Tricky Trump Defense

by Matthew Kidd

South West North East
1 1NT 2 3♠!
4 4♠ Dbl Pass
5 Dbl

This hand is from board 18 (rotated) at the September 21, 2017 Swiss team game at Adventures in Bridge. Partner’s 3♠ bid was Lebensohl, promising five or more spades and game going values. You’ve finally had enough of South’s bidding and doubled, figuring partner for at least one trick. What’s your lead?

Declarer has six or seven good hearts, probably to the ace-queen. North made a penalty double with a holding that cannot be better than ♠JT97 and partner mostly like has the ♠J or ♠T. So it is safe to assume declarer is void in spades. Partner must have values outside of spades, so declarer cannot be bidding so much with 4-3 in the minors. It seems likely declarer is 6-5, 7-4, or even 7-5. A spade lead will probably only help declarer start a crossruff. It seems best to lead a low trump.

It turns out that it doesn’t matter what you lead. Partner (me) proves to be useless. You have two tricks and unclear prospects for a third. But perhaps declarer doesn’t readily have eleven tricks. On the trump lead, declarer has five trumps, the A, two diamond ruffs, and club, for nine. Declarer needs to start clubs immediately just to setup a tenth trick though the A can optionally be cashed first. Say West ducks the first round, declarer ruffs a spade in hand, and leads another club which West must win.

Now the spotlight is on West. Double dummy, only another trump lead, away from the tenace, succeeds. This gives up a heart trick but leaves declarer with two eventual diamond losers. If West tries a spade, declarer ruffs, cashes the A, ruffs a diamond, must cash the ♣K, and finally ruffs a club (not a spade!) with the queen, and leads a diamond in this position:

If West ducks, declarer get three tricks on a crossruff. If West ruffs high and plays his last trump, the ♣8 becomes a winner, which is the reason declarer had to ruff a club with the queen earlier. Exiting with a club or a diamond in the nine card ending above leads to the same four card ending.

Now return to beginning. Suppose you are tempted by a spade lead. In this scenario, partner’s one trump is not removed which means the third round pitch on the ♣Q isn't immediately available to declarer. Still declarer now seems to have five trump, the A, three diamond ruffs, and club, for at ten tricks. Can declarer get one more?

Suppose declarer ruffs the opening spade, cashes the A, ruffs a another diamond, ruffs another spade, ruffs a third diamond, ruffs a third spade, and leads a fourth diamond in this position:

West, who pitched club earlier, must pitch his ♠K now, which is safe because his partner retains the ♠J guard. Declarer ruffs the fourth diamond but is trapped in dummy. Ruffing the last spade gives West two trump tricks and West cannot be endplayed into leading away from a trump tenace because he controls the timing with the ♣A. However, if the ♣K is played from dummy, West must be careful to duck the first round; otherwise declarer can trump the third round of clubs in the position below and embarrass West by leading the 9.

Alternatively West might ruff low on the third diamond. Assuming dummy overruffs the lead is not in dummy in this position:


In some ways, ruffing the third diamond has simplified the defense. Still, if declarer now ruffs a spade and leads a club, West must hop up with his ace and exit a club. Declarer cannot enjoy the ♣K because East still has a trump. If West doesn’t take his ace immmediately, declarer ruffs the fourth spade and must pull East’s trump with the A, at which point the ♣9 is ruinous to the defense in this position:

Incidentally, if West goes wrong on the first club, but by play low instead of splitting the ♣JT, dummy must finesse the ♣8 to succeed! This seems hard to do in practice.

How important is it that West has the T which outranks declarer’s 9? Not much as it turns out. If we swap the 9 and T, West still sets the contract on any lead other than the ♣4. A trump lead operates as before. The key point is that West has a trump to lead, regardless of its rank. But if West leads a spade, and declarer follows the same line as above, West can no longer afford to pitch a club on the third round of diamonds. He must ruff low to gain the line above or pitch a spade but not a club.

Even if we weaken West to K72 against declarer’ AQT984, any lead except the ♣A or ♣4 still prevails. If finally we weaken West to K62 by swapping the 7 for dummy’s 6, West still prevails but must avoid ruffing the third diamond.