When embarking upon a cross-ruff Declarer's goal is to score his trumps separately by ruffing back and forth without drawing trumps. Side-suit tricks are usually cashed early in the play. The defensive counter to an impending cross-ruff is to lead trumps at every opportunity.
Related Play Problems Play Problem 25
Related Extracts from Past Wednesday Games
Itís often said the five-level belongs to the opponents, but in this case N-S have an excellent 5♠ save against their opponentsí vulnerable game. South can escape for down three and -500 as follows:
Lose to the ♦J
♠A is cashed
Spade won by Declarer
Now Declarer can cash the ♣A, and cross ruff away. The defense did their best by playing two rounds of trumps as soon as they could, but Declarer can count one Club winners, one natural trump trick, and six more tricks on the cross-ruff. That's 8 tricks and enough to make the sacrifice worthwhile.
P.S. Deep Finesse makes 9 tricks, but that involves some obscure play in the Diamond suit, and risks a disastrous down 4. Better to take the certain 8 tricks.
As it happens, there are 13 tricks available. Letís say that North finds the best opening lead of a low Heart, knocking out a Dummy entry. Even so, Declarer can win Dummyís ♥A, finesse the ♠J, finesse the Diamond Queen, cross back on a Spade, draw the last trump, run the Diamonds and claim all the tricks. But that is a dangerous way to play the hand and could result in defeat if the ♠Q and one of the Diamonds were offside.
A far safer line would be to cross-ruff as follows:
Win the ♥A
Ruff a Heart
Finesse the ♦Q
Cash the ♦A
Ruff a Heart
Ruff a Club
Ruff a Heart
Ruff a Club
Ruff a Diamond (North pitches a Club)
Declarer has 10 tricks under his belt, with a high Spade still to come. He now leads another Club and gets lucky when South turns out to have the missing Club and the ♠Q. Making 12 tricks!
5♣ makes when Declarer plays on cross-ruff lines:
Spade lead to the Queen and Ace
Q♥ (trying to tempt a cover) to the Ace when West craftily plays low
Cash A♠ (pitching a Heart)
Ruff a Spade (setting up Declarerís Ten)
Now Declarer leads the 10♠ and, whether or not West ruffs in with his King, Declarer can merrily scramble her way to 11 tricks.
If East leads a Heart against 4♠ then the defense has three obvious tricks. But the Heart lead is far from appealing, and East will probably start out with the ♣K or a low Diamond. It makes little difference, so letís assume a Diamond lead. How would you play the hand? You could take the trump finesse, hereís what could happen:
- If the finesse loses (45%) then itís 10 tricks when the defense promptly cashes its Hearts.
- If the ♠K is offside and 4-0 (5%) then there will be no finesse and Declarer will probably make 10 tricks.
- If the finesse wins and the suit if 4-0 (5%) then itís probably 10 tricks
- If the finesse wins and the suit is 3-1 (19%) then itís 11 tricks
- If the finesse wins and the suit is 2-2 (20%) then itís 12 tricks
Can these odds be improved by playing first on Diamonds, trying to get the Hearts away? Indeed they can, especially if the opening Diamond lead suggests a 4-3 break in the suit. If that is the case then four rounds of Diamonds are played, Declarer pitching two Hearts. The defense will ruff the 4th Diamond in one hand or the other but now Declarer has 11 tricks by cross-ruffing (he wonít finesse the Spade), and 12 tricks under some circumstances (for example if East has 3 Diamonds and ♠Kx). Definitely a better line!
3NT and 5♦ both turn out to be reasonable contracts, each one requiring that Declarer hold her Diamond losers to just one. Whatís the percentage play in that suit? The three ways to play this suit combination are:
- Cash the Ace: Here the hope is that the suit is 2-2 or that someone has a singleton honor. The chance of success (for one loser) is 66%.
- Finesse, and if that loses, play the Ace on the second round: This wins when trumps are 2-2 or when East has KQ. A 70% chance.
