Playing with a Trump Suit

By Chris Hasney

This is an excerpt adapted from my book Simplicity Bridge. You can find the full text of Simplicity Bridge as an ebook at

Playing with a Trump Suit

The auction component of contract bridge is really fun. Both sides use a coded language to bid for control of the hand. When the smoke clears, one side is victorious, having “bought” the contract, and is considered to be on offense in the hand. The other side defends, trying to prevent the declarer from doing what his side promised to do. When the defenders are successful in that mission, the contract fails (goes down), and the defenders have successfully defended and “set” the contract. Defense is a critical part of the game, and an area worthy of extended study — but not at the moment.

During the auction both sides may try to get a specific suit named as trump. If one side can do that, everyone must live with it. Trump suit cards are boss. High trumps beat low trumps, but even the two of trumps beats the ace of any of the other three suits. But there’s a catch — no matter what suit is led (including trumps), everyone must follow suit if they can. Only when you have no more cards in the suit which is led can you play a trump on the trick, and if it’s the highest trump played to that trick you win the trick.

Remember our example hand?

Dummy holds You hold
AK4 QJT9876532

When playing without trumps that’s an enormous holding, worth ten tricks all by itself. If that suit were named as trump it would be a gonga as well. But what happens if some other suit is named as trump? As long as trumps are available in the opponents’ hands that wonderful long suit can’t be run, because it will be trumped every time it is led. So, the introduction of a trump suit really adds another dimension to the game.

I’d like for you to play another chukker now, this time with a trump suit every hand. In the first hand play with spades as trumps, then play the second hand with hearts as trumps, then diamonds, then clubs. Now you change partners for the second round of four hands, but this time we’ll make it more fun.

You probably noticed that sometimes you liked the trump suit and sometimes you didn’t. If you didn’t like the trump suit you and your partner probably took fewer tricks than the other pair against whom you played. Now we’ll fix that problem, at least a little bit.

Dealer sorts his cards and looks at them. If he has a long suit (6+ cards) he names it as trump and play commences with the opening lead by the player to dealer’s left. Since dealer “declared” which suit would be trump, he is now called the “declarer” and his partner is the dummy. If dealer doesn’t have a suit he wishes to name as trump, he says “pass” and his partner must now name the trump suit. In this case, dealer’s partner becomes the declarer, dealer’s right hand opponent makes the opening lead, and dealer puts down his hand as dummy. (Remember that the trump suit is always on dummy’s right.) The hand is then played normally. Go ahead and play four hands like that.

That still may not have been a very satisfying experience, because you or your partner may have named a trump suit that one of you didn’t like. Go ahead and change partners for the last round of this chukker and we’ll see if we can’t make things a little more fun.

This time dealer sorts his cards, memorizes them, and hands them to his partner. Meanwhile, dealer’s partner does the same thing. The other pair will be defenders on this hand and just sort and play their own cards. Ok, so now dealer has his partner’s hand and his partner has dealer’s hand. Each remembers his original thirteen cards, with extra attention to suit lengths. Dealer now states which suit he would like to have as trump. If partner agrees he says “pass” and becomes the dummy. If partner does not agree he states a different trump suit. That will be the trump suit on this deal, and he will be the declarer. Good partners don’t hog the hands, so don’t overrule dealer unless you think he’s made a bad choice of trumps. Remembering the hand you originally held is critical to this process. Play four deals like this, completing the chukker.

Now play another chukker but this time we’ll add one more twist. Dealer and partner can specify a trump suit or say “notrump.” Remember that each of you may speak only once, and dealer’s partner has the right to be the ultimate decision maker. Oh, and try to play first in spades or hearts, if your two hands contain at least eight cards combined in those suits. Next best choice is notrump. Play in diamonds and clubs only if it’s clear that notrump isn’t a good idea. The reason for this will be evident later on when you learn how to keep score. In this chukker practice remembering cards, not only those you held but those played to each trick. See if you can predict which cards will be the last four played. Also in this chukker emphasize timely play. Don’t agonize over every action. If you can’t play well at least play fast and get it over with more quickly!

Chris Hansey is the co-author, with Jerry Pottier, of The Basic American Bidding System: (Vol. I of the American Bridge Series).

Photo source: