Main     Lesson 4E by Richard Pavlicek    

Important Suit Tactics

Besides proper planning and a knowledge of basic ruffing technique, skillful play at a suit contract requires that you be familiar with a variety of tactics. This lesson explains the most important of these tactics, along with some tips for success.

Desperation Finesse

Besides counting your winners in planning the play, you should also be aware of the number of tricks the opponents can cash off the top at any time. If this number is too high, you might be defeated before you can enjoy your winners.

If you have too many top losers, try to obtain an early discard — sometimes this requires that you try a desperation finesse.

1. 4 S South

S 2
H A 9 8
D A Q 8 5
C K Q J 6 5
S 7 5
H Q 10 7 2
D K J 6 4
C 9 8 4
TableS K 8 6
H K J 5
D 10 9 7 3
C A 7 3
Lead: H 2S A Q J 10 9 4 3
H 6 4 3
D 2
C 10 2

You count 6 trump winners and 2 aces. Given time it would be easy to establish two club tricks to make your contract; but the heart lead will knock out your ace, after which you are in jeopardy of losing two hearts, a spade and a club as soon as you surrender the lead.

The best play is to win the H A on the second round and lead a spade to the ace. The spade finesse should be rejected because, even if it works, you will not benefit unless East has precisely K-x. Next lead a diamond and finesse the queen — a 50-50 chance. If the finesse loses you will go down two instead of one, but when it wins you will make your contract.



A crossruff is the use of trumps to ruff a different side suit in each hand. In some situations this is just routine play after you have drawn the enemy low trumps.

The dangerous kind of crossruff occurs when you must leave one or more low trumps outstanding. You might be overruffed, or a defender might discard from another suit and later obtain a ruff.

If you plan to crossruff without drawing the enemy low trumps, try to establish and cash your side-suit winners early.

2. 4 S South

S A J 7 3
H A 7 6 5
D K 9 3 2
C 8
S 5
H Q J 10 9 8 4
D A Q 10 4
C Q 3
TableS K 6 4
H K 3
D J 8
C K J 9 5 4 2
Lead: H QS Q 10 9 8 2
H 2
D 7 6 5
C A 10 7 6

You count 4 trump winners and 2 aces. Your best chance is to ruff three clubs and lead up to the D K hoping West has the ace. The temptation is to start crossruffing immediately, but you will be unable to draw trumps and your diamond trick will perish when East discards a diamond on the third round of hearts. You must go after your diamond trick first.

Win the H A, cross to the C A and lead a diamond. The best defense by West is to win the D A and lead his trump. Hop with the ace! If you finesse, East will return a second trump to beat you. Observe that the trump finesse would not gain even if West held the king because you will need to ruff three times in dummy.

Cash the D K then crossruff hearts and clubs. The only way East can alter your course is to ruff in front of you with the S K, but then you will just discard a loser and make your contract easily.


Transfer Ruff

A ruff can sometimes be transferred from one suit to another by discarding. This is quite common and obvious when the discarding is done on a winning trick. What is frequently overlooked is the tactic of discarding on a losing trick (won by the enemy). The purpose is to postpone the ruff until later when it will be safer.

Have you ever tried this transfer ruff thing?
Are you kidding? I can’t even remember Jacoby or Texas.

If you fear a damaging overruff, consider the option of discarding a loser from another suit.

3. 4 S South

S K 9 4 2
H A 8 2
D K 8 7 3
C 8 3
S 10
H J 10 3
D Q 9 5
C A K Q 7 5 4
TableS J 8 5
H Q 7 6 5
D J 10 6 2
C 9 6
Lead: C KS A Q 7 6 3
H K 9 4
D A 4
C J 10 2

You count 5 trump winners and 4 side winners. A club ruff in dummy is the obvious source of a 10th trick. Unfortunately West, who has bid clubs, starts the defense with three top clubs and East’s high-low makes the overruff imminent. Some players would realize this danger and ruff with the S 9 — don’t send a boy — a better play is to ruff high with the S K to prevent the overruff, but then declarer is faced with a trump loser barring a lucky 2-2 break.

The correct play is simple once you think of it. Instead of ruffing the club in dummy discard a heart. Later, after drawing three rounds of trumps, you will be able to ruff your third heart in complete safety.


Ruffing Finesse

A ruffing finesse is the process of leading a significant card through an opponent who holds a higher card. If the opponent covers, you will ruff in the opposite hand; if he does not cover, you will discard.

