Tempo (bridge)
In the card game of bridge
Contract bridge
Contract bridge, usually known simply as bridge, is a trick-taking card game using a standard deck of 52 playing cards played by four players in two competing partnerships with partners sitting opposite each other around a small table...

, tempo refers to the advantage of being on lead, thus having the initiative of developing tricks for one's side.

According to the rules of the game, the right to select the first card to play (the opening lead) belongs to the defenders; afterwards, the right to lead belongs to the hand who has won the previous trick. Being on lead generally presents an advantage, as it presents an opportunity to choose a suit and card which will develop a trick for the leader's side. However, in endplay
An endplay , in bridge and similar games, is a tactical play where a defender is put on lead at a strategic moment, and then has to make a play that loses one or more tricks. Most commonly the losing play either constitutes a free finesse, or else it gives declarer a ruff and discard...

 situations being on lead certainly does not present an advantage—quite the opposite.

The tempo can be used for many purposes:
  • Setting up tricks – for example, against notrump contracts, defenders will often lead the longest and strongest suit, to set up the tricks in that suit. Against trump contracts, lead of a short suit can set up a subsequent ruff
    Ruff (cards)
    In trick-taking games, to ruff means to play a trump card to a trick . According to the rules of most games, a player must have no cards left in the suit led in order to ruff. Since the other players are constrained to follow suit if they can, even a low trump can win a trick...

     before the declarer can draw trumps.
  • Pitching losers – for example, having x opposite AKQx, the declarer may discard cards from another suit on the honors, holding xxx opposite xxx if on lead; if the opponents were on lead, they can cash the tricks in the declarer's weak suit.
  • Taking tricks – the converse of pitching losers. Having the lead lets us take our tricks before the other side gets to pitch in the suit(s).
  • Trump promotion
    Trump promotion
    Trump promotion is a technique in contract bridge where the defenders create an otherwise non-existing trump trick for themselves. The most common type of trump promotion occurs when one defender plays a side suit through, in which both the declarer's hand and the other defender are void: Spades...

     or coup en passant
    Coup en passant
    Coup en passant is a type of coup in contract bridge where trump trick are "stolen" by trying to ruff a card after the player who has the master trump....

     – if the other side had the lead, they could simply draw trumps; however, with our side on lead, an extra trump trick can be produced.
  • Killing entries – opponents can be forced to use entries in the wrong order.


In this extreme example, whoever leads first will take the first 8 tricks, regardless of the denomination. That means that neither side can make any contract, and every contract will fail by at least two tricks—the advantage of having on opening lead makes a three-trick difference.
Keeping initiative—gaining tempo—by not taking a finesse
In contract bridge and similar games, a finesse is a technique which allows one to promote tricks based on a favorable position of one or more cards in the hands of the opponents....

 can be decisive to prevent the opponents from developing defensive tricks.

Against South's 4 west leads the A (indicating the king) and continues with the 8. The opening lead, although natural, was unfortunate, as it gave the declarer a tempo to develop heart tricks for himself. However, it is now essential not to take the diamond finesse
In contract bridge and similar games, a finesse is a technique which allows one to promote tricks based on a favorable position of one or more cards in the hands of the opponents....

 so as not to lose tempo. South must take the A and play to the A, again refraining from finessing. Now, the declarer can lead hearts for ruffing finesse and discard diamonds until West covers with the K, then ruff and cross over to A, again refusing to finesse. On the remaining hearts, all diamonds including the queen are discarded. In total, the declarer loses one trick in trumps, hearts and clubs each.

Note that a diamond opening lead sets the contract, as it doesn't give the tempo in hearts to the declarer: the declarer must lose a heart and two diamonds before he sets up the hearts for diamond discards; the trump king is the fourth trick for the defense.
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