Trump Control 

Sometimes a bad trump break or a precarious trump fit raises issues of control, it's usually a race against the defense to set up side-suit tricks while still retaining control of the trump suit.  In the examples that follow we'll see a recurring theme of setting up the side-suit before drawing trumps,  as it's frequently a good idea to keep a trump in the short hand (usually Dummy) to ruff their suit while we establish our suit.


Related Play Problems            Play Problem 8

                                                 Play Problem 63

                                                 Play Problem 101

                                                 Play Problem 117

                                                 Play Problem 120

                                                 Play Problem 135

                                                 Play Problem 143

                                                 Play Problem 241


Related Extracts from Past Wednesday Games




♠ K72



♣ KJ54




2nd February, 2011

♠ Q4



♣ 876


West             East


♠ T53



♣ T32


Dlr     West
Vul     E-W 

© BES, Inc
 All Rights Reserved

♠ AJ986



♣ AQ9

West    North   East     South

3        Dbl      Pass    4♠

Pass    Pass    Pass


North might well have been tempted to overcall 3, given the quality of the suit, so it’s easy to see some Norths playing 4 and some Souths playing 4♠.


The Play in 4♠

That will be 11 tricks, no doubt, as there is no good reason for Declarer to drop West’s doubleton ♠Q.


The Play in 4

Declarer should make 11 tricks.  She’ll ruff the second round of Diamonds, and cash the J and A, getting the bad news.  Now, while there is still a trump in Dummy to handle the Diamond force, she will lose the Spade finesse, and that’s the end of the defense.  Some Declarers might not think of taking that Spade finesse early, they’ll draw trumps, be afraid to take the Spade finesse and end up with 12 tricks!  With all due respect to those who scored 12 tricks, we must politely suggest that their +480 is not a badge of honor, merely a good result.




♠ Q53



♣ A863




6th July, 2011

♠ T764



♣ 74


West             East


♠ 98



♣ J5


Dlr     South
Vul     E-W 


© BES, Inc
 All Rights Reserved

♠ AKJ2



♣ KQT92

West    North   East     South


Pass    1        1        1

2        3       3        Pass

Pass    3        Pass    Pass



 3 might make 10 tricks, for example if the defense (rather feebly) starts out with two rounds of Hearts.

But they can do better than that.  East wins the opening Heart lead and shifts to a low  Diamond to West’s

 King.  West returns a Diamond, and the question is “What should Declarer do on the  third round of

 Diamonds.  The answer is “Don’t ruff!”  Ruffing would be fatal, resulting in a loss trump control.  So

 Declarer pitches a Heart and now has an easy route to 9 tricks.




♠ K986



♣ A6




3rd November, 2010

♠ Q3



♣ 87543


West             East


♠ A



♣ QJT9

Dlr     West
Vul     N-S 

© BES, Inc
 All Rights Reserved

♠ JT7542



♣ K2

West    North   East     South

Pass    Pass    2♣        Pass

2        Pass    2        Pass

2NT     Pass    3!      Pass

4        Pass    Pass    Pass


You don't have to like the auction, the play's the thing.  South leads the ♠J won by Declarer.  For those of you who are inexperienced in playing 5-1 fits perhaps we should give you a clue and point out that trump control is often a problem.  It won’t do to draw trumps and then build some minor suit tricks as the defense will keep playing Spades, to the ruin of Declarer.  The trick-building must commence early, while Dummy’s lone trump is still available for duty.  Declarer could start on Clubs at Trick 2, but that suit is blocked, meaning that Declarer needs at least a second Diamond trick also.  So, at Trick 2, you lead a low Diamond to Dummy’s Queen.  99% of the world’s North players will win that Diamond trick, after which it is an easy matter for Declarer to ruff the Spade return, draw trumps and cash the Diamonds for 10 tricks.


Next, suppose you are playing against one of the top 1% and your North diabolically ducks the Diamond!  What a terrific play!  But you can counter that by changing tack at Trick 3, shifting your attention to Clubs.  The defense wins a Club, makes you ruff a Spade, and wins another Club.  But now Dummy can handle the Spade force, and it’s 10 tricks once again (or 11 if Declarer is greedy and takes the Diamond finesse).




♠ 9653



♣ J3


From 4th June, 2008

♠ KJ87



♣ AT94


West             East


♠ AT42



♣ Q765


 Dlr     East
 Vul     E-W 

© BES, Inc
 All Rights Reserved

♠ Q



♣ K82

West    North   East     South

                        1♣       1

Dbl      Pass    1♠        2

4♠        Pass    Pass    Pass


Against 4♠ the defense starts with Diamonds, Declarer ruffing the second round.  The bidding and the play of the Diamonds surely marks South with the K♣, so a good ploy at Trick Three would be to lead the Q♣.  The play might be as follows:

            K wins the opening trick

            Another Diamond is ruffed

            Q♣ covered by the King and Ace

            Spade to the Ace

            T♠ is cashed

Now, Declarer plays another Club while there is still a trump in his hand to handle a Diamond continuation.  If the J♣ is with North (the actual case), then it will be 11 tricks.  And also 11 tricks if South started with KJ doubleton in Clubs and is unable to give North a ruff.




