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Trumps in Defense - Bridge

In my previous article "Trump Control" (ESRA 189), I discussed the importance of declarers maintaining control of the trump suit lest they end up in a no-trump like situation where, bereft of trumps, they are powerless to prevent opponents from running side-suit winners. In this article, I want to look at the flip side of the coin and consider trumps from the defender's perspective and, in particular, some related notions regarding opening leads against suit contracts. How many times have we not all automatically made the lead of a singleton or doubleton in a side suit, hoping to score tricks by ruffing declarer's winners with our lowly trumps only to find such a lead gave a way the contract?

Two hands came up in a recent tournament at my local club in Kfar Saba, which illustrate some important principles. In the first, I was sitting in the West seat with ♠ A Q 10 9,  7 5 4 3,    10 6 4, ♣ 5 4, a rather bland hand that became somewhat more interesting when the dealer, my opponent in the South seat, opened the bidding with 1 Spade. His partner bid 1NT, forcing, and he jumped to 3 Hearts, showing 17+ high-card points. North signed off the bidding with a raise to 4 Hearts and I found myself on lead. I trust that my readers would have done what I did: I made the classic lead of a trump. Leading the § 5 would have been pointless. It is highly unlikely on the bidding that partner has both a high club and a subsequent entry to set me up for a ruff. Rather, you have 3, or maybe even 4 tricks in spades, provided you can restrict declarer's ability to trump only one spade in dummy. The 4 small hearts in the West hand have no value except as a means of drawing trumps and reducing dummy's ruffing power. The full hand: 


♠ 5 4

K J 9 6


A Q J 


♠ A Q 1 0 9

♣ 9 8 7 2

      ♠ 7 2

7 5 4 3



1 0 6 4


¨       K 8 5 3 2

♣ 5 4♠ K J 8 6 3        ♣ Q J 1 0 6 3

A Q 1 0 8


 9 7

♣ A K

Declarer won my opening lead with the ©K in dummy and immediately went about establishing the spade suit. His finesse of the ♠ J lost to my ♠ Q and I played another trump. He won with dummy's ©J and, putting on a brave face to East showing out of trumps, persisted with spades, his ♠ K losing to my ♠ A. My subsequent play of a third round of hearts meant dummy had only one trump left, insufficient to neutralize both of my high remaining spades - the ♠ 10 and ♠ 9 – so declarer ended up losing 3 spades and a diamond for 1 down. Please review the hand and convince yourself that any other opening lead would have given South the necessary timing to eliminate dummy's spades while still retaining two trumps in that hand to put paid to West's remaining high spades.

The second hand involves entirely different considerations but is no less instructive. Again, I was sitting West. My partner was the dealer and passed. South opened 1 Spade to which North responded with a Jacoby 2NT bid, a game-force convention showing a flat hand with 4 spades and 13 or more points, and the opponents ended in a final contract of 4 Spades:



    ♠ A 1 0 5 3


     K Q J 9


     A 4 3


♠ K J 9 6

    ♣ 6 2


7 2


     1 0 8 6 5

K 1 0 6 5 2


     ♦ Q 7

♣ Q 7      ♠ Q 8 7 4 2     ♣ J 1 0 9 8 5 4 3

     A 4 3

¨   J 9 8


    ♣ A K

This time, I had neither reason nor inclination to lead trumps. I certainly didn't want to jeopardize my natural trump tricks by exposing my holding in spades on the lead. Nor did I want to waste them trumping hearts or clubs even in the unlikely event I could engineer an entry into partner's hand to give me a ruff. No, what I wanted to do was find a way of generating the setting tricks in the side suits or forcing declarer to lose control in trumps. I chose to lead a small diamond, the ¨ 5.

Declarer was no fool and won the lead with dummy's A. Had she not done so, my partner would have won the trick with the Q and returned a diamond, immediately promoting another diamond trick in my hand with my K and 10 catching declarer's J in a pincer. She hoped the high diamond with East would block that suit allowing her ultimately to be able to discard one of her remaining diamond loser on dummy's fourth heart. After winning the first trick, her next task was to draw trumps. In the hope that she could limit the spade losers to one trick if West held the ♠ K, she started by playing dummy's ♠ A with the intention of following this with a small spade towards the ♠ Q in her closed hand. However, when my partner showed

out on the first round of trumps, she led a club to the ♣ K in her hand and then played the ♠ 7 towards the ♠ 10 in dummy. I won with the ♠ J and led a diamond to my partner's Q. When I subsequently won a second spade trick, I was able to cash my K for the setting trick.

Had I chosen to lead a heart or spade, our side would have only been able to score one side-suit winner. Declarer would have won the opening lead and started drawing trumps in the same way: ♠ A, club to the ♣ K in hand, spade towards dummy's ♠ 10. After winning the ♠ J, my attack on the diamond suit would have come too late. My first diamond lead would have been won with dummy's  A. A heart to her  A in hand would have allowed declarer to lead a third spade towards the ♠ 10 on the table. My subsequent diamond lead, after I had won the ♠ K, would have been taken by partner with his Q, but with no third diamond to play back to me, there would have been no way to gain entry to my hand for me to cash that second, setting diamond trick.

While the trump suit is generally declarer's main offensive weapon, careful and timely play of your trump holding in defense may well expose the chink in his armor.



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Friday, 14 June 2024

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