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Coping with a Bad Trump Break

When the trump suit breaks badly, a resourceful declarer does not panic. He accepts the fact and does what he can to cope. Each situation is a little different, but one technique is almost always correct: Stop leading trumps. One reason for this is to retain a trump in dummy, as illustrated by this deal from a practice match.

South became declarer in four hearts after a simple auction in which all four players bid. The vulnerability quelled any notion East-West may have had about a sacrifice bid of four spades.

4 H S 8 6 5
H 7 6 4
D 7 6 5
C A K 6 4
E-W Vul

West

1 S
All Pass


North

2 H


East
Pass
2 S


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

West led the spade king then the ace, which South ruffed with his low trump. Two rounds of trumps revealed the 4-1 break. Stop! It would be futile to draw all of West’s trumps, as the most declarer could win is nine tricks. Declarer correctly led a club to dummy and took the diamond finesse — at least something worked — then he cashed the diamond ace. Now what?

Declarer led a diamond to East as West threw his last club, then East accurately returned a spade. (Note that if East leads a club for West to ruff, declarer would succeed.) Declarer ruffed this and now had just one trump in each hand, while West had two. The only hope was to lead a diamond; West ruffed and returned another spade. Declarer ruffed this with dummy’s low trump; but, alas, he could not return to his hand. West ruffed the top club to set the contract.

Declarer gave it a fair try but overlooked one key play. Did you spot it? Before giving East a diamond trick, declarer must cash his remaining club winner. Assume East then returns a high club (best defense since West might be able to overruff) which declarer ruffs in hand. He now remain with one heart and two diamonds; West has two hearts and a spade; dummy has a heart, a spade and a club. Needing two of the last three tricks, South leads a diamond and discards dummy’s last spade as West ruffs. If West returns a heart, the South hand is high; if he returns a spade, dummy will ruff, then the high trump wins the last trick.

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© 2-25-1990 Richard Pavlicek