♠ K95



♣ A86543




From 5th August, 2009

♠ AQ6



♣ J92


West             East


♠ JT873



♣ T


Dlr     East
Vul     None 

© BES, Inc
 All Rights Reserved

♠ 42



♣ KQ7

West    North   East     South

                        1♠        Dbl

2♠        3♣       3♠        Pass

Pass    Pass


 North was no doubt tempted to push on to 4♣, that’s a contract which is down one.  How does 3♠ do?  Probably down one also:

            ♣K is cashed

            The next Club is ruffed by Declarer

            Spade to the Queen and King

            Club ruff

At this point trump control is a problem, so Declarer plays on Diamonds while there are still trumps on the board to handle the Club force.  So the play continues:

            Diamond to the Queen

            Heart to the Ace

            Low Heart from hand

South can now take her Q, give North a Heart ruff, and the A will be the setting trick.  Down one, which should not be too bad, some Easts will do a trick worse, we predict.




♠ T



♣ KJ76

From 28th June, 2006

♠ QJ764



♣ A9


West             East


♠ K85



♣ T854


Dlr     North
Vul     E-W 

© BES, Inc
 All Rights Reserved

♠ A932



♣ Q32

North   East     South   West

1        Pass    1         Pass

2♣       Pass    2NT      Pass

3♦        All Pass 


3 squeaks home on careful play … Spade to the Ace, Heart to the King and Ace, Spade ruff, Diamond to the Queen, Diamond to the Jack (ducked by Declarer in case of doubleton Ace with East), Spade ruff, and now Declarer has just enough trumps to establish the Clubs and withstand another Spade force.  Two points worth noting in the play:

(a)    Declarer wanted to play trumps by leading towards the Q, that way giving herself a chance for just one loser in the suit if East started with Ace doubleton.

(b)    In order to get back to hand for that Diamond lead, Declarer did not ruff a Spade at Trick Two, that would cost her a tempo … instead she knocked out a side-suit Ace, knowing that the defense would lead a Spade anyway at Trick Three.  Ruffing the Spade at Trick Two risks losing trump control.




♠ 8



♣ T984

From 9th May, 2007

♠ AJ7



♣ QJ7


West             East


♠ K32



♣ 53

Dlr     North
Vul     Both 

© BES, Inc
 All Rights Reserved

♠ QT9654



♣ AK62

West    North   East     South

            2        Pass    2♠

Pass    3        Pass    Pass



South’s 2♠ was forcing, then she gave up when North could rebid only 3.  It turns out that the hands fit well together and 10 tricks are possible.  Here’s one way that the hand might be misplayed:

            K opening lead, won by Declarer's Ace

            Diamond ruff on the board

            Cash A

            Lose a Spade

            Ruff the Diamond return in hand

            Lose to the K

            Ruff another Diamond return in hand

            Draw the last trump

Now Declarer can play on Clubs for three tricks and for a total of 10 tricks.  How was this misplayed?  Well, if trumps had been 4-1 that line of play loses trump control.  The correct play is to ruff that Diamond on the board with the Ace!  This unblocks the trumps and requires Declarer to take one less ruff in her hand while she is drawing trumps, thereby retaining control even if trumps are 4-1.  It’s too bad that the computer decided to deal 3-2 trumps, we can only award style points for those players who found the Ace-ruff play.  You know who you are.




♠ J9764


♣ A942

From 16th May, 2007

♠ KT2





West             East


♠ A



♣ Q85

Dlr     East
Vul     Both 

© BES, Inc
 All Rights Reserved

♠ Q853



♣ 763

West    North   East     South

                        1        Pass

1NT     Pass    3        Pass

4        Pass    Pass    Pass


Suppose that South leads a low Spade, won by Declarer’s Ace.  Declarer crosses to the A, cashes the K♠ (pitching a Diamond), then runs the T around to South’s Jack.  Another Spade comes back, ruffed by Declarer, who is now in danger of losing trump control.  He cannot play A and lose a Heart, for then yet another Spade comes back.  Now, Declarer has the same number of trumps as South, and still has to knock out the A♣.  What’s the solution?  Simply to play on Clubs earlier, while there is still a trump in the Dummy to look after the Spade force.