The ruffing finesse can greatly facilitate the establishment of a suit because it reduces the amount of ruffing that must be done.

Watch the enemy plays in the suit you are establishing. Sometimes a high card will drop and reveal a ruffing finesse.

4. 4 S South

S J 5 3
H A 4
D A Q 8 6 3
C A 7 3
S 10 9 8
H K J 10 5
D J 9
C K J 8 4
TableS 7 6
H Q 9 2
D K 10 5 2
C Q 10 9 2
Lead: S 10S A K Q 4 2
H 8 7 6 3
D 7 4
C 6 5

You count 5 trump winners and 3 side winners. The trump lead will prevent you from ruffing two hearts in dummy so you correctly try to establish the diamond suit. Win the S Q and take the diamond finesse which loses to East. Assume a club shift, won in dummy with the C A.

Did you notice that West played the D 9 on the first round, and that your D 8-6 have great potential for a ruffing finesse? If you did you’re a fine player. Draw trumps ending in your hand and lead D 7; when the jack appears your contract is assured. Win the ace and lead D 8 or 6. If East plays low simply discard a club, then a diamond ruff will establish the last diamond.

Note that the ruffing finesse produced two extra winners in diamonds (the D 8 plus the long diamond) which is what you needed for your contract. If you tried to establish diamonds entirely by ruffing, the most you could gain is one trick and you would fail.


Loser-on-Loser Play

The loser-on-loser play might be described as a “ruffing finesse that loses.” The technique is identical. Even though the actual trick is lost, declarer promotes a winner in the suit for a later discard.

Do not overlook this play in the anxiety to win tricks. Even when a ruffing finesse is sure to lose, you will often benefit from it.

Be alert to notice suits that have two or more intermediate cards in sequence. Often a trick can be promoted by force.

5. 4 S South

S A 6 5 3
H 4 3
D A 8 5
C 7 5 3 2
S J 7
H 8 5
D K 9 6 3
C Q 10 8 6 4
TableS 10 9 8
H K Q J 7 6
D Q J 10 4
Lead: H 8S K Q 4 2
H A 10 9 2
D 7 2
C A K 9

You count 4 trump winners and 4 side winners. West’s lead of the H 8 looks like a short suit, especially when East plays the H J at trick one (West would not lead the 8 from K-Q-8). Trying to ruff two hearts is dangerous because your trump spots are low — West may ruff in front of dummy and force you to overruff with the ace.

A much better plan is to take advantage of your H 10-9 with a loser-on-loser play. Win the H A, draw three rounds of trumps ending in dummy and lead a heart. Assume East wins the H Q and shifts to the D Q; win the D A and cross to your hand with a club. Lead the H 10 (or 9) and discard a club (not a diamond) from dummy. East wins the H K and cashes a diamond, but the rest of the tricks are yours.

Your two additional tricks materialized in the H 9 and a club ruff in dummy. The trade-off of losing an extra heart instead of a club trick was profitable because it promoted an additional winner.


Elimination Play

An elimination play is the deliberate removal of a side suit, usually by ruffing, to deprive the opponents of a safe lead. When declarer later gives up the lead, an opponent may be forced to surrender a trick.

The elimination play is especially valuable when declarer is left with a trump in each hand; then he can benefit from a ruff and discard.

The elimination play is common when you have at least 9 trumps and need to make a trick in a suit that involves a finesse.

6. 4 S South

S K Q 10 3
H A 6 5 2
D 7 3
C A 6 4
S 8 6 4
H K Q 10 7
D A Q 6
C Q 10 3
TableS 7
H J 9 8
D 10 9 8 5 2
C 9 8 7 2
Lead: H KS A J 9 5 2
H 4 3
D K J 4
C K J 5

You count 5 trump winners and 3 side winners. Apparently two additional tricks must come from the minor suits; but West (who doubled your 1 S opening) is likely to have the missing honors. If you could eliminate the hearts, West might be forced to lead a club or diamond to help you.

Duck the first trick to prevent East from gaining the lead. Assume a trump shift (best). Win the S A, lead a heart to the ace, ruff a heart high, lead a spade to dummy, ruff a heart high, and lead your last trump to dummy. Note that the first heart ruff did not gain a trick (it came in the long hand) but the second ruff did because your hand became the short hand. You now need one more trick from the minor suits.

The rest is easy. Lead a diamond to the jack and claim! Even though West can win the queen, there are no hearts remaining for him to exit safely. If he leads a diamond, your king will be good; if he leads a club, you will win the jack.


© 2013 Richard Pavlicek