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Premature Ruff Brings Demise

  by Richard Pavlicek

Today’s deal, from a recent tournament, brings out a problem that is inherent to many players: too much concern about ruffing losers and too little concern about suit establishment. Four hearts is an excellent contract, but the bad trump break would cause many to fail when they misdirect their efforts.

4 H South
Both Vul
S 7 6
H A Q 4 3
D A 9 7 6 5 3

1 D
3 H
1 S
2 H
4 H
S 9 3 2
H J 10 8 7
D 10 2
C A J 9 7
TableS K J 10 8 5
D Q J 8 4
C K 5 4 3

Lead: S 2
S A Q 4
H K 9 6 5 2
C 10 8 6 2

The bidding was routine. After North’s one-diamond opening, East overcalled in spades and South introduced his heart suit. North happily raised and South bid game, confident that his ace-queen of spades was just as good as the ace-king.

West led the spade deuce to the king, ace; then declarer cashed the diamond king (a good play). A heart was led to dummy’s ace to reveal the bad news, and a club was discarded on the diamond ace. The play was excellent so far, but declarer now saw an opportunity for an easy trick: He won the spade queen and ruffed a spade in dummy. This was the point of no return.

Declarer did not give up without a fight. He led the club queen, which West won with the ace and returned the heart jack (good defense) to dummy’s queen. Declarer now tried to reach his hand with a diamond ruff; but West overruffed and returned his last trump to strand declarer with two losing clubs. Down one.

The premature spade ruff weakened dummy’s trumps, which made it impossible to establish the diamond suit. Instead, declarer should ruff a diamond. West can overruff or not as he chooses, but he is helpless to defeat the contract. Even if West overruffs and underleads in clubs to East’s king to obtain a trump promotion (by another diamond lead), declarer loses only one club and two trump tricks.

An interesting variation occurs if West refuses to overruff the third round of diamonds. Declarer continues with the heart king, heart queen, and another diamond ruff. West again must refuse to overruff (else declarer makes an overtrick), then the spade queen and a spade ruff nets 10 tricks.

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© 1988 Richard Pavlicek