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Anxiety To Ruff Can Be Costly

  by Richard Pavlicek

Today’s deal occurred in a side event at the North American Championships held last December in Atlanta. East’s two diamonds was a weak two-bid — not a textbook example, though the kind of hand with which we all like to bid. The presence of a four-card major should deter one from making a weak two-bid in first or second position; but once partner is a passed hand, the “anything goes” approach is effective. South overcalled in his long spade suit, West and North raised their partners, and South ventured to game with his excellent distribution.

4 S South
Both Vul
S J 7 2
H 8 4
D K 8 5
C A 10 7 6 3
3 D
3 S
2 D
2 S
4 S
S Q 3
H Q 10 3
D J 10 7
C K J 9 8 5
TableS 6 4
H K 9 7 2
D A Q 9 6 4 2
C 4

Lead: D J
S A K 10 9 8 5
H A J 6 5
D 3
C Q 2

The defense began with the diamond jack which held, then a another diamond to force South to ruff. Declarer led a low heart to the eight and nine, and East correctly returned a trump which South won with the ace. The goal of a defender is to counter declarer’s plan (apparently to ruff hearts in dummy) so this was sound defense. Declarer cashed the heart ace, ruffed a heart and returned to his hand with a diamond ruff.

When South’s last heart was led, West pounced on the trick with his spade queen — after all, the queen was destined to fall under the king anyway. I suspect that most defenders and readers (come on; be honest) would do the same. West of course did make an extra spade trick; but he was forced to give the trick right back by leading a club (that’s all he had left) which rode to South’s queen. This tit-for-tat exchange left declarer with the upper hand — making four spades.

Let’s back up a few tricks. Instead of ruffing the fourth round of hearts, West should discard a club and let declarer ruff with dummy’s last trump. Declarer’s only chance is to continue with ace and another club; but East ruffs the second club and returns a diamond which allows West to score his spade queen after all. So patience earns another reward, and the contract is defeated.

Defensive tip: Before you ruff, think about what you will lead next.

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© 1987 Richard Pavlicek