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Play and Defend Better: for improving players


When in a trump contract, you would like to be able to draw the opposition’s trumps quickly. We should know there are situations where declarer has to ruff cards in dummy first or where two losers need to be ruffed in one hand (where, say you have only 4 trumps in each hand).

 Yet, there are times when you either cannot draw trumps or else must ensure you must not lose the lead while you are doing so. These situations occur where the defence has exposed a suit where declarer has too many losers. They must be eliminated before trumps can be fully drawn or drawn at all. Two recent examples show that declarers do not always adopt the right approach.

South Deals
None Vul
A K 10 3
A K 10 8 4
9 7
J 5
7 6
Q 9 5 3
K Q J 10 8
8 3
W   E
Q 9 2
6 5 4 2
9 7 6 4 2
J 8 5 4
J 6 2
A 3
A K Q 10
West North East South
1  1  Pass 1 
Pass 4  Pass 4 NT
Pass 5  Pass 6 
All pass      


South’s clubs attracted them to try Key Card. 5Club-small showed 0 or 3 which South assumed to be the latter. With no fear regarding the Spade-smallQ, they bid to slam. West led the Diamond-smallK taken by the ace.

One approach would be to try three rounds of clubs to discard North’s losing diamond. As you can see West would ruff the third round and with no way back to the South hand, declarer would then be in trouble.

A first or second round spade finesse would be unwise as you can see above. Much better is to play off the top 2 spades (you can start with Spade-smallJ and see if West would like to cover…. but when they do not, play the ace.). As long as spades break 3-2, you are in fine shape even if the queen fails to come down. At trick 4, you start on the clubs and as long as both defenders (or at least the one who has the outstanding Spade-smallQ) has at least two clubs, you are home, well with a heart finesse! Slam made.

The following board used similar principles but was a touch harder:

North Deals
None Vul
10 7 5 2
9 6
A K J 7
Q J 6
10 5 2
10 6 5 4 3
10 7 3 2
W   E
K Q 6
K Q J 7 3
Q 9 2
9 4
J 9 8 4 3
A 8 4
A K 8 5
West North East South
  Pass 1  1 
Pass 2  Pass 3 
Pass 4  All pass  


Game was reached after North’s 2Heart-small force agreed spades. West led a heart and all would be well if spades broke 2-2, with just two trumps and a heart to lose. However, that would happen only about half the time. Had declarer just played on trumps, they would soon be one down.

A cautious declarer would try and dispose of that heart loser quickly. Playing clubs would be unlikely to work even though only one heart discard would be needed. What about discarding two hearts on diamonds? The diamond finesse was odds on to fail since East opened the bidding. So, play the top two diamonds discarding one heart and try a third diamond, ruffing. On a good day, the queen will appear.

This was a good day. Cross back to dummy with a club and play the Diamond-smallJ. East must ruff to prevent the second heart discard and has to ruff low or else the heart will go anyway. So, East ruffs and you over-ruff. Too bad about the heart loser but when you now try trumps, the Spade-smallA and Spade-smallQ fall on the same trick…and suddenly your trump losers have been reduced to two!

Contract made when hoping for an even trump break would have backfired. It may feel safer to try drawing trumps but, in cases like this, it most certainly was not.

Richard Solomon

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