Lesson 6F   Main

Trump Endings

  by Richard Pavlicek

This lesson explains the various ways declarer can gain a trick when a defender has an honor in the trump suit. Many of these plays are overlooked by the average player, usually because of the tendency to hoard his trumps.

A skillful declarer is aware of the many advantages of ruffing, not only in the “short hand” but also in the “long hand.”

Trump Reduction

A common theme for every topic in this lesson is declarer’s need to reduce his trump length. Holding long trumps is a disadvantage when contending with an opponent who holds a trump honor.

If you need to win an extra trick in the trump suit, embark on a ruffing campaign.

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

After winning the H A and cashing two top trumps, your contract looks doomed when East shows out of spades. There seems to be only nine tricks: four spades, two hearts, two diamonds and a club. Don’t give up so easily. You can win five spade tricks if West happens to hold four or more diamonds.

Cash the D A-K and ruff a diamond; cross to dummy with a heart and ruff another diamond. That makes 10 tricks! You were fortunate, of course, that West had to follow to the diamonds as you ruffed. But it cost you nothing to try; it was the only realistic chance.

Lesson 6F   MainTop   Trump Endings

Trump Endplay

It often happens that a defender is sitting behind your trump holding, such that your finessing plays are destined to lose. Sometimes you will know this from the bidding — for example, you might be doubled — or you might discover it in the early play. If you are aware of the situation in time, you can often save a trick with proper play.

If the enemy trumps are stacked against you, stop leading trumps and go after ruffs.

You are dead meat, pal! I double urass!

I wonder where the trumps are.

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

You win the D A then get a shock when East discards a club on the first spade lead. Apparently you must lose three trump tricks since West is behind you. Maybe not. Win the S A and stop leading trumps.

Lead your heart to the king, ace. Assume a diamond return (nothing matters) won by the queen; ruff a heart; cross to the C K; ruff another heart; cash the C A and ruff a club; then lead a diamond to your king. At this point West holds S K-J-9 and you hold S Q-10-8. Simply exit with a spade and West is endplayed. The end result is that you lost only two trump tricks despite the horrible break.

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

You win the C A and lead a spade to your king, noting the fall of West’s jack. If West has Q-J doubleton, everything is cozy; but if it’s a singleton jack, your only chance to succeed is with a trump endplay. Stop leading trumps!

Cash both top diamonds and ruff a diamond, then do the same in hearts (these plays can be made in any order). Now exit with a club. West can win two club tricks; but when he leads his last club winner, East will be forced to ruff and lead a spade into dummy’s A-10.

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

Here it looks like a simple spade finesse is all you need. But wait! You need to ruff a diamond in dummy, after which you will be unable to finesse in spades. The answer is a trump endplay, but first you must win the bulk of your spades by ruffing.

Win the D A and give up a club. Assume a diamond return to your king. Ruff a diamond; ruff a club; cross to the H A; ruff a club; cross to the S A, and ruff another club as East discards in front of you. At this point you remain with S K-J and two losing hearts. Simply exit with a heart and wait for two trump tricks. The opponents are helpless to stop you.

Lesson 6F   MainTop   Trump Endings

Trump Coup

The trump coup is similar to the ending in Example 4 — declarer has a finessable trump holding and lacks a card in dummy to lead for the finesse. The difference is that declarer does not give up the lead. Instead he leads from the dummy, forcing his opponent to ruff first; then he is able to overruff.

A trump coup is easiest to operate when the dummy has an established side suit or extra winners to lead through your opponent.

For a trump coup to work, you must reduce your trump length until equal to your opponent.

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

Against your spade slam, West leads the D A and another diamond. This is a simple deal if spades break, so the average player would immediately lead a spade to the ace then cash the king. Oops. The contract is now impossible. Should declarer have taken the spade finesse?

Certainly not! A good declarer would realize the only danger on this deal is a bad trump break, so to prepare for a possible trump coup he would ruff a heart at trick three. This play makes all the difference. When the top spades reveal the bad break, declarer leads a club to the queen, ruffs a heart, then leads a club to the ace.

The rest is a lock. Dummy is on lead; East has S J-x, and South has S Q-10. The top hearts are cashed (South throwing a diamond and a club), then the good diamond is led. East can ruff whenever he chooses, but declarer wins the rest.

Lesson 6F   MainTop   Trump Endings

Elopement Play

The elopement play (also called the coup en passant) occurs when a defender has a natural trump trick that is unfinessable. Declarer leads a plain suit through the defender. If the defender ruffs with his natural trump trick, then declarer discards a loser; if the defender discards, then declarer ruffs.

The positional relationship of the elopement play is identical to the trump coup; declarer plays after the critical defender.

For an elopement play to work, you must have equal or fewer trumps than your opponent.

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

You win the opening lead with the H K and cash two top spades to reveal the 4-1 break. East’s holding is guaranteed to win a trump trick, however, this does not prevent you from winning all six of your trumps with an elopement play.

Cash your third top trump (optional), then lead a diamond to the ace and ruff a diamond. Cross to dummy with a heart and ruff another diamond (unless East ruffs in front of you, then discard a loser). At this point you have one trump left and so does East. Cross to the C A and lead another diamond. If East ruffs, you will discard; if East discards, you will ruff. Either way, you win a trick with your last spade.

Note that it was necessary to use the H A entry to dummy before the C A. Otherwise East would discard a heart on the third diamond, then he could ruff the H A and spoil your fun.

Lesson 6F   MainTop   Trump Endings

Crossruff Elopement

The elopement play often occurs in crossruff situations. Declarer maneuvers to leave one defender with the high trump, then he begins a crossruff. If the defender is unable to overruff, declarer may elope with all of his trumps in each hand.

Timing is often the key. Declarer sometimes must ruff one particular suit before another; else a defender may be able to discard his last card in that suit and be able to overruff the next round.

If you may lose a trump trick to the queen, do not let a defender gain the lead to cash it.

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

You rise with the H A at trick one, figuring West is unlikely to lead from the king and there is a fair chance that East’s H K will ruff out. You next ruff a heart and cash the S A. Do not cash another spade yet. If spades are 3-1, you do not want the opponent with the queen to be able to cash it.

The best play is a low diamond toward the jack. Assume East wins the D Q and returns the C Q to dummy’s ace. Ruff another heart, then cash the S K. When East shows out, the stage is set for your elopement. Cash the D A, ruff a diamond, then ruff dummy’s last heart in your hand. You have nine tricks in, and the lead of your last diamond ensures another trump trick regardless of West’s play.

Note that you appear to have four inescapable losers (two clubs, a diamond and a spade) on this deal. The elopement play compresses it to three.

Lesson 6F   MainTop   Trump Endings

© 1994 Richard Pavlicek