"You write about counting the defenders' distribution," a fan says, "but that's asking a lot of my husband. I send him to Wal-Mart for five items, add one more as an afterthought, and he forgets two of the first five. He certainly can't count to 13, much less recall what cards have been played."

My fan says her husband was today's declarer, and West took the K-Q of clubs, East playing the deuce and nine. West then led the deuce of hearts. Dummy's queen lost to the king, and East returned the three to the ace.

"My husband next took the A-K of trumps," my fan writes. "West discarded, and he went down."

Maybe my fan should send her husband out to get 13 items. Anyone can count with practice and focus. Suppose after declarer takes the ace of hearts, he ruffs a club, cashes the ace of trumps and the A-K of diamonds, and ruffs a diamond.

When East's queen falls, declarer has a hypothetical count. The play in clubs suggests that East had three, and it seems he had Q-8-3 of diamonds. West shifted to the deuce of hearts, and East returned the three, indicating that each defender had four hearts. If South correctly places East with 3-4-3-3 distribution, he'll lead a trump to his jack next and make his game.

If you think good defenders might not make it so easy for South to get a count, you're right. For instance, if East held 7 6, K 10 8 3, Q 9 8 3, 9 5 2, he might follow with his queen on the third diamond, inducing declarer to miscount and lose a trump finesse to the doubleton queen.