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Trump Suit Needs Special Handling

  by Richard Pavlicek

Today’s deal is another from the North American Championships in Salt Lake City. The mistake made by South provides a valuable lesson regarding the play of the trump suit.

The bidding may not please everyone, although I have no quarrel. South’s opening bid showed at least five cards (five-card majors), so North required only three cards to raise. South might have bid three hearts to search for the maximal contract — if North also held four hearts, the four-four fit is usually superior — but in the majority of cases this only helps the opponents on defense. The direct bid of four spades gives away no information.

4 S South
None Vul
S 9 7 2
H Q 8 2
D A J 7 4
C K 9 3

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

Lead: D 2
S A K J 8 4
H A K 4 3
D 3
C Q 8 2

West led a diamond, taken by the ace, and declarer immediately considered the best way to play trumps. With eight cards the queen was unlikely to drop, so he took the finesse: low to the jack. West won the queen and returned the diamond 10, a good play so East would not waste his king unless the jack were played. Declarer ruffed, drew a second round of trumps with the king, then tried to cash three top hearts. Oops. West ruffed and exited with a diamond, leaving declarer with no way to avoid the loss of two club tricks — down one.

What went wrong? It seems clumsy to let West ruff one of the heart winners, but this did not cost a trick. If declarer draws a third trump, he must lose a heart trick to East; so the end result is the same.

Let’s go back to the spade finesse. It is the correct percentage play if declarer cannot afford a spade loser, or if the contract were notrump. But, as is often the case, the trump suit requires special consideration. The potential to ruff the fourth heart in dummy is the deciding influence.

Declarer can assure his contract with any three-two trump break by cashing the ace-king of spades and playing on hearts. West still may ruff the third heart if he chooses; but the difference is that he will be ruffing with the master trump.

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© 1988 Richard Pavlicek