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Hold That Ruff!

This deal, from the Blue Ribbon Pairs at the recent St. Louis Nationals, illustrates an important defensive principle. Many defenders are too eager to ruff, fearing it is “now or never” to score their trump trick. This is certainly true in some cases, but beware of ruffing a loser early in the play.

6 H by South

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

West

Pass
2 S
Pass
All Pass
North

1 D
4 H
5 D
East

1 S
Pass
Pass
South
1 C
2 H
4 S
6 H

The N-S bidding was optimistic (to be polite). After North’s raise to game, South cue-bid 4 S and North retaliated with 5 D. South could not contain himself and bid the slam.

Declarer’s best chance was to establish the clubs. After winning the S A, he cashed the C A, ruffed a club, and returned to his hand with the H A. On the next club lead West grabbed the opportunity to ruff in front of dummy with the H 8 — a critical error. The rest was easy, as the H K picked up the remaining trumps and another ruff established the long clubs.

Instead West should discard a spade. Declarer ruffs the club, returns to his hand with a spade ruff, and leads a fourth club. West must discard another spade and there is no way for declarer to succeed.

Remember this deal the next time you think about ruffing on defense. If the card led is a loser, it is usually better to discard and wait.

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© 1998 Richard Pavlicek