The following golden rules apply in at least 95% of situations so if you follow them you will be doing the right thing 9.5 times out of 10. The exceptions can take time to spot, but as you see them you will remember them for next time getting you close to perfect bridge.
1.1 For game in No Trumps you will usually require 25+ High Card Points (HCP) for a small slam in NT you will usually need 32-35 HCPs and 36+ for a grand slam in NTs. 10s are usually more important in NT than in suit contracts.
1.2 For game in suit contracts you may need the same points as above but high cards are not as important as distribution. Aces are more valuable in suit contracts than the 4 HCPs assigned in NTs. Try counting them as 5HCPs ONCE you have agreed a suit!
1.3 Bid slowly when you have strength to determine the correct strain (suit vs NT); bid quickly when you are weak with a fit.
1.4 MISFIT nearly always = NT and you will need more HCPs (than mentioned above) to achieve your goal.
1.5 The 5 level belongs to the opposition in competitive auctions. This means that if you bid to 4S expecting to make and the opponents bid 5H, you should normally pass or double 5♥ rather than bidding 5♠.
1.6 Follow the law of total tricks [The total number of potential trumps held in you and your partner’s best fit OR the total number of potential trumps held in your opponents fit defines the level at which you should play in competitive sequences. Simply put if you have 9 spades between you and any number of points it is most;ly safe to bid to the 3 level (9 tricks needed).] There are several good books on this topic that are essential bridge reading.
1.7 Don’t psyche unless you wish to change partners!
2.1 Plan the whole play before you play any card to trick one.
2.2 Count your tricks – winners AND losers. The total may not add up to 13!
2.2.1 Where do extra tricks come from?
188.8.131.52 Finesses. These are easiest to understand and do but you should look to avoid these if a better percentage is available. On the face of it a finesse is a 50% chance this may be better if an opponent has bid the suit and the finesse cards are sat on her left.
184.108.40.206 Establishing long suits. Vital in No trump contracts and often vital in suit contracts. If you have enough entries a hand with Axxxx opposite a singleton offers a better chance of 2 tricks than a finesse in another suit. It just requires a 4-3 break (62%).
220.127.116.11 Ruff with the hand that has short trumps. If you have 5 trumps in one hand and 3 in the other, try to use the 3 for ruffing (trumping losers). Indeed it is rarely right (unless establishing a side suit (see above) or performing a dummy reversal (see below) to ruff with the hand that has long trumps.
18.104.22.168 Cross ruff (trump in both hands). Easy to spot when you have two shortages opposite one another. Often needed when you are short on points for your contract.
22.214.171.124 Looking to drop key honour cards. Sometimes you can gain when an opponet has say QJ bare or singleton K. Sometines the bidding will give you a clue.
126.96.36.199 Dummy reversals. These can be hard to spot but sometimes you can make more tricks by ruffing with the hand that has long trumps. Say you have 5 trumps in one hand and 3 in the other, you may ruff 3 times with the long trumps and draw trumps with the short hand.
188.8.131.52 End plays. This is where you force, by plan or accident, an opponent to lead a suit that is favourable to you.
184.108.40.206 Squeezes. This will happen by accident at first. There are many varieties but when you start to see them happen, then start to plan for them you will appreciate the art and beauty of the game. If you find yourself with a hopeless contract that must surely fail by a trick – think “SQUEEZE”. You will usually need entries to both hands and a running suit that will squeeze or force an opponent to throw away a card she would rather keep.
220.127.116.11 Coups & trump promotions. These come in many flavours but you usually aim to win tricks by leading a winner in a side suit that your opponent either ruffs high, establishing your trump or she ruffs low and you over ruff.
2.3 Count the opponents points and link that to the bidding. e.g. If one opponent has already shown up with 11 points and you are trying to find a queen in a suit, it is likely to be with her partner otherwise she might have opened the bidding.
2.4 Count your opponents length in key suits.
2.5 As declarer, if you hold touching honours lead the lowest one if you don’t want the defenders to cover.
2.6 Try to establish suits that need to break 3-2 (68%) or 4-3 (62%) is better odds than a finesse (50%) so only take finesses if you have to!
2.7 Consider the opening lead (see leads below). Why did they lead that card? If it is not in the ‘good lead’ category that probably means they don’t have one of those available.
3.1 With Kxx behind AQJx(x) duck the first finesse unless you know or suspect declarer has a singleton.
3.2 Don’t underlead an Ace against suit contracts. The longer your suit with an Ace in the more chance that declarer will score a trick to which he/she is not entitled (imagine a King singleton) – see preferred leads in the table below.
3.3 Cover an honour with an honour unless you KNOW that the honour is from a sequence (touching honours).
3.4 2nd hand low, third hand high.
3.5 Try not to give declarer a ruff and discard. This is where both declarer and dummy have no more in a suit...it is usually wrong to play that suit again!
3.6 Try to force the hand with long trumps to ruff (i.e. ‘shorten declarer’s trumps).
3.7 When you have the majority of the points but the opponents have won the auction, lead a trump no matter how unattractive it might seem. Remember they will probably need to cross ruff to make their contract.
3.8 When you can see little future in more tricks in the side suits try for uppercuts and trump promotions by playing a long suit again. An uppercut is where you would like your partner to ruff high so that you can score a trump trick. (say you have Qx and your partner has Jx trumps). If declarer gets in, the A and K will draw your trumps, however if one of you ruffs something you will always score a trump trick whether or not you are over-ruffed). A trump promotion is where declarer can draw the outstanding trump(s) but you play a suit and she either ruffs high establishing a trick for your partner’s trump or she ducks and your partner scores the trump anyway.
Smile at your partner. No matter how badly she or he plays. Arguing or criticising rather than encouraging will have perhaps the most negative effect on your score card of all the rule breaking opportunities listed here.
5.1 vs. suit contracts. Listen to the auction before choosing a lead. The unbid suit is often a good starting point.
5.1.1 Good leads
Lead the card underlined
AK followed by the Ace
KQ10 or better
QJ9 or better
J10x or better
xxxx(x) MUD (middle-up-down) or TON (top of nothing) applies (see below)
5.1.2 Reasonable leads (if no good lead available)
xxx lead either the middle (MUD – middle (followed by the top one) up down also known as ‘second’ as you would lead the second highest from 4 or more as well as just three cards e.g. 87654) or TON (top of nothing). Agree with partner what constitutes ‘nothing’. Prefer a 10 to be something so if playing MUD leads the 9 will always be from shortage as you would lead 109xx.
Kxx(x) or Qxx(x)
5.1.3 Bad leads
5.1.4 Terrible leads
Axx Leading an ‘unsupported Ace’ This can be right against slams, especially in pairs but almost never at any other time.
Axx(x) This can be right against a small slam but you will be blamed if it doesn’t work!
Kxx(x) Leading and unsupported King is often worse than leading an unsupported Ace.
AQx(x) (against a suit contract) Never underlead AQ unless you KNOW that your partner has the K!
5.2 When to lead trumps?
It is nearly always right to lead trumps when:
- your side have the majority of the points
- You have a good holding in declarer’s first or second bid suit that is not trumps
- you do not expect declarer to have a running suit
- you do not have a certain misfit with partner (when you might try for a cross ruff)
- You have no obvious other lead
5.3 When not to lead trumps?
- When you wish to get a ruff
- When you have a holding such as Kx, Qxx or Jxx that you need to protect
- When partner might have the Q