Todays deal was considered unlucky when it arose in a rubber bridge game. North opened one notrump and South jumped to three spades to show a five-card suit and the values for game. North raised to four spades a sound contract but in jeopardy as the cards lie. At first the danger may not be apparent, because even with both minor-suit kings offside, declarer should lose only three tricks: one heart, one diamond and one club. But watch what happened.
West led the heart jack, which held, and continued the suit to make South ruff. Trumps were drawn in three rounds, ending in the South hand, then the diamond jack was led to Easts king. East returned another heart which South had to ruff with his last trump. After running the diamond suit, declarer was obliged to try the club finesse; this lost and West was able to cash a heart for the setting trick.
Unlucky? Yes, because declarer was a favorite to have at least one finesse succeed; but the ill fate was avoidable with proper technique. The principle is to keep a trump in dummy; in other words, do not draw three rounds of trump at the outset. This tactic is often effective against a forcing defense (when the defenders make declarer ruff) because it may limit the number of times declarer can be forced.
The correct play is to draw two rounds of trumps, ending in dummy, then lead a club to the jack. When this loses, West must return a heart to give the defense any chance and South ruffs. (If West returns a club, declarer just draws the last trump before finessing diamonds.) Declarer now remains with one trump in each hand and West still has a trump; but it is not time to draw trumps yet. Lead a diamond to the queen. East wins, but he can do no damage; if he leads another heart, declarer can ruff in one hand then cross to the other hand to draw Wests trump.
© 1986 Richard Pavlicek