Count, count, count¶
If there is one single thing that will improve your bridge, it is to count. Some people are born with counters in their heads, but I wasn’t. When I first started I could not count trump. If you’re like me, counting trump is your first goal. Then move on to try to count what looks like the important side suit.
When on defense, the first rule is to defend against what you can see. If the dummy has a four-card suit, and you have four or five of those, you are “responsible” for defending that suit. Likewise for a suit the declarer bid; you can’t literally see it, but you must see it in your mind. If this means having to throw some valuables in another suit, try to make it obvious to partner that you can’t keep that other suit. You won’t always get it right. One way to avoid the “squeeze” is to play high, even second hand, so that you no longer have the thing you would need to protect.
Counting can start with the auction. You hear the opponents bid 1♠ - 2♣ - 2♥ - 3N. You know a lot already! Opener has five spades, at least four hearts. Responder, now the declarer, probably has five or more clubs, does not have 3 spades, and does not have four hearts. So say five clubs. At most 2 spades and 3 hearts. That leaves 3 diamonds at least. On the other hand, he bid clubs not diamonds so probably not five diamonds. And he did go to notrump, which probably means 2 in each major (although maybe not in spades). As the play progresses you can improve your “count” on declarer’s hand. At the end, you won’t be so in the dark about what cards to keep.
You can also count some points: Opener has at least 12. Responder has an opening hand too — he didn’t bother with 2N. Call it 26 for them put together. You have 9. Partner takes your opening lead with an Ace. That’s it for partner, he can’t have more than a Jack or Queen left. Don’t switch suits trying to “hit” a partner that has nothing to help you with.
It is better to count what you can rather than just beat yourself up because you can’t do it all yet. I can’t either.
I strongly recommend the two software packages from Mike Lawrence on counting. As opposed to reading a book, this gives you the chance to actually practice it.