Playing of the bridge hand

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After the contract has been determined, the players proceed to the playing of the bridge hand, to see how many tricks the offensive players can make and how that will relate to their prediction in the bidding (the contract).

While all four players participate in the bidding or auction, only three players participate in the playing of the hand. One becomes the “dummy,” who helps play the cards from his/her hand which has now become the “dummy,” “table” or “board.” The dummy player only follows the instructions on what to do from his/her partner, and may not say anything – all coaching of the partner on how to play the hand is strictly forbidden. The player who had first mentioned the suit in which the contract is played becomes the “Declarer” or player. He or she plays the hand and will now make all decisions as to which card will be played from the “dummy” or partner’s hand.

In Rubber bridge, before the first card is led, the player who will become the dummy will show all his or her cards in the suit that will be trump by putting them down face up on the table. (In duplicate tournament bridge, no cards are shown from dummy until after the opening lead.)

The person sitting to the left of the Declarer leads the first card to start the play to ensure that the Declarer will have the opportunity to play last on the first trick. After the defender has led the first card to start play, the entire dummy is now put face up on the table for all players to see, partner as well as opponents.

Bridge etiquette is important

It is not considered good bridge etiquette at this point to start criticizing how the partner had bid the hand during the auction. No matter how atrocious the bidding, how many errors were made and how inappropriate the final contract now turns out to be when both hands are known, the only appropriate thing to say for the Declarer at this point is: “Thank you, partner!”

How tricks are won

The highest card in the suit that was led wins the trick, unless one of the players has no more cards in that suit and uses a “trump” to take the trick (assuming the final bid was not in No-Trump, in which case there is no trump). Players may not use trumps if they still have cards in the suit that was led. This is called reneging and is highly penalized, with at least a one-trick penalty, but two-trick penalties are also common and the Director of a duplicate tournament may award the aggrieved pair even more if the situation calls for it.

In No-Trump, there is no trump, so the highest card in the suit that was led always wins the trick. The player who has won the last trick leads a card to start the next trick.

If a defender gets confused and doesn’t remember where the partnership took the last trick, and one partner commits the mistake of leading the next card from the wrong side, this mistake can be penalized. In tournament play, the card that was wrongly led must remain visible on the table as “penalty card” for all to see and must be played at the first legal opportunity.

At the end of the playing of the hand, each pair counts up the number of tricks taken and compares it to the goal under the contract to determine the score, whether the contract was made, with how many overtricks if applicable, or by how many tricks the contract went Down if the defenders were able to “set” the contract. Do not throw your cards in until all four players at the table have agreed on what the final score is.

Tips for playing the hand

On offense, the Declarer playing a contract with a trump suit usually first tries to draw the opponents’ trumps out so that only he and his dummy partner have trumps left to control the play.

The exception is when there is an opportunity to trump on the short side. For example, let’s suppose that a Declarer is playing a contract of 4 Spades. He/she has five Spades (trumps) in his hand and three additional trumps on the board (in the dummy). He/she also has a singleton Diamond in the dummy and three small Diamond losers in his hand. Before drawing trump, he/she would play a diamond trick to set up a dummy void of diamonds so that he/she can trump the remaining two Diamond losers from his/her hand with small trump cards on the dummy. In this way he/she will have found an excellent use for dummy’s trump cards. If he had drawn out the opponents’ trumps first, the two small trump cards in the dummy would simply have fallen under big trump cards from his hands. But by using them in the manner described above, he takes two extra tricks with them.

In bridge it is important to count how many cards have been played in every suit, but especially in any trump suit. This will tell the Declarer if the opponents have any remaining trumps in their hands.

In a No-Trump contract, a Declarer usually attacks the suit that he/she has the most cards in (the longest), combining the number of cards on his/her hand and in the dummy. Even if it is necessary to push out some high-card losers held by the opponents, this sets up a long suit and allows Declarer to take tricks with lower cards.

Tips for playing defense

On defense, the first lead is usually important. Against a contract in a suit with trumps, if an opponent has a singleton, it is usually a good idea to lead it. That sets the defender up to take any next trick in that suit with a trump (also called a ruff).

If he or she has no singleton, the lead should be in a suit that was bid during the auction by a partner.

If no such bidding had occurred, then lead a suit that was not bid by any player. Do not lead from a King or a Queen. This means that if you have a King or Queen with two small cards in any suit, do not lead one of those small cards, unless a partner has bid that suit. If you do that, you will give your opponents playing the hand a chance for a free “finesse,” meaning you give them a chance to take a trick with a card lower than your King or Queen, and possibly squeeze out your high card.

Against a No-Trump contract, lead a small card from your longest suit (for example, 4th highest from a five-card suit), trying to set up tricks to be taken later in such a long suit.

In general there is a rule in bridge that the second player on a trick plays low, while the “third man goes as high as he can” (second-man low, third-man high).

A partner may also “signal” a suit he or she wants led by throwing a discard of that suit the first chance he or she has for such a discard.

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