♠ AT874



♣ A

29th August, 2007

♠ QJ53



♣ 9


West             East






Dlr     West
Vul     E-W 

© BES, Inc
 All Rights Reserved

♠ K962



♣ 752

West    North   East     South

Pass    1♠        2♣       3♣

Pass    4♠        Pass    Pass



Playing in 4♠, North makes 11 tricks, notwithstanding the nasty trump break.  However, careful play is required, and we start with one line of play which brings in only 10 tricks:

            K♣ opening lead, won by Declarer’s Ace

            Spade to the King

            Another Spade, West splits his honors, and Declarer’s Ace wins

            Heart to the King (nice duck by East)

            Another Heart, West alertly hops up with his Queen (well done!)

            Q♠ is cashed

            A 4th round of Spades

Now, Declarer can forget about 11 tricks and is even in danger of going down.  But she gets lucky when she leads a low Heart and the Ace comes down, and later when the Q is favorably placed.  Even so, it’s still only 10 tricks when 11 were possible.


Where did Declarer go wrong?  It was a mistake to go up with the K♠ at Trick Two.  When East shows out, Declarer does better to lose a Spade immediately, giving her better control and communications.  So, here is Take Two:

            K♣ opening lead, won by Declarer’s Ace

            Low Spade, playing the Nine when East shows out, West winning the Jack

            Spade return won by Declarer’s Ten

            Heart to the King

            Another Heart, again West alertly plays the Queen

            Spade return won by Declarer

            Heart ruff, felling the Ace

Now, it’s back to hand with a Diamond, the last trump is drawn, and 11 tricks are made when the Diamonds oblige.


Nicely played, but, as we gave Declarer a mulligan, let’s afford the same courtesy to East on defense.  Can they do better if East jumps up with the A at Trick Four and continues with Clubs?  Declarer can still manage just one Heart ruff, and only scores a single Heart trick.  That’s only 10 tricks altogether.  Is there an 11th?  Yes, West is squeezed in the red suits.  In fact, the squeeze takes effect at Trick Five when East plays the second round of Clubs, whichever red suit West pitches gives Declarer an extra trick.  Alternatively, West can ruff in front of Declarer, but that only delays the evil hour … Declarer will overruff and cash the K, cross to the K, ruff a Heart, draw the last enemy trump, and now the play of Declarer’s last trump inflicts the squeeze.  An unsuccessful defensive mulligan to end a difficult set of boards.



♠ J9653



♣ AQT72

3rd October, 2007

♠ AT42



♣ 865


West             East


♠ 8



♣ J93


Dlr     West
Vul     E-W 

© BES, Inc
 All Rights Reserved

♠ KQ7



♣ K4

West    North   East     South

Pass    Pass    2        2

3        Dbl      Pass    3♠

Pass    Pass    Pass


The play in 3♠ is most instructive.  West starts out with a Diamond, and on the second round Declarer will … er, yes, what will Declarer do?  This will no doubt be her thinking:

-         The play in the Diamonds marks East with the Ace and King, so surely West has the A♠.

-         If Declarer ruffs the second round of Diamonds, then loses the A♠, West will persevere with Diamonds, and if Declarer ruffs and the trumps are 4-1 she will have lost control.


The solution is simple enough.  Declarer pitches a Heart loser on the second round of Diamonds, and ruffs the 3rd round of the suit.  Now, when the A♠ is lost to West, he has no Diamonds to return.  So, the trump suit is picked up, and when the Clubs cooperate it will be no fewer than 10 tricks.  We are used to hold-up plays in No Trump contracts, here we see how one can work in a suit contract.




♠ 76



♣ QJT97

From 19th December, 2007

♠ 4



♣ A8


West       Dummy


♠ AQ853



♣ 3


Dlr     South
Vul     N-S 

© BES, Inc
 All Rights Reserved

♠ KJT92



♣ K6542

South   West    North   East 

Pass    Pass    1♣       1♠

2♠        Pass    3♣       Pass

Pass    3        All Pass


The good news for Declarer is that Diamonds are 2-2, so there is no defensive Diamond ruff.  The bad news is that trumps are 3-1, so 9 tricks is the maximum.  A careless Declarer might do much worse if North is inspired to start with an opening Spade lead:

            A♠ wins the opening lead

            A♣ is cashed and a Club ruffed

            A is cashed

            Declarer hopefully exits a trump won by North, but South shows out

            North draws two more rounds of trumps

Now Declarer is down to one trump, and has yet to knock out the A.  The defense keeps leading black suit winners and Declarer is held to just one more trick.  If the contract is 3 that’s down 4!  Declarer does 4 tricks better and makes his contract by timing the play accurately.  On winning the A♠, he plays a Heart and ducks.  Declarer ruffs the K♠ return, knocks out the A, wins the Club return, ruffs a Club, plays a Heart to the Ace, and cashes the Diamonds, allowing North to take her Heart tricks whenever she likes.  Not releasing the A prematurely, and not rushing to take that Club ruff, results in +140 instead of an ugly -200.



© BES, Inc

All Rights Reserved

Home       PlayArchives    BiddingArchives    Conventions