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Delicate Trump Coup
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In a semi-final match in the senior trials for USA2, you have an interesting choice of games decision.

None vul, East deals. As North, you hold

North
A108654
QJ3
J3
J8
W
N
E
S
2
2NT
P
?

2: Weak 2-bid

2NT: Roughly 15-18

You play normal Stayman and transfers. If you wish to commit to 4, your bid is 4, Texas, forcing partner to bid 4.

Your call?

North
A108654
QJ3
J3
J8
W
N
E
S
2
2NT
P
?

There is plenty of appeal for 3NT. You have honors in all suits, and if partner has long clubs the club suit may produce a lot of tricks. There may be some trump losers in spades. There is a lot to be said for transferring and then bidding 3NT, letting partner pick notrump if he has a doubleton spade.

On the other hand, a 6-2 major-suit fit is strong. There could be entry problems to the spade suit in notrump, or partner might have only a single diamond stopper. While 9 tricks may be easier than 10, a long trump suit will often be worth at least one extra trick. It looks like a close choice.

You choose to bid 4, Texas. The bidding concludes

W
N
E
S
2
2NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

You made the choice, so over you go to prove you were right.

West leads the 4.

North
A108654
QJ3
J3
J8
South
QJ
AK7
A987
K753
W
N
E
S
2
2NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

Which diamond do you play from dummy?

North
A108654
QJ3
J3
J8
South
QJ
AK7
A987
K753
W
N
E
S
2
2NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

You know where the diamond honors are, but West doesn't. If you play small East's 10 will force your ace, and West will know the exact diamond position since you will be marked with the 9 from East's play of the 10. If you play the jack, East will cover with the queen to force your ace. West will not have any idea about the 10 or 9. Thus, playing the jack is best.

You play the jack of diamonds. East covers with the queen, and you win your ace. How do you begin?

North
A108654
QJ3
3
J8
South
QJ
AK7
987
K753
W
N
E
S
2
2NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

The hand appears to be fairly simple. You will make if the king of spades is onside doubleton or tripleton. If not, you will need the ace of clubs onside. Taking the spade finesse is clear.

You would prefer that West doesn't cover. The danger is that East is void in hearts and has 3 spades, so when you cross back to draw the last trump East will get a ruff. For that reason you should lead the jack, not the queen. West will certainly not cover from K9 doubleton, as that can't gain and will cost if East has the singleton queen. From Kx, West might or might not choose to cover.

You lead the jack of spades. West plays small, you play small, and East discards the 2. What next?

North
A10865
QJ3
3
J8
South
Q
AK7
987
K753
W
N
E
S
2
2NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

This dull hand just got very interesting. You almost certainly need the ace of clubs onside. In addition, you will have to perform a delicate trump coup. You only need one ruff to shorten yourself to West's length, and you have plenty of hand entries. That's not the problem. The danger is that West will get some discards on the diamonds, and this will rob you of the side suit tricks you need to make the hand.

You know that East has 6 diamonds and is void in spades. He figures to be 4-3 either way in the rounded suits, which means that West is also 4-3 in the rounded suits.

First question is, should you lead another spade now? There is no reason to do so. You can take a second spade finesse any time you want. If you play the queen of spades, East will know the spade position. If you don't, East will not know for sure what is going on in the spade suit.

Suppose West has 3 hearts and 4 clubs. If you play a diamond now in preparation to shortening yourself, East can win and play another diamond as the hearts fly out of West's hand. With West down to a singleton heart, you will not be able to take enough heart tricks to make the trump coup succeed. If this is the layout, you need to cash 3 heart tricks before leading the jack of spades and then exiting with a diamond. There will be nothing East can do. A third round of diamonds only helps your cause. If he plays ace and a club you can win the king, ruff something in your hand, and exit with a small trump to win the trump end-play battle.

Does this make cashing the hearts before losing the lead the right play? What if West has 3 clubs and 4 hearts? After you cash the hearts, take a spade finesse, and lead a diamond, East will win and play another high diamond, with West discarding two clubs. You ruff and lead a club. East wins the ace, gives his partner a club ruff, and West exits with the thirteenth heart, winning the trump end-play battle.

If you don't cash the hearts first, it is another story. You play a diamond. East can play another high diamond, letting West pitch two clubs. You ruff, cross to your hand, put the queen of spades through, and cash the hearts ending in your hand. Now put the diamond through, and you score 3 more trump tricks to make the contract.

Which distribution is more likely? The only clue is that players are more reluctant about opening a weak 2-bid with a side 4-card major. Therefore, the best approach is to not cash the hearts before giving up the lead.

