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Forcing Defense Sets “Cold” Game

  by Richard Pavlicek

Forcing declarer to ruff can wreak havoc on many contracts that seem secure on the surface. Today’s deal, No. 36 in the recent Royal Viking Pairs, was first played in a French tournament about 10 years ago. An old commentary concluded “…North-South are cold for game in either major suit.” In providing the modern analysis, I found this to be only half true.

4 S South
None Vul
S Q J 6 3
H A K 10 7 6 2
D 5 4

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

Lead: C A
S K 9 5 2
H J 5 4
D A K 10
C 7 5 2

Four hearts is indeed cold, as declarer will lose two black aces and a trump trick — nothing more, nothing less. This contract might be reached if South, at his second turn, bids three hearts instead of three spades. Then North, looking at a strong six-card suit, would prefer to bid game in hearts.

The actual bidding, however, cannot be criticized. A four-four trump fit is often superior to a lopsided fit, so South’s decision to suppress the heart support was reasonable. Is there any difference in the play with spades trump? Declarer apparently has the same losers; and this would be the case if the defense is lazy. But watch the power of the tap.

West struck gold with the ace-of-clubs lead, and East signaled with the nine to ask for a continuation. The next club was ruffed in dummy, and the spade queen went to East’s ace. East returned a diamond, won by South with the king. So what’s the problem? Isn’t everything cozy? No, it’s a miserable predicament.

Suppose declarer ruffs his last club in dummy, then cashes the spade jack. The only way to return to hand to draw West’s last trump is with a diamond, then the defenders can win a diamond trick before South can establish the heart suit. It is equally futile to try to develop the heart suit early. Curiously, once the defenders lead two rounds of clubs, declarer cannot succeed with any play. The tap is too much to overcome.

Winning tip: Try to make declarer ruff in the hand that contains a long side suit. It can be devastating.

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© 1989 Richard Pavlicek