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Contract Bridge
LESSON 12
Handling a Trump suit

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BR 12.1 - The 8-card Trump fit

The primary and most important objective for playing in a trump contract is to maintain control during the play.
Without a trump suit the Opponents may be able to win 4 or even 5 tricks in a suit in which they have a strong holding. In a trump contract on the other hand the damage can usually be reduced to 1 or 2 losing tricks only.

A trump fit consists of 8 or more trump cards in the combined hands. This is three cards more than the opposition.
Also, when the Opponents hold an odd number of cards in a suit, statistically they are most likely divided evenly between the two hands. A 5-card combined enemy holding will break 2-3 about 65% of the time (2 to 1).

With only 7 trump cards in the combined hands, the enemy will hold 6 trumps, only one less than your side.
Furthermore, with an even number of cards the odds are about 2 to 1 (65%) that they are divided unevenly between the two hands. (Exception : When Opponents hold only 2 cards in a suit, 52% of the time they will break 1-1.)

A 6-card trump holding by the enemy will be divided 4-2 or worse 65% of the time.
This means that when Declarer holds only 4 trump cards he will need all of them to draw the enemy trumps. In the process he will loose the vital objective of the trump suit : maintaining control!
Therefore, when your Partner shows a 4-card suit avoid raising that suit with only 3 card support, even if they are A, K and Q. You will convert these into winning tricks anyway. Always look for length in a trump suit, rather than just strength.

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BR 12.2 - The 4-4 Trump fit

The best strategy in most trump contracts is to draw the enemy trumps early in the game. This prevents the Opponents of winning tricks by ruffing, while Declarer maintains control of the play with his remaining trumps.

Situation 1
In the deal below Declarer draws 3 rounds of trumps, ending up with two remaining trumps, one in Dummy and the other in his own hand.

To maintain control over the remaining tricks it is generally best to hold on to these trumps as long as possible. However if he waits until the very last trick, both trumps are played on the same trick, providing one trick only.

Therefore, at one stage Declarer must try to ruff with one of the trumps. It does not matter in which hand he ruffs. Either way he will gain an extra trick. After this has been achieved he can hold the last remaining trump (and maintain control !) until the very end, as it will always make a trick, no matter what !

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Situation 2
Now look at the deal below.
In this case Declarer holds only the Ace and King as top trump cards. After drawing 2 rounds of trumps one of the defenders is left with the top trump (Jack of Hearts).
In the great majority of cases it is best not to draw this enemy trump. The trump Jack will make a trick no matter what, so why waste two of your own trumps on it ?

Declarer now has 4 instead of 2 trumps left and with a bit of luck may be able to use most of them for ruffing. As soon as the Left Defender (in above example) gains the lead he will no doubt lead his trump Jack to draw 2 trumps out, but that does not always happen.

In general Declarer should draw the enemy's LOSING TRUMPS only.

There are two situations where Declarer should draw all enemy trumps :

1. When Declarer wants to run a long suit in Dummy and there are no side entries to Dummy.
In such case the Defenders can ruff the suit and cut off access to the remaining winners in Dummy.

2. Declarer deliberately wishes to give the lead to the Defence.

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Situation 3
What about the Deal below ?
In this case Declarer has only one high trump card, the Ace. If he leads the Ace first and then a small trump to the next trick, the Defenders will win and most likely draw a third round of trumps.

The proper course for Declarer in this situation is to lead a small trump first. The Opponents will win the trick. If they lead a second trump Declarer will win it with the Ace, leaving the remaining trump winner of the defence (trump King) stranded.
If the defenders don't draw trumps, Declarer will lead the trump Ace as soon as he regains the lead, but not lead a third round of trumps.
The same strategy applies to a 5-3 or any other trump fit holding.

 The exception to this approach is when Declarer fears the Opponents may be able to win some early tricks by ruffing a long side suit he holds. In this case lead the Ace and follow up with a small trump.

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BR 12.3 - The 5-3 Trump fit

As in a 4-4 trump fit, in most cases it is best to draw the enemy's trumps early in the game.

Situation 4
With the top three winners in the trump suit draw all enemy trumps. When they break 3-2 the situation after three rounds is like this :

The first thing to notice is, that after 3 rounds of trumps there are none left in Dummy.

This means that if Declarer wishes to ruff in Dummy he must do this before drawing trumps.

If Declarer wishes to ruff in Dummy only once he can draw 2 rounds of trumps first, then ruff a trick with Dummy's last remaining trump. After that he must return to his own hand to draw the last enemy trump (or trumps if the enemy trumps break 4-1).

As with a 4-4 trump fit, Declarer, after drawing 3 rounds of trumps, has two remaining trumps to his disposal, but there is a vital difference.

1. With a 4-4 trump fit the two remaining trumps are divided over the two hands, one in Dummy and one in Declarer's hand.
In order to produce 2 tricks with these one of them needs to be used for a ruff, otherwise both trumps will in the end fall on the same trick, producing one trick only.

