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Play and Defend Better: for improving players

TOO GOOD TO WASTE

Most players who have been playing bridge for a while realise that one way they can reduce the losers they have in a side-suit, where dummy has a shortage in that side-suit is to use dummy’s trumps to ruff those losers. Playing in 4Heart-small, with a diamond suit of A76 oppositeDiamond-small5, the Diamond-small76 will not be losers assuming dummy has enough trumps.

Yet, there are other reasons why you might want to ruff a card in a side-suit in dummy. Take a look at this example which many players miss:

North Deals
Both Vul
Q 10 9 6
Q 10 3 2
5
A 6 4 2
   
N
W   E
S
   
 
A 7 2
A J 9 7 6 5
A K
Q 8
West North East South
  Pass 3  4 
All pass      

 

South had a choice of actions after East’s pre-empt. With a double hold in the pre-emptor’s suit, 3NT is a valid choice. Double might work well if your partner had 5 or 6 spades with a heart shortage though the South hand is quite single-suited.

However, it feels wrong to ignore a fair six-card major. If you do bid hearts, you are too strong to simply overcall, hence the jump to 4Heart-small. Partner will help you out with something useful, or so you hope! Your prayers were indeed answered with a fine dummy. Indeed, North thought about looking for a slam though realised that the jump to 4Heart-small is not always hugely strong as the pre-empt limits partner’s options. (Indeed, a way of showing a really strong heart single-suiter is to double and then bid 4Heart-small over partner’s response.)

A STRONGER DUMMY NEEDED!

One North was thus a little surprised when their partner found four losers in 4Heart-small on the very passive Diamond-small9 lead. Declarer won, laid down the Heart-smallA with no king appearing and then played a low spade to East’s jack. East switched to Club-smallJ after which South had to lose two spades, a heart and a club. So much for a slam!

There are a couple of factors that this South overlooked. Let’s consider the trump suit. There are only 3 missing and with that number including the king, the odds favour a finesse. It is true that East’s pre-empt may affect this if one applies the “vacant spaces” principle (East has only 6 cards outside diamonds while West should have 10.) but with no ruff threatened by the opening lead, there is little to be lost in taking a trump finesse, as the two most likely trump holdings are Kx or Kxx in the West hand. Yet, East has pre-empted vulnerable with only a maximum 3 high card points in their suit. They should have an honour, maybe 2 outside.

So, we need to reach dummy at trick 2 to take the finesse. How? There is only one way, isn’t there…ruff a winner!

North Deals
Both Vul
Q 10 9 6
Q 10 3 2
5
A 6 4 2
K 8 5 4 3
4
J 9 8
K 9 7 3
 
N
W   E
S
 
J
K 8
Q 10 7 6 4 3 2
J 10 5
 
A 7 2
A J 9 7 6 5
A K
Q 8
West North East South
  Pass 3  4 
All pass      

 

A waste? Not really. You had no useful discard from the North hand on your Diamond-smallK. If it was a small diamond, you would ruff without thinking. So, play the same way, even if you are ruffing a winner! South might refer to the fact that he had to ruff as he was not sure if the Diamond-smallK was high!

Assuming South does that, they will call for Heart-smallQ from dummy. There is nothing to be gained by East covering as West is marked for no more than one trump. If East ducks smoothly, declarer might even play the ace.

Not today, though, as the finesse is taken successfully and the king then drawn. It is still possible but unlikely that East has both spade honours. So, lay down Spade-smallA and see if there is any good news. Indeed, there is. No need to guess what to do on the second round of spades…. making two overtricks! “Why did you not bid the slam, partner?” South was heard to say rather cruelly after the event!

Interestingly, in a smallish field, no declarer even made 12 tricks let alone bid the small slam!

Although the vacant space theory seems to reduce the chance of East holding the Heart-smallK, it does also at the same time reduce the chance that West holds the singleton Heart-smallK as West is much more likely to hold two or three hearts than East. All of this increases the need to use the ruffing of a winner to dummy as being the right play in order to try for the unlikely heart finesse. In Pairs, and indeed if you reach the odds against small slam, such a play is vital to getting a good score.

So, ruff a loser if that’s what you have to do…

And if not, it may be right to ruff a winner too!

Richard Solomon

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