- Finesse, and if that loses, finesse again: This wins whenever East has at least one honor, and gives the best odds, 76%.
The better percentage is also the winning line on the actual hand. Playing in Diamonds, the Spade opening lead is won in Dummy, the Diamond finessed, and when that wins Declarer cashes the ♦A and cross-ruffs the hand.
We are not saying that East should split his Diamond honors on the first round (that would look very foolish if West held the singleton Jack or Ace!), but on this hand heíll make Declarerís life more difficult. She could win the Ace and lead another trump, hoping that the suit is 2-2, but thatís only 10 tricks when East wins and plays a third round of trumps. A more successful line is to leave both missing trumps at large, cash the side-suit winners and try for a cross-ruff. But the timing must be just right:
Trump to the Queen and Ace
Cash ♣A and ruff a Club
Back to the ♥A and ruff another Club
Cash ♠A and ruff a Spade
Cross to the ♥K
Now, when the last Spade is led from Dummy, East is helpless. 11 tricks!
East has a classic Rule of 20 opener, with 10 HCP and 5-5 distribution. And a decent hand, wouldnít you say, with all the HCP in the long suits. That propels E-W into a difficult 4♥ contract, and letís suppose that South leads a Spade, won by North, who shifts to a low Heart. Thatís a nasty shift, but Declarer can still prevail by cross-ruffing. Hereís how the play could develop:
Spade won by Northís King
Heart shift won by ♥A
Club to the Ace
South claims the last two tricks with her good trumps, but Declarer has his 10 tricks. It was fortunate that the ♥Q was in the hand with the long Clubs, so that there was no overruff on the 4th round of Clubs. But even if there had been an overruff, Declarer still had the Diamond finesse to fall back on for his 10th trick.
Against 3♣, East will surely lead the K♥ after which Declarer can scamper to 10 tricks via a cross-ruff:
K♥ lead won by Declarerís Ace
Concede a Diamond
Q♥ is cashed
Trump shift, won by Declarer
A♠ is cashed
Now, Declarer can merrily cross-ruff, scoring 3 side-suit tricks, a natural trump trick, and 6 ruffs.
Against 4♠, letís say that West starts out with a trump. 11 tricks will now follow with a cross-ruff:
Declarer wins the A♠
A♦ and a Diamond ruff
Heart ruff, and so on
Declarer scores 5 trumps in her hand, three Diamond ruffs on the board, A♣, A♦, and the K♥ is a surprise 11th trick when the A♥ comes down in 3 rounds and when East cannot ruff the established K♥.
2♦ was DONT, treating the hand as a two-suiter in Diamonds and an undisclosed major, simultaneously bidding her best suit and giving her side a chance to play in the better-scoring major.
Playing in 2♠, Declarer can scramble her way to 10 tricks in this fashion:
Heart ruffed by Declarer
Cross to Dummyís A♣
Finesse the Q♦ (a certainty to win on the bidding)
Ruff a Diamond
Ruff a Heart
Ruff a Diamond with the Ace
Ruff a Heart
Declarer has the first 9 tricks and is down the just two trumps, one in each hand. She leads a Diamond winner ruffing on the board with the Ten. East can overruff but that just promotes the 10th trick for Declarerís Queen. Nicely timed play by Declarer!
Against 4♠, South might well lead a trump, after which Declarer can score 12 tricks this way:
Win the A♠
Ruff two Clubs and two Hearts
Q♠ losing to Northís King
Win the return in hand, draw the last trump, enjoy the Hearts
What do you think of that line of play? Pretty optimistic we would say! If the Club finesse loses the defense will play two rounds of trumps, holding Declarer to a paltry 8 tricks! Hereís a more sensible line where Declarer sets his sights lower:
Win the A♠
Cross to the A♣
Cash the A♥
Ruff a Club, ruff a Heart, ruff a Club
Cash A♦ and K♦
Ruff a Heart high
Exit with the Q♣, hoping that the K♠ is with North or that South is end-played
The cross-ruff is safer but it ends up providing only 10 tricks.
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