Lesson 4P   Main

Suit Establishment

  by Richard Pavlicek

One of the most common objectives of declarer is to establish a five-card or longer suit. The suit may be in dummy or declarer’s hand, and the contract may be notrump or with a different suit trumps. This lesson explains some of the techniques to achieve success.

The Deep Finesse

When trying to establish a long suit in a hand that has few entries, it is often necessary to take a deeper finesse than usual on the first round. The purpose is to lose a trick early (rather than later) to preserve your communication. As a bonus, you might win an unexpected trick.

Consider a deep finesse (usually the 10, nine or eight) when the stronger hand has a doubleton in the suit you wish to establish.

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

With the spade lead you have six top tricks, and the diamond suit is the only chance for three more. An average player might lead a diamond to the king. No good; East would duck, and declarer would make only one diamond trick.

The proper play is to finesse the D 9 on the first round, losing to the jack. Regardless of the return, declarer can win in hand and lead a diamond to the king, etc.

Note that the deep finesse would also be necessary if West held A-x in diamonds. If West held A-x-x the deep finesse would cost a trick — but just an overtrick — as you would still make the contract.

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The First Round Duck

Sometimes declarer does not have an intermediate card available for a deep finesse, yet he would still like to lose the first round in order to keep communication. That’s easy; just give away the trick. The loser is usually inevitable anyway, so the net result costs nothing.

If a deep finesse is not available, you can achieve the same objective by ducking the first round of the suit.

Rarely seen lithograph of the first round duck, now believed to be extinct.

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

Assuming a normal 3-2 trump break you can make your contract by ruffing a heart in dummy; but at matchpoint scoring you should not be content with 10 tricks. There is a good chance to establish the club suit to make an overtrick.

Win the D A, cash one top trump then duck a club — the key play to preserve the C A as a useful entry to dummy. It makes no difference but assume East returns a diamond to your king. Cash the second top trump, lead a club to the ace and ruff a club (unless East stupidly ruffs, then you will throw your diamond loser).

Continue with a heart to the king and ruff another club to establish the suit. Finally, cash the H A, ruff your losing heart, then lead the good club to discard your small diamond whether East ruffs or not.

Lesson 4P   MainTop   Suit Establishment

Watch the Spot Cards

When trying to establish a suit, pay close attention to intermediate cards in that suit. Tens, nines and eights — occasionally even sevens and lower — may become significant cards, especially if they are in sequence. If you can promote one of these spot cards into a winner, it will simplify your task.

At a suit contract the presence of intermediate cards may allow you to take a ruffing finesse against one of the defenders.

Watch the enemy plays. An important card may drop from one defender, thereby increasing the power of your remaining cards.

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

East wins the D A and shifts to a heart to your king. Your plan is to establish the long diamond. Draw two rounds of trumps ending in dummy and cash the D Q to discard a heart. Normally you would need a 4-3 diamond break to succeed, but the fall of West’s nine is revealing — it logically must be a doubleton which leaves East with J-7-4. The ranks of the spot cards in dummy now come into play.

Lead the D 8 — better than the five or six because you know from West’s 10 lead that East has the jack — which East covers and you ruff. West can overruff now, later or never as he wants; it makes no difference in the way you will play. You will later lead the D 6 to force East to cover again. This will establish the D 5 on which you will throw your last low heart.

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Trump Entries

The trump suit often provides a flexible means of communication from hand to hand. By using your honors and spot cards wisely you can usually manage an additional entry where it is needed most.

A common error by many players is to draw trumps too soon, thereby destroying their transportation. In most cases it is necessary to postpone drawing trumps

Draw trumps immediately only if you see a clear path to set up your side suit afterwards. When in doubt, do not draw trumps.

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

With the heart lead you have a fighting chance, but exact play is required. Cover the H 10 with dummy’s jack; East plays the king and you ruff — with the seven. Save that deuce! Lead the S 8 to dummy’s 10, then lead the H Q; East covers again and you ruff with the S 9. Note that East’s opening heart bid and West’s lead of the 10 suggested the actual heart layout.

Lead the S J to dummy’s king and ruff another heart high. West’s nine comes tumbling down as you hoped. Finally, lead the carefully preserved S 2 to dummy’s three and discard a club on the good H 8. All that remains is to force out the D A to make your contract.

Be sure to see that you would fail if you did not take advantage of the S K-10-3 to provide three entries to dummy.

Lesson 4P   MainTop   Suit Establishment

Trump Control

Using your trumps to establish a side suit may place you in jeopardy of losing trump control. The more ruffing you have to do to establish a suit, the fewer trumps you will have left for the purpose of drawing the enemy trumps.

The term “trump control” means that declarer has drawn (or is able to draw) the enemy low trumps so he can enjoy his remaining winners. Do not confuse with “suit control” which is the ability to win the next trick in a specific suit.

One way to increase your chance to retain trump control is to confine your ruffing to one hand and keep the trump length in the opposite hand intact.

Avoid ruffing early in both hands unless you intend to play for a crossruff.

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

East wins the C A and returns a club to your king. You consider the possibility of a crossruff but realize that you must give up a heart, then a trump return would be ruinous. You must establish your long diamond suit, and in doing so you must be careful not to ruff in your own hand.

Win the D A and ruff a diamond high — you must save the low spades for transportation. Lead the S 2 to your queen and ruff another diamond high. Lead the S 3 to your jack, draw the last trump and give up a diamond. You still have a trump and two good diamonds to make your contract.

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Conceding a Trick

Sometimes your trump holding is not long enough or strong enough to have any hope to establish a suit by ruffing out all of the enemy stoppers. Or it may be that trying to do so will subject you to an enemy overruff or uppercut.

To alleviate ruffing requirements it may be wise to concede an early trick. This is similar to the first-round duck (Example 2) although the reason is entirely different.

If your ruffing ability is limited, consider giving up an early trick in the suit you wish to establish.

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

Very few players made 12 tricks on this deal from a 1989 tournament. Declarer has 10 sure tricks with a 3-2 trump break, and one diamond can be ruffed for 11. The 12th trick might come from a 3-3 club break or a 4-3 heart break. Establishing the heart suit is clearly the better chance, but many who tried it were too eager to start ruffing. South’s trumps are not long enough to ruff three hearts and draw the enemy trumps.

The best play is to win the S A and lead the H 3 from dummy — give up a heart. Assume a trump return (nothing matters): Win the S K; H A (discard a diamond); heart ruff; D A; diamond ruff; C Q; draw the last trump (discard a club); C K; heart ruff, and dummy is good.

The topics of Examples 4-6 obviously pertain only to suit contracts, however, Examples 1-3 pertain to all contracts.

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© 1994 Richard Pavlicek