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Small Matters
By: Fred Gitelman

Originally Published in Canadian Bridge Canadien, 1996


Every bridge hand contains 13 cards. Most declarers make the mistake of only paying attention to the big cards. Proper handling of the small cards can be worth many tricks to a careful player. Good management of small cards in the trump suit is particularly important. Here are two deals I played recently to illustrate this point. The first is a play problem:

You overbid to 6 and West leads the 9. You win and cash the top hearts. Everybody follows when you ruff the third heart in dummy. So far, so good, but your table presence tells you that East started with 4 spades. What now?

The A can provide a discard for one of your club losers but you still would lose a club and a trump. How about this? Do not cash the A. Ruff a diamond, cash the high trumps and exit with your last trump to East. If East has the K, you are home. East only has minor suit cards left and any return will take care of your two club losers.

Do not play both of your hearts after ruffing the diamond (it is OK to play one). East might refuse to ruff and dummy would be squeezed when you exit in trump. Your hand would be down to just three clubs. In order for the endplay to work, dummy needs the AQ as well as the Qx - four cards.

So which trump did you ruff a diamond with? It better have been the 6 (ie., not the 2). The full deal:

If you "carelessly" ruff with the 2, East can play his J and 10 under your high spades. The 6 will be high but you will have no way to avoid 2 club losers. If you draw the last trump and lead a low club, West must be careful to play the 9 (or J) to prevent you from ducking in dummy and endplaying East.

If you take the precaution of ruffing the first diamond with the 6, however, East is dead. Now it won't help East to play his high spades under your top honours. You would exit the 2 and East's 3 would not be low enough to lose the trick and prevent him from being endplayed.

I admit that there are few deals like the above one where both sides must try so hard to lose a trump trick. More often small trump spots come into play in trying to win tricks:

The following hand contains my favourite single trick of 1995. Please bear with me through some poor bidding and defense until we get to trick 13. I think you will find it worth waiting for.

 

North/South were playing 11-14 1NT which explains North's opening bid and South's aggressive jump. Perhaps the only justification for the East/West bidding is that the game was matchpoints.

West led the J to dummy's A. This clearly looked like a deal for scoring tricks by ruffing clubs in the closed hand. I thus conceded a club at trick 2, won by East with the Q. East returned the 9, covered by the 10, J, and A. I ruffed a club in the closed hand and exited a spade, won by East with the Q. East now erred by returning a heart. If it became necessary to guess hearts I would play East for the Q. Thus, East was never going to score a trick with the Q. By returning a heart, however, he gave me a safe chance to make an overtrick.

I won in dummy with the J and ruffed another club. I cashed the A and played another heart to dummy's K. When everybody followed I ruffed dummy's last club, leaving:

I already had 8 tricks in and dummy's K was a certain ninth. The lead of a spade, however, ensured an overtrick. If West ruffs with the 7, he is allowed to hold the trick. If he then leads the 2, you can ride it around to your 8. If, instead, West leads the Q, smothering your 8, you win the K. At trick 13, you get to draw West's last trump, the deuce, with dummy's three of trump!

It is just as good to overruff West's 7 with the K. Now ruff a heart with the 8. West overruffs with the Q and is down to just the 2. Once again dummy's 3 wins at trick 13.

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