Lesson 4R   Main


  by Richard Pavlicek

When the declarer has an abundance of trumps — usually nine or more — there are many situations where a trick can be gained by putting an opponent on lead. Typically, the defender must either lead from an honor in one suit, or provide a ruff and discard by leading another suit. This generally occurs toward the end of the play, so it is commonly called an “endplay.”

This lesson explains how to recognize the possibility of an endplay at a suit contract and the technique to bring it about.

Tenace Positions

Most endplays involve a tenace, an honor combination with which declarer may gain a trick if the suit is led by an opponent. Below are some examples of tenaces:

1. 4 3 2
TableYou may gain a trick if your left-hand opponent leads.

2. K 4
TableYou may gain a trick if your right-hand opponent leads.
3 2

3. A J 4
TableYou may gain a trick if your left-hand opponent leads.
Q 3 2

4. A 10
TableYou may gain a trick if either opponent leads.
Q 2

5. Q 9 2
TableYou are likely to gain a trick if either opponent leads.
K 8 3

6. A J 2
TableYou are guaranteed to win three tricks without guessing if either opponent leads.
K 10 3

Once declarer determines the suit in which he might benefit from a lead by an opponent, the strategy for an endplay is simple:

Do not lead the suit containing the tenace early. Lead the other side suits first.

Lesson 4R   MainTop   Endplays

Single Suit Endplay

When declarer plans to execute an endplay, he must of course give up the lead to an opponent. Sometimes this is done by leading the tenace suit itself.

When playing the tenace suit for the endplay, try not to waste a critical honor so you will retain your tenace position.

Have you ever been endplayed by a declarer?

No, but I once got run over by a Buick.

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

As soon as the dummy appears declarer realizes the club suit is his main concern. It contains a tenace, so the plan is to postpone leading clubs until the end.

The proper technique is to duck the first trick, then win the second heart lead with the ace. The enemy trumps are drawn in two rounds. Next declarer wins the D A-K and ruffs a diamond in hand, then he ruffs his losing heart. The stage is now set.

The C 2 is led from dummy and declarer finesses the nine (East cannot gain by playing the queen). West wins the jack, but he is endplayed. If he cashes the C A, South’s king will be good; if he leads a heart or a diamond, declarer will ruff in dummy and discard a club from his hand.

Note the importance in timing the play so as to wind up in dummy after ruffing out the diamond and the heart. The endplay would not work if declarer had to lead a club from his hand.

Lesson 4R   MainTop   Endplays

Two Suit Endplay

Another way to execute an endplay is to put an opponent on lead in one suit and force him to lead another suit in which you hold a tenace — else he must give you a ruff and discard.

If leading the tenace suit might destroy your tenace or put the wrong defender on lead, look for a different suit to lead for the endplay.

8. S Q 4 3 2
H 6 5 4 3
D Q 7 6
C A 4


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

Declarer’s problem is the diamond suit. The normal play of leading a diamond up to the queen is almost sure to fail because of East’s opening bid and his subsequent double. The best chance is an endplay.

East wins the H K-A then continues with the H Q as South carefully ruffs with the S J (anyone who ruffs low had better learn to count the missing trumps). All of West’s trumps are drawn, then the C K-A are cashed ending in dummy.

Declarer may consider ruffing dummy’s last heart then ducking a diamond — alas, this would not work as West would play the D 9 (or 10) to gain the lead and protect his partner from the endplay.

Declarer should lead the H 6 and discard a diamond from his hand to ensure that East must win the trick. If East returns a diamond, dummy’s queen will win; if he returns anything else, declarer will throw his losing diamond and ruff in dummy.

Lesson 4R   MainTop   Endplays

Leaving a Trump Out

In the previous examples declarer was able to draw all of the enemy trumps and still have at least one trump left in each hand. Sometimes it is necessary to leave one opponent with a trump in order to avoid depleting dummy of trumps; then the endplay must be made against the other opponent.

Declarer can gain a trick by a ruff and discard only if he has at least one trump remaining in each hand.

9. S Q 10 2
H K 9 6
D 7 4 3
C K 6 5 4


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

This time the heart suit is the concern. The bidding marks East with the H A so declarer has virtually no chance if he leads the heart suit himself. The only real hope is an endplay against East.

East plays the D J at trick one and South wins the ace. The proper technique is to cash the S A, and then play on clubs — this suit must be ruffed out first to have any chance for an endplay. The play goes: C A; C K; club ruff; spade to the 10; and another club ruff. Because of the 3-1 trump break it is necessary to leave West with his small trump.

South now exits with the D 10 to East. If East wins two diamond tricks he will be endplayed. The best defense is for West to ruff the third diamond and lead a heart — nice try, but declarer knows where the H A is so he ducks this around to his jack.

Lesson 4R   MainTop   Endplays

Endplay with a Trump

Another way of giving up the lead for an endplay is in the trump suit itself. The defender is placed on lead with his trump winner at a time when he must lead a side suit containing a tenace or concede a ruff and discard.

If you hope for an endplay when you lose a trump trick, it is often necessary to postpone drawing trumps.

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

Many players would fail on this deal because of their eagerness to draw trumps. Declarer should realize that his contract is in danger if the S Q does not drop, in which case the best chance will be to give up the lead with a trump to force an opponent to lead diamonds — the critical suit.

The proper play is to win the C K and lead a heart. It is necessary to postpone drawing trumps to prevent an opponent (West in this case) from extricating himself from the endplay by cashing his trump winner early. The slight risk of a heart or a club ruff must be taken.

Assume East wins the H K and returns a second club to dummy’s ace. Lead another heart to West, then ruff the club return. Now it is time to lead trumps: Win the S A-K ending in dummy, cash the good heart, then exit with a trump to West.

West must either lead a club (instant success) or break the diamond suit. If West leads a low diamond, you will play low from dummy and capture the queen with the ace; then you will finesse West for the jack. If West leads the D J, you will win the king and finesse East for the queen.

Lesson 4R   MainTop   Endplays

Forced Ruff and Discard

Sometimes declarer does not have any suit that contains a tenace. An endplay might still be possible if declarer has adequate trump length, but in this case the only chance is to force an opponent to surrender a ruff and discard.

If your only chance is a ruff and discard, you must usually cash all of your side winners before the endplay.

11. S A 8 4 3
H A 5 2
D Q 4 3
C K 8 5

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

Declarer wins the H A and immediately leads the D 3 — on a lucky day he might steal his singleton king, but not this time. West wins the D A and continues hearts, South ruffing the third round. South next leads a spade to the ace, cashes the D Q and ruffs a diamond in his hand.

The stage is now set for an endplay — or is it? Note that the club suit does not contain a tenace because either defender can lead a club safely. The spot cards (8 and 9) are too small to be significant.

Declarer must hope the defender who has the S K has no more than two clubs. The procedure is to cash the C A-K to remove that player’s clubs, then exit with a trump. When East wins the S K he is forced to lead a diamond or a heart, which lets declarer dispose of his club loser.

Note the necessity of not leading trumps too soon. If the S A were cashed at trick two, East could gain the lead in hearts to cash his S K and avoid the endplay.

Lesson 4R   MainTop   Endplays

© 2012 Richard Pavlicek