Don't be too quick on the draw

August 18, 1974

The oft-told tale about an ever-increasing band of bridge players wandering the land disconsolately because they failed to draw trumps has misled a lot of other players into drawing the wrong conclusion, thereby causing them to lose a bundle of points. Trumps sometimes have more important uses than merely extracting opponents' trumps. The fact is that when declarer leads trumps he often has to expend two of his own, one of which might better have been played separately to win another trick.

Nonetheless, all too often a player automatically leads a round of trumps before settling down to think. Sometimes this can be fatal, even if just psychologically. As a general rule it is wise to draw trumps at once only when you hold enough winners or easily established tricks in the side suits to make your contract. If you need more tricks than you have on top, you must first plan how to use your trumps to produce them. That's merely one theme of the story told here. Another arises later.

There are various ways to reach slam in either of the red suits on this deal, and there is often an advantage to playing a four-four fit. But as the cards lie it is just as well that North-South arrived at six hearts, since six diamonds cannot be made against the best defense.

At six hearts, the play to the first trick was so automatic that declarer won with dummy's king of spades and cashed one of dummy's high hearts almost without thinking. Jolted off stride when West showed out of trumps, South next tried to come to his hand with a diamond in order to ruff a losing spade in dummy. But East trumped and returned a heart to reduce dummy to only two trumps while declarer still had two losing spades to ruff.

Declarer won East's trump return with one of dummy's honors, crossed to his hand by ruffing a club, trumped a spade in dummy, ruffed another club in his hand and his remaining low spade in dummy, then suddenly found himself short of a reentry to his hand. If he led another diamond, East would ruff for the setting trick, and South would be no better off if he trumped a third club, since that would leave East with one trump while declarer would have none.

"Sorry, partner," South apologized. "I had a blind spot. I shouldn't have led trumps at all. But even after I did, I could have recovered if I had simply ruffed a club at trick three, then trumped a low spade, cashed a second high trump in dummy and overtaken dummy's last trump with the ace. The nine would have drawn East's last heart, and four diamonds and the ace of spades would have given me 12 tricks. Once East ruffed that diamond and returned a trump, though, I was a gone goose."

Alas, poor South was still suffering from a blind spot. Do you see what was wrong with his apology and how he could have recovered even after East's diamond ruff and trump return?

Declarer had been guilty of false economy. To avoid squandering a high trump in dummy, he had sacrificed his timing and tossed away his last chance to make up for his earlier blunders. The winning play is to take East's trump return with the ace of hearts, not with one of dummy's high ones. Next comes a spade ruff, a club ruff, a spade ruff and a club ruff. Now the timing is right, since South ends up in his hand and can draw East's last trump with the 9 of hearts. Then three good diamonds and the ace of spades bring home the slam.

ILLUSTRATION

Both sides vulnerable South dealer

NORTH

[King of Spades]
[King of Hearts]
[Queen of Hearts]
[Jack of Hearts]
[10 of Hearts]
[Jack of Clubs]
[4 of Clubs]
[3 of Clubs]
[2 of Clubs]
[Ace of Diamonds]
[Queen of Diamonds]
[5 of Diamonds]
[4 of Diamonds]

WEST

[Queen of Spades]
[Jack of Spades]
[10 of Spades]
[8 of Spades]
[10 of Diamonds]
[9 of Diamonds]
[7 of Diamonds]
[6 of Diamonds]
[2 of Diamonds]
[King of Clubs]
[10 of Clubs]
[7 of Clubs]
[5 of Clubs]

SOUTH

[Ace of Hearts]
[9 of Hearts]
[6 of Hearts]
[5 of Hearts]
[4 of Hearts]
[Ace of Spades]
[7 of Spades]
[5 of Spades]
[4 of Spades]
[King of Diamonds]
[Jack of Diamonds]
[8 of Diamonds]
[3 of Diamonds]

EAST

[9 of Spades]
[6 of Spades]
[3 of Spades]
[2 of Spades]
[8 of Hearts]
[7 of Hearts]
[3 of Hearts]
[2 of Hearts]
[Ace of Clubs]
[Queen of Clubs]
[9 of Clubs]
[8 of Clubs]
[6 of Clubs]

SOUTH

1 [Heart]
2 [Spade]
5 [Diamond]
PASS

WEST

PASS
PASS
PASS
PASS

NORTH

2 [Diamond]
4 [Heart]
6 [Heart]

EAST

PASS
PASS
PASS

Opening lead: queen of spades

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)