Trick Two is Too Late to Start Thinking

In trump contracts, declarers often have to decide if they should draw trumps immediately or delay drawing trumps, in order to make their contact and take the maximum number of tricks possible. In making this decision, players need to count their losers to determine the right line of play and see whether any losers can be eliminated.
Consider the following hands:

♠ 8
9 8 6 3 2
9 8 6
♣ Q J 3 2

♠ J 10 5 4 2
A K 10
A K J
♣ A K

West North East South
Pass Pass Pass 2♣
Pass 2 Pass 2NT
Pass 3 Pass 4
All Pass

2♣ is strong, artificial and forcing. 2 is waiting. 2NT shows 22–24 HCP, balanced, and 3 is a transfer to hearts. With an excellent trump holding, declarer did not want to take any chances, so she simply bid the game. She needs very little from her partner to make 4, and it is always easier for the partner with the good trump holding to bid the game.

West leads the ♣10, and declarer needs to make a plan right after winning the club lead in her hand. Should she draw trumps right away? Declarer has three losers: one spade, one trump, and possibly a diamond. The diamond loser depends on a finesse, but even if it loses declarer looks good for 10 tricks.
In duplicate bridge, however, declarer want to take as many tricks as possible, as overtricks count in your score. Is there a loser which can be eliminated?

Yes, declarer can eventually discard her J, a loser, on dummy’s ♣Q. The J is a loser which can be eliminated to take an extra trick. There’s still the matter of what to do with dummy’s third diamond, though, so declarer needs to keep a trump in her hand to ruff that later in the play.

So how should declarer play the hand? Determining the correct sequence of play happens at trick one. Declarer has to give up the lead immediately, in order to prevent the opponents from getting in later to draw a third round of trumps. The key play of the hand is a low spade at trick two! After winning a spade, there is nothing defenders can do to stop declarer from taking 11 tricks, as long as trumps are divided 3–2.

Let’s see how this works. West wins the ♠9 and returns the ♣9. She wins the club king, cashes the A K and then trumps a spade in the dummy. Declarer then cashes the ♣Q and ♣J, first discarding a diamond and then a spade from her hand. East trumps the last club with the Q and returns a diamond, so declarer plays the A K, trumps a spade, and then trumps dummy’s last diamond in her hand with her last trump, leaving only trumps in the dummy.

Here is the full deal:

♠ 8
9 8 6 3 2
9 8 6
♣ Q J 3 2
♠ A 9 7 6 ♠ K Q 3
J 5 Q 7 2
Q 5 2 10 7 4 3
♣ 10 9 8 6 ♣ 7 5 4
♠ J 10 5 4 2
A K 10
A K J
♣ A K

Joan Dziekanski