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Surviving a Bad Trump Break

The success of many contracts depends on “normal” breaks in one or more suits. This is sound bridge. For example, it would be foolish to underbid because of the possibility of a trump loser in a suit of A-K-Q-J-3-2. If you waited for A-K-Q-J-10-9, you would be missing a lot of good contracts (not to mention waiting a long time). Certain chances have to be taken.

Nevertheless, sometimes a contract is so sound that it can survive a bad break; and on those occasions declarer may have to risk a possible overtrick to safeguard his venture. Today’s deal occurred during an evening of rubber bridge, and is a good case in point.

4 H S A 3
H 9 6 5 2
D A J 3
C 9 6 5 4
N-S Vul

West

3 C
All Pass


North

Dbl


East
Pass
Pass


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

After South’s routine opening, West livened things up with a weak jump overcall in clubs. North’s hand was well-suited for the negative double — a popular treatment which indicates a holding of four cards in the unbid major (in this case, hearts). South was delighted with his new-found fit and jumped directly to game.

West led the club king, ruffed, and everything looked cozy. If hearts broke normally (three-two), 12 tricks were there for the taking — cash both top trumps and run the spades (only one trump trick would be lost). Indeed, declarer tried this — down one! East ruffed the third spade, drew South’s last trump, led a club to West, and eventually scored his diamond king.

Declarer could have insured his contract against a bad trump break. Only one top heart should be cashed, followed by three rounds of spades (discarding a club from dummy). When East ruffs, he does best to return a club which South ruffs. Another good spade is led to discard dummy’s last club and East can win only two trump tricks.

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© 8-4-1985 Richard Pavlicek