These Help pages can be downloaded here with the Winning Bridge Shareware game for Microsoft Windows 98, ME, 2000 and XP.
Bridge Basics - Play
If you are familiar with Whist or Solo the basic rules for card play should be familiar to you:
Cards a played in groups of 4 (a 'trick'), one from each player.
The lead after the bidding has been completed is made by the first player clockwise from the declarer.
Subsequent leads are made by the winner of the previous trick.
The winner of a trick is the position who played the highest card in the led suit or the highest trump.
A player must follow suit if they can.
If a player cannot follow suit they either play a trump or discard a card from another suit.
The trump suit is the suit named in the contract except when the contract 'suit' is no trumps. As the name implies, a no trump contract is played without a trump suit.
After the first lead, the partner of the declarer lays their cards on the table to form the dummy. The declarer must play the dummy's cards as well as his own cards.
The other pair should cooperate (without consulting each other) to attempt to stop the declarer from making the contract. They are not allowed to see each others cards until each card is played, but they can see the dummy.
The following tips are mostly aimed at the declarer, but many of the ideas apply equally to the defence except they do not have as much information about their partner's hand.
Try to remember how many cards have been played in each suit (especially the trump suit). This can be made easier if you remember which suit was played at each trick and who followed suit. If everyone followed suit you only need to remember that four cards have gone; if someone trumps or discards you remember how many followed and what the other cards were. Even better, try to remember exactly which cards have already been played. This will let you know which of the cards you hold are winners. If you know that all of the trumps have been played, your winners are certain to make once you get the lead. If you hold the remaining cards in a suit and there are no trumps to be played, even if the card is a deuce when you lead it will win. The snag is if you cannot win the lead in a suit if you hold the only remaining cards: even an ace it will not win the lead.
You do not have to hold the highest card in a suit to win a trick. You can play a low card to a king with the ace held by the opposition: if the ace is held to the left of the leader the king should make (if not on this trick then the next time it is played; if it on the right then it will always lose if you lead (but not if you can persuade the right hand opponent to lead the suit). This type of play is called a finesse. Another type of finesse is to play a lower card (say the queen) towards a higher card (the ace in this example) hoping the king is on the left. If it is then the player must decide whether to beat the queen and lose to the ace or not play the king and allow you to let the queen win the trick. This type of play is best used when you also hold the cards immediately below the card that was led (e.g. Jack, 10), it is not such a good idea if the opposition hold these cards.
See what cards are discarded. This might help you to decide where a missing honour is held since it is unlikely that a player will throw a card that is protecting an honour. The fact that a player is discarding tells you how many cards in the led suit the other player has (you know how many you hold, how many dummy holds and how many have already been played, so the number left must be held by the other player).
Consider the percentages. Knowing the likely distribution of the cards held by the opposition can help you to decide how to play a suit. For example if you hold Ace King Jack, plus others, in a suit with 4 card missing it is best to play Ace then King and expect the Queen to be played, if 5 cards are missing the odds are close but are just in favour of the Queen dropping but if six cards are missing the odds swing in favour of trying to finesse the Jack.
Manage your entries. When declarer, plan how you will move between dummy and your own hand to make the best of both hands. If there is a long suit in one hand and the other hand is short, you might need to cross between hands in another suit to play off the long winners. Avoid "blocking" a long suit by playing higher cards from the short hand on the long hands winners (so long as you do not make winners for the opposition).
Do not be afraid of losing tricks. If the contract is to make 9 tricks you can lose 4 tricks, lose the tricks when you want to. If losing a trick makes a trick for you it might be worth doing. In a no trump contract it is usually best to lose tricks at the beginning to try an establish your long tricks, but avoid establishing the opposition's long tricks.
Make the contract. If you have a choice between making an over trick, risking going down, and just making the contract, always choose making the contract. The bonuses for overtricks do not justify the risk of receiving penalties for going down.
When things go wrong. Even with the best players, the bidding and play sometimes result in confusion. Try to make the best of the situation. Try to keep your sense of humour. Do not argue with your partner (after all I'm only a dumb computer!).