2. With a 5-3 trump fit the two remaining trumps are in the same hand.
This means no matter what, they will always produce 2 extra tricks, and it is therefore not necessary to ruff. Ruffing will only weaken Declarer's control over the game.
Ruffing in this situation should therefore always have a specific purpose, like preventing the enemy from running their long suit, or developing a long suit in Dummy, etc.

This is a very important principle which is not properly appreciated by many beginners and even intermediate players.

 IN GENERAL When there are an equal number of trumps in Declarer's and Dummy's hand, a ruff in either hand will produce an extra trick. When there are more trumps in Declarer's hand than in Dummy, or vice versa, only a ruff in the shorter hand will produce an extra trick.

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Situation 5
With only 2 top cards in the trump suit Declarer in most cases should only draw 2 rounds of enemy trumps.
If he then manages to force the Opponent to ruff a trick in one of his side suits he has 4 trumps left. With these he will always produce three extra tricks no matter what. He will make even a 4th extra trick if he can ruff once in Dummy.

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BR 12.4 - The Cross Ruff

Situation 6
Consider the following Deal. The contract is 4 Spades.
If Declarer decides to draw all enemy trumps (in three rounds) he will end up with making only 8 tricks in total. Five tricks in trumps (including one ruff in Dummy or his own had) plus three Aces in the side suits. This is two tricks short of his contract.

Declarer therefore must play a cross ruff game.
Instead of drawing trumps Declarer plans to use the trumps in each hand for ruffing.
This deal is ideally suited for this approach as :

1. Declarer and Dummy both have unbalanced hands
2. Dummy has lots of trumps
3. The Opponents have only low trumps and will be unable to over ruff
Declarer wins the opening lead in Clubs with the Club Ace in his own hand.
What should he do next ?

The scene is now set for a cross ruff game.
At trick 4 Declarer leads a low Heart from Dummy and ruffs it in his own hand. He then (trick 5) leads a small Club from his hand which is ruffed in Dummy.
This process is repeated until all trumps have been used, and instead of 8 tricks, Declarer wins 11 tricks in total.

The bidding went probably like this :

DeclarerDummy
1 Diamond1 Heart

The bidding reveals Dummy as a relatively weak hand, unbalanced with at least 4 trumps (see
Bidding Guide p.4). In such a case a trump opening lead is usually most effective, as it will reduce Dummy's ruffing potential (Bidding Guide p.14).

In the deal under discussion it won't stop Declarer making his contract, but it will reduce his trick total from 11 to 10. In a duplicate bridge competition this may make the difference between a bottom score and an average or perhaps even top score for the Defenders.

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BR 12.5 - The Dummy Reversal (an Advanced play technique)

Situation 7
Now consider the deal below. The contract is 4 Hearts.
By simply drawing trumps Declarer will end up making a total of 8 tricks, five in the trump suit plus 2 Club and one Diamond winner. So that is not going to work.

Ruffing two Diamonds in Dummy before drawing trumps ?
That is not going to work either. As soon as the Opponents become aware of Declarer's intention (when he plays the Diamond Ace, followed by a small Diamond) they will start drawing trumps themselves and Dummy will be able to ruff one Diamond trick at the most. Not enough to make the contract.

Instead Declarer decides to do a Dummy Reversal play, by

1. first ruffing Dummy's four Spade losers in his own hand,

2. and then draw the enemy trumps with the three high trumps from Dummy.
Declarer wins the King of Spades opening lead by a ruff in his own hand. At trick 2 he leads a small Diamond to Dummy's Ace.

This brings the lead back to Dummy, who plays (trick 3) a second small Spade, which is ruffed by Declarer with the ACE !
At trick 4 Declarer leads a small Club to Dummy's Ace . . . .

. . . . which brings the lead back to Dummy for yet another Spade lead (trick 5) and ruff by Declarer with the Queen.

Another lead to Dummy's Club King (trick 6), provides the entry for the last Spade lead and ruff (trick 7).

Declarer then (trick 8) finally leads his last remaining small trump to Dummy, who proceeds to win three rounds of trumps. This brings the total to 10 winning tricks, four ruffs by Declarer plus three trump tricks and three side suit winners in Dummy. (Any other opening lead would have the same result, provided a trump lead is won in Dummy.)

 Also note that Declarer ruffed with his high trumps, making sure to leave a small trump at the end to lead from his hand to Dummy. He could have kept a Jack or Queen, as these could have been overtaken by Dummy's King. But having at the end only the trump Ace in his hand he would not be able to enter Dummy and draw the enemy trumps. Also using Declarer's high trumps for ruffing prevents the Opponents from over ruffing !

The Dummy Reversal is the rare exception when it pays to ruff in the hand with the longer trump suit.
It requires the following conditions :
1. Dummy's trumps must be high enough to be able to draw the enemy trumps.

2. Dummy must have length in Declarer's singleton or voided suit.

3. Dummy must have enough entries to lead the ruff suit back to Declarer.

4. Declarer should have high trump cards too, so that they can not be over ruffed by the enemy.

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BR 12.6 - Deals 33 to 36

Deals 33 to 36 are examples of trump plays as outlined in this lesson.

BR 12.7 - Quiz 12 - Answers - Review

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