in the previous example). Imagine what
will occur. You lead the Q, your opponent plays the K, and you play the A.
Your J will take a trick, but your opponent's 10 will take the last trick.
By the way, this is why it is generally correct to cover an opponent's
honor with your honor -- it may establish a lower card in your partner's hand.
Another example of this principle is if your holding is Qxx opposite AJx. You should
lead low towards the J, rather than leading the Q. This will sometimes
result in 3 tricks if the K happens to be doubleton and to the left
of the AJx. However, if you lead the Q, you will never be able to
take 3 tricks (against proper defense!).
3) Length
Once the opponents are out of a suit, your low cards in that suit
will take tricks.
In order to use this technique, you should understand the most likely
distribution of your opponents' cards in your long suits. The general
rule is that if the opponents have an odd number of cards in your suit,
the suit will break as evenly as possible (e.g. if you have an eight
card suit, it is most likely that one opponent will hold 3 of that suit
and the other will have 2). If the opponents have an even number of
cards in your suit, it is most likely they will not be split evenly.
Some specific examples:
- A 7 card fit will split 4-2 about 1/2 of the time,
and 3-3 about 1/3 of the time.
- An 8 card fit will split 3-2 about 2/3 of the time.
- A nine card fit will split 3-1 about 1/2 the time,
and 2-2 about 40% of the time.
- You can assume a 10 card fit will split 2-1 most of the time.
- It is equally likely an 11 card fit will split 1-1 or 2-0.
You need not memorize these values (in fact, I'm not 100% sure they
are precisely accurate). Rather, simply remember the general principle
that an odd number of cards tends to split as evenly as possible,
whereas an even number of cards does not tend to split evenly.
In the problems presented below, assume you are playing a no trump
contract and have unlimited entries to either hand.
For each problem,
- Determine the best way to play the suit to maximize the number
of tricks you take on average.
- Determine the most likely number of winning tricks
- Similarly, determine the most likely number of losing tricks.
1) xxxx opposite AKJx
Play the ace; if the Q doesn't drop, return to your hand and finesse with the J.
You expect to take 3 tricks, and 4 tricks half the time.
2) xxxx opposite AKJxx
Play the A then K. You should expect to take 4 tricks,
5 tricks half the time.
3) xxxx opposite AQ10x
Finesse with the 10. If it wins; finesse with the Q. If it loses to the J,
finesse with the Q. If the 10 forces the K, cash the A Q.
You should expect to take 3 tricks most of the time.
It is important to finesse the 10 first, in case both honors are on-side.
4) xxxx opposite AQ10xx
Cash the A. If the J drops force out the K. If the K drops offside,
finesse with the 10. If neither drops, go back to your hand and lead
towards the Q. You should expect to take 4 tricks most of the time.
5) QJxx opposite Axxx
Lead the A, then lead toward the QJ. You should expect to take 3 tricks
most of the time. Leading the Q is a "practice finesse", because
even if it wins, you will still only take 3 tricks, losing to the 10 instead.
6) QJxx opposite Axxxx
Finesse with the Q. You should expect to take 4 tricks, but will take 5
when K doubleton is on-side.
7) xxx opposite AKQx
Cash the AKQ. You will take 4 tricks when the suit breaks 3-3 (about 1/3 of the time).
8) xxx opposite AKQ10
Cash the AKQ. You will take 4 tricks when the suit breaks 3-3 or
the J is doubleton (about half the time).
9) Qxxx opposite Axxx
Lead the A, then lead towards the Q. You expect to take 2 tricks, 3 tricks 1/2 the time.
10) Qxxx opposite Axxxx
Lead the A, then lead toward the Q. You should expect to take 4 tricks
most of the time, but should only count on 3 sure tricks.
11) Kxxx opposite Qxxx
Decide who to play for doubleton A. Say it is your left hand opponent (LHO).
Lead toward the Q. If that wins, play a low card from both hands on the next
trick. You should expect to take 2 tricks most of the time.
12) Kxxx opposite Qxxxx
Decide who to play for the A. Say it is your right hand opponent (RHO).
Lead towards the K, ducking if the A appears. If the A doesn't appear,
play a low card form both hands on the next trick. You will take 4 tricks
most of the time, but can only count on 3 sure tricks.
13) xxx opposite QJx
Lead towards the QJ. When that loses to an honor, return to your hand
and lead towards the remaining honor. You will take 1 trick 3/4 of the time.
14) Q109x opposite Axxx
Lead the Q. If covered by the K, take the A and force out the J with the 10.
If the Q loses, return to your hand and play the 10, taking the A if the J appears.
You should expect to take 3 tricks most of the time.
15) Q109x opposite Axxxx
Cash the A. If the J drops force out the K. If the K drops on your left,
finesse with the 10. If neither drops, lead towards the Q.
You should expect to take 4 tricks most of the time.
16) xxx opposite KJx
Lead toward the J. If it loses the the Q, return to your hand and lead
toward the K. You should expect to take 1 trick. You will take 0 tricks
1/4 of the time, and 2 tricks (when both honors are on-side) 1/4 of the time.
17) J109 opposite Axx
Lead the J, covering with the A if an honor appears. If your RHO wins an
honor, return to your hand and lead the 10. You will take 2 tricks
3/4 of the time.