Dead Suits and the Final Tricks of a Game

This article is going to deal with two separate topics: the impact of dead suits on your strategy and how to approach the final 5 tricks of a game.

Dead suits

Usually, the cards worth few points get played early on in a game, and at the end both players are armed with cards of high value and trump cards. However, in general this is not a sensible strategy; a few adaptations should be made: Aces are not vulnerable in any way; therefore, you can wait until your opponent plays a card of that suit and then take the trick. The situation with tens is different, as long as the aces of the corresponding suits are still live.

Let's say you have the Qs and the Ts, all other spades are still live. In this situation, I would not recommend playing the Qs: First of all, you still have the chance to catch the Ks, which would give you a marriage. And second, if you got into a situation in which suit had to be followed, you would like to have a spade of low value in your hand, in case your opponent played the As.

If you had the Qs and the Ts, while your opponent had the Ks and the As, you would give your opponent the chance to maximize the card points he could score if you played the Qs: He would likely take the trick by playing the Ks, figuring that he still had the chance to take another trick (potentially of high value) with the ace.

So in a nutshell, one should avoid holding lone tens.

Holding 3 Cards of one Suit

Another critical situation arises, when you hold 3 cards of a single suit at some point during a game: In this case, you know for sure that towards the end you will hold at least one card of a dead suit. Depending on the trump cards that you will hold and that will still be live at the end, that might be good or bad news. If you have the edge as far as trumps are concerned, you do not care about cards belonging to dead suits, but if you do not, your opponent has the chance to take tricks by trumping and still retain his edge.

Let's look at some examples: You hold the Js-Qs-Ks. There is not much you can do, just announce the marriage!

If you hold the Js-As-Ts, an interesting situation arises: Please note that your opponent might have the marriage of spades. Ultimately, you would like to take two tricks with the As and the Ts. At the start of a game, you cannot expect your opponent to have the marriage. If you played the Js and your opponent had one of the 2 remaining spades, he would likely decide to take the trick. That would leave you with both the As and the Ts, giving you the chance of taking just one of the spade tricks. In all likelihood, your opponent would take a trick containing a high value spade by trumping at some point during the game. So at the start of a game, you should avoid leading with a spade.

If you hold those 3 cards at the end of a game and all other spades are still live, you might want to decide to play the Js: Your opponent would likely have the marriage and might not want to give it up. Please note that this would not make any sense: If your opponent held onto the marriage, he still would not get a chance to announce it as you would play your spades during the next tricks when the deck is gone. So obviously, there are no upsides to playing the Js at any point. Still, a lot depends on the other cards in your hand and the live trump cards, so you might find yourself in a situation that forces you to play the Js, anyway. Then again, combined with the At-Tt, the As-Ts-Js would be a monster hand.

In the final example, you hold the Js-Qs-Ts. This is a very problematic combination of cards. Here, you would like to take one specific trick: Ts-Ks. If you are to lead, you basically cannot play any spade: If you played the Js or the Qs and your opponent had the Ks, he would likely take the trick with that card, which would make it very difficult for you to take a trick with the Ts. If you decided to lead with the Ts, your opponent would decide to trump (if he had any trump cards). Still, at the start of the game, when your opponent is just 36% to have the king, playing the Js might be a viable option.

It should be mentioned that in the examples mentioned above, we just took a look at the cards of a single suit isolated from the rest of the hand. In an actual playing situation, you have to take the situation of trump cards and the other cards in your hand into account, as well, before making any decisions.

The Final 5 Tricks

When writing about the final 5 tricks, I specifically mean the situation after the deck is gone. First of all, if you have paid attention to the first 5 tricks, you know exactly which cards your opponent has left. The next thing to figure out is how to reach 66 card points as fast as possible without your opponent reaching that mark first. Of course, sometimes you might be in a situation in which you are just happy to get to more than 33 points, but that is not the norm. You must try to take advantage of the situation of trump cards and of dead suits.

You can do that in the following way: If you have cards of a dead suit, by playing them you force your opponent to get rid of a trump card as he has to trump. This might be helpful if your opponent has more trumps than you do. However, please note that if he has cards of dead suits as well, he can do the same to you.

There is no more general advice one can give. Basically, you have to identify the sequence of cards that let you win the game. As in the case of a closed deck, the constraints put upon players by the rules limit the available strategies.