OK, so you’ve read Part 1 and have mastered the art of bidding. And now you’ve taken a bid and need to know how to play it. Fear not, for I will try to impart to you the wisdom of play that my grandparents passed on to me.
Once you’ve taken the bid the first thing you need to do is discard three cards, so let’s cover that first. The basic idea is to clear yourself out of one suit, excluding any guaranteed winners; if you have an Ace, or both Aces, or both Aces and a Ten you can and should keep those since you’ll win tricks with them. If you’ve melded in every suit, such as 60 Queens or 80 Kings, you won’t be able to completely clear out a suit, but you can probably get down to one card. If you can’t clear out any suits then try to go down with some counters (Kings and Tens) that you would otherwise normally lose in the play. Remember that if for some strange reason you go down with trump you have to let your opponents know how many you put down. This almost never comes up though; I think I’ve done it once in my whole life.
The reason you want to clear out a suit (or even two if you can) is so that you can use your trumps to take the other players’ counters in that suit. Let’s look at an example. Say you melded this:
A♣ 10♣ K♣ Q♣ J♣ 9♣ J♦ K♠ Q♠
for a total of 220 points (150 for the run, 10 for the dix, 20 for the marriage, 40 for pinochle)
leaving you with this in your hand (remember you can’t go down with anything you melded):
J♣ A♦ A♦ Q♦ K♠ 9♠ A♥ J♥ 9♥
Since we melded everything but Hearts, we have a chance to completely rid ourselves of them. We ditch the J♥ 9♥, keeping the Ace since it’s a sure winner. We need to get rid of one more card. We’re obviously keeping the J♣ since it’s trump, so that leaves us with the Q♦ or one of the Spades. The best card to ditch is the K♠. The simplest reason is because it’s a counter, but there’s also another: you have a decent Diamond holding, so there’s a chance the Q♦ could be a useful card. So we’re now going to battle with the following hand:
A♣ 10♣ K♣ Q♣ J♣ J♣ 9♣ A♦ A♦ Q♦ J♦ K♠ Q♠ 9♠ A♥
So now how do we play this hand? The first thing you always want to think about is your trump holding. You always want to have “trump control” meaning you have more than the opponents and that you’re assured of being able to use trump whenever you need to. The worst thing that can happen is to run out of trump and let your opponents win a bunch of tricks because you can’t trump!
Here we have a nice 7 card trump holding. Because of our length and strength in trump, and the fact we have a pretty nice hand overall, we can afford to play trumps immediately and try to run the opponents out. Be careful though, because this will not always be the case! Oftentimes your trump holding will be shaky and the absolute last thing you want to do is lead them out. In general 7 or more trump led by an Ace is a good holding, while 5 is a poor one (you should never ever have less than 5 trump at the start). So after starting with the A♥ (never leave a lone Ace in your hand!) we can play the A♣. We have two purposes in mind here: one is to suck out two of the opponents’ trumps, and the other is to grab a counter. There’s a fair chance that one opponent will have to give up a counter on this trick.
Usually I would follow that up by playing the Q♣. This again gets rid of two more of the opponents’ trumps (remember to always count the trump!) and gives you total or near-total control of trump. The opponents will win the trick and probably come back with a Heart. Let’s say LHO leads the A♥ and RHO adds the K♥. Now you can see why we got rid of our Hearts; if we had any we would have to follow suit and the opponents would get those two counters. But here we can trump in and pick them up! And in fact we will get most or all of their Heart counters in this fashion.
So now we’ve got the lead again. What do we do? If you can nab the rest of the trump (say there’s one left that’s not the Ace) then you should grab it to exhaust the opponents of trump. If you can’t (maybe one opponent started with 4 or 5 of them) then start on the Diamonds. Play your two Aces (which are nearly certain winners), then throw either the Jack or Queen out. Opponents will win and probably play another Heart. Win with a trump, and play your last Diamond. It may possibly win, or the opponents may have to burn a trump on it; either one is good for you. Now you’ve just got your Spades left. There’s nothing you can do about them, they’re going to be losers. Just play them off, let the opponents have the tricks they’re entitled to, and win the last few tricks with your remaining trumps.
Note that if the opponents decided to play Spades earlier in the hand it wouldn’t have changed the results much. You just would have played your loser Spade cards in the middle of the hand instead of the end. Their best play is to keep pounding you with the Hearts; I’ll go over defending in a different post.
That’s the basic pattern of a hand: take the opponents’ trumps if you can, try to establish a second suit (Diamonds in this case), and try to save what you can, not worrying about sure losers. Keeping trump control is paramount; one of the editions of Hoyle’s I have said “the beginner’s most frequent mistake is leading trumps”. Only lead them out if you have a good hand and a strong trump holding like we did here.
So how did we do? It depends on the opponent’s holding of course, but with that hand and normal distribution of the remaining cards we would have picked around 17 tricks for 170 points. Add that to our 220 meld and we have a 390 hand. Nice! In the next post I’ll go over a hand that isn’t such a cinch and how to play it.