Since you need the ace of clubs onside, a good plan is to cross to the queen of hearts and lead a club. If East does have 4 hearts, he might not realize the importance of of grabbing the ace of clubs and giving his partner two heart discards. If he has neither the queen or the ten of clubs, he may think you have a club guess. If he does duck, you are home regardless of the distribution. You can run the queen of spades, cash the hearts, and exit with a minor. The opponents have to let you score a ruff, and a small trump will now end-play West.

You choose to play a diamond. West discards a heart. East wins, and shifts to the 6. What do you play?

North
A10865
QJ3
J8
South
Q
AK7
87
K753
W
N
E
S
2
2NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

You were planning on playing East for the ace of clubs. Nothing has changed. East isn't giving you a chance to avoid two club losers by leading away from the queen of clubs. It is clear to go up king.

You go up king of clubs. It holds. Now what?

North
A10865
QJ3
J
South
Q
AK7
87
753
W
N
E
S
2
2NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

It looks like you need the remaining hearts to be 3-3, and they probably are. However, you are now cold even if West only has 2 hearts left. The key is to run the queen of spades, and then play a club. The best East can do is win and play a high diamond giving West a chance to discard down to a singleton heart -- if he doesn't do this you can score two heart tricks and make easily. However, you are still in control. You can ruff, cross to your hand with a heart, and lead your now good diamond. If West ruffs, you overruff and lose only one trump trick. If West discards, you discard a heart, ruff a club, and lead a heart, winning the end-play battle.

You choose to cash the hearts, ending in your hand. Both opponents follow to three rounds of hearts. What next?

North
A10865
J
South
Q
87
753
W
N
E
S
2
2NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

With the club trick and 3 heart tricks in, you are home. All you need is one diamond ruff, and you will win the trump end-play battle and make the contract.

You ruff a diamond in dummy, and lead a spade to your queen and West's king. The opponents get their club trick, but you have the last three tricks. The full hand is

West
K9732
10852
4
Q42
North
A108654
QJ3
J3
J8
East
964
KQ10652
A1096
South
QJ
AK7
A987
K753
W
N
E
S
2
2NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
J
Q
A
3
1
0
J
2
4
2
3
2
0
9
2
3
10
2
2
1
6
K
2
8
3
3
1
7
5
Q
4
1
4
1
3
6
A
8
3
5
1
K
10
J
9
3
6
1
7
4
5
5
1
7
1
6
9
Q
K
0
7
2
9

How was the defense?

West
K9732
10852
4
Q42
North
A108654
QJ3
J3
J8
East
964
KQ10652
A1096
South
QJ
AK7
A987
K753
W
N
E
S
2
2NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
J
Q
A
3
1
0
J
2
4
2
3
2
0
9
2
3
10
2
2
1
6
K
2
8
3
3
1
7
5
Q
4
1
4
1
3
6
A
8
3
5
1
K
10
J
9
3
6
1
7
4
5
5
1
7
1
6
9
Q
K
0
7
2
9

West can see that declarer is aiming for a trump coup, and that he needs to prevent declarer scoring side-suit tricks. Even though he has the queen of clubs, he should discard a club rather than a heart on the second round of diamonds. Declarer could still recover, but it would be more difficult.

East's club return looks reasonable. He wants to get any side-suit tricks the defense has as quickly as possible in order to avoid a later end-play. If his partner has the king of clubs, he can get two quick club tricks. If declarer has the king of clubs, he might misguess.

What do you think of East's 2 opening?

West
K9732
10852
4
Q42
North
A108654
QJ3
J3
J8
East
964
KQ10652
A1096
South
QJ
AK7
A987
K753
W
N
E
S
2
2NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0
4
J
Q
A
3
1
0
J
2
4
2
3
2
0
9
2
3
10
2
2
1
6
K
2
8
3
3
1
7
5
Q
4
1
4
1
3
6
A
8
3
5
1
K
10
J
9
3
6
1
7
4
5
5
1
7
1
6
9
Q
K
0
7
2
9

It looks too conservative. If East is going to preempt on this hand, he should certainly open 3. He easily has the playing strength to justify this, even though he has only a 6-card suit. Of course it might be better to open 1.

At the other table, East did open 3, and South had no choice but to overcall 3NT. This put more pressure than the 2NT overcall, since 3NT might have to be bid with a singleton spade, but North judged well to choose 4 since 3NT appears doomed to failure. After the same start, West discarded a club rather than a heart on the second round of diamonds. When East returned a heart, declarer continued ruffing diamonds, never getting a club trick but scoring all of his trumps to make 10 tricks.

Trump coup positions can be very tricky. It is important to pay attention to detail. The exact order you cash your tricks can spell the difference between victory and defeat.

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