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Ruff Day at Work

This deal from a recent team match provides some instructive pointers in trump handling, both as declarer and by the defense. It’s the old cat-and-mouse game, with a diamond ruff at stake.

After a routine opening and takeout double, South’s jump to 2 H was weak — a common practice in competition. North felt that game was a good bet with his exceptional fit, so he jumped directly to 4 H. East felt otherwise and stated his opinion with a final double.

West led a club to the ace, then East promptly shifted to the S A and S Q to South’s king. Before reading further, decide how you would play from there.

4 H× by South

None Vul
S 10 9 3
H A K 5
D A K Q J 5 4
C K
S 8 7 5 4
H
D 10 8 7 2
C 10 9 5 3 2
TableS A Q J 6
H Q 6 4 2
D 9
C A Q J 4
Lead: C 3S K 2
H J 10 9 8 7 3
D 6 3
C 8 7 6

West

Pass
North
1 D
4 H
East
Dbl
Dbl
South
2 H
All Pass

Declarer was in good shape with anything but the worst breaks, so he next led the H J. Not surprisingly, West showed out, and dummy’s king was taken. The only hope now was that East had two diamonds, so the D A-K were led. Oops. East ruffed the second, and he still had to make the H Q. Down one.

The winning play is not completely obvious but highly indicated from the bidding and final double. After winning the S K, declarer should lead a club and ruff high in dummy; next ruff a spade, then lead the last club and ruff high again. Careful! Cash one diamond; then lead the H 5. East is helpless to win more than the H Q. Note the need to cash one diamond, else East could lead the D 9 and lock you in dummy.

Curiously, there is a way for the defense to prevail against any play by declarer. After winning the C A, East must shift to a low trump. This seems counterintuitive looking at dummy’s powerful diamonds, yet declarer cannot overcome the obstacles. If you don’t mind an exercise in frustration, try it.

[Addendum: This deal inspired Problem 4 in my February 2003 contest Have Cards, Will Double.]

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© 2002 Richard Pavlicek